Theatre and State in France, 1760-1905

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Unfortunately, the ideal of an independent stage would not soon come to fruition, mostly because revolutionary leaders recognized the power of performance in shaping public opinion. And that is precisely what happened. As the fledgling French Republic began to resemble more of a police state once the decidedly more radical Jacobins consolidated their power with the formation of the National Convention in late , many of the gains made immediately following the Revolution were subsequently reversed. During this period, often referred to as The Terror, it became commonplace to open a show with a revolutionary hymn in which theater-wide participation was compulsory.

As the title of the genre would suggest, these works were based on sociopolitical current events. Because the nature of their existence called for them to be drafted and produced on such short notice, very little has survived for current study. Moreover, the melody to which this ditty is set was borrowed from a well-loved operatic romance sung by a lovesick young woman who tearfully expresses her yearning for an absent lover. This did not guarantee, however, that every one was to be of singular opinion. On the contrary, these performances were often interrupted by interims of cheers or loud jeering, or were halted all together when violent fights broke out in the audience between spectators of differing beliefs.

As far as the operatic world was concerned, the Revolution had failed them, seeing as government still exercised control over the content being produced and artistic liberties continued to be stifled. You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Google account. You are commenting using your Twitter account. The municipality continued to shoulder responsibility for the Opera since the Crown continued to shirk it, and a number of expedients were resorted to in rapid succession, with continual disputes between the city fathers, who were concerned above all to turn deficit into profit, and the relevant minister of the Crown, Malesherbes, who wanted the organization to be entrusted to a person possessed of at least a minimum of musical competence.

The man eventually chosen, Jacques de Vismes, was in good standing at court he was in particular a close friend of Campan, the Queen's secretary, who gave him financial backing and acceptable to the municipality since he was prepared to put down half a million in surety money, requiring only payment of the interest together with the promise of an annual subsidy of 80, livres; but he had no previous operatic experience and lacked musical expertise. This deficiency might not have mattered much, since he was known to be a competent administrator, but it did not endear him to his subordinates, who looked on him as 'an idle, haughty despot, incapable of performing an entrechat or of singing in tune'.

Since his overriding commitment was to cut costs, he needed to persuade the top opera singers and ballet dancers to accept, for a period, reduced salaries; but he imposed the cuts without any real consultation, riding roughshod over their susceptibilities. When the star dancer, Mile Guimard, asked him for a new costume to appear in a new ballet, he told her this could not be managed on the revised budget, and she would have to wear her old dress; whereupon the dancer caused it to be cut to pieces and sent in a parcel to the director.

De Vismes found himself obliged not only to have a new costume made, but to plead with the lady that she should be good enough to appear in it.

In September matters came to a head. The leading members of the Opera, determined to rid themselves of De Vismes, made an approach to the municipal authorities, offering to deposit , livres and to forgo all subvention, provided their director was dismissed; but the burgesses were wary of taking so radical a step without the prior agreement of the Crown. The struggle between De Vismes and his rebellious subjects — who openly compared themselves to the American colonists trying to throw off the tyranny of the British, and affected to call one another Washington, Franklin, The royal theatres of the 'ancien regime' 19 etc.

In a private audience with the King he reported the agitation and begged His Majesty to let him know if he had any orders on the subject. The minister replied that they had criticized certain changes at first but were now beginning to accept them, and thought they augured well for the future. It is true that impartial observers were already realizing that the Opera's fortunes were in better shape than they had been for years; playing night after night to full houses, its financial situation was beginning to recover from the years of dissipation and extravagance.

All this was due to De Vismes; but he had proved a strict taskmaster, and his enemies inside the theatre were more determined than ever that he should go. It was the dancers who felt most indignant, partly because De Vismes, having realized the public wanted less ballet and more straight opera, allowed them fewer opportunities to display their talents. They took to planning their moves at nightly meetings in Mile Guimard's house and, wrote La Harpe, 'were resolved on extreme measures rather than obey M.

De Vismes. People talk of the "conspiracy of the Opera", and this quarrel which occupies all their thoughts and is a constant subject of discussion, appears more difficult to resolve than the wars in America and Germany. After the performance, a police inspector presented himself at Mile Guimard's address with an order for the arrest of Vestris, Dauberval and Vestris's son; they were given a short spell in the For-PEveque, and when they reappeared on stage were given a cool reception by the audience.

Emboldened perhaps by this, the municipal authorities decided at last to back De Vismes a little more energetically. Dauberval was dismissed, along with two other dancers; Vestris and Mile Guimard were warned against giving any more trouble in future. The whole company waited on the city fathers to make submission.

It seemed that the Opera had been brought to heel; but De 20 Theatre and state in France, iy6o-igoj Vismes, probably fearing that the fires had been merely damped down and might roar up again at any time, preferred to hand in his resignation; and at the same time the city council begged the King to relieve them of this troublesome burden.

Louis XVI consented, but insisted that the municipality remain responsible for the accumulated deficit; in return he promised the Opera a generous annual grant, conditional on performances being given twelve times a year at Versailles and Fontainebleau. Unlike the ComedieFranfaise, the Academie Royale de Musique had never been in receipt hitherto of a regular state subsidy; the usual procedure had been to allow it to go into debt, and for the Crown or the city treasurer to come to its rescue.

Luckily, the Opera had certain other sources of revenue besides the sale of tickets and the rent from boxes: it had the right to demand payment from other theatres, including the Comedie-Italienne, in return for authorization to use vocal music at their performances; and it had enjoyed since exclusive permission to turn its building over to masked balls during the winter,18 a custom which, discontinued during the Revolution but resumed in , continued for much of the nineteenth century, providing a permanent and valuable source of profit.

Originally held twice a week, from midnight till 6. The price of a ticket was 5 livres, a sum cheerfully paid by happy crowds of carnival revellers, to the great relief and satisfaction of the hard-pressed treasurer of the Opera. It should be said that, unlike the societaires in the two Comedies, whose shares fluctuated according to whether or not they were playing to full houses, the members of the operatic company could never suffer loss however precarious the finances of the Academie Royale, for they were employed on fixed salaries; and we have seen how indignantly they reacted when De Vismes attempted to tamper with these.

They were at least partly mollified by his resignation and by their reversion to the Crown; for his successors did not enjoy the same absolute authority that had been allowed him. Although still called directors, their functions were more those of business managers and they had limited powers of initiative; decisions were taken, as at the Comedie-Franf aise, in a small committee of six members which the director chaired and in which he had a casting vote.

In even this shadowy presence disappeared, with the The royal theatres of the 'ancien regime' resignation of the last of the directors, Dauvergne, and the Opera became if not self-governing, at any rate accountable only to the King's minister. It could even be said to have achieved a greater measure of liberty than the other two royal theatres, since the Gentlemen of the Bedchamber had no say in the way it conducted its affairs. The third royal theatre, the Comedie-Italienne, originated like the other two in the seventeenth century. It is known that a company of native Italian actors were sharing the Theatre du Petit-Bourbon with Moliere from , and that in , when the Comedie-Franfaise was founded, they were left in sole occupation of the Hotel de Bourgogne.

Theatre and state in France, - Ghent University Library

Here they presented a repertory consisting basically of improvised comedies in Italian, a language at that time widely understood in court circles in France; commoners enjoyed the farcical business, without always understanding the remarks being made by the players. To make the action plainer, therefore, the actors began introducing phrases in French, later extending the practice to whole scenes; finally, despite the protests of the ComedieFranfaise, they even ventured on plays written for them in French by contemporary authors, permission to do this having been granted by Louis XIV in a famous judgement.

Shortly after Louis XIV's death in the Italians deemed it safe to return to Paris and, thanks to the protection of the Regent, were able to reoccupy their former home in the Hotel de Bourgogne. Louis XV took them under his protection on the Regent's death in , conferring on them the title Comediens Italiens du Roi and granting them an annual subsidy of 15, livres. They were organized internally on much the same lines as the ComedieFranfaise 20 and were subject in the same way to the overall supervision of the Gentlemen of the Bedchamber.

They managed, however, to avoid the clashes with their superiors that were a source of such vexation for the Comedie-Franfaise, and it was only exceptionally that the For-l'Eveque prison opened its gates to a member of the Comedie-Italienne.

Devo Theatre Le Palce, Paris, France 19th November 1978 (Filmed For Chorus, French TV) Full Show

The main problem facing the company, in the earlier part of the eighteenth century, was that it lacked a 'reserved repertoire', one that it could exploit without fear of competition. The Comedie-Franfaise had an absolute monopoly on tragedy and on most comedy, that of Moliere and Regnard in 21 22 Theatre and state in France, iy6o-igoj particular.

The Opera enjoyed the exclusive privilege of mounting musical spectacles: no other Paris stage could do so without their agreement, a concession for which they demanded suitable payment. The reserved repertoire of the Comedie-Italienne had been the commedia deWarte, by now decidedly vieuxjeu, at least for the more refined portion of the public. They held the copyright on certain French comedies, those by authors who had preferred to write for them rather than for the Comedie-Francaise; the most gifted of these, Marivaux, had however given up writing for them when he was elected to the Academie Francaise in Moreover, time had taken toll of the fabric of their playhouse, the Hotel de Bourgogne, and they were at their wits' end to know how to pay for necessary structural work and renovations when their current liabilities already amounted to , livres.

To refloat the enterprise, they decided to make a bid for the most successful of the fairground theatres, Jean Monnet's Opera-Comique,21 which was in a highly prosperous condition in spite of having to pay heavy dues to the Academie Royale de Musique for permission to operate. Accordingly they applied to the King to allow them to take over the fairground theatre, and the merger was eventually sanctioned on 3 February The new acquisition proved invaluable. Favart, who had been the principal supplier of the now defunct Opera-Comique, was delighted at the huge concourse at the Comedie-Italienne when it opened after the merger.

Several people were trampled underfoot; one would-be spectator gave up the ghost under pressure from the throng. The vogue held up, their creditors were satisfied and in the Italians were able to enlarge the seating room in their theatre, while in the same year the canny administrators of the Opera raised their demands from 22, to 40, livres per annum, which the Italians found no difficulty in paying out of their swollen profits. French comic opera took the provinces by storm, then spread over Europe and could be seen at all the princely courts in Germany and even in Italy, where, as Bachau- The royal theatres of the 'ancien regime' mont proudly observed, 'the greatest musicians of Rome and Naples applaud the talents of our French composers'.

In the French non-singing actors in the troupe were pensioned off, and the comedies in which they used to act were absorbed into the stock repertory of the Comedie-Franf aise. Ten years later, the Italian actors were likewise sent packing.

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There was now nothing Italian about the ComedieItalienne but the name; nevertheless, when in they erected a fine new building with its entry on the Rue Favart, they still had the words 'Theatre Italien' inscribed above the portico in letters of gold. The fact that its facade did not face the much-frequented boulevard - still known even today as the Boulevard des Italiens - caused a good deal of amused comment at the time, including the following slightly ribald quatrain: Des le premier coup d'oeil on reconnait tres bien Que le nouveau theatre est vraiment italien, Car il est dispose d'une telle maniere Qu'on lui fait aux passants presenter le derriere.

The Italians were always regarded as the junior company, which in a sense they were, having been brought to Paris by the Regent as late as ; moreover, unlike the other two, the Comedie-Italienne had never received a royal warrant. People crowded into their theatre because they could count on being amused there; they were seldom greatly amused at the ComedieFranf aise, but there and at the Opera they had the impression of being given the best that the arts of declamation, of ballet and of singing could offer them.

The Comedie-Italienne, it has been said, concentrated more on pleasing its audience than on upholding its own prestige; as a result, it had less prestige, but it was the more loved. The book Les Trois Theatres, published by Des Essarts in , is concerned with the three royal foundations in Paris, these being evidently the only ones deemed worthy of the name of 'Theatres' in the author's view; any others were too marginal to deserve mention.

Yet these three were already, at the time he wrote, facing serious 23 24 Theatre and state in France, igoj competition from new establishments which owed nothing to royal favour and patronage. Owing their foundation and initial prosperity to the enterprise of private individuals who had previously been associated with the fairground booths, and whose playhouses were referred to for this reason disdainfully as the theatresjorains, they heralded a new departure in dramatic practice, both in the kind of productions they offered and in their reliance on winning the favour of the public by offering novelties rather than by seeking to maintain traditional standards under the cloak of state protection.

Paris was no longer, over the last three decades of the ancien regime, served exclusively by the three theatres which Des Essarts felt worthy of attention; its needs were being met by a whole cluster of new establishments, before which the royal theatres found themselves increasingly on the defensive. The forains constituted a 'third estate' in the theatrical kingdom; and, like the Third Estate as Sieves saw it, they were nothing to begin with, but destined, as the politician foretold, to become everything.

CHAPTER 2 The rise of the commercial theatre If one defines commercial theatre as that which is totally independent of financial backing from the public purse, and free therefore from the constraints and controls which such backing normally involves, then in France at least it clearly antedates state intervention; one can trace the beginning of commercial theatre back to when the earliest impresarios started journeying around the country with a scratch company of actors, paying them wages from the coppers extracted from their audiences, and pocketing what was over as their personal profit.

The only control to which these itinerant companies were originally subject was the obligation, before they set foot in a town, to obtain permission from the police authorities to do so; this rule was enshrined in law by an edict dating back to , and was rigorously enforced down to Before a manager embarked on a tour, he would normally take the precaution of writing to the various localities he proposed to visit, asking for permits to be delivered. Once he arrived in a particular town, he found himself obliged to conform to all manner of occasionally vexatious local regulations: performances had to start and finish at stated times; he had to agree not to admit certain categories of spectators - notably domestics in livery and even, in certain areas, members of the Jewish confession - and to close the theatre altogether on Sundays and public holidays, which were precisely when he might have expected the largest audiences.

If a town held an annual fair, the manager's chances of obtaining a permit for its duration were that much better, since the presence of an itinerant troupe usually formed an additional attraction and increased the profitability of the fair. And this applied to Paris as much as anywhere. A provincial company of entertainers was first 25 26 Theatre and state in France, iy6o-igoj recorded in the capital in , and within a few years, at the two great fairs that flourished there, showmen flocked from all parts of the country, setting up their booths and hustings, tempting the milling crowd with puppet plays, with caged bears and lions, with trained dogs and monkeys, with jugglers and rope-dancers.

The first stage plays did not make their appearance until ; they tended to follow the Italian tradition of gross farce, and indeed after , when the Italian company summoned earlier was expelled,2 its repertory, together with the masks and costumes they had worn to identify the parts they played - Harlequin, Pantaloon, Columbine etc. The two principal fairs in Paris, Saint-Germain and SaintLaurent, were of ancient foundation, dating back to the thirteenth century. The first, coinciding with the carnival season, opened six or eight weeks before Palm Sunday and closed then; the second lasted, in the eighteenth century, from the end of June to the end of September.

There was a third, Saint-Ovide, which was supposed to last for a fortnight in August but could be extended with the permission of the police authorities for a third week or even longer. The police tended to look favourably on the fairground entertainers, as did the monks of Saint-Germain to whom the fairmen paid rent.

From onwards the Lieutenant of Police was given the responsibility of supervising the fairground theatres and, being well aware that the actors provided the lower class with relatively harmless amusement, tended at all times to regard the humble buskers with indulgence and to take their side in the disputes that occasionally arose when the royal theatres objected that the forains were encroaching on their privileges. However, it seems to have occurred to a few bold spirits that the way forward for a prosperous commercial theatre did not lie with the intermittent entertainment offered at the Paris fairs, which were in any case based on an older form of trading destined to dwindle and vanish even before the Revolution.

The earthworks thrown up in as part of its defences were in planted with four lines of trees and became a favourite walk for the citizens of The rise of the commercial theatre Paris, permitting a fine view of the surrounding countryside stretching away to the windmills of Montmartre. It ran from the Porte Saint-Antoine to the Porte Saint-Martin, and owed the name Boulevard du Temple to the Knights Templars, who had established themselves in this area until their order was suppressed under Philippe le Bel in Already in Goldoni, during his stay in Paris, regarded the Boulevard as his favourite place of recreation.

It was, he wrote, 'an agreeable and salubrious resort', in contrast to the airlessness of the narrow streets of Paris flanked by tall buildings. At the same time there was plenty to amuse the eye as one passed along under the shade of the trees: crowds of people, an astonishing press of traffic, little boys darting among the horses and carriage wheels to offer you all manner of wares, chairs on the footpaths for the idler who wants to see the world go by and for ladies who simply want to be seen, cafes all spruced up, with orchestras and French and Italian singers, pastry-cooks, restaurateurs, puppet shows, acrobats, barkers inviting you to come inside and see giants and dwarfs, wild animals and sea-monsters, waxworkfigures,robots and ventriloquists5 - all the fun of the fair, but with the difference that this fair was open the whole year round.

Mrs Thrale, staying in Paris in , visited the Boulevard which she described as 'a sort of Sadlers Wells where rope-dancing, tumbling and pantomime preside - it was more entertaining than a play'. Jean-Baptiste had a younger brother, FrancoisPaul, whom he left in charge of the puppet show in , having decided his own future lay on the Boulevard.

Here he rented a vacant hall where he started showing short plays taken from the repertory of the Theatre-Italien and the Opera-Comique. Though his original capital cannot have been large, before long he had put aside enough to lease a plot of land further along the Boulevard and erect a wooden theatre of his own on the side opposite the city. The 27 28 Theatre and state in France, iy6o-igoj ground, boggy in the extreme, had to be drained and then levelled; once opened, however, the theatre proved amazingly popular.

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The inconvenience of making their way in winter across a rough path of sand and cinders appears not to have deterred his clients: on Sundays, it was by no means unusual to see a couple of thousand spectators besieging the doors. One reason was that for some years Nicolet had the Boulevard pretty well to himself; the few rivals he had at the start, who, like him, had moved from the fairgrounds, returned to them in disarray, for Nicolet's programmes were unbeatable.

A certain Toussaint-Gaspard Taconet, formerly a joiner's apprentice, then stagehand and prompter at the Opera-Comique, wrote a succession of lively playlets for the new theatre in which he occasionally acted himself, taking the part of a working man given to drink. In this he needed to do no more than follow his natural bent, for Taconet was more often to be found in his cups than not. It was probably drink that brought about his early demise; Bachaumont, recording this melancholy event on 21 January , saluted him in a brief obituary as 'the soul of Nicolet's theatre'.

But Nicolet had many other attractions to fall back on. His repertoire ranged from 'pantomimes nationales' patriotic pageants like Le Siege de la Pucelle d'Orleans, a re-enactment of a well-known episode in the life of Joan of Arc , to rustic comedies of a touching sentimentality and broad farces like Les Ecosseuses The PeaShellers , written by Taconet and including a quarrel between two market-women exchanging vulgar insults, so successful that it was still being acted during the Revolution. Around everyone wanted to see the antics of the monkey Turco, in particular his killing imitation of the Comedie-Fran9aise actor Mole; Turco, to the delight of the ladies in the audience, would climb up and sit on the edge of their boxes in expectation of sweetmeats.

At a later date, Nicolet imported a company of Spanish acrobats including one who, blindfolded, would perform the wildest dances, twirling like a dervish among a quantity of eggs he had previously distributed apparently at random over the stage: not a single one was smashed or even touched. His first great success, UAmour queteur , full of licentious sous-entendus, aroused the indignation of the Archbishop of Paris, who caused this unworthy cleric to be defrocked. The rise of the commercial theatre 29 Unperturbed, Robineau adopted the anagrammatic pseudonym Beaunoir under which he continued to write exclusively for Nicolet down to Every time UAmour queteur Cupid Collecting for Charity was announced, it was found necessary to double the police detachment keeping order outside and inside the theatre; at a later date, Nicolet's troupe had the signal honour of being summoned to Versailles to perform the play before Their Majesties.

The fortunate impresario had the name of his company changed in consequence to that of Les Grands Danseurs du Roi. The Opera, jealous of this success, has tried to have it suppressed; but the sagacious magistrate who presides over the police and has particular charge of the minor theatres has felt it only right to defend Nicolet against such unjust demands, all the more because this director has invested heavily in his theatre, and it is natural that he should get some return.

Having been appointed to keep order and deal with disturbances in the streets of Paris, his strategy, far from checking the development of the boulevard theatres, was rather to promote it, on the grounds that the expanding working-class population needed the relatively harmless diversion that a visit to the theatre represented. Being also responsible for the fairground theatres, it was in his interests to encourage them too, for the commerce of the fairs would have slackened considerably without the attraction of the theatrical establishments still operating there.

So it remained obligatory for Nicolet and others on the Boulevard to keep these going: Nicolet's theatre at the Foire Saint-Ovide was particularly popular, and the crush to get in was made the subject of comment by Bachaumont in Jean-Baptiste Nicolet counts as the first of the long and colourful 30 Theatre and state in France, —igoj line of theatre directors on whose success depended not just their own livelihood but that of their numerous employees and dependants, from stagehands to playwrights.

What little information of a personal nature we have concerning the man suggests a certain stinginess, compensated for by his undoubted intelligence and energy. Mayeur de Saint-Paul, who worked for him, states that he was totally illiterate; not above saving himself the expense of employing a man to snuff the candles and sweep the auditorium at the end of a performance by carrying out these menial tasks himself; Tor ever running from his theatre on to the Boulevard and back again to his theatre; taking huge pinches of snuff every time: ecce homo'. In earlier days he must have had a hard struggle to make ends meet, which could account for his legendary avarice; but he prospered where others had failed, at an enterprise which no one had attempted before, and which went from strength to strength11 thanks to his acumen and resourcefulness.

If Nicolet was more a businessman than a man of the theatre properly speaking, the reverse was true of his principal rival, Nicolas Audinot. A native of Lorraine born in , he was taught music by his father and when qualified found employment as a professional violinist in the town orchestra at Nancy and in the household of the Due de Gramont. Drawn to the stage, he joined a company of strolling actors for a while; after that he came to Paris and in was taken on by the Opera-Comique while that theatre was still located in the Foire Saint-Laurent. In Audinot was one of the half-dozen actors of the Opera-Comique named by royal ordinance as worthy to be transferred to the Comedie-Italienne at the time of the merger of the two theatres.

On the stage, he specialized in the parts of comic servants; but he also found time to write a number of plays, one of which, Le Tonnelier The Cooper was performed regularly by the Comedie-Italienne down to the beginning of the nineteenth century. At the Comedie-Italienne his position was that of a pensionnaire only; it is said that he left, in , when the societaires refused to award him a rise in salary, or else because they had declined to find an opening for his young daughter.

The rise of the commercial theatre 31 He took an unexpected and ingenious revenge on the Italiens for their refusal to meet his demands. After a brief engagement at the Theatre de Versailles, he returned to the fairground and inaugurated a new type of marionette show.

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With the help of a former carpenter named Jean-Franfois Mussot whom he took into partnership, he fashioned jointed figures to resemble his former colleagues at the Comedie-Italienne, and staged a puppet play, Les Comediens de bois The Wooden Actors , which delighted the crowds but infuriated the victims of this new type of satire; it was said he even guyed one of the Gentlemen of the Bedchamber, representing him as Punchinello and showing him distributing favours and punishments with grotesque impartiality.

His success was such that, when the fair ended, Audinot transported the marionettes to the Boulevard du Temple where he opened a small theatre on 9 July ; he was joined by a couple of playwrights who similarly nursed a grievance against the royal theatre, and with their assistance he began showing short pieces which, in accordance with the traditional liberty allowed to puppet plays, included scenes and situations about as scabrous as could be imagined. This did not stop even ladies of fashion from attending, and in a short while Audinot, who had named his theatre the Ambigu-Comique,13 was drawing bigger audiences than his neighbour Nicolet.

Within a year the marionettes were replaced by child actors, an even greater novelty, for most people had forgotten the occasion, forty years earlier, when spectators at the Opera-Comique had been highly diverted by a performance of Fagan's La Niece vengee played by children under the age of As late as there were still child actors to be seen at the Ambigu-Comique, according to a guidebook to Paris of the time; they had special pieces written for them, we are told, 'in which sentiment, gaiety and decency go hand in hand'.

The Archbishop of Paris protested to the Lieutenant-General of Police about this abominable profanation of the sacred rights of childhood; but there was another 32 Theatre and state in France, IJ6O—igoj current of opinion according to which Audinot was performing a service to the dramatic art by establishing a seminary of young actors and actresses whose dispositions raised great hopes for the future. This was a little disingenuous: none of the children16 subsequently became ornaments of the French stage. The argument was settled in Audinot's favour when, on 9 April , Mme du Barry, in the hope of dissipating the ennui of the King, arranged for the company to give a command performance at Choisy-le-Roi.

The royal favourite was highly diverted by the somewhat dubious nature of the comedies and ballet-pantomimes that made up the programme on that occasion; His Majesty, however, merely smiled politely from time to time, Louis XV being apparently as hard to amuse as Queen Victoria was later said to be. The Ambigu-Comique reached the heyday of its popularity in the period between and Jean-Frangois Mussot, now known as Arnould-Mussot, had undertaken to reform the repertoire, purging it of improprieties, and launched a series of pantomimes, that is, wordless spectacles, strictly the only kind of play the fairground and boulevard companies were allowed to perform.

Pantomimes being in dumb show, the plots had to be fairly straightforward to be understood; recourse was occasionally had to an old device, that of displaying scrolls with a few words written on them to make explicit some otherwise incomprehensible development in the action. Music was pressed into service to evoke the appropriate emotion - pathos, excitement, terror - and increasingly speech was introduced to facilitate understanding. The pantomimes became pantomimes dialoguees and were so denoted in the programmes: a 'mongrel term for a mongrel genre' as it has been aptly described.

This was not the first time Audinot had had a brush with the Opera. In it had been notified to him that in future he was not to permit any singing or dancing on his stage, and that he was to reduce his orchestra to a maximum of four instrumentalists. Nicolet did not escape this extortion: the phenomenal success of his production of UEnlevement d'Europe The Rape of Europa in led to similar pecuniary demands which had to be met, however grudgingly.

Appetite increasing the more one eats, as the French proverb has it, these exactions, sanctioned by the state which saw in them an excellent method of financing a prestigious but poorly supported theatre by an impost laid on successful private enterprise, grew steadily through the years until, in August , came the final bombshell: the Council of State announced that all licences hitherto granted to the managers of the minor theatres were revoked and would be transferred to the Opera, which would have the right to dispose of them at will to the highest bidder; this regardless of the fact that the Opera had had no part in founding them or in bringing them to their present state of prosperity.

The former, named ironically Beauvisage because his face was covered with smallpox scars, was well known on the Boulevard for his skill as a mime: perched on a high stool, he imitated wordlessly every conceivable human emotion, and invariably collected round him an amused and attentive crowd.

Having amassed in this manner a small fortune, he struck up a friendship with Salle, who had been a member of Nicolet's troupe before leaving to work in a puppet show. Vienne offered to invest his savings in Salle's small enterprise, on condition he be allowed to continue his grimacing act during the intervals. In the two associates decided to recruit a few down-at-heel actors19 and start producing regular plays, including some from the protected repertory of the Comedie-Francaise. So it came about that when, in , copyright privileges were legally abolished, Salle was the only theatre manager on the Boulevard to lose thereby.

As for Lecluse, he was already an old man having been born in when in he was granted permission to open a small wooden theatre on the Boulevard Saint-Martin, adjacent to a popular amusement park known as the Vauxhall d'Ete. Lecluse had, at an earlier period, been an actor and had subsequently taken up dentistry; possibly it was the success of previous boulevard directors that prompted him to embark, at an age when most men are thinking of retirement, on this new and hazardous career.

But his own savings proved insufficient to meet even the preliminary costs, and before the new theatre could be inaugurated, Lecluse had to go into hiding to escape his creditors. He succeeded, however, in disposing of the completed theatre building, together with the all-important privilege or licence granted by the police authorities, to a combine formed of three erstwhile members of the ballet at the Opera, together with a coal merchant, one Lemercier, who agreed to put up the necessary finance.

This seems to be the first recorded instance of a company consisting of men with theatrical experience to whom funds were entrusted by an outsider with disposable capital; it was to prove a model for future undertakings in the commercial theatre. It would not seem that Lemercier had any cause to regret having invested in this way a portion of the profits of the coal trade; for a play, probably accepted for production by Lecluse before his creditors foreclosed,21 proved one of the biggest popular successes of the later part of the eighteenth century.

This was Les Battus paient Vamende Those Who Are Beaten Get Fined of which the hero, Janot, is an unfortunate who tries throughout to get his rights but is rebuffed at every turn and has finally to pay for his audacity by losing his little all. Janot is beaten by his boss, doused with the contents of a chamberpot by his girlfriend, cheated by the lawyer he tries to employ, arouses sympathy, perhaps, among the thoughtful The rise of the commercial theatre 35 and laughter among the majority - or certainly did in the farce opened at the newly named Varietes-Amusantes on 11 June and had consecutive performances, a record to be surpassed in pre-revolutionary France only by Le Manage de Figaro in At the th performance J.

Meister noted - without comment that not even two boxes had been booked at the Comedie-Franfaise for the first performance of Voltaire's Rome sauvee, while at the third, the royal theatre was deserted; everyone had flocked to see Les Battus paient Vamende. The ultimate accolade came with a command performance at Versailles on 23 September, though the august personages who deigned to attend were reportedly disappointed and wondered what the Parisians saw in this unseemly farce.

The play had been written by an actor recruited into the company from Nicolet's theatre, one Louis Dorvigny, reputedly a bastard son of Louis XV. The prodigious success of his farce was due, however, less to its own merits than to the brilliant comic who played the part ofJanot. Applauded on the stage, feted by people of rank who invited him to their homes to give private performances, Janot - or Volanges, to give him his real name - was modelled in porcelain by the factory at Sevres and in wax by the celebrated Curtius, who placed his likeness beside the bust of Voltaire; and when the actor caught a chill, the street in which he lodged was blocked by the carriages of the great, anxious to hear how he was progressing.

When he accepted an offer of employment at the Comedie-Italienne, the habitues of the Varietes-Amusantes descended on the old theatre in the Rue Mauconseil, at the best of times difficult of access owing to the narrowness of the neighbouring streets, to support their idol and, possibly, to protest at his defection; the tumultuous scenes, both outside the Theatre-Italien before the performance began, and inside in the course of the evening, were of a kind seldom if ever witnessed before at a royal theatre.

Volanges, returning subsequently to the Varietes-Amusantes, was almost as successful at later plays put on there, notably in Beaunoir's Jerome Pointu which had its first performance on 13 June It enjoyed an uninterrupted run for the next eighteen months; Mme d'Oberkirch, visiting the theatre as late as 28 May , found it 'full of people from the Court, all of them in fits of laughter'. This did not mean, of course, that they would in future be run directly by the Opera; but the Opera was empowered to put in charge of them men of its own choice, to run them on its behalf.

Effectively, this meant 'upping the ante'; the ransom money the commercial theatres had been paying to the Opera was enormously increased and, if they demurred, it was open to the state institution to hold an auction among prospective directors, if necessary ousting the original proprietors. Tenders were invited in September Nicolet, canny as ever, grumbled, but pretended to yield the point, consenting under protest to pay the Academie de Musique 24, livres a year for permission to continue managing the theatre he had built, literally, by the sweat of his brow; privately, he no doubt hoped to wriggle out of payment on the plea of reduced takings.

Audinot tried to prevaricate, thought he could negotiate, but in the end was dispossessed. Two little-known newcomers from Bordeaux, Gaillard and Dorfeuille, had offered 60, livres annually for the next fifteen years for a package consisting of both the Ambigu-Comique and the Varietes-Amusantes; by the terms of the lease they signed with Jensen, inspector of the Opera, it was settled that they should 'direct and administer the said enterprises, either at their present location if MM.

Gaillard and Dorfeuille reach agreement with their proprietors, or at any other location they prefer'. The privilege for all the boulevard theatres had been transferred to the Opera by the royal edict of 18 July that portion of the privilege affecting the Ambigu-Comique and the Varietes-Amusantes was now transferred to Gaillard and Dorfeuille, capitalists of a new breed that was beginning to emerge on the eve of the Revolution. They had no intention of taking over the two vacant theatres on the Boulevard; rather, their plan was to use their privilege to open a new theatre in a more fashionable centre than the Boulevard du Temple, namely the Palais-Royal.

This palace, erected by Richelieu The rise of the commercial theatre between and , had been bequeathed at the Cardinal's death to Louis XIII; his successor, Louis XIV, had given it to his brother, Philip of Orleans, and it had remained the property of the Orleans family ever since; here the Regent had held his court and here his great-grandson, known under the Revolution as PhilippeEgalite, having inherited the palace decided to develop the gardens as a commercial centre.

The Due de Chartres, as he then was, needed to increase his income and reckoned that the rental he would derive from shops and gambling-houses would more than repay the expense of building them. In this he was initially disappointed, but in he decided to take the further step of setting up one or more theatres, correctly calculating that not only would they draw the crowds but that the turnover of the booksellers, jewellers and suchlike would incidentally benefit, so allowing him to charge higher rents. In other words, the duke was proposing to turn the gardens into a permanent fairground, complete with places of theatrical entertainment, just about the time when the old fairs were disappearing for good.

A small puppet theatre had been set up in the north-west corner of the grounds as long ago as , for the amusement of the children of the ducal family; it was enlarged and thrown open to the public on 26 October The director was one Jean-Nicolas Gardeur, credited with having invented the art of papier-mache sculpture; he worked in partnership with his brother, a tailor who stitched costumes for the marionettes, and with a wood-turner who carved the figures.

But puppet plays were no longer regarded as adult entertainment, and the new theatre did not begin to prosper until Gardeur decided to do exactly what Audinot had done some fifteen years before, and introduced a few child actors to play alongside the marionettes. This change proved so successful that in a short while the marionettes were relegated to an attic and all the parts entrusted to children. However, the licence granted to the Theatre des Beaujolais, as the new enterprise came to be called by the Parisians,24 did not permit the appearance of speaking actors on stage.

To circumvent the difficulty, the child actors were taught to mime silently while adults spoke or sang their parts behind the wings and backdrop; as the children moved about the stage, their unseen 'voices' were required to move about unheard in felt slippers so as to take up a new position behind the little ones who were mouthing the words. This called for 37 38 Theatre and state in France, IJ6O—igoj careful rehearsal, but on the other hand there was no need for a prompter since the speeches could be read directly from copies of the play. The illusion was such that many members of the audience refused to believe that the children were merely acting in dumb show, or even that they were children at all, since the unusually low front friezes, the so-called sky borders, made them appear taller than they were.

A temporary wooden structure was put up in , in the south-west part of the grounds, where the inaugural performance took place on 1 January , the day after Audinot's AmbiguComique closed on the Boulevard. The directors made it clear from the start that they had no intention that the Varietes-Palais-Royal, as it was officially called, should be mistaken for yet another minor theatre: they pitched their prices quite high, hoping to attract the same kind of moneyed clientele as was to be found in the royal theatres; they refused to open a booth in the fairground, as the boulevard theatres had been required to do; and in order to make sure of the goodwill of the Opera, they voluntarily increased their annual fee to this institution by an extra 10, livres.

This preliminary inspection, commonly but incorrectly referred to as a second censorship above and beyond the police censorship to which all plays were subject at this time, had been instituted in in the hope of avoiding future arguments about the rights of Nicolet and Audinot to put on certain plays which might appear to infringe the monopoly of the Comedie-Frangaise on straight drama and that of the Comedie-Italienne on comic opera.

Two senior actors, Preville from the Comedie-Fran9aise and Dehesse from the Comedie- The rise of the commercial theatre 39 Italienne, were nominated by Papillon de la Ferte to carry out these inspections. The manuscripts of all new plays had to be submitted to these two, or their successors, who had the right to make such alterations or deletions as they thought fit, or even to claim for their own companies works they deemed worthy of production on a royal stage.

If the societaires entrusted with these supervisory functions saw the play was well-constructed, they would not hesitate to strike out a few scenes in order to muddle the flow. Often the actors from the privileged theatres would only admit disconnected scenes; occasionally they would reserve for their own theatres a play written for a minor theatre; but most frequently they would judge the play to be too good for the minor theatres but not good enough for theirs; in which case they would prohibit it entirely and it was never seen anywhere.

For this reason, a piece of gross pornography had a better chance of being approved than one that observed the proprieties. Louis-Sebastien Mercier, one of the most virulent critics of the Comedie-Franfaise, in a chapter of his popular Tableau de Paris entitled 'The Hustings of the Boulevards', complained that the King's players have made it a rule that the entertainments in the popular theatres should be either obscene or trivial, since their privileges are interpreted as forbidding any other company of players to enact moral and decent works.

Thus, in accordance with these not only nonsensical but imaginary prerogatives, the common people are to be fed only poisonous filth: this is the strange theory they put into practice. Dirty plays are passed without comment; whatever has a tincture of morality is stopped; and that, in what passes for a policed society! Contemporaries noted that Audinot, from onwards, followed by Nicolet a little later, started to show 'real comedies, so refined and delicate that they seemed worthy of another place'.

Plays of this sort did not always avoid sentimentality, but they were also uplifting without being tiresomely didactic and were totally lacking in the coarseness associated with earlier boulevard productions. Prejudice against the minor theatres was still strong enough to prevent critical notice being taken of them in the public press — unless it was that, as Metra supposed, the ComedieFranfaise still retained enough credit to suppress the eulogies they might otherwise have earned. Not content with forbidding parodies of plays shown on their stage, they even claimed copyright on a character's name, so that for instance no boulevard play detailing the further adventures of Beaumarchais's Figaro had any chance of being staged.

They also objected to the minor theatres producing any play that had appeared in print but had not been seen on the stage, on the grounds that - who knows? It goes without saying that any play exceeding the statutory three acts, or any play in verse, was automatically disqualified. What was more remarkable was that plays in which titled characters appeared were also barred, as being out of place in a theatre designed to amuse the dregs of society. The Comedie-Frangaise affected to be unaware that the audiences of the more important commercial theatres were, by the s, composed in a large measure of precisely those people of rank whose presence among the dramatis personae of a boulevard play would have been construed, so they claimed, as an impertinence.

Aware that the playwrights, with the exception of those who confined themselves to neoclassical tragedy, were tending increasingly to offer their products to the commercial theatres, the actors exercising supervisory rights did not scruple to use their powers to transfer to their own companies any play likely to prove successful. No inquiries were made, apparently, to discover whether the author desired this transfer; it was assumed the honour could not be The rise of the commercial theatre 41 declined.

In the Comedie-Franfaise, short of new material, decided to appropriate Dorvigny's Les JVoces houzardes, which the author had originally offered to the Varietes-Amusantes; however, either because of the change of ambience, or because of inadequate casting, it did not do as well as expected. Fanfan et Colas, on the other hand, written by Robineau for the same theatre and similarly appropriated, was a useful permanent addition to the repertoire of the Comedie-Italienne, as too was Mercier's La Brouette du vinaigrier The Vinegar Seller's Wheelbarrow , originally performed by the Associes; both these plays were put on within a month of each other in Writing of the new production of La Brouette du vinaigrier, J.

Meister observed sarcastically: The actors of the Comedie-Italienne have had no qualms in laying their hands on this play, and their clients in the pit, almost as cultivated as those of the boulevard theatres, gave it a rapturous welcome; they welcomed it, one could say, as a tribute paid by the actors in receipt of a royal subvention to the noble school at which their taste was formed and cultivated. The privileged position of the state theatres vis-a-vis the commercial sector seemed more and more difficult to justify as time went by. The former had, it was said, the best actors; this might have been true, but the boulevard companies were by no means short of talent.

Thanks in part to royal largesse, the two Comedies undoubtedly possessed the finer theatres, but that they were in receipt of this bounty was yet another aspect of their special privileges, many of which were felt to be exorbitant and outdated. Gone were the days when the boulevard theatres were forbidden to perform anything but simple farces and knockabout shows; by now the situation had completely changed.

The commercial sector, having grown in size and stature over a short space of time, could claim that it was meeting the current demands of the theatre-going public more effectively than the Comedie-Franf aise, with its outmoded heroic tragedy. T, who will never go into mourning for Cleopatra or for Pompey', wrote a pamphleteer in , I, who believe I shed enough tears at the interments of today without shedding more at the funerals of antiquity - ah! How many are there for whom the Comedie-Francaise is too fine! It would be a pity if a man could not find amusement unless he was a great wit or a great lord.

Finally, it must be stressed that the three royal theatres did not present a united front when faced with the growing prestige of the theatres on the Boulevard and, more recently, in the grounds of the Palais-Royal. One of the three, the Academie Royale de Musique, had a vested interest in the continuing prosperity of the commercial sector. This was made crystal clear by Papillon de la Ferte in a memorandum to the administrative committee of the Opera, in which he wrote: It is in maintaining and protecting these lesser theatres, it is in ensuring their success, that the Opera can count on the continuation of the payments that it requires of them.

It cannot, therefore, neglect to place them under its wing. Its interests demand that it protect them vigorously against the renewed pestering to which the royal actors will subject them. When one looks at the strangely contradictory way the directors of these theatres are treated by their arrogant rivals, one would never suppose that it is the same government that on the one hand causes them to befleecedby the Opera, and on the other hand allows the actors of the two royal theatres to mutilate their plays.

As far as the Opera was concerned, it was only too delighted, no doubt, that private enterprise was doing its bit towards keeping afloat this important, but ruinously expensive, cultural institution. In addition, it is likely that from time to time voices were raised in the council chamber in disdainful support of the minor theatres, for these fleapits were not to be despised: better lewd farces than rioting in the streets.

When the Comedie-Francaise complained, the minis- The rise of the commercial theatre ter answered that some form of dramatic entertainment was necessary for the common people, and that 'the system of Louis XIV had changed'. And so the old monarchy, in this matter as in many others, progressed cumbrously from expedient to expedient, trying to prop up the old system it had inherited, taking due note of new developments, hampering but not daring to suppress them outright, reacting sluggishly to circumstances which were pointing in one direction only, to the ultimate abolition of privileges and to what was called the 'liberation of the theatres', achieved by the National Assembly in , destroyed by Napoleon I in and reestablished finally by his nephew in Under the ancien regime the machinery of censorship was designed only for the control of dramatic works produced at the three royal theatres in Paris; the boulevard theatres escaped by and large the censor's attention, however coarse the theatrical fare they occasionally offered: this was presumably because there was general agreement that their repertoire was beneath notice.

But the Comedie-Franfaise in particular was regarded as the state theatre, bound to uphold the dignity of the monarchy and the inviolability of the Catholic Church. Before the outbreak of the Revolution, however, the existence of the dramatic censorship appears to have been regarded, even by progressives, as no more than a minor irritant. This was in part due to the fact that the main thrust of liberal resistance during the Enlightenment was directed against the censorship of books and pamphlets; in part also because the censors at this period, being for the most part playwrights themselves or at any rate men of letters, were not perceived as being closely implicated in the machinery of state authority.

The minister with overall responsibility for dramatic censorship was the Lieutenant-General of Police, but he normally delegated the task of actually reading the plays in manuscript to a 'censeur de la police', a post held in succession by some half-dozen men in the course of the eighteenth century. In between the younger Crebillon and Suard, Sauvigny, another tragedian, held office briefly in Of them all, it was probably Jean-Baptiste Suard who was the least distrusted by the playwrights, if for no other reason than that he had no direct connection with the stage and could not therefore be suspected of partiality or self-interest, unlike, for instance, Crebillon senior, who invariably refused his visa to any play by Voltaire he was required to examine.

It needed the personal intervention of his superior to allow Mahomet to be shown in Marin, on the other hand, was at first inclined to an inconceivable laxness, to which the government took grave exception, even going to the point of sending him to the Bastille for twenty-four hours for having allowed through untouched Dorat's Theagene et Chariclee , in spite of a tirade it contained concerning the rois faineants of Merovingian times, which the audience took to refer to Louis XV and roundly applauded.

After this unfortunate incident Marin went to the opposite extreme, and works that came under his scrutiny risked being objected to on the slightest suspicion of subversiveness. In he even refused to admit Sedaine's brilliant comedy Le Philosophe sans le savoir, on the grounds that it constituted an apologia for duelling, a practice long forbidden by law.

Theatre and Popular Opinion In Eighteenth-Century Paris

In fact, as Sedaine saw it, his play was primarily concerned with the prejudice in France against men of rank taking up a career in trade; the challenge to a duel arises from some slighting remarks about merchants made by an officer in the hearing of the merchant's son, and although the two young men meet to settle their differences in the time-honoured way, they discharge their pistols into the air and are reconciled. Sedaine appealed to Sartine, the then Lieutenant of Police, inviting him to attend a rehearsal, along with other highly placed officials - and their wives.

The inclusion of a feminine contingent was a shrewd move, for Le Philosophe sans le savoir was an early example of the comedie larmoyante, and the women were, predictably, wiping their eyes before the end. The outcome of this private showing was that Sedaine was granted permission for its public performance on condition he agreed to a few minor changes.

One important difference between the functioning of the 46 Theatre and state in France, —igoj censorship in the eighteenth century and its operation in the nineteenth was that in the latter period it was the manager's responsibility to obtain the censor's sanction for a particular play to be produced, whereas in the pre-revolutionary period it was left to the author of the play to obtain permission.


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