enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館


Classic French Theatre

In the17th-century France, there were three major dramatists: Pierre Corneille, Jean Racine, and Molière.

Pierre Corneille
In 1637, Pierre Corneille produced “Le Cid “(The Lord). The play sparked a debate called the “Querelle du Cid” (Quarrel of “Le Cid”) because it contravened the ‘three unities’ (unity of time, unity of place, unity of action) and the principle of verisimilitude, both of which were considered essential requirements for classical plays. Corneille ultimately relented, and his subsequent plays all followed classic conventions, paving the way for French classical theatre and the works of Jean Racine.

Jean Racine
Jean Racine did not follow classical conventions passively; rather, he leveraged their strengths to perfect classical French theatre with works like “Phèdre.” In Racine’s plays, tragedy is a product not of fate but of the conflict between humans’ will and passions. In composing his tragic scenarios, Racine masterfully employed an exquisite type of verse called the alexandrine.

Following the bankruptcy of his Parisian theatre company Illustre Théâtre, Molière embarked on a 13-year-long theatrical circuit of France’s southern provinces. Molière’s company then received royal patronage and was granted the title of “Troupe de Monsieur” (the Troupe of Philippe I, Duke of Orléans) by King Louis XIV. Molière’s hectic life and sharp insight into human nature inspired him to produce a number of masterpieces, such as “Tartuffe”. While adopting elements of “commedia dell’arte”,Xwhich he had encountered during his circuit, Molière dispensed with stereotypical characters in favour of multifaceted and complex personalities. In this way, he achieved an authentic form of comedy of characters, one that was grounded deeply in human nature, and in doing so, he elevated the status of comic drama.