Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
French literature of the 17th century

French literature of the 17th century

Encyclopedia


17th-century French literature was written throughout the Grand Siècle of France, spanning the reigns of Henry IV of France
Henry IV of France
Henry IV , Henri-Quatre, was King of France from 1589 to 1610 and King of Navarre from 1572 to 1610. He was the first monarch of the Bourbon branch of the Capetian dynasty in France....

, the Regency of Marie de Medici, Louis XIII of France
Louis XIII of France
Louis XIII was a Bourbon monarch who ruled as King of France and of Navarre from 1610 to 1643.Louis was only eight years old when he succeeded his father. His mother, Marie de Medici, acted as regent during Louis' minority...

, the Regency of Anne of Austria
Anne of Austria
Anne of Austria was Queen consort of France and Navarre, regent for her son, Louis XIV of France, and a Spanish Infanta by birth...

 (and the civil war called the Fronde
Fronde
The Fronde was a civil war in France, occurring in the midst of the Franco-Spanish War, which had begun in 1635. The word fronde means sling, which Parisian mobs used to smash the windows of supporters of Cardinal Mazarin....

) and the reign of Louis XIV of France
Louis XIV of France
Louis XIV , known as Louis the Great or the Sun King , was a Bourbon monarch who ruled as King of France and Navarre. His reign, from 1643 to his death in 1715, began at the age of four and lasted seventy-two years, three months, and eighteen days...

. The literature of this period is often equated with the Classicism
Classicism
Classicism, in the arts, refers generally to a high regard for classical antiquity, as setting standards for taste which the classicists seek to emulate. The art of classicism typically seeks to be formal and restrained: of the Discobolus Sir Kenneth Clark observed, "if we object to his restraint...

 of Louis XIV's long reign, during which France led Europe in political and cultural development; its authors expounded the classical ideals of order, clarity, proportion and good taste. In reality, 17th-century French literature encompasses far more than just the classicist masterpieces of Jean Racine
Jean Racine
Jean Racine , baptismal name Jean-Baptiste Racine , was a French dramatist, one of the "Big Three" of 17th-century France , and one of the most important literary figures in the Western tradition...

 and Madame de La Fayette.

Society and literature in 17th-century France


In Renaissance France, literature (in the broadest sense of the term) was largely the product of encyclopaedic humanism, and included works produced by an educated class of writers from religious and legal backgrounds. A new conception of nobility, modelled on the Italian Renaissance courts and their
concept of the perfect courtier
The Book of the Courtier
The Book of the Courtier is a courtesy book. It was written by Baldassare Castiglione over the course of many years, beginning in 1508, and published in 1528 by the Aldine Press just before his death...

, was beginning to evolve through French literature. Throughout the century this new concept transformed the image of the rude noble into an ideal of honnête homme ("the upright man") or the bel esprit ("beautiful spirit") whose chief virtues included eloquent speech, skill at dance, refined manners, appreciation of the arts, intellectual curiosity, wit, a spiritual or platonic attitude towards love and the ability to write poetry.

Central to this transformation of literature were the salons and literary academies which flourished during the first decades of the century; the expanded role of noble patronage was also significant. The production of literary works such as poems, plays, works of criticism or moral reflection was increasingly considered a necessary practice by nobles, and the creation (or patronage) of the arts served as a means of social advancement for both non- and marginalized noblemen. In the mid-17th century there were an estimated 2,200 authors in France (mostly nobles and clergy), writing for a reading public of just a few tens of thousands. Under Cardinal Richelieu, patronage of the arts and literary academies increasingly came under the control of the monarchy.

Salons and Academies


Henry IV's court was considered by contemporaries a rude one, lacking the Italianate sophistication of the court of the Valois kings. The court also lacked a queen, who traditionally served as a focus (or patron) of a nation's authors and poets. Henry's literary tastes were largely limited to the chivalric novel Amadis of Gaul. In the absence of a national literary culture, private salons
Salon (gathering)
A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine taste and increase their knowledge of the participants through conversation. These gatherings often consciously followed Horace's definition of the aims of poetry, "either to...

 formed around upper-class women such as Marie de Medici and Marguerite de Valois
Marguerite de Valois
Margaret of Valois was Queen of France and of Navarre during the late sixteenth century...

, devoting themselves to discussions of literature and society. In the 1620s, the most famous salon was held at the Hôtel de Rambouillet
Hôtel de Rambouillet
The Hôtel de Rambouillet was the Paris residence of Madame de Rambouillet, who ran a renowned literary salon there from about 1607 until her death in 1665...

 by Madame de Rambouillet; a rival gathering was organized by Madeleine de Scudéry
Madeleine de Scudéry
Madeleine de Scudéry , often known simply as Mademoiselle de Scudéry, was a French writer. She was the younger sister of author Georges de Scudéry.-Biography:...

.

The word salon first appeared in French in 1664 from the Italian word sala, the large reception hall of a mansion. Before 1664, literary gatherings were often called by the name of the room in which they occurred -- cabinet, réduit, alcôve, and ruelle. For instance, the term ruelle derives from literary gatherings held in the bedroom, a practice popular even with Louis XIV
Louis XIV of France
Louis XIV , known as Louis the Great or the Sun King , was a Bourbon monarch who ruled as King of France and Navarre. His reign, from 1643 to his death in 1715, began at the age of four and lasted seventy-two years, three months, and eighteen days...

. Nobles, lying on their beds, would receive close friends and offer them seats on chairs or stools surrounding the bed. Ruelle ("little street") refers to the space between a bed and the wall in a bedroom; it became a name for these gatherings (and the intellectual and literary circles evolving from them), often under the wing of educated women in the first half of the 17th century.

In the context of French scholastica, academies
Academy
An academy is an institution of higher learning, research, or honorary membership.The name traces back to Plato's school of philosophy, founded approximately 385 BC at Akademia, a sanctuary of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and skill, north of Athens, Greece. In the western world academia is the...

 were scholarly societies which monitored, fostered, and critiqued French culture. Academies first appeared in France during the Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

, when Jean-Antoine de Baïf
Jean-Antoine de Baïf
Jean Antoine de Baïf was a French poet and member of the Pléiade.-Life:He was born in Venice, the natural son of the scholar Lazare de Baïf, who was at that time French ambassador at Venice...

 created one devoted to poetry and music, inspired by the academy of Italian Marsilio Ficino
Marsilio Ficino
Marsilio Ficino was one of the most influential humanist philosophers of the early Italian Renaissance, an astrologer, a reviver of Neoplatonism who was in touch with every major academic thinker and writer of his day, and the first translator of Plato's complete extant works into Latin...

. The first half of the 17th century was marked by a phenomenal growth in private academies, organised around a half-dozen or a dozen individuals who met regularly. Academies were generally more formal and more focused on criticism and analysis than salons
Salon (gathering)
A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine taste and increase their knowledge of the participants through conversation. These gatherings often consciously followed Horace's definition of the aims of poetry, "either to...

, which encouraged pleasurable discourse about society. However, certain salons (such as that of Marguerite de Valois
Marguerite de Valois
Margaret of Valois was Queen of France and of Navarre during the late sixteenth century...

) were closer to the academic spirit.

In the mid-century, academies gradually came under government control and sponsorship and the number of private academies decreased. The first private academy to fall under governmental control was L'Académie française
Académie française
L'Académie française , also called the French Academy, is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution,...

, which remains the most prestigious governmental academy in France. Founded in 1634 by Cardinal Richelieu, L'Académie française focuses on the French language
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

.

Aristocratic codes


In certain instances, the values of 17th-century nobility played a major part in the literature of the era. Most notable of these values are the aristocratic obsession with glory (la gloire) and majesty (la grandeur). The spectacle of power, prestige and luxury found in 17th-century literature may be distasteful or even offensive. Corneille's
Pierre Corneille
Pierre Corneille was a French tragedian who was one of the three great seventeenth-century French dramatists, along with Molière and Racine...

 heroes, for example, have been labeled by modern critics as vainglorious, extravagant and prideful; however, contemporary aristocratic readers would see these characters (and their actions) as representative of nobility.

The château of Versailles, court ballets, noble portraits, triumphal arch
Triumphal arch
A triumphal arch is a monumental structure in the shape of an archway with one or more arched passageways, often designed to span a road. In its simplest form a triumphal arch consists of two massive piers connected by an arch, crowned with a flat entablature or attic on which a statue might be...

es – all of these were representations of glory and prestige. The notion of glory (whether artistic or military) was not vanity or boastfulness or hubris, but rather a moral imperative for the aristocracy. Nobles were required to be generous, magnanimous and to perform great deeds disinterestedly (i.e. because their status demanded it, without expectations of financial or political gain), and to master their own emotions (especially fear, jealousy and the desire for revenge).

One's status in the world demanded appropriate externalisation ( or "conspicuous consumption
Conspicuous consumption
Conspicuous consumption is spending on goods and services acquired mainly for the purpose of displaying income or wealth. In the mind of a conspicuous consumer, such display serves as a means of attaining or maintaining social status....

"). Nobles indebted themselves to build prestigious urban mansions (hôtels particuliers) and to buy clothes, paintings, silverware, dishes and other furnishings befitting their rank. They were also required to show generosity by hosting sumptuous parties and by funding the arts. Conversely, social parvenus who took on the external trappings of the noble classes (such as the wearing of a sword) were severely criticised, sometimes by legal action (laws concerning sumptuous clothing worn by the bourgeois existed since the Middle Ages). These aristocratic values began to be criticised in the mid-17th century; Blaise Pascal
Blaise Pascal
Blaise Pascal , was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Catholic philosopher. He was a child prodigy who was educated by his father, a tax collector in Rouen...

, for example, offered a ferocious analysis of the spectacle of power and François de la Rochefoucauld
François de La Rochefoucauld
François de La Rochefoucauld may be:* François de La Rochefoucauld , French author* François de La Rochefoucauld , French cardinal of the Catholic Church...

 posited that no human act—however generous it pretended to be—could be considered disinterested.

Classicism


In an attempt to restrict the proliferation of private centers of intellectual or literary life (so as to impose the royal court as the artistic center of France), Cardinal Richelieu took an existing literary gathering (around Valentin Conrart
Valentin Conrart
Valentin Conrart was a French author, and as a founder of the Académie française, the first occupant of seat 2.-Biography:He was born in Paris of Calvinist parents, and was educated for business. However, after his father's death in 1620, he began to move in literary circles, and soon acquired a...

) and designated it as the official Académie française
Académie française
L'Académie française , also called the French Academy, is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution,...

 in 1634. Other original members included Jean Desmarets de Saint-Sorlin, Jean Ogier de Gombauld
Jean Ogier de Gombauld
Jean Ogier de Gombauld was a French playwright and poet. He was one of the original members of the Académie française. He also wrote novels, but has been described as a mediocre novelist....

, Jean Chapelain
Jean Chapelain
Jean Chapelain was a French poet and writer.-Biography:Chapelain was born in Paris. His father wanted him to become a notary; but his mother, who had known Pierre de Ronsard, had decided otherwise...

, François le Métel de Boisrobert
François le Métel de Boisrobert
François le Métel de Boisrobert was a French poet.-Biography:He was born at Caen, and trained as a lawyer, practising for some time at the bar at Rouen. About 1622 he went to Paris, and by the next year had established a footing at court, for he had a share in the ballet of the Bacchanales...

, François Maynard
François Maynard
François Maynard, sometimes seen as "de Maynard" was a French poet who spent much of his life in Toulouse.-Life and works:...

, Marin le Roy de Gomberville
Marin le Roy de Gomberville
Marin le Roy, sieur du Parc et de Gomberville was a French poet and novelist.He was born at Paris, and at fourteen he produced a volume of poetry. At twenty he wrote a Discours sur l'histoire and at twenty-two a pastoral, La Charité, which is really a novel...

 and Nicolas Faret
Nicolas Faret
Nicolas Faret was a French statesman, writer, scholar and translator.He translated Eutropius's Roman History .-Source:...

; members added at the time of its official creation included Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac
Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac
Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac was a French author, best known for his epistolary essays, which were widely circulated and read in his day. He was one of the founding members of Académie française.-Biography:...

, Claude Favre de Vaugelas
Claude Favre de Vaugelas
Claude Favre de Vaugelas was a French grammarian and man of letters. Although a life-long courtier, Claude Favre was widely known by the name of one of the landed estates he owned as seigneur of Vaugelas and baron of Peroges.Born at Meximieux, in the Ain département of France, he became...

 and Vincent Voiture
Vincent Voiture
Vincent Voiture , French poet, was the son of a rich merchant of Amiens. He was introduced by a schoolfellow, the count Claude d'Avaux, to Gaston, Duke of Orléans, and accompanied him to Brussels and Lorraine on diplomatic missions.Although a follower of Gaston, he won the favour of Cardinal...

. This process of state control of the arts and literature would be expanded even more during the reign of Louis XIV.

"Classicism" (as it applies to literature) implies notions of order, clarity, moral purpose and good taste. Many of these notions are directly inspired by the works of Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 and Horace
Horace
Quintus Horatius Flaccus , known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus.-Life:...

, and by classical Greek and Roman masterpieces. In theater, a play should follow the Three Unities:
  • Unity of place: The setting should not change. In practice this led to the frequent "Castle, interior". Battles take place off stage.
  • Unity of time: Ideally, the entire play should take place in 24 hours.
  • Unity of action: There should be one central story, and all secondary plots should link to it.


Although based on classical examples, the unities of place and time were seen as essential for the spectator's complete absorption into the dramatic action; wildly dispersed scenes in China or Africa, or over many years would—critics maintained—break the theatrical illusion. Sometimes, grouped with unity of action is the notion that no character should appear unexpectedly late in the drama.

Linked with the theatrical unities are the following concepts:
  • Les bienséances (decorum
    Decorum
    Decorum was a principle of classical rhetoric, poetry and theatrical theory that was about the fitness or otherwise of a style to a theatrical subject...

    ): Literature should respect moral codes and good taste; nothing should be presented that flouts these codes, even if they are historical events.
  • La vraisemblance: Actions should be believable. When historical events contradict believability, some critics advised the latter. The criterion of believability was sometimes used to criticize soliloquy; in late classical plays characters are almost invariably supplied with confidants (valets, friends, nurses), to whom they reveal their emotions.


These rules precluded many elements common in the baroque tragi-comedy: flying horses, chivalric battles, magical trips to foreign lands and the deus ex machina
Deus ex machina
A deus ex machina is a plot device whereby a seemingly inextricable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object.-Linguistic considerations:...

; the mauling of Hippolyte by a monster in Phèdre
Phèdre
Phèdre is a dramatic tragedy in five acts written in alexandrine verse by Jean Racine, first performed in 1677.-Composition and premiere:...

 could only take place offstage. Finally, literature and art should consciously follow Horace's precept "to please and educate" .

These rules (or codes) were seldom completely followed, and many of the century's masterpieces broke these rules intentionally to heighten emotional effect:
  • Corneille's Le Cid was criticised for having Rodrigue appear before Chimène after having killed her father, a violation of moral codes.
  • La Princesse de Clèves revelation to her husband of her adulterous feelings for the Duc de Nemours was criticised for being unbelievable.


In 1674 there erupted an intellectual debate (la querelle des Anciens et des Modernes
Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns
The quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns was a literary and artistic debate that heated up in the early 1690s and shook the Académie française.-Description:...

) on whether the arts and literature of the modern era had achieved more than the illustrious writers and artists of antiquity. The Académy was dominated by the "Moderns" (Charles Perrault
Charles Perrault
Charles Perrault was a French author who laid the foundations for a new literary genre, the fairy tale, with his works derived from pre-existing folk tales. The best known include Le Petit Chaperon rouge , Cendrillon , Le Chat Botté and La Barbe bleue...

, Jean Desmarets de Saint-Sorlin
Jean Desmarets
Jean Desmarets, Sieur de Saint-Sorlin was a French writer and dramatist. He was a founding member, and the first to occupy seat 4 of the Académie française in 1634.-Biography:...

) and Perrault's poem "Le Siècle de Louis le Grand" ("The Century of Louis the Great") in 1687 was the strongest expression of their conviction that the reign of Louis XIV was the equal of Augustus
Augustus
Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...

. As a great lover of the classics, Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux
Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux
Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux was a French poet and critic.-Biography:Boileau was born in the rue de Jérusalem, in Paris, France. He was brought up to the law, but devoted to letters, associating himself with La Fontaine, Racine, and Molière...

 found himself pushed into the role of champion of the Anciens (his severe criticisms of Desmarets de Saint-Sorlin's poems did not help), and Jean Racine
Jean Racine
Jean Racine , baptismal name Jean-Baptiste Racine , was a French dramatist, one of the "Big Three" of 17th-century France , and one of the most important literary figures in the Western tradition...

, Jean de La Fontaine
Jean de La Fontaine
Jean de La Fontaine was the most famous French fabulist and one of the most widely read French poets of the 17th century. He is known above all for his Fables, which provided a model for subsequent fabulists across Europe and numerous alternative versions in France, and in French regional...

 and Jean de La Bruyère
Jean de La Bruyère
Jean de La Bruyère was a French essayist and moralist.-Ancestry:He was born in Paris, not, as was once thought, at Dourdan in 1645...

 took his defense. Meanwhile, Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle
Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle
Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle , also called Bernard Le Bouyer de Fontenelle, was a French author.Fontenelle was born in Rouen, France and died in Paris just one month before his 100th birthday. His mother was the sister of great French dramatists Pierre and Thomas Corneille...

 and the newspaper Mercure galant joined the "Moderns". The debate would last until the beginning of the 18th century.

The term "classicism" is also linked to the visual arts and architecture of the period, most specifically to the construction of the château of Versailles
Versailles
Versailles , a city renowned for its château, the Palace of Versailles, was the de facto capital of the kingdom of France for over a century, from 1682 to 1789. It is now a wealthy suburb of Paris and remains an important administrative and judicial centre...

 (the crowning achievement of an official program of propaganda and regal glory). Although originally a country retreat used for special festivities—and known more for André Le Nôtre
André Le Nôtre
André Le Nôtre was a French landscape architect and the principal gardener of King Louis XIV of France...

's gardens and fountains—Versailles eventually became the permanent home of the king. By relocating to Versailles Louis effectively avoided the dangers of Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 (in his youth, Louis XIV had suffered during the civil and parliamentary insurrection known as the Fronde
Fronde
The Fronde was a civil war in France, occurring in the midst of the Franco-Spanish War, which had begun in 1635. The word fronde means sling, which Parisian mobs used to smash the windows of supporters of Cardinal Mazarin....

), and could also keep his eye closely on the affairs of the nobles and play them off against each other and against the newer noblesse de robe. Versailles became a gilded cage; to leave spelled disaster for a noble, for all official charges and appointments were made there. A strict etiquette was imposed; a word or glance from the king could make or destroy a career. The king himself followed a strict daily regimen, and there was little privacy. Through his wars and the glory of Versailles Louis became, to a certain degree, the arbiter of taste and power in Europe; both his château and the etiquette in Versailles were copied by the other European courts. However, the difficult wars at the end of his long reign and the religious problems created by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes
Edict of Nantes
The Edict of Nantes, issued on 13 April 1598, by Henry IV of France, granted the Calvinist Protestants of France substantial rights in a nation still considered essentially Catholic. In the Edict, Henry aimed primarily to promote civil unity...

 made the last years dark.

Les Amours and Les histoires tragiques


In France, the period following the Wars of Religion
French Wars of Religion
The French Wars of Religion is the name given to a period of civil infighting and military operations, primarily fought between French Catholics and Protestants . The conflict involved the factional disputes between the aristocratic houses of France, such as the House of Bourbon and House of Guise...

 saw the appearance of a new form of narrative fiction (which some critics have termed the "sentimental novel"), which quickly became a literary sensation thanks to the enthusiasm of a reading public searching for entertainment after so many years of conflict. These short (and realistic) novels of love (or amours, as they are frequently called in the titles) included extensive examples of gallant letters and polite discourse, amorous dialogues, letters and poems inserted in the story, gallant conceits and other rhetorical figures. These texts played an important role in the elaboration of new modes of civility and discourse of the upper classes (leading to the notion of the noble honnête homme). None of these novels have been republished since the early 17th century, and they remain largely unknown today. Authors associated with les Amours were Antoine de Nervèze
Antoine de Nervèze
Antoine de Nervèze was a French nobleman and writer of novels, translations, letters and moral works at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries.-Biography:...

, Nicolas des Escuteaux
Nicolas des Escuteaux
Nicolas des Escuteaux was a French novelist from the early 17th century.-Life:He was born into a noble family in the region around Loudun...

 and François du Souhait
François du Souhait
François du Souhait was a French language author of the late 16th and early 17th century from the Duchy of Lorraine .- Life :François du Souhait was born to a noble family in the Champagne region...

. Meanwhile, the tradition of the dark tale—coming from the tragic short story (histoire tragique) associated with Bandello, and frequently ending in suicide or murder—continued in the works of Jean-Pierre Camus
Jean-Pierre Camus
Jean-Pierre Camus de Pontcarré was a French bishop, preacher, and author of works of fiction and spirituality.-Biography:...

 and François de Rosset.

The Baroque adventure novel


By 1610 the short novel of love had largely disappeared, as tastes returned to longer adventure novels (romans d'aventures) and their clichés (pirates, storms, kidnapped maidens) that had been popular since the Valois court. Amadis of Gaul was the favorite reading matter of Henri IV; Béroalde de Verville
Béroalde de Verville
François Béroalde de Verville was a French Renaissance novelist, poet and intellectual. He was the son of Matthieu Brouard , called "Béroalde", a professor of Agrippa d'Aubigné and Pierre de l'Estoile and a Huguenot; his mother, Marie Bletz, was the niece of the humanist and Hebrew scholar...

 was still writing, and Nicolas de Montreux
Nicolas de Montreux
Nicolas de Montreux was a French nobleman, novelist, poet, translator and dramatist.Born in province of Maine, he was the son of a maître des requêtes and may have become a priest around 1585. In 1591 he came under the protection of the Duke of Mercœur and participated in the civil wars on the...

 had just died in 1608. Both Nervèze and Des Escuteaux in their later works attempted multi-volume adventure novels, and over the next twenty years the priest Jean-Pierre Camus
Jean-Pierre Camus
Jean-Pierre Camus de Pontcarré was a French bishop, preacher, and author of works of fiction and spirituality.-Biography:...

 adapted the form to tell harrowing moral tales heavily influenced by the histoire tragique. The best known of these long adventure novels is perhaps Polexandre (1629–49) by the young author Marin le Roy de Gomberville
Marin le Roy de Gomberville
Marin le Roy, sieur du Parc et de Gomberville was a French poet and novelist.He was born at Paris, and at fourteen he produced a volume of poetry. At twenty he wrote a Discours sur l'histoire and at twenty-two a pastoral, La Charité, which is really a novel...

.

All these authors were eclipsed, however, by the international success of Honoré d'Urfé
Honoré d'Urfé
Honoré d'Urfé, marquis de Valromey, comte de Châteauneuf was a French novelist and miscellaneous writer.- Life :...

's novel l'Astrée (1607–1633). This story centered around the shepherd Céladon and his love, Astrée, and combined a frame tale device of shepherds and maidens meeting, telling stories and philosophizing on love (a form derived from the ancient Greek novel "the Aethiopica" by Heliodorus of Emesa
Heliodorus of Emesa
Heliodorus of Emesa, from Emesa, Syria, was a Greek writer generally dated to the third century AD who is known for the ancient Greek novel or romance called the Aethiopica or sometimes "Theagenes and Chariclea"....

) with a pastoral
Pastoral
The adjective pastoral refers to the lifestyle of pastoralists, such as shepherds herding livestock around open areas of land according to seasons and the changing availability of water and pasturage. It also refers to a genre in literature, art or music that depicts such shepherd life in an...

 setting (derived from the Spanish and Italian pastoral tradition from such writers as Jacopo Sannazaro
Jacopo Sannazaro
Jacopo Sannazaro was an Italian poet, humanist and epigrammist from Naples.He wrote easily in Latin, in Italian and in Neapolitan, but is best remembered for his humanist classic Arcadia, a masterwork that illustrated the possibilities of poetical prose in Italian, and instituted the theme of...

, Jorge de Montemayor
Jorge de Montemayor
Jorge de Montemayor was a Portuguese novelist and poet, who wrote almost exclusively in Spanish.-Biography:He was born at Montemor-o-Velho , whence he derived his name, the Spanish form of which is Montemayor....

, Torquato Tasso
Torquato Tasso
Torquato Tasso was an Italian poet of the 16th century, best known for his poem La Gerusalemme liberata , in which he depicts a highly imaginative version of the combats between Christians and Muslims at the end of the First Crusade, during the siege of Jerusalem...

 and Giambattista Guarini) of noble, idealized shepherds and maidens tending their flocks and falling in (and out of) love. The influence of d'Urfé's novel was immense, especially in its discursive structure (which permitted a large number of stories and characters to be introduced and their resolution to be delayed for thousands of pages). D'Urfé's novel also promoted a rarefied neo-Platonism, which differed profoundly from the physicality of the knights in the Renaissance novel (such as Amadis of Gaul). The only element of d'Urfé's work which did not produce imitations was its roman pastoral setting.

In theorizing the origins of the novel, the early 17th century conceived of the form as "an epic in prose"; in truth, the epic poem at the end of the Renaissance had few thematic differences from the novel. Novelistic love had spilled into the epic, and adventurous knights had become the subject of novels. The novels from 1640 to 1660 would complete this melding. These novels contained multiple volumes and were structurally complicated, using the same techniques of inserted stories and tale-within-a-tale dialogues as d'Urfé. Often called romans de longue haleine (or "deep-breath books"), they usually took place in ancient Rome, Egypt or Persia, used historical characters (for this reason they are called romans héroiques
Heroic romances
Heroic romances refers to a distinguished class of imaginative literature that flourished in the 17th century, principally in France.-Characteristics:Today, heroic romances are more often grouped into the larger romance genre than discussed individually...

) and told the adventures of a series of perfect lovers sent (by accident or misfortune) to the four corners of the world. Unlike the chivalric romance, magical elements and creatures were relatively rare. Furthermore, there was a concentration in these works on psychological analysis and on moral and sentimental questions which the Renaissance novel lacked. Many of these novels were actually romans à clé which described actual contemporary relationships under disguised novelistic names and characters. The most famous of these authors and novels are:
  • Madeleine de Scudéry
    Madeleine de Scudéry
    Madeleine de Scudéry , often known simply as Mademoiselle de Scudéry, was a French writer. She was the younger sister of author Georges de Scudéry.-Biography:...

     (1607–1701)
    • Ibrahim, ou l'illustre Bassa (4 vols. 1641)
    • Artamène, ou le Grand Cyrus (10 vols. 1648–1653)
    • Clélie, histoire romaine (10 vols. 1654–1661)
    • Almahide, ou l'esclave reine (8 vols. 1661–1663)
  • Roland Le Vayer de Boutigny
    • Mithridate (1648–51)
  • Gauthier de Costes, seigneur de la Calprenède
    Gauthier de Costes, seigneur de la Calprenède
    Gauthier de Costes, seigneur de la Calprenède was a French novelist and dramatist. He was born at the Château of Tolgou in Salignac-Eyvigues . After studying at Toulouse, he came to Paris and entered the regiment of the guards, becoming in 1650 gentleman-in-ordinary of the royal household...

    • Cassandre (10 vols. 1642–1645)
    • Cleopatre (1646–57)
    • Faramond (1661)

Baroque comic fiction


Not all fiction of the first half of the century was a wild flight of fancy in far-flung lands and rarefied, adventurous love stories. Influenced by the international success of the picaresque novel from Spain (such as Lazarillo de Tormes
Lazarillo de Tormes
The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversities is a Spanish novella, published anonymously because of its heretical content...

), and by Miguel de Cervantes
Miguel de Cervantes
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was a Spanish novelist, poet, and playwright. His magnum opus, Don Quixote, considered the first modern novel, is a classic of Western literature, and is regarded amongst the best works of fiction ever written...

' short-story collection Exemplary Tales (which appeared in French beginning in 1614) and Don Quixote de la Mancha (French translation 1614–1618), the French novelists of the first half of the century also chose to describe and satirize their own era and its excesses. Other important satirical models were provided by Fernando de Rojas
Fernando de Rojas
Fernando de Rojas was a Spanish author about whom little information is known. He possibly attended the University of Salamanca. Although his family was of Jewish ancestry, they were conversos, or Jews who had converted to Christianity under pressure from the Spanish crown...

' Celestina and John Barclay
John Barclay (1582-1621)
John Barclay was a Scottish writer, satirist and neo-Latin poet.-Life:He was born in Pont-à-Mousson, Lorraine, France, where his father, William Barclay, held the chair of civil law. His mother was a Frenchwoman. His early education was obtained at the Jesuit College at Pont-a-Mousson...

's (1582–1621) two satirical Latin works, Euphormio sive Satiricon (1602) and Argenis
Argenis
Argenis is a book by John Barclay. It is a work of historical allegory which tells the story of the religious conflict in France under Henry III of France and Henry IV of France, and also touches on more contemporary English events, such as the Overbury scandal...

 (1621).

Agrippa d'Aubigné
Agrippa d'Aubigné
Théodore-Agrippa d'Aubigné was a French poet, soldier, propagandist and chronicler. His epic poem Les Tragiques is widely regarded as his masterpiece.-Life:...

's Les Aventures du baron de Faeneste portrays the rude manners and comic adventures of a Gascon in the royal court. Charles Sorel's L'histoire comique de Francion is a picaresque-inspired story of the ruses and amorous dealings of a young gentleman; his Le Berger extravagant is a satire of the d'Urfé-inspired pastoral, which (taking a clue from the end of Don Quixote) has a young man take on the life of a shepherd. Despite their "realism" Sorel's works remain highly baroque, with dream sequences and inserted narration (for example, when Francion tells of his years at school) typical of the adventure novel. This use of inserted stories also follows Cervantes, who inserted a number of nearly autonomous stories into his Quixote. Paul Scarron
Paul Scarron
Paul Scarron was a French poet, dramatist, and novelist. His precise birthdate is unknown, but he was baptized on July 4, 1610...

's most famous work, Le Roman comique, uses the narrative frame of a group of ambulant actors in the provinces to present both scenes of farce
Farce
In theatre, a farce is a comedy which aims at entertaining the audience by means of unlikely, extravagant, and improbable situations, disguise and mistaken identity, verbal humour of varying degrees of sophistication, which may include word play, and a fast-paced plot whose speed usually increases,...

 and sophisticated, inserted tales.

Cyrano de Bergerac
Cyrano de Bergerac
Hercule-Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac was a French dramatist and duelist. He is now best remembered for the works of fiction which have been woven, often very loosely, around his life story, most notably the 1897 play by Edmond Rostand...

 (made famous by Edmond Rostand
Edmond Rostand
Edmond Eugène Alexis Rostand was a French poet and dramatist. He is associated with neo-romanticism, and is best known for his play Cyrano de Bergerac. Rostand's romantic plays provided an alternative to the naturalistic theatre popular during the late nineteenth century...

's 19th-century play) wrote two novels which, 60 years before Gulliver's Travels
Gulliver's Travels
Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships, better known simply as Gulliver's Travels , is a novel by Anglo-Irish writer and clergyman Jonathan Swift that is both a satire on human nature and a parody of...

 or Voltaire (or science fiction), use a journey to magical lands (the moon and the sun) as pretexts for satirizing contemporary philosophy and morals. By the end of the century Cyrano's works would inspire a number of philosophical novels, in which Frenchmen travel to foreign lands and strange utopias. The early half of the century also saw the continued popularity of the comic short story and collections of humorous discussions, typified by the Histoires comiques of François du Souhait
François du Souhait
François du Souhait was a French language author of the late 16th and early 17th century from the Duchy of Lorraine .- Life :François du Souhait was born to a noble family in the Champagne region...

; the playful, chaotic, sometimes-obscene and almost-unreadable Moyen de parvenir by Béroalde de Verville
Béroalde de Verville
François Béroalde de Verville was a French Renaissance novelist, poet and intellectual. He was the son of Matthieu Brouard , called "Béroalde", a professor of Agrippa d'Aubigné and Pierre de l'Estoile and a Huguenot; his mother, Marie Bletz, was the niece of the humanist and Hebrew scholar...

 (a parody of "table talk" books, of Rabelais and of Michel de Montaigne
Michel de Montaigne
Lord Michel Eyquem de Montaigne , February 28, 1533 – September 13, 1592, was one of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance, known for popularising the essay as a literary genre and is popularly thought of as the father of Modern Skepticism...

's The Essays
Essays (Montaigne)
Essays is the title given to a collection of 107 essays written by Michel de Montaigne that was first published in 1580. Montaigne essentially invented the literary form of essay, a short subjective treatment of a given topic, of which the book contains a large number...

); the anonymous Caquets de l'accouchée (1622); and Molière d'Essertine's Semaine amoureuse (a collection of short stories).

A select list of baroque comique writers and works includes:
  • Agrippa d'Aubigné
    Agrippa d'Aubigné
    Théodore-Agrippa d'Aubigné was a French poet, soldier, propagandist and chronicler. His epic poem Les Tragiques is widely regarded as his masterpiece.-Life:...

     (1552–1630)
    • Les Aventures du baron de Faeneste (1617, 1619, 1630)
  • Béroalde de Verville
    Béroalde de Verville
    François Béroalde de Verville was a French Renaissance novelist, poet and intellectual. He was the son of Matthieu Brouard , called "Béroalde", a professor of Agrippa d'Aubigné and Pierre de l'Estoile and a Huguenot; his mother, Marie Bletz, was the niece of the humanist and Hebrew scholar...

     (1556–1626)
    • Le Moyen de parvenir (c.1610)
  • François du Souhait
    François du Souhait
    François du Souhait was a French language author of the late 16th and early 17th century from the Duchy of Lorraine .- Life :François du Souhait was born to a noble family in the Champagne region...

     (c.1570/80 –1617)
    • Histoires comiques (1612)
  • Molière d'Essertine (c.1600–1624)
    • Semaine amoureuse (1620)
  • Charles Sorel (1602–1674)
    • L'histoire comique de Francion (1622)
    • Nouvelles françoises (1623)
    • Le Berger extravagant (1627)
  • Jean de Lannel
    • Le Roman satyrique (1624)
  • Antoine-André Mareschal
    • La Chrysolite (1627)
  • Paul Scarron
    Paul Scarron
    Paul Scarron was a French poet, dramatist, and novelist. His precise birthdate is unknown, but he was baptized on July 4, 1610...

     (1610–1660)
    • Virgile travesti (1648–53)
    • Le Roman comique (1651–57)
  • Cyrano de Bergerac
    Cyrano de Bergerac
    Hercule-Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac was a French dramatist and duelist. He is now best remembered for the works of fiction which have been woven, often very loosely, around his life story, most notably the 1897 play by Edmond Rostand...

     (Hector Savinien) (1619–1655)
    • Histoire comique des Etats et Empires de la Lune (1657)
    • Histoire comique des Etats et Empires du Soleil (1662)


In the second half of the century, contemporary settings would be also used in many classical nouvelles (novella
Novella
A novella is a written, fictional, prose narrative usually longer than a novelette but shorter than a novel. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Awards for science fiction define the novella as having a word count between 17,500 and 40,000...

s—especially as a moral critique of contemporary society).

The Nouvelle classique


By 1660 the multi-volume, baroque historical novel had largely fallen out of fashion. The tendency was for much shorter works (nouvelles or petits romans), without complex structure or adventurous elements (pirates, shipwrecks, kidnappings). This movement away from the baroque novel was supported by theoretical discussions on novel structure, which sought to apply the same Aristotelian and Horacian concepts of the three unities, decorum and verisimilitude that writers had imposed on the theater. For example, Georges de Scudéry
Georges de Scudéry
Georges de Scudéry , the elder brother of Madeleine de Scudéry, was a French novelist, dramatist and poet.Georges de Scudéry was born in Le Havre, in Normandy, whither his father had moved from Provence...

, in his preface to Ibrahim (1641), suggested that a "reasonable limit" for a novel's plot (a form of "unity of time") would be one year. Similarly, in his discussion on La Princesse de Clèves, the chevalier de Valincourt criticized the inclusion of ancillary stories within the main plot (a form of "unity of action").

An interest in love, psychological analysis, moral dilemmas and social constraints permeates these novels. When the action was placed in an historical setting, this was increasingly a setting in the recent past; although still filled with anachronisms, these nouvelles historiques demonstrated an interest in historical detail. A number of these short novels recounted the "secret history" of a famous event (like Villedieu's Annales galantes), linking the action to an amorous intrigue; these were called histoires galantes. Some of these short novels told stories of the contemporary world (such as Préchac's L'Illustre Parisienne).

Important nouvelles classiques were:
  • Jean Renaud de Segrais
    Jean Renaud de Segrais
    Jean Renaud de Segrais was a French poet and novelist born in Caen.In 1662, he was elected a member of the Académie française....

     Nouvelles françoises (1658)
  • Madame de Lafayette La princesse de Montpensier (1662)
  • Madame de Villedieu  Journal amoureux (1669)
  • Jean Donneau de Visé
    Jean Donneau de Visé
    Jean Donneau de Visé was a French journalist, royal historian , playwright and publicist. He was founder of the literary, arts and society gazette "le Mercure galant" and was associated with the "Moderns" in the "Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns".Donneau de Visé was among the detractors...

     Nouvelles galantes et comiques (1669)
  • Madame de Villedieu Annales galantes (1670)
  • Madame de Lafayette Zaïde (1671)
  • Madame de Villedieu  Amour des grands hommes (1671)
  • César Vichard de Saint-Réal
    César Vichard de Saint-Réal
    César Vichard de Saint-Réal was a French polygraph.He was born in Chambéry, Savoy, but educated in Lyon by the Jesuits. He used to work in the royal library with Antoine Varillas. This French historiographer influenced the way Saint-Réal wrote history...

     Don Carlos (1672)
  • Madame de Villedieu  Les Désordres de l'amour (1675)
  • Jean de Préchac L'Héroïne mousquetaire (1677)
  • Jean de Préchac Le voyage de Fontainebleau (1678)
  • Madame de Lafayette La Princesse de Clèves (1678)
  • Jean de Préchac L'Illustre Parisienne, histoire galante et véritable (1679)


The best-known of all of these is Madame de Lafayette's La Princesse de Clèves. Reduced to essentially three characters, the short novel tells the story of a married noblewoman during the reign of Henri II who falls in love with another man, but who reveals her passion to her husband. Although the novel includes several inserted stories, on the whole the narration concentrates on the unspoken doubts and fears of the two individuals living in a social setting dominated by etiquette and moral correctness; despite its historical setting, Lafayette was clearly describing her contemporary world. The psychological analysis is close to the pessimism of La Rochefoucauld
François de La Rochefoucauld (writer)
François VI, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Prince de Marcillac was a noted French author of maxims and memoirs. The view of human conduct his writings describe has been summed up by the words "everything is reducible to the motive of self-interest", though the term "gently cynical" has also been applied...

, and the abnegation of the main character leads ultimately to a refusal of a conventional happy ending. For all of its force, Madame de Lafayette's novel is not the first to have a recent historical setting or psychological depth (as some critics contend); these elements may be found in novels of the previous decade, and are already present in certain of the Amours at the beginning of the century.

Other novelistic forms after 1660


The concerns of the nouvelle classique (love, psychological analysis, moral dilemmas and social constraints) are also apparent in the anonymous epistolary novel
Epistolary novel
An epistolary novel is a novel written as a series of documents. The usual form is letters, although diary entries, newspaper clippings and other documents are sometimes used. Recently, electronic "documents" such as recordings and radio, blogs, and e-mails have also come into use...

 Lettres d'une religieuse portugaise (Letters of a Portuguese Nun
Letters of a Portuguese Nun
The Letters of a Portuguese Nun , first published anonymously by Claude Barbin in Paris in 1669, is a work believed by most scholars to be epistolary fiction in the form of five letters written by Gabriel-Joseph de La Vergne, comte de Guilleragues , a minor peer, diplomat, secretary to the Prince...

) (1668), attributed to Guilleragues, which were a sensation when they were published (in part because of their perceived authenticity). These letters, written by a scorned woman to her absent lover, were a powerful representation of amorous passion with many similarities to the language of Racine. Other epistolary novels followed by Claude Barbin, Vincent Voiture
Vincent Voiture
Vincent Voiture , French poet, was the son of a rich merchant of Amiens. He was introduced by a schoolfellow, the count Claude d'Avaux, to Gaston, Duke of Orléans, and accompanied him to Brussels and Lorraine on diplomatic missions.Although a follower of Gaston, he won the favour of Cardinal...

, Edmé Boursault
Edmé Boursault
Edmé Boursault was a French dramatist and miscellaneous writer, born at Mussy l'Evéque, now Mussy-sur-Seine ....

, Fontenelle
Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle
Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle , also called Bernard Le Bouyer de Fontenelle, was a French author.Fontenelle was born in Rouen, France and died in Paris just one month before his 100th birthday. His mother was the sister of great French dramatists Pierre and Thomas Corneille...

 (who used the form to introduce discussion of philosophical and moral matters, prefiguring Montesquieu's Lettres persanes in the 18th century) and others; actual love letters written by noble ladies (Madame de Bussy-Lameth, Madame de Coligny) were also published.

Antoine Furetière
Antoine Furetière
Antoine Furetière , French scholar and writer, was born in Paris.-Biography:He studied law and practised for a time as an advocate, but eventually took orders and after various promotions became abbé of Chalivoy in the diocese of Bourges in 1662...

 (1619–1688) is responsible for a longer comic novel which pokes fun at a bourgeois family, Le Roman bourgeois (1666). The choice of the bourgeois arriviste or parvenu (a social climber, trying to ape the manners and style of the noble classes) as a source of mockery appears in a number of short stories and theater of the period (such as Molière
Molière
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière, was a French playwright and actor who is considered to be one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature...

's Bourgeois Gentihomme). The long adventurous novel of love continued to exist after 1660, albeit in a far shorter form than the novels of the 1640s. Influenced as much by the nouvelles historiques and nouvelles galantes as by the romans d'aventures and romans historiques, these historical novels—whose settings range from ancient Rome to Renaissance Castille or France—were published in to the first decades of the 18th century. Authors include Madame Marie Catherine d'Aulnoy
Madame d'Aulnoy
Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, Baroness d'Aulnoy , also known as Countess d'Aulnoy, was a French writer known for her fairy tales...

, Mlle Charlotte-Rose de Caumont La Force
Charlotte-Rose de Caumont La Force
Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force or Mademoiselle de La Force was a French novelist and poet. Her best-known work was her 1698 fairy tale Persinette which was adapted by the Brothers Grimm as the story Rapunzel....

, Mlle Anne de La Roche-Guilhem, Catherine Bernard
Catherine Bernard
Catherine Bernard was a French poet, playwright, and novelist. She composed three historical novels, two verse tragedies, several poems, and was awarded several poetry prizes by the Académie française...

 and Catherine Bédacier-Durand.

A history of the novel, Traitté de l'origine des romans
Traitté de l'origine des romans
Pierre Daniel Huet's Trai[t]té de l'origine des Romans can claim to be the first history of fiction. It was originally published in 1670 as preface to Marie de la Fayette's novel Zayde. The following will give extended excerpts from the English translation by Stephen Lewis published in 1715...

 (1670), was written by Pierre Daniel Huet
Pierre Daniel Huet
Pierre Daniel Huet was a French churchman and scholar, editor of the Delphin Classics, founder of the Academie du Physique in Caen and Bishop of Soissons from 1685 to 1689 and afterwards of Avranches.-Life:...

. This work (much like theoretical discussions on theatrical vraisemblance, bienséance and the nature of tragedy and comedy) stressed the need for moral utility; it made important distinctions between history and the novel, and between the epic (which treats of politics and war) and the novel (which treats of love). The first half of the century had seen the development of the biographical mémoire (see below), and by the 1670s this form began to be used in novels. Madame de Villedieu (real name Marie-Catherine Desjardins), author of a number of nouvelles, also wrote a longer realistic work which represented (and satirized) the contemporary world via the fictionalized mémoires of young woman recounting her amorous and economic hardships, Mémoires de la vie d'Henriette Sylvie de Molière (1672–1674).

The fictional mémoire form was used by other novelists as well. Courtilz de Sandras' novels (Mémoires de M.L.C.D.R. in 1687, Mémoires de M. d'Artagnan in 1700 and Mémoires de M. de B. in 1711) describe the world of Richelieu and Mazarin without gallant clichés; spies, kidnappings and political machinations predominate. Among the other mémoires of the period the best-known was the work of Englishman Anthony Hamilton, whose Mémoires de la vie du comte de Grammont... (telling of his years in the French court from 1643-1663) was published in France in 1713. Many of these works were published anonymously; in some cases it is difficult to tell whether they are fictionlized or biographical. Other authors include abbé Cavard, abbé de Villiers, abbé Olivier and le sieur de Grandchamp. The realism (and occasional irony) of these novels would lead directly to those of Alain-René Lesage
Alain-René Lesage
Alain-René Lesage was a French novelist and playwright. Lesage is best known for his comic novel The Devil upon Two Sticks , his comedy Turcaret , and his picaresque novel Gil Blas .-Youth and education:Claude Lesage, the father of the novelist, held the united...

, Pierre de Marivaux
Pierre de Marivaux
Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux , commonly referred to as Marivaux, was a French novelist and dramatist....

 and Abbé Prévost in the 18th century.

In the 1690s, the fairy tale
Fairy tale
A fairy tale is a type of short story that typically features such folkloric characters, such as fairies, goblins, elves, trolls, dwarves, giants or gnomes, and usually magic or enchantments. However, only a small number of the stories refer to fairies...

 began to appear in French literature. The best-known collection of traditional tales (liberally adapted) was by Charles Perrault
Charles Perrault
Charles Perrault was a French author who laid the foundations for a new literary genre, the fairy tale, with his works derived from pre-existing folk tales. The best known include Le Petit Chaperon rouge , Cendrillon , Le Chat Botté and La Barbe bleue...

 (1697), although many others were published (such as those by Henriette-Julie de Murat
Henriette-Julie de Murat
Henriette-Julie de Murat was an aristocratic French writer of the late 17th century.She published fairy tales and slightly scandalous faux memoirs, one of which got her exiled to the provincial town of Loches for several years...

 and Madame d'Aulnoy
Madame d'Aulnoy
Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, Baroness d'Aulnoy , also known as Countess d'Aulnoy, was a French writer known for her fairy tales...

). A major revolution would occur with the appearance of Antoine Galland
Antoine Galland
Antoine Galland was a French orientalist and archaeologist, most famous as the first European translator of The Thousand and One Nights...

's first French (and indeed modern) translation of the Thousand and One Nights (or Arabian Nights) (in 1704; another translation appeared in 1710-12), which would influence the 18th-century short stories of Voltaire
Voltaire
François-Marie Arouet , better known by the pen name Voltaire , was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, free trade and separation of church and state...

, Diderot and many others.

The period also saw several novels with voyages and utopian descriptions of foreign cultures (in imitation of Cyrano de Bergerac, Thomas More and Francis Bacon):
  • Denis Veiras - Histoire de Sévarambes (1677)
  • Gabriel de Foigny
    Gabriel de Foigny
    Gabriel de Foigny is the author of an important utopia, La Terre Australe connue, 1676.-Life:All we know about Foigny, including his identity , is based exclusively on the second edition of Pierre Bayle's Dictionnaire historique et critique...

     - Les Avantures de Jacques Sadeur dans la découverte et le voyage de la Terre australe (or la Terre australe connue (1676)
  • Tyssot de Patot - Voyages et Aventures de Jacques Massé (1710)


Of similar didactic aim was Fénelon's Les Aventures de Télémaque (1694—96), which represents a classicist's attempt to overcome the excesses of the baroque novel; using a structure of travels and adventures (grafted onto Telemachus
Telemachus
Telemachus is a figure in Greek mythology, the son of Odysseus and Penelope, and a central character in Homer's Odyssey. The first four books in particular focus on Telemachus' journeys in search of news about his father, who has been away at war...

—the son of Ulysses), Fénelon exposes his moral philosophy. This novel would be emulated by other didactic novels during the 18th century.

Poetry


Because of the new conception of l'honnête homme (the honest or upright man), poetry became one of the principal genres of literary production of noble gentlemen and the non-noble professional writers in their patronage during the 17th century. Poetry was used for all purposes. A great deal of 17th- and 18th-century poetry was "occasional", meaning that it was written to celebrate a particular event (a marriage, birth or a military victory) or to solemnize a tragic occurrence (a death or a military defeat); this type of poetry was favored by gentlemen in the service of a noble or the king. Poetry was the chief form of 17th-century theater; the vast majority of scripted plays were written in verse (see "Theater" below). Poetry was used in satires (Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux
Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux
Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux was a French poet and critic.-Biography:Boileau was born in the rue de Jérusalem, in Paris, France. He was brought up to the law, but devoted to letters, associating himself with La Fontaine, Racine, and Molière...

 is famous for his Satires (1666)) and epics (inspired by the Renaissance epic tradition and by Tasso
Torquato Tasso
Torquato Tasso was an Italian poet of the 16th century, best known for his poem La Gerusalemme liberata , in which he depicts a highly imaginative version of the combats between Christians and Muslims at the end of the First Crusade, during the siege of Jerusalem...

) like Jean Chapelain
Jean Chapelain
Jean Chapelain was a French poet and writer.-Biography:Chapelain was born in Paris. His father wanted him to become a notary; but his mother, who had known Pierre de Ronsard, had decided otherwise...

's La Pucelle.

Although French poetry during the reign of Henri IV and Louis XIII was still largely inspired by the poets of the late Valois court
Valois Dynasty
The House of Valois was a cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty, succeeding the House of Capet as kings of France from 1328 to 1589...

, some of their excesses and poetic liberties found censure—especially in the work of François de Malherbe
François de Malherbe
François de Malherbe was a French poet, critic, and translator.-Life:Born in Le-Locheur , his family was of some position, though it seems not to have been able to establish to the satisfaction of heralds the claims which it made to nobility older than the 16th century.He was the eldest son of...

, who criticized La Pléiade
La Pléiade
The Pléiade is the name given to a group of 16th-century French Renaissance poets whose principal members were Pierre de Ronsard, Joachim du Bellay and Jean-Antoine de Baïf. The name was a reference to another literary group, the original Alexandrian Pleiad of seven Alexandrian poets and...

's and Philippe Desportes
Philippe Desportes
Philippe Desportes was a French poet.-Biography:Philippe Desportes was born in Chartres. While serving as secretary to the bishop of Le Puy he visited Italy, where he learned Italian poetry. This experience became a good account. On his return to France he attached himself to the duke of Anjou,...

's irregularities of meter or form (the suppression of the cesura by a hiatus
Hiatus (linguistics)
In phonology, hiatus or diaeresis refers to two vowel sounds occurring in adjacent syllables, with no intervening consonant. When two adjacent vowel sounds occur in the same syllable, the result is instead described as a diphthong....

, sentence clauses spilling over into the next line—enjambement—neologisms constructed from Greek words, etc.). The later 17th century would see Malherbe as the grandfather of poetic classicism. The Pléiade poems of the natural world (fields and streams) were continued in the first half of the century—but the tone was often elegiac or melancholy (an "ode to solitude"), and the natural world presented was sometimes the seacoast or some other rugged environment—by poets who have been tagged by later critics with the "baroque" label (notably Théophile de Viau
Théophile de Viau
Théophile de Viau was a French Baroque poet and dramatist.Born at Clairac, near Agen in the Lot-et-Garonne and raised as a Huguenot, Théophile de Viau participated in the Protestant wars in Guyenne from 1615-1616 in the service of the Comte de Candale. After the war, he was pardoned and became a...

 and Antoine Gérard de Saint-Amant
Antoine Gérard de Saint-Amant
Antoine Girard, sieur de Saint-Amant , French poet, was born near Rouen.His father was a merchant who had, according to his son's account, been a sailor and had commanded for 22 years "une escadre de la reine Elizabeth"--a vague statement that lacks confirmation...

).

Poetry came to be a part of the social games in noble salons (see "salons" above), where epigrams, satirical verse, and poetic descriptions were all common (the most famous example is "La Guirlande de Julie" (1641) at the Hôtel de Rambouillet, a collection of floral poems written by the salon members for the birthday of the host's daughter). The linguistic aspects of the phenomenon associated with the précieuses
Précieuses
The French literary style called préciosité arose in the 17th century from the lively conversations and playful word games of les précieuses , the witty and educated intellectual ladies who frequented the salon of Catherine de Vivonne, marquise de Rambouillet; her Chambre bleue offered a...

 (similar to Euphuism
Euphuism
Euphuism is a peculiar mannered style of English prose. It takes its name from a prose romance by John Lyly. It consists of a preciously ornate and sophisticated style, employing in deliberate excess a wide range of literary devices such as antitheses, alliterations, repetitions and rhetorical...

 in England, Gongorism
Luis de Góngora
Luis de Góngora y Argote was a Spanish Baroque lyric poet. Góngora and his lifelong rival, Francisco de Quevedo, are widely considered to be the most prominent Spanish poets of their age. His style is characterized by what was called culteranismo, also known as Gongorism...

 in Spain and Marinism in Italy)—the use of highly metaphorical (sometimes obscure) language, the purification of socially unacceptable vocabulary—was tied to this poetic salon spirit and would have an enormous impact on French poetic and courtly language. Although préciosité was often mocked (especially in the late 1660s, when the phenomenon had spread to the provinces) for its linguistic and romantic excesses (often linked to a misogynistic disdain for intellectual women), the French language and social manners of the 17th century were permanently changed by it.

From the 1660s, three poets stand out. Jean de La Fontaine
Jean de La Fontaine
Jean de La Fontaine was the most famous French fabulist and one of the most widely read French poets of the 17th century. He is known above all for his Fables, which provided a model for subsequent fabulists across Europe and numerous alternative versions in France, and in French regional...

 gained enormous celebrity through his Aesop
Aesop
Aesop was a Greek writer credited with a number of popular fables. Older spellings of his name have included Esop and Isope. Although his existence remains uncertain and no writings by him survive, numerous tales credited to him were gathered across the centuries and in many languages in a...

 and Phaedrus-inspired "Fables" (1668–1693), which were written in an irregular-verse form (different meter lengths are used in a poem). Jean Racine
Jean Racine
Jean Racine , baptismal name Jean-Baptiste Racine , was a French dramatist, one of the "Big Three" of 17th-century France , and one of the most important literary figures in the Western tradition...

 was seen as the greatest tragedy writer of his age. Finally, Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux
Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux
Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux was a French poet and critic.-Biography:Boileau was born in the rue de Jérusalem, in Paris, France. He was brought up to the law, but devoted to letters, associating himself with La Fontaine, Racine, and Molière...

 became the theorizer of poetic classicism. His Art poétique (1674) praised reason and logic (Boileau elevated Malherbe as the first of the rational poets), believability, moral usefulness and moral correctness; it elevated tragedy and the poetic epic as the great genres and recommended imitation of the poets of antiquity.

"Classicism" in poetry would dominate until the pre-romantics and the French Revolution.

A select list of French poets of the 17th century includes:
  • François de Malherbe
    François de Malherbe
    François de Malherbe was a French poet, critic, and translator.-Life:Born in Le-Locheur , his family was of some position, though it seems not to have been able to establish to the satisfaction of heralds the claims which it made to nobility older than the 16th century.He was the eldest son of...

     (1555–1628)
  • Honoré d'Urfé
    Honoré d'Urfé
    Honoré d'Urfé, marquis de Valromey, comte de Châteauneuf was a French novelist and miscellaneous writer.- Life :...

     (1567–1625)
  • Jean Ogier de Gombaud (1570?–1666)
  • Mathurin Régnier
    Mathurin Régnier
    Mathurin Régnier was a French satirist.-Life:Régnier was born in Chartres, current region of Centre....

     (1573–1613) - nephew of Philippe Desportes
    Philippe Desportes
    Philippe Desportes was a French poet.-Biography:Philippe Desportes was born in Chartres. While serving as secretary to the bishop of Le Puy he visited Italy, where he learned Italian poetry. This experience became a good account. On his return to France he attached himself to the duke of Anjou,...

  • François de Maynard (1582–1646)
  • Honorat de Bueil, seigneur de Racan (1589–1670)
  • Théophile de Viau
    Théophile de Viau
    Théophile de Viau was a French Baroque poet and dramatist.Born at Clairac, near Agen in the Lot-et-Garonne and raised as a Huguenot, Théophile de Viau participated in the Protestant wars in Guyenne from 1615-1616 in the service of the Comte de Candale. After the war, he was pardoned and became a...

     (1590–1626)
  • François le Métel de Boisrobert
    François le Métel de Boisrobert
    François le Métel de Boisrobert was a French poet.-Biography:He was born at Caen, and trained as a lawyer, practising for some time at the bar at Rouen. About 1622 he went to Paris, and by the next year had established a footing at court, for he had a share in the ballet of the Bacchanales...

     (1592–1662)
  • Antoine Gérard de Saint-Amant
    Antoine Gérard de Saint-Amant
    Antoine Girard, sieur de Saint-Amant , French poet, was born near Rouen.His father was a merchant who had, according to his son's account, been a sailor and had commanded for 22 years "une escadre de la reine Elizabeth"--a vague statement that lacks confirmation...

     (1594–1661)
  • Jean Chapelain
    Jean Chapelain
    Jean Chapelain was a French poet and writer.-Biography:Chapelain was born in Paris. His father wanted him to become a notary; but his mother, who had known Pierre de Ronsard, had decided otherwise...

     (1595–1674)
  • Vincent Voiture
    Vincent Voiture
    Vincent Voiture , French poet, was the son of a rich merchant of Amiens. He was introduced by a schoolfellow, the count Claude d'Avaux, to Gaston, Duke of Orléans, and accompanied him to Brussels and Lorraine on diplomatic missions.Although a follower of Gaston, he won the favour of Cardinal...

     (1597–1648)
  • Jacques Vallee, Sieur Des Barreaux
    Jacques Vallee, Sieur Des Barreaux
    Jacques Vallée, Sieur Des Barreaux , French poet, was born in Chateauneuf-sur-Loire on December 16, 1599. His great-uncle, Geoffroy-Valle, had been hanged in 1574 for the authorship of a book called Le Flau de la Joy. His nephew appears to have inherited his scepticism, which on one occasion nearly...

     (1599–1673)
  • Tristan L'Hermite
    Tristan l'Hermite
    See also François Tristan l'HermiteTristan l'Hermite was a French political and military figure of the late Middle Ages.He was provost of the marshals of the King's household under Louis XI of France, which gave him enormous power in the Intrigues and plots that characterized that king's 22-year...

     (1601?–1655)
  • Pierre Corneille
    Pierre Corneille
    Pierre Corneille was a French tragedian who was one of the three great seventeenth-century French dramatists, along with Molière and Racine...

     (1606–1684)
  • Paul Scarron
    Paul Scarron
    Paul Scarron was a French poet, dramatist, and novelist. His precise birthdate is unknown, but he was baptized on July 4, 1610...

     (1610–1660)
  • Isaac de Benserade
    Isaac de Benserade
    Isaac de Benserade was a French poet.Born in Lyons-la-Forêt in the Province of Normandy, his family appears to have been connected with Richelieu, who bestowed on him a pension of 600 livres. He began his literary career with the tragedy of Cléopâtre , which was followed by four other pieces...

     (1613–1691)
  • Georges de Brébeuf
    Georges de Brébeuf
    Georges de Brébeuf was a French poet and translator best known for his verse translation of Lucan's Pharsalia which was warmly received by Pierre Corneille, but which was ridiculed by Nicolas Boileau in his Art poétique....

     (1618–1661)
  • Jean de La Fontaine
    Jean de La Fontaine
    Jean de La Fontaine was the most famous French fabulist and one of the most widely read French poets of the 17th century. He is known above all for his Fables, which provided a model for subsequent fabulists across Europe and numerous alternative versions in France, and in French regional...

     (1621–1695)
  • Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux
    Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux
    Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux was a French poet and critic.-Biography:Boileau was born in the rue de Jérusalem, in Paris, France. He was brought up to the law, but devoted to letters, associating himself with La Fontaine, Racine, and Molière...

     (1636–1711)
  • Jean Racine
    Jean Racine
    Jean Racine , baptismal name Jean-Baptiste Racine , was a French dramatist, one of the "Big Three" of 17th-century France , and one of the most important literary figures in the Western tradition...

     (1639–1699)
  • Guillaume Amfrye de Chaulieu
    Guillaume Amfrye de Chaulieu
    Guillaume Amfrye de Chaulieu , French poet and wit, was born at Fontenay, Normandy.His father, maître des comptes of Rouen, sent him to study at the Collège de Navarre. Guillaume early showed the wit that was to distinguish him, and gained the favor of the duke of Vendôme, who procured for him the...

     (1639–1720)
  • Jean-François Regnard
    Jean-François Regnard
    Jean-François Regnard , "the most distinguished, after Molière, of the comic poets of the seventeenth century", was a dramatist, born in Paris, who is equally famous now for the travel diary he kept of a voyage in 1681....

     (1655–1709)

Theaters and theatrical companies


During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, public theatrical productions in Paris were under the control of guilds. During the last decades of the 16th century, only one of these continued to exist; although les Confrères de la Passion no longer had the right to perform mystery plays ( since 1548), they were given exclusive rights to oversee all theatrical productions in the capital and rented out their theater (the Hôtel de Bourgogne) to theatrical troupes for a steep price. In 1599 the guild abandoned its privilege, which permitted other theaters and theatrical companies to operate in the capital. In addition to public theaters, plays were produced in private residences, before the court and in the university. In the first half of the century the public, the humanist theater of the colleges and the theater performed at court exhibited a diversity of tastes; for example, while the tragicomedy was fashionable at the court during the first decade, the public was more interested in tragedy. Early theaters in Paris were often placed in existing structures like tennis court
Tennis court
A tennis court is where the game of tennis is played. It is a firm rectangular surface with a low net stretched across the center. The same surface can be used to play both doubles and singles.-Dimensions:...

s; their stages were narrow, and facilities for sets and scene changes were often non-existent (this would encourage the development of unity of place). Eventually theaters would develop systems of elaborate machines and decors, fashionable for the chevaleresque flights of knights found in the tragicomedies
Tragicomedy
Tragicomedy is fictional work that blends aspects of the genres of tragedy and comedy. In English literature, from Shakespeare's time to the nineteenth century, tragicomedy referred to a serious play with either a happy ending or enough jokes throughout the play to lighten the mood.-Classical...

 of the first half of the century.

In the early part of the century theater performances took place twice a week, starting at two or three o'clock. Theatrical representations often encompassed several works; they began with a comic prologue, then a tragedy or tragicomedy, then a farce and finally a song. Nobles sometimes sat at the side of the stage during the performance. Since it was impossible to lower the house lights the audience was always aware of each other, and spectators were notably vocal during performances. The place directly in front of the stage, without seats—the parterre—was reserved for men, but since these were the cheapest tickets the parterre was usually a mix of social groups. Elegant people watched the show from the galleries. Princes, musketeer
Musketeer
A musketeer was an early modern type of infantry soldier equipped with a musket. Musketeers were an important part of early modern armies, particularly in Europe. They sometimes could fight on horseback, like a dragoon or a cavalryman...

s and royal pages were given free admission. Before 1630, an "honest" woman did not go to the theater. Unlike England, France placed no restrictions on women performing on stage; however, the career of actors of either sex was seen as morally wrong by the Catholic Church (actors were excommunicated
Excommunication
Excommunication is a religious censure used to deprive, suspend or limit membership in a religious community. The word means putting [someone] out of communion. In some religions, excommunication includes spiritual condemnation of the member or group...

) and by the ascetic religious Jansenist
Jansenism
Jansenism was a Christian theological movement, primarily in France, that emphasized original sin, human depravity, the necessity of divine grace, and predestination. The movement originated from the posthumously published work of the Dutch theologian Cornelius Otto Jansen, who died in 1638...

 movement. Actors typically had stage names referring to typical roles or stereotypical characters.

In addition to scripted comedies and tragedies, Parisians were also great fans of the Italian acting troupe who performed their Commedia dell'arte
Commedia dell'arte
Commedia dell'arte is a form of theatre characterized by masked "types" which began in Italy in the 16th century, and was responsible for the advent of the actress and improvised performances based on sketches or scenarios. The closest translation of the name is "comedy of craft"; it is shortened...

, a kind of improvised theater based on types. The characters from the Commedia dell'arte would have a profound effect on French theater, and one finds echoes of them in the braggarts, fools, lovers, old men and wily servants which still populate French theater. Finally, opera
Opera
Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, and costumes and sometimes includes dance...

 reached France during the second half of the century.

The most important theaters and troupes in Paris were:
  • Hôtel de Bourgogne
    Hôtel de Bourgogne
    Until the 16th century, the Hôtel de Bourgogne was the name of the Paris residence of the Dukes of Burgundy. Today, the last vestige is the Tour Jean sans Peur, 20 rue Étienne Marcel, in the 2nd arrondissement.-Theatre:...

     - Until 1629 this theater was occupied by various troupes, including the Comédiens du Roi directed by Vallerin Lecomte and (at his death) by Bellerose (Pierre Le Messier). The troupe became the official Troupe Royale in 1629. Actors included Turlupin, Gros-Guillaume, Gautier-Gargouille, Floridor, Monfleury and la Champmeslé.
  • Théâtre du Marais
    Théâtre du Marais
    The Théâtre du Marais has been the name of several theatres and theatrical troupes in Paris, France. The original and most famous theatre of the name operated in the 17th century. The name was briefly revived for a revolutionary theatre in 1791, and revived again in 1976...

     (1600–1673) - This rival theater of the Hôtel de Bourgogne housed the troupe Vieux Comédiens du Roi around Claude Deschamps and the troupe of Jodelet.
  • La troupe de Monsieur - Under the protection of Louis XIV's brother, this was Molière's first Paris troupe. It moved to several theaters in Paris (the Petit-Bourbon and the Palais-Royal) before combining in 1673 with the troupe of the Théâtre du Marais and becoming the troupe of the Hôtel Guénégaud.
  • La Comédie française - In 1680, Louis XIV united the Hôtel de Bourgogne and the Hôtel Guénégaud into one official troupe.


Outside Paris, in the suburbs and the provinces, there were many wandering theatrical troupes; Molière got his start in a such a troupe. The royal court and other noble houses were also important organizers of theatrical representations, ballets de cour
Ballets de cour
Ballets de cour is the name given to ballets performed in the 16th and 17th centuries at court. Jean-Baptiste Lully is considered the most important composer of music for ballets de cour and was instrumental to the development of the form...

, mock battles and other forms of divertissement for their festivities; in the some cases, the roles of dancers and actors were held by the nobles themselves. The early years at Versailles—before the massive expansion of the residence—were entirely devoted to such pleasures, and similar spectacles continued throughout the reign. Engravings show Louis XIV and the court seated outside before the Cour du marbre of Versailles, watching the performance of a play.

The great majority of scripted plays in the 17th century were written in verse. Notable exceptions include some of Molière's comedies; Samuel Chappuzeau
Samuel Chappuzeau
Samuel Chappuzeau was a French scholar, author, poet and playwright whose best-known work today is Le Théâtre François, a description of French Theatre in the 17th century....

, author of Le Théâtre François
Le Théâtre François
This book, in three volumes, by Samuel Chappuzeau is the main source of information on French Theatre in the 17th Century.Its full title is Le Théâtre françois divisé en trois Livres, où il est traité I. De L’Usage de la Comédie. II. Des Auteurs qui soutiennent le Theatre. III...

, printed one comedy play in both prose and verse at different times. Except for lyric passages in these plays, the meter used was a twelve-syllable alexandrine
Alexandrine
An alexandrine is a line of poetic meter comprising 12 syllables. Alexandrines are common in the German literature of the Baroque period and in French poetry of the early modern and modern periods. Drama in English often used alexandrines before Marlowe and Shakespeare, by whom it was supplanted...

 line with a regular pause (or cesura) after the sixth syllable. These lines were put into rhymed couplet
Couplet
A couplet is a pair of lines of meter in poetry. It usually consists of two lines that rhyme and have the same meter.While traditionally couplets rhyme, not all do. A poem may use white space to mark out couplets if they do not rhyme. Couplets with a meter of iambic pentameter are called heroic...

s; couplets alternated between "feminine" (i.e. ending in a mute e) and "masculine" (i.e. ending in a vowel other than a mute e, a consonant or a nasal vowel) rhymes.

Baroque theater


17th-century French theater is often reduced to three great names—Pierre Corneille
Pierre Corneille
Pierre Corneille was a French tragedian who was one of the three great seventeenth-century French dramatists, along with Molière and Racine...

, Molière
Molière
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière, was a French playwright and actor who is considered to be one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature...

 and Jean Racine
Jean Racine
Jean Racine , baptismal name Jean-Baptiste Racine , was a French dramatist, one of the "Big Three" of 17th-century France , and one of the most important literary figures in the Western tradition...

—and to the triumph of "classicism". The truth, however, is far more complicated. Theater at the beginning of the century was dominated by the genres and dramatists of the previous generation; most influential in this respect was Robert Garnier
Robert Garnier
Robert Garnier was a French tragic poet. He published his first work while still a law-student at Toulouse, where he won a prize in the Académie des Jeux Floraux. It was a collection of lyrical pieces, now lost, entitled Plaintes amoureuses de Robert Garnier...

. Although the royal court had grown tired of the tragedy
Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

 (preferring the more-escapist tragicomedy
Tragicomedy
Tragicomedy is fictional work that blends aspects of the genres of tragedy and comedy. In English literature, from Shakespeare's time to the nineteenth century, tragicomedy referred to a serious play with either a happy ending or enough jokes throughout the play to lighten the mood.-Classical...

), the theatergoing public preferred the former. This would change in the 1630s and 1640s when (influenced by the long baroque novels of the period) the tragicomedy—a heroic and magical adventure of knights and maidens—became the dominant genre. The amazing success of Corneille's Le Cid in 1637 and Horace in 1640 would bring the tragedy back into fashion, where it would remain for the rest of the century.

The most important source for tragic theater was Seneca
Seneca the Younger
Lucius Annaeus Seneca was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and in one work humorist, of the Silver Age of Latin literature. He was tutor and later advisor to emperor Nero...

 and the precepts of Horace
Horace
Quintus Horatius Flaccus , known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus.-Life:...

 and Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 (plus modern commentaries by Julius Caesar Scaliger
Julius Caesar Scaliger
Julius Caesar Scaliger was an Italian scholar and physician who spent a major part of his career in France. He employed the techniques and discoveries of Renaissance humanism to defend Aristotelianism against the new learning...

 and Lodovico Castelvetro
Lodovico Castelvetro
Lodovico Castelvetro was an important figure in the development of neo-classicism, especially in drama. It was his reading of Aristotle that led to a widespread adoption of a tight version of the Three Unities, as a dramatic standard....

); plots were taken from classical authors such as Plutarch
Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

 and Suetonius
Lives of the Twelve Caesars
De vita Caesarum commonly known as The Twelve Caesars, is a set of twelve biographies of Julius Caesar and the first 11 emperors of the Roman Empire written by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus.The work, written in AD 121 during the reign of the emperor Hadrian, was the most popular work of Suetonius,...

, and from Italian, French and Spanish short-story collections. The Greek tragic authors (Sophocles
Sophocles
Sophocles is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides...

 and Euripides
Euripides
Euripides was one of the three great tragedians of classical Athens, the other two being Aeschylus and Sophocles. Some ancient scholars attributed ninety-five plays to him but according to the Suda it was ninety-two at most...

) would become increasingly important by the middle of the century. Important models for the century's comedy, tragedy and tragicomedy were also supplied by the Spanish playwrights Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Pedro Calderón de la Barca y Barreda González de Henao Ruiz de Blasco y Riaño usually referred as Pedro Calderón de la Barca , was a dramatist, poet and writer of the Spanish Golden Age. During certain periods of his life he was also a soldier and a Roman Catholic priest...

, Tirso de Molina
Tirso de Molina
Tirso de Molina was a Spanish Baroque dramatist, poet and a Roman Catholic monk.Originally Gabriel Téllez, he was born in Madrid. He studied at Alcalá de Henares, joined the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy on November 4, 1600, and entered the Monastery of San Antolín at Guadalajara,...

 and Lope de Vega
Lope de Vega
Félix Arturo Lope de Vega y Carpio was a Spanish playwright and poet. He was one of the key figures in the Spanish Golden Century Baroque literature...

, many of whose works were translated and adapted for the French stage. Important theatrical models were also supplied by the Italian stage (including the pastoral
Pastoral
The adjective pastoral refers to the lifestyle of pastoralists, such as shepherds herding livestock around open areas of land according to seasons and the changing availability of water and pasturage. It also refers to a genre in literature, art or music that depicts such shepherd life in an...

) and Italy was also an important source for theoretical discussions on theater, especially regarding decorum (see, for example, the debates on Sperone Speroni
Sperone Speroni
Sperone Speroni degli Alvarotti was an Italian Renaissance humanist, scholar and dramatist. He was one of the central members of Padua's literary academy Accademia degli Infiammati and wrote on both moral and literary matters.-Biography:...

's play Canace
Canace (play)
Canace is a verse tragedy by Italian playwright Sperone Speroni . It is based on the Greek legend of Canace, the daughter of Aeolus, who was forced by her father to commit suicide for having fallen in love with her brother, Macar....

 and Giovanni Battista Giraldi
Giovanni Battista Giraldi
Giovanni Battista Giraldi was an Italian novelist and poet. He appended the nickname Cinthio to his name and is commonly referred to by that name .Born at Ferrara, he was educated at the university there, and in 1525 became its professor of natural philosophy...

's play Orbecche
Orbecche
Orbecche is a tragedy written by Giovanni Battista Giraldi in 1541. It was the first modern tragedy written on classical principles, and along with Sperone Speroni's Canace, was responsible for a sixteenth-century theoretical debate on theater, especially with regards to decorum.It was produced in...

).

Regular comedies (i.e. comedies in five acts modeled on Plautus
Plautus
Titus Maccius Plautus , commonly known as "Plautus", was a Roman playwright of the Old Latin period. His comedies are the earliest surviving intact works in Latin literature. He wrote Palliata comoedia, the genre devised by the innovator of Latin literature, Livius Andronicus...

 or Terence
Terence
Publius Terentius Afer , better known in English as Terence, was a playwright of the Roman Republic, of North African descent. His comedies were performed for the first time around 170–160 BC. Terentius Lucanus, a Roman senator, brought Terence to Rome as a slave, educated him and later on,...

 and the precepts of Aelius Donatus
Aelius Donatus
Aelius Donatus was a Roman grammarian and teacher of rhetoric. The only fact known regarding his life is that he was the tutor of St...

) were less frequent on the stage than tragedies and tragicomedies at the turn of the century; the comedic element of the early stage was dominated by farce
Farce
In theatre, a farce is a comedy which aims at entertaining the audience by means of unlikely, extravagant, and improbable situations, disguise and mistaken identity, verbal humour of varying degrees of sophistication, which may include word play, and a fast-paced plot whose speed usually increases,...

, satirical monologues and by the commedia dell'arte. Jean Rotrou
Jean Rotrou
Jean Rotrou was a French poet and tragedian.Rotrou was born at Dreux in Normandy. He studied at Dreux and at Paris, and, though three years younger than Pierre Corneille, began writing before him. In 1632 he became playwright to the actors of the Hôtel de Bourgogne...

 and Pierre Corneille
Pierre Corneille
Pierre Corneille was a French tragedian who was one of the three great seventeenth-century French dramatists, along with Molière and Racine...

 would return to regular comedy shortly before 1630. Corneille's tragedies were strangely un-tragic (his first version of Le Cid was even listed as a tragicomedy), as they had happy endings. In his theoretical works on theater, Corneille redefined both comedy and tragedy around the following suppositions:
  • The stage—in both comedy and tragedy—should feature noble characters (this would eliminate many lowbrow characters, typical of farce, from Corneille's comedies). Noble characters should not be depicted as vile (reprehensible actions are generally due to ignoble characters in Corneille's plays).
  • Tragedy deals with affairs of state (wars, dynastic marriages); comedy deals with love. For a work to be tragic, it need not have a tragic ending.
  • Although Aristotle
    Aristotle
    Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

     says that catharsis
    Catharsis
    Catharsis or katharsis is a Greek word meaning "cleansing" or "purging". It is derived from the verb καθαίρειν, kathairein, "to purify, purge," and it is related to the adjective καθαρός, katharos, "pure or clean."-Dramatic uses:...

     (purgation of emotion) should be the goal of tragedy, this is only an ideal. In conformity with the moral code of the period, plays should not show evil being rewarded or nobility being degraded.


The history of the public and critical reaction to Corneille's Le Cid may be found in other articles (he was criticized for his use of sources, his violation of good taste, and for other irregularities not conforming to Aristotian or Horacian rules), but its impact was stunning. Cardinal Richelieu asked the newly formed Académie française
Académie française
L'Académie française , also called the French Academy, is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution,...

 to investigate and pronounce on the criticism (it was the Academy's first official judgement), and the controversy reveals a growing attempt to control and regulate theater and theatrical forms. This would be the beginning of 17th-century "classicism". Corneille continued to write plays through 1674 (mainly tragedies, but also what he called "heroic comedies"). Many were successful, although the "irregularities" of his theatrical methods were increasingly criticized (notably by François Hédelin, abbé d'Aubignac
François Hédelin, abbé d'Aubignac
François Hédelin, abbé d'Aubignac was a French author who was born in Paris.His father practised at the Paris bar, and his mother was a daughter of the great surgeon Ambroise Paré...

); the success of Jean Racine
Jean Racine
Jean Racine , baptismal name Jean-Baptiste Racine , was a French dramatist, one of the "Big Three" of 17th-century France , and one of the most important literary figures in the Western tradition...

 from the late 1660s signaled the end of his preeminence.

A select list of dramatists and plays, with indication of genre (dates are often approximate, as date of publication was usually long after the date of first performance), includes:
  • Antoine de Montchrestien
    Antoine de Montchrestien
    Antoine de Montchrestien was a French soldier, dramatist, adventurer and economist.Montchrestien was born in Falaise, Normandy...

     (c.1575–1621)
    • Sophonisbe, AKA La Cathaginoise, AKA La Liberté (tragedy) 1596
    • La Reine d'Ecosse, AKA L'Ecossaise (tragedy) 1601
    • Aman (tragedy) 1601
    • La Bergerie (pastoral) 1601
    • Hector (tragedy) 1604
  • Jean de Schelandre
    Jean de Schelandre
    Jean de Schelandre , Seigneur de Saumazènes, was a French poet.-Biography:He was born about 1585 near Verdun of a Calvinist family, and studied at the university of Paris...

     (c.1585–1635)
    • Tyr et Sidon, ou les funestes amours de Belcar et Méliane (1608)
  • Alexandre Hardy
    Alexandre Hardy
    Alexandre Hardy was a French dramatist, one of the most prolific of all time. He claimed to have written some six hundred plays, but only thirty-four are extant....

     (1572–c.1632) Hardy reputedly wrote 600 plays; only 34 have survived.
    • Scédase, ou l'hospitalité violée (tragedy) 1624
    • La Force du sang (tragicomedy) 1625 (the plot is taken from a Cervantes short story)
    • Lucrèce, ou l'Adultère puni (tragedy) 1628
  • Honorat de Bueil, seigneur de Racan (1589–1670)
    • Les Bergeries (pastoral) 1625
  • Théophile de Viau
    Théophile de Viau
    Théophile de Viau was a French Baroque poet and dramatist.Born at Clairac, near Agen in the Lot-et-Garonne and raised as a Huguenot, Théophile de Viau participated in the Protestant wars in Guyenne from 1615-1616 in the service of the Comte de Candale. After the war, he was pardoned and became a...

     (1590–1626)
    • Les Amours tragiques de Pyrame et Thisbé (tragedy) 1621
  • François le Métel de Boisrobert
    François le Métel de Boisrobert
    François le Métel de Boisrobert was a French poet.-Biography:He was born at Caen, and trained as a lawyer, practising for some time at the bar at Rouen. About 1622 he went to Paris, and by the next year had established a footing at court, for he had a share in the ballet of the Bacchanales...

     (1592–1662)
    • Didon la chaste ou Les Amours de Hiarbas (tragedy) 1642
  • Jean Mairet
    Jean Mairet
    Jean Mairet was a classical French dramatist who wrote both tragedies and comedies.- Life :He was born at Besançon, and went to Paris to study at the Collège des Grassins about 1625. In that year he produced his first piece Chryséide et Arimand...

     (1604–1686)
    • La Sylve (pastoral tragicomedy) c.1626
    • La Silvanire, ou La Morte vive (pastoral tragicomedy) 1630
    • Les Galanteries du Duc d'Ossonne Vice-Roi de Naples (comedy) 1632
    • La Sophonisbe (tragedy) 1634
    • La Virginie (tragicomedy) 1636
  • Tristan L'Hermite
    Tristan l'Hermite
    See also François Tristan l'HermiteTristan l'Hermite was a French political and military figure of the late Middle Ages.He was provost of the marshals of the King's household under Louis XI of France, which gave him enormous power in the Intrigues and plots that characterized that king's 22-year...

     (1601–1655)
    • Mariamne (tragedy) 1636
    • Penthée (tragedy) 1637
    • La Mort de Seneque (tragedy) 1644
    • La Mort de Crispe (tragedy) 1645
    • The Parasite 1653
  • Jean Rotrou
    Jean Rotrou
    Jean Rotrou was a French poet and tragedian.Rotrou was born at Dreux in Normandy. He studied at Dreux and at Paris, and, though three years younger than Pierre Corneille, began writing before him. In 1632 he became playwright to the actors of the Hôtel de Bourgogne...

     (1609–1650)
    • La Bague de l'oubli (comedy) 1629
    • La Belle Alphrède (comedy) 1639
    • Laure persécutée (tragicomedy) 1637
    • Le Véritable saint Genest (tragedy) 1645
    • Venceslas (tragicomedy) 1647
    • Cosroès (tragedy) 1648
  • Pierre Corneille
    Pierre Corneille
    Pierre Corneille was a French tragedian who was one of the three great seventeenth-century French dramatists, along with Molière and Racine...

     (1606–1684)
    • Mélite (comedy) 1629
    • Clitandre (tragicomedy, later changed to tragedy) 1631
    • La Veuve (comedy) 1631
    • La Place Royale (comedy) 1633
    • Médée (tragedy) 1635
    • L'Illusion comique (comedy) 1636
    • Le Cid
      Le Cid
      Le Cid is a tragicomedy written by Pierre Corneille and published in 1636. It is based on the legend of El Cid.The play followed Corneille's first true tragedy, Médée, produced in 1635. An enormous popular success, Corneille's Le Cid was the subject of a heated polemic over the norms of dramatic...

       (tragicomedy, later changed to tragedy) 1637
    • Horace (tragedy) 1640
    • Cinna (tragedy) 1640
    • Polyeucte ("Christian" tragedy) c.1641
    • La Mort de Pompée (tragedy) 1642
    • Le Menteur (comedy) 1643
    • Rodogune, princesse des Parthes (tragedy) 1644
    • Héraclius, empereur d'Orient (tragedy) 1647
    • Don Sanche d'Aragon ("heroic" comedy) 1649
    • Nicomède (tragedy) 1650
    • Sertorius (tragedy) 1662
    • Sophonisbe (tragedy) 1663
    • Othon (tragedy) 1664
    • Tite et Bérénice ("heroic" comedy) 1670
    • Suréna, général des Parthes (tragedy) 1674
  • Pierre du Ryer
    Pierre du Ryer
    Pierre du Ryer was a French dramatist.He was born in Paris. His early comedies are loosely modelled on those of Alexandre Hardy, but after the production of the Cid he became an imitator of Pierre Corneille; this was the period when he produced his masterpiece Scévole, probably in 1644...

     (1606–1658)
    • Lucrèce (tragedy) 1636
    • Alcione 1638
    • Scévola (tragedy) 1644
  • Jean Desmarets
    Jean Desmarets
    Jean Desmarets, Sieur de Saint-Sorlin was a French writer and dramatist. He was a founding member, and the first to occupy seat 4 of the Académie française in 1634.-Biography:...

     (1595–1676)
    • Les Visionnaires (comedy) 1637
    • Erigone (prose tragedy) 1638
    • Scipion (verse tragedy) 1639
  • François Hédelin, abbé d'Aubignac
    François Hédelin, abbé d'Aubignac
    François Hédelin, abbé d'Aubignac was a French author who was born in Paris.His father practised at the Paris bar, and his mother was a daughter of the great surgeon Ambroise Paré...

     (1604–1676)
    • La Cyminde 1642
    • La Pucelle d'Orléans 1642
    • Zénobie (tragedy) 1647 (written with the intention of affording a model in which the strict rules of the drama were served)
    • Le Martyre de Sainte Catherine (tragedy) 1650
  • Paul Scarron
    Paul Scarron
    Paul Scarron was a French poet, dramatist, and novelist. His precise birthdate is unknown, but he was baptized on July 4, 1610...

     (1610–1660)
    • Jodelet 1645
    • Don Japhel d'Arménie 1653
  • Isaac de Benserade
    Isaac de Benserade
    Isaac de Benserade was a French poet.Born in Lyons-la-Forêt in the Province of Normandy, his family appears to have been connected with Richelieu, who bestowed on him a pension of 600 livres. He began his literary career with the tragedy of Cléopâtre , which was followed by four other pieces...

     (c.1613–1691)
    • Cléopâtre (tragedy) 1635

Theater under Louis XIV


By the 1660s, classicism had imposed itself on French theater. The key theoretical work on theater from this period was François Hedelin, abbé d'Aubignac
François Hédelin, abbé d'Aubignac
François Hédelin, abbé d'Aubignac was a French author who was born in Paris.His father practised at the Paris bar, and his mother was a daughter of the great surgeon Ambroise Paré...

's Pratique du théâtre (1657), and this work reveals to what degree "French classicism" was willing to modify the rules of classical tragedy to maintain the unities and decorum (d'Aubignac, for example, saw the tragedies of Oedipus
Oedipus
Oedipus was a mythical Greek king of Thebes. He fulfilled a prophecy that said he would kill his father and marry his mother, and thus brought disaster on his city and family...

 and Antigone
Antigone
In Greek mythology, Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, Oedipus' mother. The name may be taken to mean "unbending", coming from "anti-" and "-gon / -gony" , but has also been suggested to mean "opposed to motherhood", "in place of a mother", or "anti-generative", based from the root...

 as unsuitable for the contemporary stage). Although Pierre Corneille continued to produce tragedies until the end of his life, the works of Jean Racine
Jean Racine
Jean Racine , baptismal name Jean-Baptiste Racine , was a French dramatist, one of the "Big Three" of 17th-century France , and one of the most important literary figures in the Western tradition...

 from the late 1660s on totally eclipsed the late plays of the elder dramatist. Racine's tragedies—inspired by Greek myths, Euripides
Euripides
Euripides was one of the three great tragedians of classical Athens, the other two being Aeschylus and Sophocles. Some ancient scholars attributed ninety-five plays to him but according to the Suda it was ninety-two at most...

, Sophocles
Sophocles
Sophocles is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides...

 and Seneca
Seneca the Younger
Lucius Annaeus Seneca was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and in one work humorist, of the Silver Age of Latin literature. He was tutor and later advisor to emperor Nero...

—condensed their plot into a tight set of passionate and duty-bound conflicts between a small group of noble characters, concentrating on these characters' double-binds and the geometry of their unfulfilled desires and hatreds. Racine's poetic skill was in the representation of pathos
Pathos
Pathos represents an appeal to the audience's emotions. Pathos is a communication technique used most often in rhetoric , and in literature, film and other narrative art....

 and amorous passion (like Phèdre
Phèdre
Phèdre is a dramatic tragedy in five acts written in alexandrine verse by Jean Racine, first performed in 1677.-Composition and premiere:...

's love for her stepson); his impact was such that emotional crisis would be the dominant mode of tragedy until the end of the century. Racine's two late plays (Esther and Athalie) opened new doors to Biblical subject matter and to the use of theater in the education of young women.

Tragedy during the last two decades of the century and the first years of the 18th century was dominated by productions of classics from Pierre Corneille and Racine, but on the whole the public's enthusiasm for tragedy had greatly diminished; theatrical tragedy paled beside the dark economic and demographic problems at the end of the century, and the "comedy of manners" (see below) had incorporated many of the moral goals of tragedy. Other later-century tragedians include Claude Boyer
Claude Boyer
Claude Boyer was a French clergyman, playwright, apologist and poet....

, Michel Le Clerc
Michel Le Clerc
-Life:After studying under the Jesuits, he established himself in Paris, where he became a lawyer to the parliament of Paris. Like his co-student Claude Boyer, he wrote tragedies and "pièces des circonstance"; he produced his Virginie romaine in 1645, the same year as Boyer produced his Porcie...

, Jacques Pradon
Jacques Pradon
Jacques Pradon, often called Nicolas Pradon, was a French playwright. Early in his career he was helped by Pierre Corneille and was introduced to the salons at the Hôtel de Nevers and the Hôtel de Bouillon by Madame Deshoulières....

, Jean Galbert de Campistron
Jean Galbert de Campistron
Jean Galbert de Campistron was a French dramatist-Biography:Campistron was born in Toulouse, France to a noble family.At the age of seventeen he was wounded in a duel and sent to Paris...

, Jean de la Chapelle, Antoine d'Aubigny de la Fosse, l'abbé Charles-Claude Geneste and Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon
Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon
Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon was a French poet and tragedian.-Life and works:He was born in Dijon, where his father, Melchior Jolyot, was notary-royal. Having been educated at the Jesuit school in the town, and afterwards at the Collège Mazarin. He became an advocate, and was placed in the office...

. At the end of the century (in Crébillon's plays especially), there occasionally appeared a return to the theatricality of the beginning of the century: multiple episodes, extravagant fear and pity, and the representation of gruesome actions on stage.

Early French opera was especially popular with the royal court during this period, and composer Jean-Baptiste Lully
Jean-Baptiste Lully
Jean-Baptiste de Lully was an Italian-born French composer who spent most of his life working in the court of Louis XIV of France. He is considered the chief master of the French Baroque style. Lully disavowed any Italian influence in French music of the period. He became a French subject in...

 was extremely prolific (see the composer's article for more on court ballets and opera in this period). These works carried on in the tradition of tragicomedy (especially the pièces à machines) and court ballet, and also occasionally presented tragic plots (or tragédies en musique). Dramatists working with Lully included Pierre Corneille
Pierre Corneille
Pierre Corneille was a French tragedian who was one of the three great seventeenth-century French dramatists, along with Molière and Racine...

 and Molière
Molière
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière, was a French playwright and actor who is considered to be one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature...

 but the most important of these librettists was Philippe Quinault
Philippe Quinault
Philippe Quinault , French dramatist and librettist, was born in Paris.- Biography :Quinault was educated by the liberality of François Tristan l'Hermite, the author of Marianne. Quinault's first play was produced at the Hôtel de Bourgogne in 1653, when he was only eighteen...

, a writer of comedies, tragedies, and tragicomedies.

Comedy in the second half of the century was dominated by Molière. A veteran actor, master of farce, slapstick, the Italian and Spanish theater (see above), and "regular" theater modeled on Plautus
Plautus
Titus Maccius Plautus , commonly known as "Plautus", was a Roman playwright of the Old Latin period. His comedies are the earliest surviving intact works in Latin literature. He wrote Palliata comoedia, the genre devised by the innovator of Latin literature, Livius Andronicus...

 and Terence
Terence
Publius Terentius Afer , better known in English as Terence, was a playwright of the Roman Republic, of North African descent. His comedies were performed for the first time around 170–160 BC. Terentius Lucanus, a Roman senator, brought Terence to Rome as a slave, educated him and later on,...

, Molière's output was great and varied. He is credited with giving the French comedy of manners
Comedy of manners
The comedy of manners is a genre of play/television/film which satirizes the manners and affectations of a social class, often represented by stock characters, such as the miles gloriosus in ancient times, the fop and the rake during the Restoration, or an old person pretending to be young...

 (comédie de mœurs) and the comedy of character (comédie de caractère) their modern form. His hilarious satires of avaricious fathers, précieuses
Précieuses
The French literary style called préciosité arose in the 17th century from the lively conversations and playful word games of les précieuses , the witty and educated intellectual ladies who frequented the salon of Catherine de Vivonne, marquise de Rambouillet; her Chambre bleue offered a...

, social parvenues, doctors and pompous literary types were extremely successful, but his comedies on religious hypocrisy (Tartuffe) and libertinage (Dom Juan
Dom Juan
Dom Juan or The Feast with the Statue is a French play by Molière, based on the legend of Don Juan. Molière's characters Dom Juan and Sganarelle are the French counterparts to the Spanish Don Juan and Catalinón, characters who would later become familiar to opera goers as Don Giovanni and Leporello...

) brought him criticism from the church; Tartuffe was only performed because of the king's intercession. Many of Molière's comedies (like Tartuffe, Dom Juan and Le Misanthrope
Le Misanthrope
The Misanthrope is a 17th-century comedy of manners in verse written by Molière. It was first performed on 4 June 1666 at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal, Paris by the King's Players....

) veered between farce and the darkest of dramas, and their endings are far from purely comic. Molière's Les précieuses ridicules was certainly based on an earlier play by Samuel Chappuzeau (best known for his work Le Theatre Francois (1674), which contains the most detailed description of French theatre during this period).

Comedy until the end of the century would continue on the path traced by Molière; the satire of contemporary morals and manners and the "regular" comedy would predominate, and the last great "comedy" of Louis XIV's reign (Alain-René Lesage
Alain-René Lesage
Alain-René Lesage was a French novelist and playwright. Lesage is best known for his comic novel The Devil upon Two Sticks , his comedy Turcaret , and his picaresque novel Gil Blas .-Youth and education:Claude Lesage, the father of the novelist, held the united...

's Turcaret) is a dark play in which almost no character exhibits redeeming traits.

Below is a select list of French theater after 1659:
  • Comedies of Molière
    Molière
    Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière, was a French playwright and actor who is considered to be one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature...

     (pseudonym of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin) (1622–1673)
    • Les précieuses ridicules
      Les Précieuses ridicules
      Les Précieuses ridicules is a one-act satire by Molière in prose. It takes aim at the précieuses, the ultra-witty ladies who indulged in lively conversations, word games and, in a word, préciosité ....

       1659
    • L'Ecole des femmes
      The School for Wives
      The School for Wives is a theatrical comedy written by the seventeenth century French playwright Molière and considered by some critics to be one of his finest achievements. It was first staged at the Palais Royal theatre on 26 December 1662 for the brother of the King...

       1662
    • Tartuffe
      Tartuffe
      Tartuffe is a comedy by Molière. It is one of his most famous plays.-History:Molière wrote Tartuffe in 1664...

       ou L'Imposteur 1664
    • Dom Juan
      Dom Juan
      Dom Juan or The Feast with the Statue is a French play by Molière, based on the legend of Don Juan. Molière's characters Dom Juan and Sganarelle are the French counterparts to the Spanish Don Juan and Catalinón, characters who would later become familiar to opera goers as Don Giovanni and Leporello...

       ou Le festin de pierre 1665
    • Le Misanthrope
      Le Misanthrope
      The Misanthrope is a 17th-century comedy of manners in verse written by Molière. It was first performed on 4 June 1666 at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal, Paris by the King's Players....

       1666
    • L'Avare
      The Miser
      L'Avare is a 1668 five-act satirical comedy by French playwright Molière. Its title is usually translated as The Miser when the play is performed in English....

       1668
    • Le Bourgeois gentilhomme
      Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme
      Le Bourgeois gentilhomme is a five-act comédie-ballet—a play intermingled with music, dance and singing—by Molière, first presented on 14 October 1670 before the court of Louis XIV at the Château of Chambord by Molière's troupe of actors...

       1670
    • Les Fourberies de Scapin
      Les Fourberies de Scapin
      Les Fourberies de Scapin is a three-act comedy by French playwright Molière. The title character Scapin is similar to the archetypical Scapino character. The play was first staged in 1671 in Paris....

       1671
    • Les Femmes savantes
      Les Femmes Savantes
      Les Femmes savantes is a play by Molière in five acts, written in verse. A satire on academic pretention, female education, and préciosité , it was one of his most popular comedies...

       1672
    • Le Malade imaginaire 1673
  • Thomas Corneille
    Thomas Corneille
    Thomas Corneille was a French dramatist.- Personal life :Born in Rouen nearly twenty years after his brother Pierre, the "great Corneille", Thomas's skill as a poet seems to have shown itself early. At the age of fifteen he composed a play in Latin which was performed by his fellow-pupils at the...

     (1625–1709, brother of Pierre Corneille)
    • Timocrate (tragedy) 1659, with the longest run (80 nights) recorded of any play of the century
    • Ariane (tragedy) 1672
    • Circé (tragicomedy) 1675 (cowritten with Donneau de Visé)
    • Psyché (opera) 1678 (in collaboration with Molière and Jean-Baptiste Lully
      Jean-Baptiste Lully
      Jean-Baptiste de Lully was an Italian-born French composer who spent most of his life working in the court of Louis XIV of France. He is considered the chief master of the French Baroque style. Lully disavowed any Italian influence in French music of the period. He became a French subject in...

      )
    • La Devineresse (comedy) 1679 (cowritten with Donneau de Visé)
    • Bellérophon
      Bellérophon
      Bellérophon is an opera with music by Jean-Baptiste Lully and a libretto by Thomas Corneille and Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle first performed by the Opéra at the Palais Royal in Paris on 31 January 1679....

       (opera) 1679
    • Médée
      Médée (Charpentier)
      Médée is a tragédie mise en musique in five acts and a prologue by Marc-Antoine Charpentier to a French libretto by Thomas Corneille. It was premiered in Paris on December 4, 1693. Médée is the only opera Charpentier wrote for the Académie Royale de Musique...

       (tragedy) 1693
  • Philippe Quinault
    Philippe Quinault
    Philippe Quinault , French dramatist and librettist, was born in Paris.- Biography :Quinault was educated by the liberality of François Tristan l'Hermite, the author of Marianne. Quinault's first play was produced at the Hôtel de Bourgogne in 1653, when he was only eighteen...

     (1635–1688)
    • Alceste (musical tragedy) 1674
    • Proserpine (musical tragedy) 1680
    • Amadis de Gaule
      Amadis (Lully)
      Amadis or Amadis de Gaule is a tragédie en musique in a prologue and five acts by Jean-Baptiste Lully to a libretto by Philippe Quinault based on Nicolas Herberay des Essarts' adaptation of Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo's Amadis de Gaula. It was premiered at the Paris Opéra January 18, 1684...

       (musical tragicomedy) 1684, based on the Renaissance chivalric novel
    • Armide
      Armide (Lully)
      Armide is an opera by Jean-Baptiste Lully. The libretto was written by Philippe Quinault, based on Torquato Tasso's La Gerusalemme liberata .Critics in the 18th century regarded Armide as Lully's masterpiece...

       (musical tragicomedy) 1686, based on Tasso
      Torquato Tasso
      Torquato Tasso was an Italian poet of the 16th century, best known for his poem La Gerusalemme liberata , in which he depicts a highly imaginative version of the combats between Christians and Muslims at the end of the First Crusade, during the siege of Jerusalem...

      's Jerusalem Delivered
      Jerusalem Delivered
      Jerusalem Delivered is an epic poem by the Italian poet Torquato Tasso first published in 1581, which tells a largely mythified version of the First Crusade in which Catholic knights, led by Godfrey of Bouillon, battle Muslims in order to take Jerusalem...

  • Jean Racine
    Jean Racine
    Jean Racine , baptismal name Jean-Baptiste Racine , was a French dramatist, one of the "Big Three" of 17th-century France , and one of the most important literary figures in the Western tradition...

     (1639–1699)
    • La Thébaïde
      La Thébaïde
      La Thébaïde, or The Thebaid, is a tragedy in five acts in verse by Jean Racine first presented, without much success, on June 20, 1664 in Petit-Bourbon. A play about the struggle and death of the young son of Oedipus, as well as that of Antigone. This subject had already occupied many authors...

       (tragedy) 1664
    • Alexandre le Grand
      Alexandre le Grand
      Alexandre le Grand is a tragedy in 5 acts and verse by Jean Racine. It was first produced on December 4, 1665 at the Palais Royal Theater in Paris. The subject of the play is the love of Alexander and the Indian princess Cleofile complicated by intrigues between her brother Taxilus and his ally...

       (tragedy) 1665
    • Andromaque
      Andromaque
      Andromaque is a tragedy in five acts by the French playwright Jean Racine written in alexandrine verse. It was first performed on 17 November 1667 before the court of Louis XIV in the Louvre in the private chambers of the Queen, Marie Thérèse, by the royal company of actors, called "les Grands...

       (tragedy) 1667
    • Les plaideurs
      Les Plaideurs
      Les Plaideurs, or the Litigants, written in 1668, is a comedy in three acts with respectively 8, 14, and 4 scenes in Alexandrine verse by Jean Racine. This is the only comedy written by Racine. It was inspired by The Wasps by Aristophanes, but he withdrew all political significance...

       (comedy) 1668, Racine's only comedy
    • Brittanicus
      Britannicus (play)
      Britannicus is a tragic play by the French dramatist Jean Racine.The play, produced in 1669, was the first time Racine had tried his hand at depicting Roman history. The tale of moral choice takes as its subject Britannicus, the son of the Roman emperor Claudius, and heir to the imperial throne...

       (tragedy) 1669
    • Bérénice
      Bérénice
      Berenice is a five-act tragedy by the French 17th-century playwright Jean Racine. Berenice was not played often between the 17th and the 20th centuries. Today it is one of Racine's more popular plays, after Phèdre, Andromaque and Britannicus.It was first performed in 1670...

       (tragedy) 1670
    • Bajazet
      Bajazet (play)
      Bajazet is a tragedy by Jean Racine in five acts , in Alexandrian verse, first played at the Hotel de Bourgogne, on January 5, 1672, after Berenice, and before Mithridate. Like Aeschylus in The Persians, Racine took his subject from contemporary history, taking care to choose a far off location,...

       (tragedy) 1672
    • Mithridate
      Mithridate (Racine)
      Mithridate is a tragedy in five acts in Alexandrine verse by Jean Racine.-Background and History:...

       (tragedy) 1673
    • Iphigénie
      Iphigénie
      Iphigénie is a dramatic tragedy in five acts written in alexandrine verse by the French playwright Jean Racine. It was first performed in the Orangerie in Versailles on August 18th 1674 as part of the fifth of the royal Divertissements de Versailles of Louis XIV to celebrate the conquest of...

       en Aulide (tragedy) 1674
    • Phèdre
      Phèdre
      Phèdre is a dramatic tragedy in five acts written in alexandrine verse by Jean Racine, first performed in 1677.-Composition and premiere:...

       (tragedy) 1677
    • Esther
      Esther (drama)
      Esther is the name of a play in three acts written in 1689 by the French dramatist, Jean Racine. It premiered on January 26, 1689, performed by the pupils of the Maison royale de Saint-Louis, an educational institute for young girls of noble birth...

       (tragedy) 1689
    • Athalie
      Athalie
      Athalie is the final tragedy of Jean Racine, and has been described as the masterpiece of 'one of the greatest literary artists known' and the 'ripest work' of Racine's genius...

       (tragedy) 1691
  • Jacques Pradon
    Jacques Pradon
    Jacques Pradon, often called Nicolas Pradon, was a French playwright. Early in his career he was helped by Pierre Corneille and was introduced to the salons at the Hôtel de Nevers and the Hôtel de Bouillon by Madame Deshoulières....

     (1632–1698)
    • Pyrame et Thisbé (tragedy) 1674
    • Tamerlan, ou la mort de Bajazet (tragedy) 1676
    • Phèdre et Hippolyte (tragedy) 1677; this play, released at the same time as Racine's, enjoyed momentary success
  • Jean-François Regnard
    Jean-François Regnard
    Jean-François Regnard , "the most distinguished, after Molière, of the comic poets of the seventeenth century", was a dramatist, born in Paris, who is equally famous now for the travel diary he kept of a voyage in 1681....

     (1655–1709)
    • Le Joueur (comedy) 1696
    • Le Distrait (comedy) 1697
  • Jean Galbert de Campistron
    Jean Galbert de Campistron
    Jean Galbert de Campistron was a French dramatist-Biography:Campistron was born in Toulouse, France to a noble family.At the age of seventeen he was wounded in a duel and sent to Paris...

     (1656–1723)
    • Andronic (tragedy) 1685
    • Tiridate (tragedy) 1691
  • Florent Carton Dancourt
    Florent Carton Dancourt
    Florent Carton aka Dancourt , French dramatist and actor, was born at Fontainebleau. He belonged to a family of rank, and his parents entrusted his education to Pere de la Rue, a Jesuit, who made earnest efforts to induce him to join the order...

     (1661–1725)
    • Le Chevalier à la mode (comedy) 1687
    • Les Bourgeoises à la mode (comedy) 1693
    • Les Bourgeoises de qualité (comedy) 1700
  • Alain-René Lesage
    Alain-René Lesage
    Alain-René Lesage was a French novelist and playwright. Lesage is best known for his comic novel The Devil upon Two Sticks , his comedy Turcaret , and his picaresque novel Gil Blas .-Youth and education:Claude Lesage, the father of the novelist, held the united...

     (1668–1747)
    • Turcaret (comedy) 1708
  • Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon
    Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon
    Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon was a French poet and tragedian.-Life and works:He was born in Dijon, where his father, Melchior Jolyot, was notary-royal. Having been educated at the Jesuit school in the town, and afterwards at the Collège Mazarin. He became an advocate, and was placed in the office...

     (1674–1762)
    • Idomnée (tragedy) 1705
    • Atrée et Thyeste (tragedy) 1707
    • Electre (tragedy) 1709
    • Rhadamiste et Zénobie (tragedy) 1711
    • Xerxes (tragedy) 1714
    • Sémiramis (tragedy) 1717

Moral and philosophical reflection


The 17th century was dominated by a profound moral and religious fervor unleashed by the Counter-Reformation
Counter-Reformation
The Counter-Reformation was the period of Catholic revival beginning with the Council of Trent and ending at the close of the Thirty Years' War, 1648 as a response to the Protestant Reformation.The Counter-Reformation was a comprehensive effort, composed of four major elements:#Ecclesiastical or...

. Of all literary works, devotional books were the century's best sellers. New religious organisations swept the country (see, for example, the work of Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Francis de Sales
Francis de Sales
Francis de Sales was Bishop of Geneva and is a Roman Catholic saint. He worked to convert Protestants back to Catholicism, and was an accomplished preacher...

). The preacher Louis Bourdaloue
Louis Bourdaloue
Louis Bourdaloue was a French Jesuit and preacher.He was born in Bourges. At the age of sixteen he entered the Society of Jesus, and was appointed successively professor of rhetoric, philosophy and moral theology, in various Jesuit colleges...

 (1632–1704) was known for his sermons, and theologian
Theology
Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...

–orator Jacques-Benigne Bossuet
Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet was a French bishop and theologian, renowned for his sermons and other addresses. He has been considered by many to be one of the most brilliant orators of all time and a masterly French stylist....

 (1627–1704) composed a number of celebrated funeral orations. Nevertheless, the century had a number of writers who were considered "libertine
Libertine
A libertine is one devoid of most moral restraints, which are seen as unnecessary or undesirable, especially one who ignores or even spurns accepted morals and forms of behavior sanctified by the larger society. Libertines, also known as rakes, placed value on physical pleasures, meaning those...

"; these authors (like Théophile de Viau
Théophile de Viau
Théophile de Viau was a French Baroque poet and dramatist.Born at Clairac, near Agen in the Lot-et-Garonne and raised as a Huguenot, Théophile de Viau participated in the Protestant wars in Guyenne from 1615-1616 in the service of the Comte de Candale. After the war, he was pardoned and became a...

 (1590–1626) and Charles de Saint-Evremond
Charles de Saint-Évremond
Charles de Marguetel de Saint-Denis, seigneur de Saint-Évremond was a French soldier, hedonist, essayist and literary critic. After 1661, he lived in exile, mainly in England, as a consequence of his attack on French policy at the time of the peace of the Pyrenees . He is buried in Poets' Corner,...

 (1610–1703)), inspired by Epicurus
Epicurus
Epicurus was an ancient Greek philosopher and the founder of the school of philosophy called Epicureanism.Only a few fragments and letters remain of Epicurus's 300 written works...

 and the publication of Petronius
Petronius
Gaius Petronius Arbiter was a Roman courtier during the reign of Nero. He is generally believed to be the author of the Satyricon, a satirical novel believed to have been written during the Neronian age.-Life:...

, professed doubts of religious or moral matters during a period of increasingly reactionary religious fervor. René Descartes
René Descartes
René Descartes ; was a French philosopher and writer who spent most of his adult life in the Dutch Republic. He has been dubbed the 'Father of Modern Philosophy', and much subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his writings, which are studied closely to this day...

' (1596–1650) Discours de la méthode (1637) and Méditations marked a complete break with medieval philosophical reflection.

An outgrowth of counter-reformation Catholicism, Jansenism
Jansenism
Jansenism was a Christian theological movement, primarily in France, that emphasized original sin, human depravity, the necessity of divine grace, and predestination. The movement originated from the posthumously published work of the Dutch theologian Cornelius Otto Jansen, who died in 1638...

 advocated a profound moral and spiritual interrogation of the soul. This movement would attract writers such as Blaise Pascal and Jean Racine
Jean Racine
Jean Racine , baptismal name Jean-Baptiste Racine , was a French dramatist, one of the "Big Three" of 17th-century France , and one of the most important literary figures in the Western tradition...

, but would eventually come under attack for heresy (they espoused a doctrine bordering on predestination), and their monastery at Port-Royal was suppressed. Blaise Pascal
Blaise Pascal
Blaise Pascal , was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Catholic philosopher. He was a child prodigy who was educated by his father, a tax collector in Rouen...

 (1623–1662) was a satirist for their cause (in his Lettres provinciales
Lettres provinciales
The Lettres provinciales are a series of eighteen letters written by French philosopher and theologian Blaise Pascal under the pseudonym Louis de Montalte...

 (1656–57)), but his greatest moral and religious work was his unfinished and fragmentary collection of thoughts justifying the Chrisian religion named Pensées
Pensées
The Pensées represented a defense of the Christian religion by Blaise Pascal, the renowned 17th century philosopher and mathematician. Pascal's religious conversion led him into a life of asceticism, and the Pensées was in many ways his life's work. "Pascal's Wager" is found here...

 (Thoughts) (the most famous section being his discussion of the "pari" or "wager
Pascal's Wager
Pascal's Wager, also known as Pascal's Gambit, is a suggestion posed by the French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist Blaise Pascal that even if the existence of God could not be determined through reason, a rational person should wager as though God exists, because one living life...

" on the possible eternity of the soul). Another outgrowth of the religious fervor of the period was Quietism
Quietism (Christian philosophy)
Quietism is a Christian philosophy that swept through France, Italy and Spain during the 17th century, but it had much earlier origins. The mystics known as Quietists insist, with more or less emphasis, on intellectual stillness and interior passivity as essential conditions of perfection...

, which taught practitioners a kind of spiritual meditative state.

François de la Rochefoucauld
François de La Rochefoucauld
François de La Rochefoucauld may be:* François de La Rochefoucauld , French author* François de La Rochefoucauld , French cardinal of the Catholic Church...

 (1613–1680) wrote a collection of prose entitled Maximes (Maxims) in 1665 which analyzed human actions against a deep moral pessimism. Jean de La Bruyère
Jean de La Bruyère
Jean de La Bruyère was a French essayist and moralist.-Ancestry:He was born in Paris, not, as was once thought, at Dourdan in 1645...

 (1645–1696)—inspired by Theophrastus
Theophrastus
Theophrastus , a Greek native of Eresos in Lesbos, was the successor to Aristotle in the Peripatetic school. He came to Athens at a young age, and initially studied in Plato's school. After Plato's death he attached himself to Aristotle. Aristotle bequeathed to Theophrastus his writings, and...

's characters—composed his own collection of Characters (1688), describing contemporary moral types. François de La Mothe-Le-Vayer wrote a number of pedagogical works for the education of the prince. Pierre Bayle
Pierre Bayle
Pierre Bayle was a French philosopher and writer best known for his seminal work the Historical and Critical Dictionary, published beginning in 1695....

's Dictionnaire historique et critique (1695–1697; enlarged 1702), with its multiplicity of marginalia
Marginalia
Marginalia are scribbles, comments, and illuminations in the margins of a book.- Biblical manuscripts :Biblical manuscripts have liturgical notes at the margin, for liturgical use. Numbers of texts' divisions are given at the margin...

 and interpretations, offered a uniquely discursive and multifaceted view of knowledge (distinctly at odds with French classicism); it would be a major inspiration for the Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

 and Diderot's Encyclopédie
Encyclopédie
Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers was a general encyclopedia published in France between 1751 and 1772, with later supplements, revised editions, and translations. It was edited by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert...

.

Mémoires and letters


The 17th century is noted for its biographical "mémoires". The first great outpouring of these comes from the participants of the Fronde
Fronde
The Fronde was a civil war in France, occurring in the midst of the Franco-Spanish War, which had begun in 1635. The word fronde means sling, which Parisian mobs used to smash the windows of supporters of Cardinal Mazarin....

 (like Cardinal de Retz), who used the genre as political justification combined with novelistic adventure. Roger de Rabutin, Comte de Bussy
Roger de Rabutin, Comte de Bussy
Roger de Rabutin, Comte de Bussy , commonly known as Bussy-Rabutin, was a French memoirist. He was the cousin and frequent correspondent of Madame de Sévigné....

 (known as Bussy-Rabutin) is responsible for the scandalous Histoire amoureuse des Gaules, a series of sketches of amorous intrigues by the chief ladies of the court. Paul Pellisson
Paul Pellisson
thumb|Paul Pellisson,Paul Pellisson was a French author.He was born in Béziers, of a distinguished Calvinist family. He studied law at Toulouse, and practised at the bar of Castres. Going to Paris with letters of introduction to Valentin Conrart, a fellow Calvinist, he was introduced to the...

, historian to the king, wrote a Histoire de Louis XIV covering 1660–1670. Gédéon Tallemant des Réaux
Gédéon Tallemant des Réaux
Gédéon Tallemant, Sieur des Réaux was a French writer known for his Historiettes, a collection of short biographies.-Biography:...

 wrote Les Historiettes, a collection of short biographical sketches of his contemporaries.

Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac
Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac
Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac was a French author, best known for his epistolary essays, which were widely circulated and read in his day. He was one of the founding members of Académie française.-Biography:...

's collected letters are credited with executing (in French prose) a reform paralleling Francois de Malherbe's in verse. Madame de Sévigné's (1626–1696) letters are considered an important document of society and literary events under Louis XIV. The most celebrated mémoires of the century, those of Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon
Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon
Louis de Rouvroy commonly known as Saint-Simon was a French soldier, diplomatist and writer of memoirs, was born in Paris...

(1675–1755), were not published until over a century later.

General

Adam, Antoine. Histoire de la littérature française au XVIIe siècle. First published 1954-56. 3 vols. Paris: Albin Michel, 1997. Dandrey, Patrick, ed. Dictionnaire des lettres françaises: Le XVIIe siècle. Collection: La Pochothèque. Paris: Fayard, 1996.

Prose

Adam, Antoine, ed. Romanciers du XVIIe siècle. (An anthology). Collection: Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. Paris: Gallimard, 1958. Coulet, Henri. Le roman jusqu'à la Révolution. Paris: Colin, 1967. ISBN 2-200-25117-3

Poetry

Allem, Maurice, ed. Anthologie poétique française: XVIIe siècle. Paris: Garnier Frères, 1966.

Theater

Scherer, Jacques, ed. Théâtre du XVIIe siècle. (An anthology). Collection: Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. Paris: Gallimard, 1975.