Le visible et l’invisible au théâtre

Should theatre be considered a part of literature, or rather a visual art? This old question came again in the spotlight during the Festival d’Avignon in 2005. The programme selected in association with Flemish artist Jan Fabre offered few productions of literary classics, and many performances where video, danse or music challenged the traditional place of speech on stage. This choice set off a heated debate: some deplored this evolution, others accused these critics of being reactionnary and blinded by the aristotelian tradition. This course would like to outline the history of this debate between the two main components of any drama: the sensual and the intellectual.

The first sequence will focus on Aristotle’s Poetics : is Aristotle really responsible for a theory of drama that does not take into account the visual dimension (what Aristotle calls opsis)? We will reassess the position expressed in the Poetics, consider how it has been read (and misread) as a source for classicism (and later challenged by Nietzsche or Artaud), then compare it to the practice of ancient playwrights, especially Sophocles in Oedipus the King.

The second sequence will underline what distinguishes French and British stage traditions in early modern times, through two case studies. First, the modern adaptations of Oedipus: for French and English playwrights, to confront to the paradigm of Aristotelian tragedy is a way to take a stance in the theoretical debate, and their dramatical choices are highly significant of their esthetical options. Second, the staging of ghosts : they play an important part in English Renaissance drama, but their status on the French neo-Aristotelian stage is problematical, as revealed by the French 18th century adaptations of some of Shakespeare’s plays.

Finally, a close reading of two French classical tragedies, Corneille’s Cinna and Racine’s Andromaque, will allow us to consider the devices which enable the classical stage to compensate for the restriction of visual action with verbal actions, and to invent a paradoxical form of spectacle, based on suggestion and, sometimes, a puzzling emptiness of the stage.

Authors include Aristotle, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Dryden, Rymer, Corneille, Racine, Voltaire, Mme de Staël, Cocteau, Artaud.

Cross-listed in Comparative Literature.