Friday, November 5th 2010
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Interview with Professor Emerita Virginia Scott

Interview with Professor Emerita Virginia Scott
Professor Emerita Virginia Scott recently published a new study on women on stage in the Early Modern period. Internationally known for her expertise in Theatre and Performance, for outstanding works such as Molière: A Theatrical Life or The Commedia dell'Arte in Paris, 1644-1697, and for outstanding contributions to the literature of theatre, she is an accomplished scholar. Professor Scott kindly agreed to answer our questions. We are delighted to publish her interview.

Could you describe your professional career, especially the way in which your research activities evolved?

I was a late-blooming academic. My first love was the theatre. When I was 14 I was cast as Jo Marsh in a community-theatre production of Little Women, and from that moment on I had stars in my eyes. After an undergraduate degree in Dramatic Arts with an emphasis on performance, I went to New York to become a star, and I only went back to university after five years and the realization that stardom was unlikely. I received an MFA in Playwriting, got married, had children, and so forth. Finally I returned to university for a PhD in History and Criticism of the Theatre. I began as a university teacher on tenure track when I was 34 years old. However, although I had been trained as a theatre historian I wrote and published only a little history until rather late in my career. I founded a graduate program in playwriting and dramaturgy at the University of Massachusetts, where I taught for many years, wrote and translated plays, served as a production dramaturg, was the literary manager for a theatre that developed new plays, acted occasionally, directed occasionally, and raised three children. Finally, when I was 50 I received a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation that enabled me to spend a sabbatical in Paris and begin archival research for my book on the Comédie-Italienne. I realized then that, although I had enjoyed wearing my many hats, the one that best suited me was research and historical writing.

Why did you specialise in French theatre and more particularly in the Early Modern period?

When I was 10 or so I fell in love with The Three Musketeers. There's still a little plastic figure of D'Artagnan on the windowsill above my desk. Hence, France and Early Modern. I also grew up in St. Louis, a city founded by French fur traders, and I romanticized my little bit of French DNA from a Great-Great-Grandfather named Rassieur. I began learning Latin in junior high school, hated it, moved to French and studied it through high school and for three years in university. When I first began to study history and historical methodology, my professor was a specialist in English Renaissance theatre, but I soon shifted to French theatre. Unfortunately, because of my family I could not travel to French archives to research a dissertation, so I did a critical study based on the theories of Kenneth Burke. Still, with one or two exceptions, all of my publications have been on French theatre. I loved France for years before I went to France; after I began going to France I loved it more. The seventeenth century is still my favorite period because I am attracted to all the contradictions and ambiguities of the Baroque. I wrote one book, with a colleague, on a sixteenth-century court festival, and in recent years the eighteenth century has begun to interest me more, although I still find it overwhelming. When I work in seventeenth-century material I feel like I've come home.

Which event was the most important in your career?

To my career as a scholar? Probably winning a Guggenheim Fellowship. It is—I say with no false modesty—rather a prestigious thing to win. It gave me a great deal of confidence in my ability to do research at a high level, and it gave me the money to spend eight months in Paris. Before that, I had been in Paris once, for three days. I have also been fortunate enough to have been an NEH Senior Fellow and twice a fellow of the Camargo Foundation in Cassis.

In a negative sense, my lack of fluent spoken French has also been important. Although I studied French for seven years, most of that was focused on reading French literature. I never studied with a native speaker, and I did not do what everyone does now: live in France for a year or two as a young person. It was 30 years between my last year studying French and my first time living in France. As a result, my accent is bad, my ear is bad, and I miss out on colleagueship with most French and Francophone scholars.

What was the most significant document or discovery?

When I was in graduate school, the first edition (1700) of Gherardi's Le Théâtre Italien was on the open shelf at my university's library. It had been purchased at the request of Oscar Brockett, and apparently no one realized how rare and valuable it was. I had it in my study in the basement of my house for two years, in 1967-68, and then ordered a xerox copy of it—which I still use. Now, of course, it's available at Gallica! Having full-time access to the Gherardi was important. Probably even more important was the Gueullette manuscript with the translation of the zibaldone of Domenico Biancolelli. Although I certainly did not discover it, it had not yet been the subject of a significant study—even though Dominique's descriptions of his stage actions had been transcribed by Spada. It is not an easy document to use, since the ink has bled from side to side of the paper. I worked from a xerox of a microfilm, and used Spada as a trot when I was totally baffled. Sometimes, so was she. The more recent, more accurate transcription of Dominique's material by Delia Gambelli and her students had not been published.

More recently, I have been mining the rough copies of the Registres of the Comédie-Française, which contain information not in the tidied-up copies.

What is your current research project?

I'm still catching my breath, but I hope to interest a publisher in an English translation, with a substantial introduction, of the Mémoires of Hippolyte Clairon. In the US, everyone teaches Diderot as the last word on eighteenth-century acting. I think students should have the opportunity to hear about Clairon's acting from the horse's mouth, as it were. She had a lot of useful things to say. In the meantime, I am planning to add some weight to several conference papers and make them publishable. There's one on Agnan Sarat, one on Mlle Marie de Beaulieu, one on Dancourt's plays featuring character actresses, all created with the 20-minute limit in view. I just finished an article for a forthcoming collection honoring Brooks McNamara entitled The Tyranny of Documents. I worked on a series of opuscules from 1585. Real stinkers.

Why did you choose actresses as your topic?

Actually, this one chose me. I was in Paris working on a study of the effect of centralization and bureaucratization on the Paris theatres in the eighteenth century, especially the Comédie-Italienne. There is a lot of documentary evidence that has never been systematically analyzed. One of my research questions was how the women fared as the troupes lost the power to manage themselves. Anyway, I suddenly realized that I was spending more time looking at material about actresses than I was crunching numbers. I also realized that no one had written a book focused on Early Modern French actresses, except Lacour (which is hardly a serious study). I like to write about new things. I don't like to spend all my time refuting earlier scholarship.
Professor Scott at the Château de Nérac.
Professor Scott at the Château de Nérac.

What was most challenging/exciting in doing the research?

Most challenging was to explode the cliché of the actress/adventuress, at least in part. Fortunately, the evidence was there. I also wanted to confront the usual assumption of English and American readers that the boy en travesti was the norm in the period and show how the introduction of actresses influenced the development of the professional theatre in France.

How did actresses influence the development of the theatrical genres and acting?

See Chapters 4, 5, and 6. I'm especially proud of the material on how Corneille used actresses in his early comedies. I think the importance of tragedies centered on female characters from Racine through Voltaire also demonstrates the power of the actresses.

Which ones were the most influential?

I'd say Mlle Molière and Mlle Champmeslé, because they were able to attract audiences, whatever the play, and because they had plays written for them which featured their strengths. Mlle Molière also was very much at the center of the actions taken to save the troupe after Molière's death. I think some of the major comic actresses in the eighteenth century were absolutely essential to the survival of the theatres, and that not enough attention has been paid to them. Late seventeenth- and especially early eighteenth-century comedy is a much neglected field, largely because of the long history in France of assuming tragedy to be more important than comedy—Molière excepted. But look at the registres!

Actresses were often criticised for their adventures. The image of the courtesan was a cliché. Nevertheless, could actresses from the C17 and C18 be regarded as ‘modern women’ since they could be considered as independent women?

I've spent a lot of time in this book discounting the image of the actress-adventuress, although clearly some did adventure! But were they "modern" women? I think some of them were, because they had income and they had agency within the troupes. The most obvious evidence of "modernity" to me is the change that took place in the eighteenth century, when many of the women did not marry and thus did not place themselves in the legal limbo of the married woman. More than one actress had recourse to separation of property when their husbands were profligate with the family's assets. Maybe it became easier just not to marry, especially with the horrible fate of Mlle Duclos as a model. Another example might be the participation of actresses in the artistic-libertine milieu of Paris. See Mlle Béjart, Mlle Beauchâteau, Mlle Des Oeillets, Mlle Champmeslé, Mlle Quinault la cadette.

You are not only a scholar but also a director, an actor, a playwright and a dramaturge. Do you consider that scholars exploring performance should combine research and practice to understand better Theatre? If so, why?

That's the old American model, isn't it? I expect it comes from the fact that when we do our undergraduate degrees in theatre, we study in departments that spend more effort on performance and production than on scholarship. Many American theatre scholars of my generation have resumés similar to mine. It does seem to me, however, that younger people now often come to theatre scholarship from more traditional undergraduate study. They are attracted to more theoretical, philosophical, and socially progressive subjects. There's something to be said for each model, but it bothers me that many of my younger colleagues seem to have little or no interest in the theatre per se. To my mind, if you don't love the theatre, if you aren't curious about how it works and has worked, why would you want to study it? Of course, many don't. They use the theatre as a means to practice sociology or philosophy or cultural studies.

I believe that when I write about, say, acting, the fact that I was trained as an actor and have acted at least occasionally for most of my life is useful. When I analyze a play text I think of it as something to be realized with the voice and body of the actor. When I translate, I try to create something that has both the text and the structure of a performance. The danger is that knowing through experience the conventions of one's own theatre, one will assume the same things to be true of past theatres.

What makes a good researcher?

All the usual clichés: preparation (you've got to be able to read that manuscript), diligence, the experience to nose out what you are looking for, to know where it might be lurking, judgment, analytical ability, a decent memory for what you already know and what others have written. Still, I think the most important thing is that finding something expected or, even better, unexpected gives you joy.

What advice would you give to young researchers aiming to examine theatre?

First, figure out what kind of mind you have. For instance, my mind is practical, not theoretical. It is rhetorical—I can follow and construct arguments and I adore finding flaws in the arguments of others—but it is not playful. I couldn't work the London Times crossword to save my life, and a recent effort to analyze a document full of puns and other plays on words nearly drove me mad. What I enjoy most is collecting whatever is known about someone or something and then trying to fill in the blanks and complete the picture. I don't like having too much information, so the nineteenth century terrifies me. Recognizing how your mind works helps you to shape research questions that will hold your interest and to avoid momentarily fashionable methodologies and ways of thinking. Second, learn to write clear historical prose and work to develop a unique voice. Jargon and specialized vocabularies are rarely necessary. Third, be aware that good historical scholarship is rare and hard to do and takes a great deal of time and energy, maybe more than you will want to give it. Fourth, widen your horizons, learn languages, experience other cultures; the theatre of your own time and place is not always the one most worth your efforts. Finally, learn to write grant and fellowship applications and participate in your profession; you will need referees. P.S., my colleague and fellow theatre historian Joseph Donohue wants me to add that meticulous note-taking is essential. I am not as good at this as Joe is, and I waste far too much time going back to look for page numbers.

Interview by Sabine Chaouche, October 2010.


• University of Massachusetts at Amherst Department of Theater: Professor Emerita of Theater, January 2002; Professor of Theatre, 1988-2001; Associate Professor, 1979-88; Assistant Professor, 1977-79, 1970-73. Department Chair: 1979-82, 1995-97.
• Tufts University Department of Drama and Dance: Visiting Professor, Fall, 2009, Fall, 2003, Fall, 1999, Spring 1994, 1991-92, 1975-76.
• Virginia Commonwealth University: Assistant Professor, 1968-70.

• University of Iowa: PhD in History and Criticism of Theatre, 1970; MFA in Playwriting, 1962; BA, 1955.

• Camargo Fellow, Camargo Foundation, Cassis, France, 2003
• Honorable Mention, George Freedley Award, 2000.
• Distinguished Scholar Award, 1999, American Society for Theatre Research.
• National Endowment for the Humanities University Fellow, 1999.
• National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar, 1995: “Surveying Paris.”
• Camargo Fellow, Camargo Foundation, Cassis, France, 1994.
• Choice Outstanding Academic Book, 1992.
• George Freedley Award, Outstanding Contribution to the Literature of the Theatre, 1991.
• Honorable Mention, Barnard Hewitt Award, Best Book in Theatre Studies, 1991.
• John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, 1985.
• Harbor Festival Award in Playwriting, 1980.


Women on the Stage in Early Modern France, 1540-1750. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Performance, Poetry and Politics at Fontainebleau: Catherine de Médicis and Pierre de Ronsard on the Queen's Day. With Sara Sturm-Maddox. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007.
Molière: A Theatrical Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, October, 2000. Paperback edition, 2002.
The Commedia dell'Arte in Paris, 1644-1697. Charlottesville: The University Press of Vir¬ginia, 1990.

Tartuffe by Molière. Verse version by Constance Congdon based on a prose translation by Virginia Scott. Norton Critical Edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008.
The Miser by Molière. Translation by Virginia Scott. New York: Broadway Play Publishing Inc., 2007
The Misanthrope by Molière. Verse version by Constance Congdon based on a prose translation by Virginia Scott. New York: Broadway Play Publishing Inc., 2003.

• “Dancing in Chains: the Comédie-Française in the Mid-Eighteenth Century.” Theaterwetenschap spelenderwijs / Theatre Studies at Play. Liber Amicorum for Robert Erenstein, ed. Peter Eversmann et al.. Amsterdam: Pallas Publications, 2004, pp. 78-91.
• Entries on the Comédie-Française, Early Renaissance Theatre in France, Medieval Theatre in Paris, and others for the Oxford Enclyclopedia of Theatre and Performance, Dennis Kennedy, General Editor. Oxford: Oxford University Press, February 2003.
• “My Lord the Parterre: Space, Society, and Symbol in the 17th-Century French Theater.” Theatre Symposium IV, Athens, GA, April 1995.
• Entries on the Riccoboni family, the Biancolelli family, Giacomo Torelli, Jean Rotrou, Jean de Mairet, Philippe Quinault for the International Dictionary of Theatre. Detroit: St. James's Press, 1995.
• "Les Filles Errantes: Françoise and Catherine Biancolelli, Emancipated Women at the Comédie-Italienne." Gender in Performance, ed. Laurence Senelick. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1992.
• "'Junon descende du Ciel sur un Poulet d'Inde'; Spectacle in the Commedia dell'Arte in Paris in the Seventeenth Century." In The Commedia dell'Arte from the Renaissance to Dario Fo, ed. Christopher S. Cairns. Lampeter, Wales: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1989.
• "Comedy and Category: The American TV Sitcom." In Theatre and Television, ed. Robert L. Erenstein. Amsterdam: International Theatre Bookshop, 1988.
• "The Jeu and the Rôle: Analysis of the Appeals of the Italian Comedy in France in the Time of the Harlequin Dominique." In Western Popular Theatre, ed. David Mayer and Kenneth Richards. London: Methuen & Co., Ltd., 1977. Reprinted as a paperback edition, 1984.

• "Who was Robert Triplupart L'Andouiller? or, An Actor's Quarrel in Late Sixteenth-Century France," in press, Performing Arts Resources.
• “Dark Thoughts About (Theatre) History.” Theatre Survey 45:2 (November 2004), pp. 189-194.
• “Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso: Performance at the Valois and Bourbon Courts.” The Court Historian 8:2 (December 2003), 177-187.
• “Molière at the Court of Louis XIV.” Performance Journal. Arena Stage, 2002.
• “The Actress and Utopian Theater Reform in 18th-Century France: Riccoboni, Rousseau and Rétif.” Theatre Research International 27 (Spring 2002).
• "Molière in Love," Program. American Conservatory Theatre production of The Misanthrope, San Francisco, October 2000. Reprinted in The Misanthrope. New York: Broadway Play Publishing, 2003.
• “La Virtue et La Volupté: Models for the Actress in Early Modern Italy and France.” Theatre Research International 23 (Summer 1998), pp. 152-158.
• "The Fall of Phaeton: Three Versions of the Sun God at the Court of the Sun King." French Studies (Spring 1994).
• "Saved by the Magic Wand of Circé." Theatre Survey (November, 1987), pp. 1-16.
• "Life in Art: A Reading of The Seagull." ETJ (October, 1978), pp. 357-367.
• "The Infancy of English Pantomime: 1715-1723." ETJ (May, 1972), pp. 125-134.

• Co-editor, Tartuffe, verse version by Constance Congdon based on a translation by Virginia Scott. A Norton Critical Edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008.
• "New Introduction," Signet Classics 2nd edition of Molière, Tartuffe and Other Plays. New York: Penguin, 2007.

• "Women and Farce in Sixteenth-Century France." Society for the Study of Women in the Renaissance, New York, April 2010.
• "Images of Agnan Sarat: Farce and Parody in Paris in the Late Sixteenth Century." Renaissance Society of America, Venice, April 2010.
• "The Three Faces of Adrienne Lecouvreur." Amherst Women's Club, March 2010.
• "Les Femmes d'Octobre, or How a Clever Playwright, Three Character Actresses, and Three Pretty Girls Brought Home the Bacon." American Society for Theatre Research, San Juan, November 2009.
• "Over-Ruling Molière: Thomas Corneille's Festin de Pierre. International Federation for Theatre Research, Lisbon, Portugal, July 2009.
• "Sophonisba at Blois: Reconstructing a Sixteenth-Century Court Performance." Theatre without Borders Conference, Villa La Pietra, Florence, Italy, May 2009.
• "Cut the Cow, Cut the Queen: Problems of Cultural Translation." International Federation for Theatre Research, Helsinki, Finland, August 2006.
• "Mademoiselle Beaulieu: Isabella Andreini and a Defense of the Theatre." Renaissance Society of America, San Francisco, March 2006.
• "The Prince de Condé at Fontainebleau." Renaissance Society of America and the Society for Renaissance Studies, Cambridge, England, April 2005.
• "Sophonisba at Blois: A Reconstructed Performance. Massachusetts Center for Renaissance Studies, March 2005.
• “Mnouchkine in New York.” International Federation for Theatre Research, St. Petersburg, Russia, May 2004.
• “Molière Myth-and-Trope, or, Molière Man of the People.” International Federation for Theatre Research, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, July 2002.
• “Molière in Love.” Indiana State University at Terre Haute, June 2002.
• Sunday Afternoon at the Hartford Stage: Baptiste. April, 2002.
• “The Queen’s Day: Poetry, Politics, and Performance at Catherine de Medici’s Fontainbleau.” Society for Court Studies, Massachusetts Center for Renaissance Studies, October 2001. With Sara Maddox.
• “Molière in Love: The Imaginary Cuckold in Life and Art.” Mercantile Library, New York, October 2001.
• “The Actress and Utopian Theater Reform in 18th-Century France: Riccoboni, Rousseau and Rétif.” Symposium on Antitheatricalism: Yale Tercentenery, February 2001.
• “The Queen’s Day: Poetry and Performance at Catherine de Medici’s Fontainebleu.” Plenary paper, American Society for Theatre Research annual Meeting, New York, November 2000. With Sara Maddox.
• “Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso and Performance at the Valois and Bourbon Courts.” Fédération Internationale pour la Recherche Théatral, Lyon, France, September 2000.
• “The Actress in Early Modern Italy and France,” Invited Lecture. Massachusetts Center for Renaissnce Studies, March 1999.
• “L’Académie Dramatique: Poetics and Politics.” American Society for Theatre Research Annual Meeting, Washington, D.C., November 1998.
• “The Battle for Tartuffe.” Invited Lecture. Chautauqua at Laurel Park , Northampton, Mass. July 1998.
• “Acting in the Early Modern European Theatre.” Invited Lecture. Graduate Colloquium, Brown University, October, 1997.
• “The Struggle for Tartuffe.” Invited Lecture, State University College at Oneonta, October, 1997.
• “Courtesans et Honnêtes femmes: Actresses in 17th-century France.” Conference on the Commedia dell’arte. London and Wimbledon, May 1997.
• “Footnotes and Fancy Free: In Search of Molière.” Keynote Address, American Society for Theatre Research, November, 1996.
• "Sexuality and Performance." Keynote Address, Annual Camp for Honors Students, Montana State University, August 1993.
• Panel on Teaching Playwrights. Annual Meeting, Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of America, Montreal, June 1993/
• "The Early Actresses of France and Italy." Guest Lecture, Univer¬sity of Alabama, March 1993.
• “Actresses and Models: Nature and the Ideal in Eighteenth-Century Acting Theory.” American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, Seattle, March 1992.
• "Dancing in Chains: The Dubois Affair." International Congress of European Theatre, Barcelona, March 1991.
• "The Fall of Phaeton; Three Versions of the Sun God at the Court of the Sun King." American Society for Theatre Research, November 1990.
• "Oops, There Went the Baby: The Buffoon Brothers of the Commedia dell' Arte." Actors Theatre of Louisville Classics in Context Festival, October 1990.
• "Translating The Miser." Sunday Afternoon, The Hartford Stage Company, June 1990.
• "Junon descende du Ciel sur un Poulet d'Inde': Spectacle in the Commedia dell'Arte in Paris in the Seventeenth Century." The Commedia dell'Arte from the Renaissance to Dario Fo. Italian Institute, London, November 1988.
• "From Commedia dell'Arte to Comédie Italienne." International Symposium on Popular Entertainment, ASTR/IFTR, New York, November 1987.
• "On Teaching Dramaturgs." Annual Meeting, Literary Managers & Dramaturgs of America, Minneapolis, June 1987.
• "Popular Commedia dell'Arte Prints in France." Symposium on Theatre Iconography in Honor of Professor Kalman A. Burnim, Tufts University, April 1987.
• "The Low Business of History: Studying Theatre Systems and Institutions in France under the Ancien Régime." The State of the Profession: The Historian and the Use of Evidence. ASTR, November 1986.
• "Comedy, Category and Convention." International Conference on Theatre and Television, sponsored by IFTR and the Netherlands Broadcasting System, Hilversum, Holland, September 1986.
• "The Rhetoric of Elizabethan Theatre History," Guest Lecture, Tufts University, 1980.
• "The Dramaturg and the Production Team," American Theatre Association, 1979.
• "Catarina Biancolelli and the Development of Colombine." Mellon Lecture, Department of Drama, Tufts University, 1977.
• "The Jeu and the Role: Analysis of the Appeals of the Italian Comedy in France in the Time of the Arlequin Dominique." Symposium in Western Popular Theatre, Manchester, England, 1974.
• "A Prolegomenon to the Study of Popular Theatre," Guest Lecture, State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1973.
• "Acting, Rhetoric and Oratory: An Investigation of Assumptions." ATA, 1967.

Bogus Joan. A new play, produced as a staged reading directed by Edward Golden, University of Massachusetts, May 1992; July 1992. Produced as a staged reading at the Boarshead Theatre, Lansing, MI, February 1993. Pro-duced by Next Stage at the Boston Center for the Arts, May 5-8, 1994. Produced at the University of Maine at Farmington, Spring 1998.
Lesser Pleasures (A Secret Opera). Music and lyrics by Joshua Rosenblum. Produced by the University of Massachusetts Department of Theatre, March 1986.
A Living Exhibition of Sweeney Todd. Produced by the University Ensemble Theatre, May 1981. Published in Valley Playwrights Theatre, II, 1989.
Letter to Corinth. Winner of the 1980 Harbor Festival Award. Produced at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, April 1980. Earlier versions produced at the University of Iowa and Northwestern University.

Women on the Stage in Early Modern France 1540-1750

Interview with Professor Emerita Virginia Scott

Cambridge University Press
Page extent: 336 pages
Size: 228 x 152 mm

Women on the Stage in Early Modern France: 1540–1750 by Virginia Scott

Acknowledgments, viii

Introduction, 1

1 The actress and the anecdote, p. 11
2 “So perverse was her wantonness”: antitheatricalism and the actress, p. 38
3 In the beginning: “12 livres per year”, p. 59
4 “Those diverting little ways”: 1630–1640, p. 101
5 Mademoiselle L'Étoile: 1640–1700, p. 142
6 “Embellished by art”: 1680–1720, p. 198
7 Lives and afterlives: 1700–2010, p. 246

Bibliography, p. 289
Index, p. 313



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