Early Modern Sensations: Theater, Affect, Politics

CRN 29411 / We 3:00PM - 5:25PM / 1325 Cathedral of Learning

Rousseau famously condemned French theater as nothing but talk; Saint-Preux, in Rousseau’s novel Julie ou la Nouvelle Héloïse, dismisses Racine and Corneille as “only talkers.” In this way, Rousseau anticipates the 20th-century reception of early modern theater as a theater of words—classical French theater is about language, discourse; it is without materiality; its ideal, in the words of Racine, is “a play about nothing.” So Racine’s theater has passions, but no bodies; and Corneille’s theater (sorry, Corneille) is eclipsed by Racine’s: transparent, empty, the “zero degree” of French classicism. But what do we do with this notion of early modern French theater in the wake of the affective and the material turns, or the history of emotions or the senses?

This seminar proposes a new look at these early modern “talkies”—plays from the 17th and 18th centuries by Racine, Corneille, and Molière, yes, but also Rotrou, Villedieu, Graffigny, De Gouges, Pigault-Le Brun, and
possibly a few others. We will attend to the ways in which theater animates people and objects, produces (and defines) emotion, shares (and demarcates) sensation. We will ask questions about the modernity of props, about staging obscenity, about opening theater out to comprehend states of feeling more nebulous, ambivalent, and tenuous that those purged by Aristotelian catharsis. Granting that emotions, senses and feelings have a history, what is the role of early modern theater in forging this history? What are the politics of feeling in early modern theater? Finally, we might take up the linguistic turn I use to frame this course description—what, indeed, are the feelings and sensations of Racine’s “nothing”?

Our approach to the “feeling technologies” of theater (Hurley) is two-fold; we will engage with recent critical work on affect, emotions, and senses even as we explore research and resources in the history of theater and media (recently digitized registers of the Comédie française; records on staging and décor; theater architecture; theater and remediation). Students will research, write, workshop, and revise one “article ready” piece in this class. Course taught in French.


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Chloe Hogg

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Category D: Designated Courses

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