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FR14: Theatre: theory and practice, 1600 - 2000

This paper is available for the academic year 2024-25.

This paper will be for Part II students and will be seminar- and supervision-based, with the aim of giving a cross-century overview of French theatre since 1600 from both a theoretical and a performative perspective. There will be 20 lectures/seminars over the course of the year, and students will be given 5 supervisions, two in each of the Michaelmas and Lent terms and one in Easter, with the expectation that each student produce an essay for each supervision. All students will also be expected to give a short seminar presentation over the course of the first two terms, either singly or in pairs.


Teaching will follow thematic, rather than primarily chronological, shape. There will be no compulsory list of primary texts, but seminar discussions will include the following:

1. History and myth:

Corneille, Le Cid, Horace; Racine, Bérénice, Phèdre; Rameau, Hippolyte et Aricie; Voltaire, Mahomet ou le fanatisme; (Musset, Lorenzaccio); Sartre, Les Mouches; Michèle Fabien, Jocaste; Wajdi Mouawad, Une Chienne


2. Laughter (and the absurd):

Desmarets de Saint-Sorlin, Les Visionnaires, Molière, l’Ecole des femmes and La Critique de l’Ecole des femmes, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme; Marivaux, Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard; Labiche, Un chapeau de paille; Jarry, Ubu roi; Ionesco: Rhinocéros; Beckett, En attendant Godot, Oh les beaux jours!; Jasmina Reza, Art


3. Authority and Revolution:

Corneille, Cinna; Marie-Catherine de Villedieu, Le Favori; Marivaux, L'Île des esclaves; Beaumarchais, Le Mariage de Figaro; Chénier, Charles IX; Hugo, Ruy Blas; Musset, Lorenzaccio; Ionesco, Le Roi se meurt; Sartre, Huis clos; Genet, Les Bonnes, Les Nègres

Preparatory reading: 

Secondary Reading:

17th century:

H.T. Barnwell, The Tragic Drama of Corneille and Racine (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982)

W.Burgwinkle, N. Hammond, E. Wilson, eds, The Cambridge History of French Literature (Cambridge: CUP, 2011), chapters on Tragedy and Comedy by J. Lyons, M. Hawcroft and L. Norman

J.-M. Civardi, La Querelle du Cid (1637-1638) (Paris : Honoré Champion, 2004)

L. Norman, The Public Mirror (Chicago: Chicago UP, 1999)


18th century:

W. Howarth, Beaumarchais and the Theatre (London: Routledge, 1995)

Y. Moraud, La Conquête de la liberté de Scapin à Figaro: Valets, servantes et soubrettes de Molière à Beaumarchais (Paris: 1981)

M. de Rougemont, La Vie théâtrale en France au XVIIIe siècle (Paris: Champion, 1988)

Chapters of Cambridge History by R. Goulbourne and J. Harris


19th century:

A. Ubersfeld, Le Drame romantique (Paris: Belin, 1999)

Chapter by M. Hannoosh in Cambridge History.


20th century:

P. Brook, The Empty Space (London: Penguin, 1990)

D. Bradby, Modern French Drama (1940-1990) (Cambridge: CUP, second edition 1991)

W.Burgwinkle, N. Hammond, E. Wilson, eds, The Cambridge History of French Literature (Cambridge: CUP, 2011), chapter on drama by D. Bradby

M. Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd (London: Penguin, 1983 3rd edition)


Full reading list

The full reading list for Fr.14 can be found here.

Teaching and learning: 

Weekly one-hour class (a combination of lectures and seminars); five supervisions over the course of the year

Please see the lecture list.

For the Fr.14 Moodle site, please see here


Assessment will be by examination, either a three-hour written paper or an Optional Dissertation . The examination paper will consist of three sections; each section will comprise several essay questions and one commentary passage. The three sections will be based on the three strands of the paper: respectively, 'History and Myth' (section A), 'Laughter and the Absurd' (B), 'Authority and Revolution' (C).

Course Contacts: 
Professor Nick Hammond
Professor Mark Darlow