17-century France saw the rise of French classicism, particularly in theater where the Greek canon constituted by authors such as Sophocles and Aristotle quickly became an overpowering model. This same period however was also one of extraordinary innovation taking place in the women-run refined societies known as “salons”, challenging a very male-centric understanding of what “good literature” was.
This class will study the transformations imposed by women on the French literary landscape in 17th-century France with a particular focus on Molière’s theater. Considered the most important French comic author, Molière was a very nuanced observer of the backlash against this new female and feminist aesthetic. He certainly tapped into the comedic potential of these controversies but as an outsider to classicism himself, he paid close attention to what those caricatured as “précieuses” had to say.
We will read works or excerpts by Aristotle, Sappho, Madeleine de Scudéry, Madame de Villedieu, Madame de Sévigné, Madame de Lafayette in dialogue with major plays by Molière, such as Les Précieuses ridicules, L’Ecole des femmes, Tartuffe, Dom Juan, Les Femmes savantes. Our approach will bridge centuries, going from one feminism to another as we rely on contemporary female theorists such as Beauvoir, Irigaray, Wittig, Cixous, Kristeva, Dejean, and Butler.