Tragedy and Nation in the Age of Napoleon

BookTragedy and Nation in the Age of Napoleon

Tragedy and Nation in the Age of Napoleon

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 2020:05


May 11th, 2020



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Napoleon’s biographers often note his fondness for theatre, but as we approach the bicentenary of the Emperor’s death, little remains known about the nature of theatre at the time. This is particularly the case for tragedy, the genre in which France considered itself to surpass its neighbours.

Based on extensive archival research, this first sustained study of tragedy under Napoleon examines how a variety of agents used tragedy and its rewriting of history to make an impact on French politics, culture and society, and to help reconstruct the French nation after the Revolution. This volume covers not just Napoleon’s efforts, but also those of other individuals in government, the theatrical world, and the wider population. Similarly, it uncovers a public demand for tragedy, be it the return of Corneille, Racine, and Voltaire to the Comédie-Française, or new hits like Les Templiers (1805) and Hector (1809).

This research also sheds new light on Napoleonic propaganda and censorship, exposing their incoherencies and illustrating how audiences reacted to these processes. In short, Tragedy and Nation in the Age of Napoleon argues that Napoleonic tragedy was not simply tired and derivative; it engaged its audiences, by chomping at the poetic bit, allowing for a retrial of the Revolution, and offering a vision of the new French nation.

'The strengths of Siviter's book are numerous. The study is unambiguously comprehensive. She leaves no stone unturned in a quest to show how "a variety of agents" used "tragedy and its rewriting of history" to ultimately make "an impact on French politics, culture and society in an attempt to reconstruct the French nation." [...] Siviter's book is a masterful achievement of erudition, a fine collection of close readings of tragedies, and a  detailed reassessment of Napoleon’s cultural politics.'
Logan J. Connors, H-France Review

Shortlisted for the Society for French Studies' R. Gapper Book Prize

Author Information

Clare Siviter is lecturer in French theatre and performance at the University of Bristol. Her research focuses on the longer Revolutionary period from 1789 to 1815 in France and Francophone communities, and she is particularly interested in censorship, propaganda, and theatrical encounters between different cultures.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
List of illustrations and tables11
List of abbreviations15
Note on the text17
Reconstructing the nation26
Tracing tragedy30
Research aims and structure34
I. The reimposition of the tragic canon: introduction37
1. The tragic inheritance47
The eighteenth century48
The Revolution52
2. Rewriting the past59
Attempts at adaptation66
Institutional rewritings71
Tracing tragedy in performance85
The legacy of the afterlives91
3. Heroic conquerors95
II. New Napoleonic tragedies: introduction117
4. Composition, performance, reception: pulling back the curtain on censorship and propaganda129
To the Comédie-Française130
The bureaucratic censorship system132
Back at the theatre136
In print140
5. The ambiguity of antiquity145
Ancient Greece: Pyrrhus, 1807, Polyxène, 1804, and Hector, 1809147
Ancient Rome: Vitellie, 1809, Tibère, Bélisaire, Scipion, ou l’Africain and Camille, ou le Capitole sauvé167
6. Heroes of the East177
Cyrus, 1804178
Ninus II, 1813183
Artaxerce, 1808187
Omasis, ou Joseph en Egypte, 1806196
7. Fear of the foreign205
Staging foreign history: Mahomet II, 1811, Pierre le Grand, 1804, and Don Pèdre, ou le Roi et le laboureur, 1802206
Foreign threats: Jeanne Gray, Marie Stuart, L’Orphelin polonois, Gênes sauvée and Wallstein221
8. Meddling in the Middle Ages235
The Middle Ages on the stage: Brunehaut, 1810, and Les Templiers, 1805237
Unperformed medieval tragédies nationales: Charlemagne, Clovis, Baudouin empereur, La Démence de Charles VI, La Régence de Charles VII and Arthur de Bretagne258
9. Testing tragédies nationales275
Les Etats de Blois, 1810 and 1814277
La Mort de Henri IV, 1806284
Tippo-Saëb, 1813293
Appendix 1313
Appendix 2321
Appendix 3323