Journal of Romance Studies

Paying the fool: Rotrou and the economics of entertainment

Journal of Romance Studies (2006), 6, (3), 47–60.

Abstract

This article addresses the ways in which laughter, comedy and entertainment are thematized within the comedies and tragicomedies of the early seventeenth-century dramatist Jean de Rotrou. In particular, it demonstrates how Rotrou frequently portrays laughter as being implicated within complex networks of literal and symbolic exchange – networks that mirror, to some extent at least, the wider transactions that underpin the theatre as an institution. For professional or semi-professional entertainers such as the parasite Ergazile in Les Captifs and the jester Fabrice in La Bague de l’oubli, comedy is a commodity that can be traded for financial (or other) profit. Despite these characters’ best efforts, however, comedy stubbornly refuses to obey straightforward models of exchange, and indeed Rotrou’s entertainer figures are repeatedly shown to fail in their professional capacities (their very failure to make others laugh itself providing a further, ironic source of comic entertainment for Rotrou’s literal audience). It is only in the tragicomedies that the desire to make others laugh is presented as selfless and financially disinterested, yet even here the comic liberality of the stock ‘buffoon’ characters appears to be grounded in an ultimately solipsistic disregard for others’ responses.

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Author details

Harris, Joseph