An Introduction to French Classical Tragedy by C. J. Gossip (auth.)

By C. J. Gossip (auth.)

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What is certain is that no curtain rose or fell to mark the beginning or the end of the separate acts. The reason is a straightforward one: seventeenth-century technology, and that of the eighteenth century too, for that matter, simply could not cope with the frequent movement of a large, heavy curtain. In a sense, then, this problem had an important influence on the set erected on thejeu de paume-type stages. Once the public-and the playwrights-had tired of the essentially medieval idea of a composite decor, far removed from any semblance of naturalism, and in the absence of a stage curtain, one unchanged setting had to be the order of the day.

The theatre season ran from just after Easter to the beginning of Len t of the following year; the break allowed for religious observance and, more mundanely, the hiring of actors or the renewal of contracts. It appears that tragedies were, on the whole, performed in winter, while the better weather was thought a suitable time for comedy. Thus Corneille's Le Cid opened at the Marais early in January 1637; Horace appeared in March three years later, after a private performance for Richelieu in February; Cinna, by way of exception, was probably first performed in the summer of 1642, although some believe it was during the winter of 1640; and Polyeucte was staged in December 1642 or January 1643.

If one can assume that a well-made play was doing well to attract perhaps 800 patrons early on in its run and that that figure would tend to drop rather than rise later, the number of people who saw even a major tragedy when it first came out 42 An Introduction to French Classical Tragedy is remarkably small~OOO for a modest success, 15--17,000 for a striking one, perhaps 10-12,000 for an average first run. The social mix of the audience may well have been considerable quite far on into the second half of the century, but at no time can more than a tiny minority of Parisians have had direct experience of a new production.

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