Rousseau on Stage

BookRousseau on Stage

Rousseau on Stage

Playwright, Musician, Spectator

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 2017:09


September 8th, 2017

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Following his opposition to the establishment of a theatre in Geneva, Jean-Jacques Rousseau is often considered an enemy of the stage. Yet he was fascinated by drama: he was a keen theatre-goer, his earliest writings were operas and comedies, his admiration for Italian lyric theatre ran through his career, he wrote one of the most successful operas of the day, Le Devin du village, and with his Pygmalion, he invented a new theatrical genre, the Scène lyrique (‘melodrama’). 

Through multi-faceted analyses of Rousseau’s theatrical and musical works, authors re-evaluate his practical and theoretical involvement with and influence on the dramatic arts, as well as his presence in modern theatre histories. New readings of the Lettre à d’Alembert highlight its political underpinnings, positioning it as an act of resistance to external bourgeois domination of Geneva’s cultural sphere, and demonstrate the work's influence on theatrical reform after Rousseau’s death. Fresh analyses of his theory of voice, developed in the Essai sur l’origine des langues, highlight the unique prestige of Italian opera for Rousseau. His ambition to rethink the nature and function of stage works, seen in Le Devin du village and then, more radically, in Pygmalion, give rise to several different discussions in the volume, as do his complex relations with Gluck. Together, contributors shed new light on the writer’s relationship to the stage, and argue for a more nuanced approach to his theatrical and operatic works, theories and legacy.


'Rousseau on Stage is a handsome book with thirteen illustrations, and its contributors include some well-known Rousseau scholars, such as Jacqueline Waeber and David Marshall. While the book is directed at an audience of Anglophone postgraduate students and scholars of French theatre, literature, and music, the footnoted translations make the material accessible to readers with little to no knowledge of French.'
Modern Language Review

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Title Page4
Copyright Page5
Table of contents8
List of illustrations10
List of abbreviations12
Jean-Jacques Rousseau: a theatre and music chronology14
Introduction: ‘La vérité est que Racine me charme’32
Part I: Rousseau as theorist of theatre and opera54
Chapter 1. The anthropological foresight of the Lettre sur les spectacles56
Chapter 2. The dramaturgy of Rousseau’s Lettre à d’Alembert and its importance for modern theatre82
Chapter 3. The voice of nature in Rousseau’s theatre: reconstructing a dramaturgy108
Chapter 4. Rousseau’s Pygmalion and the limits of (operatic) expression134
Part II: Rousseau as playwright148
Chapter 5. Pygmalion’s power struggles: Rousseau, Rameau and Galathée150
Chapter 6. Rousseau and his early comedies: the concept of the comic170
Chapter 7. Rousseau’s Pygmalion and the theatre of autobiography188
Part III: Rousseau’s operatic and theatrical posterity208
Chapter 8. The melodic language of Le Devin du village and the evolution of opéra-comique210
Chapter 9. Rousseau’s ghost: Le Devin du village at the Paris Opera, 1770-1779240
Chapter 10. A theatrophobic dramatist: J.-J. Rousseau’s position in theatre historiography and on today’s stage258
Chapter 11. The judgement of Rousseau: Paride ed Elena by Gluck and Calzabigi (Vienna, 1770)286