CARTESIAN SUBJECTIVITY ON THE NEOCLASSICAL STAGE; OR, MOLIÈRE ACTS CORNEILLE FOR LOUIS XIV
In 1658, having been invited to perform at court for the first time in his career, Molière paired his farce Le Docteur amoureux with Nicomède, a 1651 play by France's reigning dramatist, Pierre Corneille. The choice of Nicomède is surprising for political reasons, since the play is shot through with suspicion of royal authority: Corneille's hero is a great military leader unjustly imprisoned by the weak king he selflessly serves. The choice becomes less surprising when one considers a different set of reasons. Corneille's play is a generic oddity that marries its tragic tropes to elements of historical drama and a surprisingly comic ending. Molière's provincial troupe may have felt more at ease in such a play than in a proper neoclassical tragedy, since they lacked training in rhetorically complex stage declamation and in the codified gestures and postures preferred to convey tragic stage emotion at the time. In particular, they lacked the facility of the king's (and Corneille's) favorites, the esteemed Hôtel de Bourgogne actors, who were in the audience as guests of the monarch. No doubt anxious in their presence and in the presence of the king, Molière might have sought to mitigate the unfavorable comparison he anticipated between the talents of his troupe and those of the reigning Paris tragedians.
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