Еssay on French 1830-1900

The period of 1830-1900 is a remarkable epoch in the history of France. Marked with great political, economical changes, brought about by the process of industrialization   this period was also immortalized by outstanding works of Symbolists, Romantics and Impressionists.

These great changes couldn’t leave out the Theatre. Inspired by Industrial Revolution and technical innovation, a lot of country inhabitants poured into the cities in a search of better life. This way a working class became a new kind of theatre audience and gave birth to new kinds of plays ”“ vaudevilles, pantomimes, spectacles and innovation of the century melodrama.  And for the more demanding auditory romantic plays were performed.

19th century is marked by the appearance and development a new trend in art, literature and drama – romanticism.

In France it became especially popular and was one of the most important means of realization of the authors’ ideas.

In 1830 Victor Hugo’s “Hernani” was performed and awoke a dispute between new-born romanticism trend and conservative traditions of classicism. Unexpected turn of events, contrasted characters,  flashing episodes ”“ everything here broke traditions and threw down a challenge to earlier drama traditions. Victor Hugo had a rare ability to unite uncommon for dramatic art techniques and his plays.

Alexandre Dumas’s “The Tower of Nesle”, Alfred de Musset’s  “Lorenzaccio” and Alfred de Vigny’s in “Chatterton” were successors of the new trend. It should be noticed that both, Hugo and Duma were sons of Revolutionary generals and Vigny was a soldier himself.

In general Romanticism is defined as a trend in the art of the 19th century and is characterized by the deviation from classical forms and traditions and making emphasis on the inner world of the main hero. It rebels against strict rules and defined formed of classicism and rationalism. Romanticism views emotions as the main leading power of all human deed and claims them to be the most interesting subject for explorations which should have become the main object of any art.  Spiritual aspect and emotional reaction are in the focus of attention of the romanticism writers.

High ideals and unattainable goals are peculiar to this style. The authors are in search of a special romantic hero ”“ an outstanding personality put in extraordinary life situation where all sides of his soul could be uncovered.  Romantic here is always opposed to the rest of the people and struggles against the whole world. The nature was one of the very important means of realization of the authors’ idea for romantic writers. They made the weather, the landscapes and even seasons to serve for the expression of the moods, thoughts and attitudes of the characters.

In France Romanticism was inspired by Jean Jack Rousseau Hugo was the leader of French Romanticism and formulated its credo in his first works drama “Cromwell” (1828) and in his play “Hernani” (1830).  There he proclaimed the freedom of the artist in his choice of subject and approach. His ideas became fundamental for the works of others romantic artists, such as Chateaubriand, Alexandre Dumas père, Alphonse de Lamartine, Alfred de Vigny, Alfred de Musset.

But not only style and genre change was a remarkable event of the drama of the 19th century. Due to rapid technical progress and innovation the interior of the theatres was also changed. Candlelit performances were left in the past by the use of gas lighting. By the end of the century first electrified theatres appeared. Technical innovations also let to broaden the ways of expression by using spotlights made of limelight and the carbon arc. Scenery, costumes, setting were as close to reality as possible and were reproduced with maximum accuracy. Libraries and archives were used for creating most exact similarity with past times and epochs if it was necessary. Moving panoramas served for creating the travel effect.  The use of properties in the theatre was reduced to minimum. Real food, beverages and even animals if needed were brought to the theatre. Great attention was paid to the sceneries and panoramas creation. Meant to perform human feeling and attitudes of the author, the nature became one of the heroes of the play and was reproduced with perfect accuracy.  The period of the play performance became longer and longer due to these changes and scenery and decor approach.  Creating them became a very complicated and time consuming process and theatres couldn’t afford to change play as often as before. So called “long run” became common for the stage. That meant that one play was performed for a long period of time and also the number of plays performed simultaneously was decreased. Technical revolution touched all spheres of life and didn’t pass by the theatre.

Along with the technical innovation new approaches in censorship came to the theatre. New personage of the theatre has appeared at the time ”“ the director of the theater. He might be the actor of the theater or not to perform at all, but he was to create the general line of the theatre, to view all the plays performed, to train the actors. These principles are followed nowadays, also we can hardly find a theatre without director who is responsible for the face of the theatre and for the general ideas and ways of performance.  Another innovation was a law, defining copyrights of the authors. It helped to defend the authors’ rights and also let them influence the way their plays were performed. A big step was also a protection the right of the published plays which now defended not only the plays performed but also the published versions of the work.  Another plus of legislation protection was the right of the dramatist to control the destiny of his works not only inside the country but also abroad. That gave a wonderful opportunity to the authors to choose the translation version and to escape the rude adaptation and to same the literary value of the plays.

In the beginning of the 19th century the tragedy was strictly limited by classical canons and rules. It had no ways to development and had to look for some other ways of realizations. Classical canons of forms and subject didn’t correspond to the demands of time and its artists. They needed spade and they needed a draught of fresh air.  Same was happening to a comedy. Lacking new themes and subject and restricted by formality and predictability it could satisfy neither authors nor spectators. But the way out was found.  It was realized by different means. For example comedies gave birth to a new genre – comédie-vaudeville with its complicated plots, unexpected turn of events and grotesques personages. Everything there was appealed to serve to one goal ”“ to keep the interest of the spectator and to keep him tensed till the end of the play. One of the other ways of realization found by contemporary drama were so called melodramas. It was a new genre defined by incredible and sophisticated plots, love to spectacles and simplicity of morals. These all were characteristics mostly corresponding to the interests of the public. August von Kotzebue and Guilbert de Pixerecourt, were among the most successful representatives of the genre the period in Europe. But together with apparent simplicity and innocence these melodramas were forerunners of romanticism which’s conquered the stage later.

Both comédie-vaudeville of Scribe and melodramas of Pixerecourt aimed keeping spectators’ interest by concentration on the structure and scarifying forms and canons to the ingenuity of the plot.  The revolution enveloped all the country and had touched all the spheres of live penetrated very slowly to the theatre. It turned to be easier to break the old regime that the inviolable canons of classicisms. But true artists are never afraid of confrontation and new trends always find their ways in the history of art and culture.

The representatives of the younger generation disrespected vanity and affectation of the classical Théâtre Français.

They beard courageously against the strict rules and established norms. They popularized the right of an artist of free realization of the feelings and emotions, the right to represent to picture of the world and they perceived it in their minds, the right to put all attention to the inner world of the human beings. They manifested the free right of the artist to use most convenient for his goals artistic means and instruments. These all were the indicator of the arising romanticism trend. But all this fight took place only in the higher layers of the artistic bomonde.  The auditory was not aware of the stylistic subtleties and literary norms and were choosing plays by personal preferences. Literary fights didn’t touch their hearts and they were attracted only by the feeling of tension created by the author.  The public showed its usual common sense and didn’t take interested in the things which didn’t amuse it. Theater goes in France wanted one and the same thing ”“ they wanted to see a dynamic action, the display of affection and emotions and uncovering deepest strings of human behavior. It’s natural for all the times and nations that people are most of all interested in the human nature and in the men’s inner world.  And an artist who’s able to touching these deepest treasures of human soul always will have the audience. Kind of art should provoke feelings and compassion first of all and that became a credo of romanticism of the 19th century. While the audience didn’t need any scientific proved and has just chosen what it liked pseudo-classicism didn’t want to loose its positions and tried to uncrown the ideal of the new epoch by any means. And in contrast to theatre goes, theatre critics need these proves and manifests.

Such as Hugo’s preface to Cromwell and his “Hernani”. Hugo became the leader of the romanticism and in drama.

He showed the way to his successors. His verses were genuine and unique. That was one of the reasons of the striking success of his dramas. His poetical gift gave them special luster and attracted public. If to compare his works with Duma’s we can find less native faculty in them and more theatricality to satisfy the public. As to Duma he was a born playwright and revealed his genius in drama completely. Both Duma and Hugo were immediate followers of Pixérécourt and Ducange in their play-writing but they’ve brought vitality, action and energy to their style. Duma and Hugo made an impracticable thing ”“ they transformed boulevard melodramas into high-classy drama art.

The melodramas were followed by great dramatists but they were converted in accordance to their aims to serve to higher goals and to make the demanding public to feel and ache their ideas. A romantic hero should be thankful for its appearance to the melodramas with their tendency to choose outcasts of the society for the main heroes. So, first romantic heroes were definitely outstanding personalities but all not perceived by the society.  Hugo’s “Hernani” and Duma’s “Antony” from the same names plays are vivid examples of this tendency.

A true revolt has risen in the French Theatre in the second quarter of the 19th century. A revolt against classicism with its tyranny of rules and customs was awoken by romanticism.  The influence of prose fiction on the development of French drama was doubtless. In the middle of the century France was a rare exception among the world literatures where the drama wasn’t absorbed by the other trends of the literature and exited like a separate kind of art. In the most of the country drama as a separate genre was quickly suppressed by prose fiction.  Powerful and strong French novelists had brilliant rivals in the face of dramatists who didn’t yield them in popularity. Thought the drama of course didn’t escape the influence of prose, not as destructive for itself though like in other European countries. The influence of Balzac on the works of playwrights is evident. His influence on Augier and the younger Dumas is doubtless. The plays of the romanticists were focused on the passion and emotion which were unchangeable values of human creature and couldn’t leave the public uninterested.

There was a thought uttered by one French critic that a romanticism of the 1830 found its natural continuation in the communism of the 1871. They both had same roots ”“ the desire to break ”“ to break the laws, the rules, the common norms and strict dogmas. They both had a great destructive power and both leaned on the human emotions.

Romanticism had enough of power to sweep the Classicism aside and to break the canons but when everything was destroyed it proved its incapacity to construct something new. The field was cleared and let the way to other trends, such as naturalism, symbolism, realism.  By the end of the century the romantic drama was gradually withdrawn away but its spirit wasn’t gone yet. It emerged in the works of the different authors. For example the similarity of the heroine of the younger Duma’s “Dame Aux Camellas” with the heroine of older Duma’s “Antony” is evident and roots to romanticism. The works of later dramatists such as Augier and Sandeau have also a touch of romanticism.

By the end of the 19th century a number of dramatists tired of romanticism were in a search of new methods in dramatic art.  The true depiction of life was on the focus of their attention. The new trend named naturalism was founded and the naturalistic school of drama appeared.  Emile Zola was one of its brightest representatives. As any innovation it wasn’t perceived with the great enthusiasm by the prominent theatres and had to seek for the new ways of realization. This ways a lot of alternative theatres appeared and one of the most famous was, the Theatre Libre in Paris founded by Andre Antoine in 1887. It was one of the fist private theatres and being not official it could get read of the censorship.

Finally the changes brought to life and new literary movement called symbolism. Its appearance was natural as a reaction to naturalism and realism flooded the scene. France became its motherland.  The adherent of this trend put the symbol on the focus of attention and made it the main mean of realization of the author’s message. In the contrast with the other trends aimed to make the play as close to reality as possible, symbolists have chosen the way of intricate signs addressing their spectators.  Symbolism should be thankful to the poetry for its appearance. The precursors of the symbolists were Verlaine, Mallarmé, and Rimbaud. They became famous for uncovering the imaginary world of their fantasies to the public. They were followed by the Laforgue, Moréas, and Régnier.  But later it extended to other genres and poetic symbolism gave birth to the symbolic drama. The brightest representative of which was Maurice Maeterlinck. Belgian playwright who came to France in 1897 can be called the father of dramatic symbolism and all his work are perceived as a symbolic manifesto. In his works he tried to give the answers to the universal questions of the life and death, love and hatred using symbols. His idea of an impending fate and incurable tedium had a great influenced on the whole generation and was a source of inspirations for the development of the imagists and decadents.  “Les Aveugles” (1891, tr. “The Blind”), “Pelléas et Mélisande” (1892), “Monna Vanna” (1902), and “L’Oiseau bleu” (“The Blue Bird”) are among his most prominent plays.  The ideas of Maeterlinck were accepted and developed by Paul Claudel.

The 19th century in France was very rich with changes and they have touched all the spheres of life of the society and didn’t pass by the art and culture. We could trace the rapid change of genres of the 19th century from romanticism followed by realism and naturalism to symbolism which became popular later in the world and gave birth to the new trends in art and literature, such as existentialists, imagists and decadents. That’s an interesting period in drama development which has greatly influenced the modern drama as we can see it now.

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