Voltaire Comic Dramatist

BookVoltaire Comic Dramatist

Voltaire Comic Dramatist

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 2006:03


March 22nd, 2006

Access Token


Other Formats



No two comedies of Voltaire are alike: the breadth and diversity of his comic dramaturgy in terms of form, technique, theme, characterisation and tone, are revealed in this first critical analysis and systematic reassessment of Voltaire’s eighteen comedies in their contemporary theatrical, literary and intellectual contexts. This study also exposes the fundamental unity of Voltaire’s comic theatre, which lies in the plays’ status as innovative, experimental works written in creative dialogue with, and fruitful opposition to, the contemporary trend towards serious, sentimental comedy.
Voltaire wrote his comedies over more than forty years (1725-1769), when comedy was undergoing significant redefinition as a genre. Typically dismissed as un-dramatic, sentimental, overtly didactic and so of limited interest today, his comedies emerge from this study as a series of vigorous explorations in the many possibilities of the comic genre. Voltaire wrote with the example of Molière and the seventeenth-century comic tradition constantly in mind, but at the same time he diverged from that tradition in pioneering ways, constantly testing the limits of generic convention and audience expectation. In demonstrating the blend of tradition and innovation at the heart of Voltaire’s aesthetics of comic drama, this book contributes to a remapping of the history of eighteenth-century French comedy. It also leads to a new understanding of Voltaire’s comic aesthetics more broadly: his comedies are a substantial, complex and vital part of his literary career, and studying them helps us to revise our view of the author of satirical contes, the dry wit whose distinctive literary mode can appear to be destructive irony. Viewed in the light of his comic theatre, the familiar Voltaire wears a significantly different expression.

'A strength of this book […] is not only that the author does justice to the intellectual dimension of Voltaire’s comic drama and his critical interests. The book is just as concerned with why Voltaire is funny, why his comedies are comic, and Goulbourne manages to explain this without falling into the predictable trap of entirely killing the jokes. One cannot, should not understand Voltaire without understanding his sense of humour, and happily one can through this book.'
Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies

'[…] nous disposons du premier livre vraiment convaincant sur la comédie de Voltaire, et si, pour autant, il ne clôt pas la recherche, meme provisoirement, c’est précisément à cause de son pouvoir de suggestion.'
Revue Voltaire

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Cover 1
Half Title 2
Title Page 4
Copyright Page 5
Dedication 6
Contents 8
i. Voltaire, comedy and criticism12
ii. Comedy and the comic16
iii. Comedy and contradiction20
iv. Playing with comedy22
v. Comedy in context26
1. From the Théâtre Francais to the Théâtre de la Foire: L’Indiscret and La Fête de Bélesbat30
i. Courtly comedy in the 1720s30
ii. L’Indiscret31
La Fête de Bélesbat48
iv. Signs of things to come62
2. Voltaire and the comédie larmoyante: Le Comte de Boursoufle, L’Enfant prodigue and Les Originaux63
i. Cirey and comedy63
ii. A critical trio68
iii. Le Comte de Boursoufle: comedy and comic subversion70
iv. L’Enfant prodigue74
v. Les Originaux91
vi. Conclusion97
3. Rewriting Molière: L’Envieux and La Prude99
i. From Molière to Voltaire99
ii. L’Envieux100
iii. La Prude111
iv. Conclusion128
4. Comedy for the king: La Princesse de Navarre130
i. A royal commission130
ii. Text and contexts132
iii. Text and theatricality140
iv. The play of tones141
v. The play of words and music148
vi. Comedy and propaganda154
vii. Posterity157
5. Comic heroines: La Femme qui a raison and Nanine159
i. Critical comedies159
ii. La Femme qui a raison161
iii. Nanine173
iv. Posterity192
6. Voltaire, the drame and l’infâme: Socrate, L’Ecossaise, Le Droit du seigneur and Saül195
i. Voltaire in the 1750s and early 1760s195
ii. Socrate198
iii. L’Ecossaise214
iv. Le Droit du seigneur227
v. Sau¨l238
vi. Responding to Diderot256
7. Voltaire, national history and the ope´ra-comique: Charlot, Les Deux Tonneaux and Le Baron d’Otrante258
i. Comedy and conflict258
ii. Charlot259
iii. Voltaire and the ope´ra-comique272
iv. Les Deux Tonneaux278
v. Le Baron d’Otrante291
vi. Conclusion300
8. Returning to Molière: Le Dépositaire303
i. An anecdotal comedy303
ii. Molière in the 1760s304
iii. Comedy and reaction308
iv. Echoes of Tartuffe312
v. Echoes of Le Misanthrope319
vi. Rounding on Rousseau: moderation and mondanité325
vii. Conclusion327
i. Comedy and apotheosis330
ii. Tradition and innovation333