The Emergence of a theatrical science of man in France, 1660–1740

BookThe Emergence of a theatrical science of man in France, 1660–1740

The Emergence of a theatrical science of man in France, 1660–1740

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 2020:01


January 13th, 2020

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The emergence of a theatrical science of man in France, 1660-1740 highlights a radical departure from discussions of dramatic literature and its undergirding rules to a new, relational discourse on the emotional power of theater. Through a diverse cast of religious theaterphobes, government officials, playwrights, art theorists and proto-philosophes, Connors shows the concerted effort in early Enlightenment France to use texts about theater to establish broader theories on emotion, on the enduring psychological and social ramifications of affective moments, and more generally, on human interaction, motivation, and social behavior.

This fundamentally anthropological assessment of theater emerged in the works of anti-theatrical religious writers, who argued that emotional response was theater’s raison d’être and that it was an efficient venue to learn more about the depravity of human nature. A new generation of pro-theatrical writers shared the anti-theatricalists’ intense focus on the emotions of theater, but unlike religious theaterphobes, they did not view emotion as a conduit of sin or as a dangerous, uncontrollable process; but rather, as cognitive-affective moments of feeling and learning.

Connors’ study explores this reassessment of the theatrical experience which empowered writers to use plays, critiques, and other cultural materials about the stage to establish a theatrical science of man—an early Enlightenment project with aims to study and ‘improve’ the emotional, social, and political ‘health’ of eighteenth-century France.

Author Information

Logan J. Connors is Associate Professor of Modern Languages and Literatures at the University of Miami. His next research project investigates connections between theater and the military in France and its colonies from 1680 to 1815.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Introduction: theater, emotions, science of man13
Diderot's relational drama22
From religious theaterphobia to theatrical innovation35
Affect, intentionality, and the history of emotions40
Chapter 1. Theaterphobia and the transformational power of performance47
Anti-theatrical criticism: goals and strategies52
Corneille, Nicole, and the reality of emotions60
Learning dangerously from the passions: Pierre Nicole's Traité de la comédie67
Debating theatrical emotions in the wake of Nicole's Traité74
Chapter 2. “Que sur la superficie de notre cœur”: Jean-Baptiste Dubos’s theatrical emotions85
Emotional debates: past and present88
A different path to aesthetic appreciation97
The political case for pleasure103
Dubos's cognitive-affective sequences107
Chapter 3. Beyond affect: from Dubos’s “passions superficielles” to Houdar de La Motte’s “sentiments raisonnables”119
La Motte, the Querelle, and the Regency125
La Motte's "sentiments raisonnables"137
The dramaturgical power of intérêt143
Chapter 4. From the page to the stage: La Motte’s theatrical inquiry into the emotions153
Context and emotion in Les Macchabées157
Intentionality and suspense in Romulus (1722)165
Inès de Castro (1723) and the emotional politics of intérêt172
Chapter 5. Strategic passions: Marivaux’s Moderne subjectivities189
Marivaux's trajectory from Moderne to bel esprit to science of man193
Learning from the "organs": Marivaux's initiative ethics198
Sentimental strategies: Marivaux's theories of emotion in Le Triomphe de l'amour (1732)207
Chapter 6. Learning through multiplicité: emotion and distance in the comédie larmoyante225
The decline and rebirth of Nivelle de La Chaussée's emotional poetics231
Meaning-making through the romanesque237
The pièce-cadre: emotion, multiplicité, and spectatorship in La Fausse Antipathie (1733)247
Conclusion: avant-gardes, emotion, and Enlightenment269
Works cited279