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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Living theater: Politics, justice and the stage in France (1750–1800)
by Robert, Yann, Ph.D., Princeton University, 2010, 317; 3414153
Abstract (Summary)

Living Theater: Politics, Justice and the Stage in France (1750-1800) examines many of the aesthetic, ethical and political questions raised by the appearance of a new understanding of performance during the second half of the eighteenth century. Indeed, Diderot, Mercier and Rétif de la Bretonne, among others, upended classical conventions by proposing that plays should no longer stage distant or fictitious stories, but should seek instead to reenact events so recent as to still subsist in living memory. In fact, they expressed a desire for a spectacle that would not just represent the past, but quite literally bring it back to life. To that end, they set out to eliminate all theatricality from the theater. For instance, Diderot, Mercier and Rétif proposed that professional actors be replaced by those who had participated in the true events being reenacted on stage. In so doing, they deliberately tested the limits of theater, almost to the point of negating it, with the aim of bringing the scenic arts closer to the ceremonial spectacles of antiquity.

In Living Theater, I chart the rise of this “reenactive theater” from its theorization in Diderot’s Fils naturel to its triumph during the Revolution, paying particular attention to the three functions commonly assigned to it. I begin by exploring the cultural work performed by reenactive theater, both as a site of national memory and as one of cathartic forgetting. Turning to Rétif’s La Mimographe and Mercier’s Du Théâtre, I then study the various political roles, from democratic forum to instrument of state propaganda, played by such reenactments, and I link this diversity to the desires and anxieties implicit in France’s progression towards a representative democracy. Lastly, I examine the belief that reenactive theater ought to serve as a public, national tribunal, a notion reflected in the unprecedented interweaving of theater and justice during the Revolution. Throughout Living Theater, indeed, I seek to show the influence of this new, reenactive conception of performance, not only on the theater, but also on the development of commemorative, political and juridical practices still in existence today.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Huet, Marie-Helene
School: Princeton University
School Location: United States -- New Jersey
Source: DAI-A 71/07, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Romance literature, European history, Theater
Keywords: Diderot, Denis, Eighteenth-century theater, France, Justice, Law and literature, Living theater, Mercier, Louis-Sebastien, Retif de la Bretonne, Nicolas Edme, Stage
Publication Number: 3414153
ISBN: 978-1-124-07103-9
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