In tracing the course of French comedy from the Renaissance, through the age of Louis XIV and the eighteenth century, to the eve of the Revolution, originally published in 1977, Geoffrey Brereton shows how it evolved from the crude farces and experimental plays of the sixteenth century to become a rich and highly sophisticated dramatic genre.
The main emphasis is on the work of the principal dramatists, notably Molière (whose plays and career are given a detailed and enlightening treatment), Corneille, Scarron, Marivaux and Beaumarchais, with some space devoted to the more neglected writers, such as the ‘cynical generation’ of Dancourt, Regnard, Lesage and others; and all the plays are seen in the context of the theatrical conventions that helped to shape them. Different types of comedy are analysed, including comedy of character and of manners, as well as the romantic, burlesque and bourgeois forms and the development of the opéra-comique. At the same time Dr Brereton examines the influences on French comedy – influences as varied as those of the farce, the Italian commedia dell’arte, the Spanish comedia and the eighteenth century drame – and the way in which these were absorbed and exploited by French comic dramatists. Since comedy, more than any other kind of drama, reflects the contemporary social scene, attention is drawn to social conditions and attitudes, and some of the more striking parallels with modern social preoccupations are pointed out.
Written in a very lively and readable style, and containing much stimulating and original comment, as well as providing the basic facts, it gives a considerable insight into the nature of French comedy during its most formative and fruitful period. A substantial bibliography and other reference material increase the usefulness of this book to the student of French drama.
Table of Contents
Preface. 1. French Comedy before 1630 2. The Comedies of Pierre Corneille 3. Rotrou and Romantic Comedy 4. Scarron and Burlesque Comedy 5. Molière: Life and Theatrical Career 6. Molière’s Comedy 7. The Shadow of Molière 8. The Cynical Generation: Dancourt, Regnard, Dufresny, Lesage 9. Marivaux 10. Bourgeois Comedy: Sentiment and Moralization 11. Beaumarchais 12. Conclusion. Notable Comedies 1552-1784. Complete List of Molière’s Plays. Select Bibliography. Index.