Site de Benoît Melançon / Thèses canadiennes en littérature française du XVIIIe siècle

Nadeau, Martin, «Théâtre et esprit public : le rôle du Théâtre-Italien dans la culture politique parisienne à l’ère des Révolutions (1770-1799)», Montréal, Université McGill, thèse de doctorat, 2001, vii/268 p. Dir. : Pierre Boulle.

Taking as a case study the Théâtre-Italien, here considered both as a particular theatrical practice and as a specific stage in Paris — one of the most popular at the time — this dissertation asks what role this theatre played in the novel competition of discourses which characterized political culture in the era of Revolutions. All too often, historians have overestimated print culture as the main medium through which discourses were produced in the eighteenth century, and this despite the fact that theatre played a fundamental role in the public life of this period. Furthermore, when theatre is studied, historians emphasize too often the written form of the plays.

The dissertation’s structure seeks to underline the specificity of the cultural practice represented by the theatre. The discrepancies between the meaning of a play written by a particular author and the same play as it is performed on stage are emphasized. Political messages emerge out of the language of the actors and actresses without any possibility to control them, so that the players become, in effect, co-authors of the play. Similarly, the variety of the nature of the audience and the way in which it becomes at once judge, co-author and co-actor make the public, neither intangible nor invisible, but simply gathered, a crucial feature of this cultural practice which allows us to argue that theatre was actually a very bad instrument of propaganda. Instead, theatre can be seen at the time to be a public scene of immediate political debate. The conflicting opinions expressed there turn theatre not into the mirror of political reality intended by various regimes confronted to the diversity of the polity — what some people have called «a school for the people» — but rather as the mirror of the reality experienced by a large number of Parisians at the time. It is in this sense that we relate the theatrical practices studied with the concept of public spirit, expressing the people’s understanding of the general interest, instead of that of public opinion, expressing the unified message imposed by a dominant political group.

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