Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


French Studies

Document Type



This dissertation explores the exciting world of eighteenth-century French dramatic writing, performance and criticism from the point of view of the theatrical spectator. Instead of focusing on one single genre or writer, I assemble the textual creation, performance, and criticism of certain “polemical” plays into what I term a “theatrical event.” This optic provides a holistic vision of theater and an accurate view of how drama underwent noticeable change due to playwrights’ political associations, public reactions to performance, and the emerging power of the periodical press. In sum, this project differs from previous studies by focusing on the increasing rhetorical and tangible significance of the theatrical spectator, and more specifically, on how he or she altered normative, established processes in dramatic writing, performance, and criticism. In the first three chapters of this dissertation, I closely examine Charles Palissot’s Les Philosophes, Voltaire’s l’Ecossaise (1760), and atypical critical reactions to both polemical comedies. Here, I focus on the way partisan dramatists and their cohorts fashioned “theatrical events” through pre-performance strategies, narrative effects, and performative ruses. Then, I inquire as to why critics emphasized audience reactions to and participation in performance, rather than summarizing the play’s narrative or weighing in on traditional literary subjects. Switching gears from a more synchronic study to a more diachronic analysis, in chapter four, I highlight a few “theatrical events” from the last years of the Ancien Régime in order to show how playwrights and critics borrowed both processes and themes from the original Palissot/Voltaire affair of 1760. With clear pictures of specific moments and more general shifts in theater history and criticism, this dissertation aims to reassess the way we think about dramatic production during the pre-Revolutionary period in France.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Jensen, Katharine A.