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Popular Theatre and Political Utopia in France, 1890-1940

Module Code: FR426
Module Name: Popular Theatre and Political Utopia in France, 1890-1940
Module Credits: 15

The French Third Republic witnessed an extraordinary flourishing of popular theatre: successive governments, as well as movements and parties from left to right, aspired to bring old and new drama to the people, often with utopian ambitions for political integration or subversion. But what kind of drama was considered ‘popular’? Who were the people imagined, pursued, or attracted by this form of theatre? And why it is so rarely mentioned in theatrical histories of the period? This module offers a unique opportunity to explore a largely forgotten aspect of French political and cultural history. Starting with a consideration of French popular theatre in its European context, the module then addresses some of the theories (and challenges) of popular theatre, including the hypothesis that it favoured a linear democratisation of culture — and of the masses. The main body of the module consists of a series of case studies of very different popular theatre initiatives: the drama imagined and produced by anarchists, socialists, and communists; by Catholics, regionalists, and the royalists. There will be opportunities to discuss some of the little-known texts used in political theatre, among them Maurice Pujo’s Les Nuées and Marcel Thoreux’s Les Griffes du Prolo, and to explore the communities within which such texts were written and performed. The module as a whole will therefore offer an insight into a world of backstage politics that is often hidden from view, and a chance to debate the problems and potential of political art.

Short Bibliography

  • Romain Rolland, Le Théâtre du Peuple: essai d’esthétique d’un théâtre nouveau (1926)
  • David Bradby & John McCormick, People’s Theatre (1978)
  • Jacqueline de Jomaron, Le Théâtre en France Vol.2 De la Révolution à nos jours (1988)
  • FWJ Hemmings, The Theatre Industry in nineteenth-century France (1993)
  • Pascal Ory, La Belle Illusion: culture et politique sous le signe du Front populaire (1994)
  • Sally Debra Charnow, Theatre, Politics, and Markets in Fin-de-Siècle Paris: Staging Modernity (2005)
  • Jessica Wardhaugh, ‘Un Rire Nouveau: Action Française and the Art of Political Satire’, French History 22.1 (2008), pp. 74–93

Source material will be made available to students in photocopied form.

Assessment Method:

TBC