Canular n°21 - 3 - Pièces de Plaute

Niveau : difficile

Retrouvez les véritables titres des pièces de Plaute. Attention aux pièges tendus par notre farceur de service !

L'Amphi triomphe
La Comédie des mânes
L'Arthrite à l'annulaire
Les Baksheeshs
Les Califes
Elastina ou l'étireur de corps
La Cafèt'
Le Paramythe
"Et pis" dit Guss
Les Mémères
Le Charmant
Le Seul Dard fanfaron
La Psalmodie de Brantôme
L'Oeil perçant
Le Petit Cartable grivois
Le Pasteur
Le Corsage
Les Trois Ecumes
Le Futal

Réponses ci-dessous. Answers below.

La Comédie des ânes
La Marmite ou l'Aululaire
Les Bacchides
Les Captifs
Casina ou les Tireurs de sort
La Cassette
Le Parasite
Les Ménechmes
Le Marchand
Le Soldat fanfaron
La Comédie du fantôme (Le Revenant)
Le Persan
Le Petit Carthaginois
Le Cordage
Les Trois Ecus
Le Brutal

Sabine Chaouche

European Drama and Performance Studies - list of publications

N°1 - Le Développement du "grand spectacle" en France: Politiques, gestions, innovations. 1715-1864 - 2013 - 1
N°2 - L'Eloquence du silence. Dramaturgie du non-dit sur la scène théâtrale des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles - 2014 - 1
N°3 - Le document iconographique dans son contexte : le hors-champ des images du spectacle - 2014 - 2
N°4 - Dance and the Dutch Republic - 2015 - 1
N°5 - Consuming Female Performers (from the 1850s to the 1950s) - 2015 - 2
N°6 - Shakespeare en scène, hier et aujourd'hui - 2016 - 1
N°7 - Le Suicide au théâtre - 2016 - 2
N°8 - Danse et morale, une approche généalogique/Dance and Morality : a diachronic historical approach 2017-1
[HS 1] - Déjouer l'injouable : la scène contemporaine à l'épreuve de l'impossible 2017
N°9 - Écrire pour la scène : auteurs de théâtre (XVe-XVIIIe siècles) 2017-2
N°10 - Masculinité et théâtre. 2018-1
N°11 - Le théâtre au collège. 2018-2
N°12 - Saluts, rappels et fins de spectacle (xixe-xxie siècles) 2019-1
N°13 - The Stage and Its Creative Processes. c16-c21 2019-2 - vol. 1
N°14 - The Stage and Its Creative Processes. c16-c21 2020-1 - vol. 2

Sabine Chaouche

Canular n°20 - 2 - Pièces de Sophocle

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Les Trolls qui viennent
Vieux type roi
Les Spectres
File l'octet
Le Zip à colonnes
Les Piliers

Réponses ci-dessous. Answers below.

Les Trachiniennes
Oedipe roi
Oedipe à Colone
Les Limiers

Sabine Chaouche

Canular n°22 - 2 - Pièces d'Aristophane

Niveau : moyen

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Les Acharnés
Les Caves alliées
Les Buées
Les Guêpières
Les Oies d'eau
Les Thermo-souris
L'Aigre Nouille

Réponses ci-desous! Answers below!

Les Acharniens
Les Cavaliers
Les Nuées
Les Guêpes
Les Oiseaux
Les Thesmophories
Les Grenouilles

Sabine Chaouche

Monday, April 1st 2013
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From the ‘comédien’ to the ‘artiste’: the Actor’s theatre of consciousness in French Enlightenment thought by Sabine Chaouche.

From the ‘comédien’ to the ‘artiste’:  the Actor’s theatre of consciousness in French Enlightenment thought by Sabine Chaouche.
During one of his sessions in An Actor prepares, Torstov says to his students:

But you have to know how to induce that dramatic state. Technique alone cannot create an image that you can give believe in and to which both you and your spectators can give yourselves up completely. So now you realize that creativeness is not a technical trick. It is not an external portrayal of images and passions as you used to think (1) .

Torstov stresses the fact that dramatic art is not only a code which needs to be respected on stage in order to create an image/mirage of a character (a simple reproduction/illusion), but mainly a combination of technique and the Actor’s self. This idea that the inner side, the feelings, personality and a certain state of consciousness are implicated during the performance was considered revolutionary in the last century and radically influenced the concept of the Stage and Performance. Many actors or schools, such as Chekov or the famous Method, were inspired by Torstov’s teaching.

However, although Stanislavski’s book became a reference and was known internationally, can we claim that his theories about acting were really new? If we read, for example, dramatic theories developed during the French Enlightenment, we would be surprised to discover that the topic, technique versus creation, had already been studied by many writers. A genuine reflection on acting emerged among the philosophes when they focused on the relationship between actors and their roles; on the aesthetics of identification in an innovative way; on the phenomenology of performance; and especially on different types of acting which the audience at the Comédie-Française might have judged ‘ahead of their time’ (e.g. Adrienne Lecouvreur, Baron, Lekain, Marie Dumesnil).

I should like to demonstrate how the modern concept of the Artiste (the actor-creator) was born during the Enlightenment. I will show that the definition of the actor did not yet exist in the early eighteenth-century in France for many reasons: the idea of a ‘technician’ actor, the actor as orator, was predominant. The dramatic poetics published throughout the seventeenth century also contributed to the creation of a superficial image of the actor who was limited to the character of the text (e.g.: is published with the play, what is called La liste des acteurs, for describing the characters). But in the middle of the century, when the philosophes began deliberating, as rhetoricians or members of the audience had already done, about the different but necessary qualities in a good actor, they realized that playing a role was not only being a sort of ‘machine’ who has just to speak his lines. The spectacular aspect of a performance requires the actor to work, before and during the show, not only on memorizing the text, but also on putting the character on stage (external to himself because invented by someone else, the author) in his own mental and affective 'theatre of consciousness'. In order to impress the audience, the actor ‘enters’ physically, emotionally and imaginatively into the part (process of identification). Once the inner aspect of the part was taken into consideration by thinkers, the concept of the Actor could develop globally, in an aesthetic, phenomenological and metaphysical way.

In Causes de la decadence du gout sur le théâtre published in 1758, Charpentier writes about the actor:

Le Comédien n’est qu’un instrument dont le Poète se sert pour nous communiquer ses idées, à peu près comme on se sert d’un violon pour charmer les oreilles des sons les plus touchants. Les expressions différentes qu’il attribue à l’Acteur -le personnage-, ne sont point à lui. Dans quelque moment qu’on l’envisage sur le Théâtre, il n’y est que le copiste de son original. Toute son action sort du fond de la pièce, c’est l’Auteur qui la lui prête. C’est lui qui veut qu’il soit tendre ou furieux, triste ou gai. Ce sont les vues que l’Acteur accomplit ; ce sont ses ordres tracés dans le rôle, qu’il exécute (2) .

This quotation shows clearly that the author distinguishes between two notions: the ‘actor’ or the simple character (the lines), and the ‘comédien’ (the man whose profession is acting a part). The use of this specific vocabulary is well chosen: comédien in French is a word which, most generally in the pre-modern period, has a pejorative and negative meaning, as referring to someone whose gestures, movements and sentences are histrionic.

Despite the fact that Charpentier’s book was published in the Enlightenment, it is not unfair to say that his ideas are extremely common, and even not innovative. If we replace this type of thinking in context, the middle of the eighteenth century, Charpentier’s views appear quite isolated. Although many philosophes tend to rehabilitate the ‘actor’ as a human being who has his own persona, Charpentier, considering the comédien as an ‘automaton’ subordinated to the author, follows a traditional belief, which had already been developed in the seventeenth-century by rhetoricians, religious thinkers and even dramatic theorists. The actor, as a person, was denied. His profession, and even his ‘art’ seen as seductive, were often wildly and vigorously condemned. His status in society was marginalized until the late eighteenth-century. He was placed out of the circle of the honnêtes-gens even if he had a life which was a model of dignity and virtue, and even if the declaration by Louis XIII recognized that the comédien could be a ‘gentilhomme’(3) .

The comédien, as a person, was inevitably associated in these times with his profession. Then, he was depicted as a simulator, i.e. someone who cannot feel but can merely imitate the passions: in a way someone who is a partner of Evil because he is the incarnation of pure seduction. Furetière, for example, gives a definition of the ‘seductive spirit’ (Evil) which explains this persistent obscure and nihilist vision of dramatic art: « qui abuse les peuples, ou les particuliers. » (Furetière). The comédien, skilled in the rhetoric of the lie, can manipulate, flatter, corrupt people, especially the members of the audience because he knows how to ‘play’, how to impress, how to persuade. He has the power to transform his victims into dolls, mastering the effects of illusion. He is the symbol of artificial and captious appearance. He is a rival of the orator, more exactly his dark counterpart. The image of the comédien, captured in the moral discourse of the time, appears worrying. The actor seems a non-being.

One of Charpentier’s rare supporters in criticism is Rousseau who asserts in the Lettre à D’Alembert sur les spectacles:

Qu’est-ce que le talent du comédien ? L’art de se contrefaire, de revêtir un autre caractère que le sien, de paraître différent de ce qu’on est, de se passionner de sang-froid, de dire autre chose que ce qu’on pense aussi naturellement que si l’on le pensait réellement, et d’oublier enfin sa propre place à force de prendre celle d’autrui. Quel est donc, au fond, l’esprit que le comédien reçoit de son état ? Un mélange de bassesse, de fausseté, de ridicule orgueil, et d’indigne avilissement, qui le rend propre à toutes sortes de personnages, hors le plus noble de tous, celui d’homme qu’il abandonne (4) .

Rousseau despises the comédien, creating deliberately more confusion between the profession and the being. He focuses our attention on the idea that the comédien has neither a soul, nor a character, because he can play all the characters. He is a paradigm of emptiness, of superficiality. He is as inconsistent as inconstant, unable to be creative. He can reproduce and disguise himself behind pretence: his main role on stage is to ‘activate’ a text by declamation and appropriate gestures, but not to interpret it. He is only a supporter or an instrument of the drama invented by the author: “Le Comédien est au Théâtre Français pour former les prestiges de l’illusion, ce que les machines sont à l’Opéra, pour soutenir le merveilleux que la scène étale (5) .” adds Charpentier, who mocks the actors of his time. In denying an affective involvement of the comédien in his role, Charpentier is simply perpetuating the received doxa about the comédien depicted as an under-person.

This belief in an actor-machine comes in part from Aristotle’s Poetics which separates spectacle and dramatic work. Show and actors are secondary in Theatre, which is considered more a literary genre than a live performance: “Quant au spectacle, s’il exerce une séduction, il est totalement étranger à l’art et n’a rien de commun avec la poétique, car la tragédie réalise son effet même sans concours et sans acteurs (6) .” Aristotle advocates that the playwright should insert in his writing all the elements of the play, even stage effects and acting. The text must be complete, a whole, at the same time formally accomplished and structurally finished. This ideal of a total autonomic play persisted in the seventeenth-century. D’Aubignac (1657) points out that alexandrines must be helpful not only for all types of readers:

Or soit qu’une Comédie se voie sur le Théâtre, ou seulement sur le papier, il faut qu’elle soit connue par les Spectateurs, & par ceux qui la lisent. Elle ne peut être connue par les Spectateurs, sinon autant que les Acteurs le feront connaître en parlant ; & ceux qui la lisent, n’en peuvent avoir aucune connaissance sinon autant que les vers la leur peuvent donner, si bien que toutes les pensées du Poète, soit pour les décorations du Théâtre, soit pour les mouvements de ses personnages, habillements & gestes nécessaires à l’intelligence du sujet, doivent être exprimées par les vers qu’il fait reciter (7) .

D’Aubignac suggests that everything has to be shown in words, all indications must figure in the speech, by the dialogue (emotions, movements, costume, etc…). The lines are similar to a succession of images (a sort of mental movie described and built as the scenes progress and are discovered by the reader), and may be represented by ‘hypotyposis’: any reader/actor might see a ‘painting’ of the play by the simple fact of reading. The actor or reader’s imagination, subjectivity or sensitivity, are clearly forgotten in this process of visualizing the different sequences of the play. D’Aubignac is not concerned with this burning question. The inner side of reading/acting appears inexistent, and in a way unnecessary. It is as if the reception of the text by the reader/actor should be not so much interactivity as a sort of ‘hallucination’, re-actualization/realisation of the author’s thinking.

It goes without saying that such a conception of a predominant text, which assumes a powerful author with a total authority over his work, limited the development of a real dramatic art in the early modern period. The study of the intra-textual information gives us to understand that the actors did not have complete freedom to stage a play and, in saying their lines, generally descriptive of a state, of an emotion, a thought, did not have the possibility of exploring their own feelings. Because of this system of writing dramas and because of the search for a form of mimesis which simply reflected the words and respected of the stage directions by the playwright, the comédien could never have the opportunity to become a real artiste, to emancipate himself as a creator. He was condemned to stay a comédien, i.e. someone who was always, on stage, during the performance, tautologous. Acting was more demonstration than action even if all the ‘doctes’ agreed with Aristotle that drama was action.

Chappuzeau states that rehearsals were very often organised with the help of the author and we have the famous example of Racine teaching La Champmeslé how to play her lines. He thought that it was not a contemporary issue to decide whether or not actors could be allowed to invent their own conception of the play, and be personally engaged in an individualisation of the part, even if famous actors by their celebrity may have been seen as exceptional individuals because of their own qualities or specialities such as a ‘singing’ voice (La Champmeslé), a ‘nosing’ voice (Poisson), a ‘super-powerful’ voice or an extraordinarily fat body (Montfleury), a charming and attractive face (Du Parc). According to Charpentier, most of the elite, actors were just strange animals, without any education and morality (this was obviously untrue and actors proved to be smart businessmen by modifying texts and adapting performances to new trends, especially revivals 8).

D’Aubignac in his Projet pour le rétablissement du Théâtre français, and previously, La Mesnardière in his Poétique (1639), claim that many actors were not able to read their lines correctly. This topic was recurrent in the discourse against the comédien. We can still find in the Enlightenment dramatic anecdotes or portraits presenting the actor as vulgar, stupid, stubborn, bad-tempered, unpleasant, boastful, rude, and unbearable (9) .

It is commonly found that the person from a lower social background is systematically contrasted to the talented ‘comedian’ who can impress and amaze the audience. This contrast between high stage abilities and dreadful character, which might allow us to think that the actor is fairly congratulated, is to a certain extent, an illusion. It cannot acknowledge at all any human qualities or encourage any tolerance for the actor or the actress in the pre-modern period: in any case, the person who chooses to be an actor becomes, in the eyes of society, a disgusting and ‘false’ human being. Becoming famous is the best evidence of his own despicable talent in being, fundamentally, a “liar”. Both elements of the portrait finally tend to the same conclusion. Diderot, although claiming to be a friend of actors, does not hesitate to generalize the caricature and emphasizes these prejudices against the actors, insisting on the lack of ‘humanity’ (sensitivity) of the actors from the Comédie-Française:

Dans le monde, lorsqu’ils ne sont pas bouffons, je les trouve polis, caustiques et froids, fastueux, dissipés, dissipateurs, intéressés, plus frappés de nos ridicules que touchés de nos maux ; d’un esprit assez rassis au spectacle d’un événement fâcheux, ou au récit d’une aventure pathétique ; isolés, vagabonds, à l’ordre des grands ; peu de mœurs, point d’amis, presque aucune de ces liaisons saintes et douces qui nous associent aux peines et aux plaisirs d’un autre qui partage les nôtres (10) .

It cannot be denied that such a pessimistic image of actors-persons had an impact: it reduced drastically the thinking about the creative process in acting. One can assume that the image of the ‘comédien’ (the seducer without any feelings and compassion) was defined before the concept of the Actor. But it was not only because of negative social behaviour. Acting, as an art, was not even recognized.

First, the actors had to follow the rules of actio, which were not adapted totally for the stage. The precepts of rhetoric, inspired in the main by Cicero or Quintilian, had been elaborated for orators (lawyers), that is to say for official, moral, or legal ‘speeches’ (presented as ‘monologues’) without reference to tragic situations, and moreover, with no interlocutors. The technique was over-valued. The story of Demosthenes, honest and hard-working, mastering his own inabilities and defects, was a topos in the early modern period and the adage ‘an orator is not born but made’ was extremely frequent in the explanation of actio by rhetoricians. Then, when Grimarest (1707) wrote the first book combining action and declamation, he invited actors to focus on the technique of performance and essentially on their appearance:

L’Acteur doit étudier son extérieur avec soin, pour placer ses gestes, & ses attitudes à propos : il doit cultiver sa prononciation avec attention, afin de donner à sa voix tout le goût dont elle peut être susceptible, pour satisfaire les Spectateurs : Car de croire que cet agrément vienne sans réfléchir, c’est penser extravagamment (11) .

Acting is first of all a training, an education of gestures and voice. It is interesting to note in these sentences the use of the verbs ‘placer’ and ‘cultiver’ which translate the desire for a ‘technical’, sensible actor who practices all the movements and tonalities of the character, before going on stage. It must be admitted that these rhetorical rules could not allow free movement, free inspiration or improvisation in the acting of a part (12). On the whole, even physical signs brought on by passions were analysed and described from an external point of view (the result/the effect on the body and not the cause/origin of the passion) and in a simple way (one passion at a time, rather than a mixture of different passions fighting against each other or inter-dependent). Furthermore, dramatic art encouraged actors to play their role as a front in other words by being a simple copy of the character, in a mathematical way, selecting their attitudes in relation to the age, the gender, the rank, in accordance with social conventions (‘bienséances’), and the precepts by Horatius in Art Poetica.

In addition, the aesthetics of the ‘Honnête-homme’/gentleman gave actors ethical rules which were based on an ideal of gravity and modesty, temperance and moderation, where emotions and feelings had to be carefully hidden and strongly controlled. In acting tragedy, the genre which was the closest to actio, the perception of a necessary dignity in such a character as the king/queen or the prince/princess influenced acting. Actors could easily avoid developing the inner side of the role. They could simply show a ‘neutral stance’ as their character had to be ‘royal’, therefore reflecting sobriety.

Thinkers or rhetoricians of the seventeenth century never seemed to take heed of the importance of silence and the retention of emotion in actio. In the opinion of most of the thinkers, a certain majesty was sufficient. By scrupulously observing these ethical and rhetorical codes, bad actors were not involved in their role at all. The distance between the part and the self was too big and had been transformed into indifference. It explains why, though the rules of actio were a model, various authors were scandalized by actors who were not really acting their part. They condemned the obvious inefficiency of the stage because of actors who just were reciting their lines, gazing at the audience after delivering their speech, and clearly showing a lack of interest in the scene in which they were involved as a character.

For all these reasons, from the seventeenth to the early eighteenth century, the actor was always depicted as subordinated to the play-writer (though, actors managed to impose their ideas to the authors and staged plays as they wanted from 1700 onward), and on the whole reduced to the character (the list of characters in a play was headed ‘actors’ and the French word ‘comédien’ was systematically used to evoke the person who had the profession of actor/simulator). It also explains why, still in the Enlightenment, such retrograde thinkers as Charpentier assert that the actor (the human being) is in fact a simple ‘machine’.

But in the middle of the eighteenth century, new ideas emerged. Wanting to rationalize acting (and produce a theory of the stage), philosophes studied the phenomenology of performance: famous actors on stage became examples by their style or their personal way of being on stage or even ‘living’ the character. Trying to understand acting in an empirical way and exploring the ‘inner-side’ of acting, they realized progressively the importance of the creative process and were thereby able to formulate a new definition of the Actor.

It was not until the middle of the eighteenth century that theorists began to invoke internal qualities. Luigi Riccoboni (1738), who had experience which neither the audience nor the philosophes could have, was the first actor to publish an essay about the interpretation of a role in front of members of the audience. Pensées sur la declamation explore in what way actors can build a character during the performance. They have to create an inner illusion which is similar in form to delusion:

Une minute lui suffit pour oublier toute la nature, & pour se remplir uniquement de son sujet. Si après avoir fermé les yeux dans le temps de son silence, il vient à les ouvrir, lorsqu’il veut commencer son discours, quoiqu’il paraisse regarder tout le monde, il n’envisage personne en particulier ; & si par hasard son regard s’arrête sur quelqu’un il ne le distingue point, & c’est peut-être l’instant le plus fort de son recueillement (13) .

Riccoboni argues that actors have to connect to God, as Poets do when they are inspired by Muses. The image of ‘furor’ and ‘enthusiasm’ is derived from traditional myths which had been promoted in the sixteenth century by the Pléiade (apollonian poetic furor) and perpetuated in the classical period, and more recent ideas about the sublime expressed by Shaftesbury. But this idea is not the most interesting in his conception of the Actor. Asserting that the actor is unable to perceive exteriority and reality (the members of the audience, the place) when he is focused on the present moment and the scenic situation in which he plays a part, Riccoboni suggests that for acting, one has to be in a certain physical state and moreover in a certain state of consciousness which implies the animation of all the elements composing the ‘mental being’: imagination, sensibility and sensitivity. The actor needs an inner ‘availability’ to enter (being) completely into his role. The modification of consciousness permits an abstraction of civil time (the actor moves in his own world of imagination), the construction of a perimeter of life devoted exclusively to accomplishing and creating the character (bringing it to life) and delimited by the space of the stage. The actor is then focused, not on who he is, but on what he does, forgetting his own celebrity, personage or identity to transfer his own abilities and creativity directly into and onto the role:

Dans l’Art de la Déclamation jusqu’à la pensée nous est interdite, & si cette opération de l’esprit, qui a un empire absolu sur notre volonté, et qui nous distrait malgré nous, vient nous surprendre dans le temps qu’on déclame, elle en est repoussée malgré elle, car la Déclamation la force à sortir de notre tête ne pouvant pas agir en sa compagnie ; nous ne sommes pas de même les maîtres de la pensée dans les autres opérations humaines pendant lesquelles les pensées se succèdent les unes aux autres en dépit de nous (14) .

Riccoboni asserts then that the involvement in the ‘temporality’ of the performance (the play) and the concentration on the present event creates a sort of spontaneous acting. Objectivity (the World, Reality) is deleted in favour of Subjectivity (Imagination). The force of enthusiasm is so strong that the actor enters into a sort of secondary state between the internal and the external. To a certain extent, we are dealing here with one of the most surprising abilities of the brain. Acting implies, for the actor, to be in the ‘theatre of consciousness ’ (15) but interestingly between phenomenal consciousness (a certain state) and access consciousness (availability for use in thinking, doing or speaking). He can speak his lines without necessarily needing to remember them or preparing in advance in his mind what he has to say to his fellow actors. He can deal with the phenomenal acts of his partners because he has an ‘open’ awareness of what happens on stage but in the meantime he sees without seeing the audience. His perception of time and space is, in a way, obliterated. The spotlight of consciousness is shining on the stage, deleting context (Theatre and Spectators, the date and day of the performance, etc…). Riccoboni’s suggestions are particularly relevant but quite classical in his assumption that an external entity inspires the soul (enthusiasm < enthusiasmos, being linked with God in a ‘ravissement’ and, in the seventeenth century, being impelled to act with joy).

His views are taken further by Tournon in L’Art du comédien vu dans ses principes, in 1782, an essay I consider fundamental to the history of the theory of acting, and in a way, brighter than the Paradoxe sur le comédien by Diderot. Tournon abandons the idea of ‘enthusiasm’ for ‘inner illusion’:

Nous avons établi pour principe de l’Art du Comédien : 1°. Que sans la persuasion il n’est point d’illusion au Théâtre. 2°. Qu’il n’est qu’un seul moyen de persuader tant de gens à la fois, c’est de l’être soi-même : or, pour être persuadé de ce qui réellement n’est pas, il faut être dans l’illusion, & pour s’y transmettre à cette illusion, il faut pouvoir s’affecter volontairement & le cœur & l’esprit. C’est beaucoup demander, dira-t-on, j’en conviens, & pourtant cela ne suffit pas ; il faut encore qu’il règne un accord parfait, ou, si j’ose le dire, une correspondance intime entre l’entendement & le cœur (16) .

Tournon prefers to ignore the religious connotations of Riccoboni’s essay. Distancing himself from the Italian actor, Tournon invents the concept of ‘inner illusion’ in an innovative way: suggesting that the actor voluntarily operates a transformation of the state of consciousness, he shows that the ‘inner’ mental movement creates a dynamic of physical effects (a sort of causal chain). The actor is not transcended by a sacred entity such as God, or even by a delusion. He has the power of creation because he is able to modify his mind intentionally in order to enter inside the role. In concrete terms, this means he has in fact to transfer his own inner qualities onto the part in order, not to be identical – a copy of the role, though still distinct - but identified with it by a creative inner fusion with the role. The first movement in the creation of the character is not exteriorization. The actor has primarily to integrate the ‘character’ into his being in order to transform it into his own character (by appropriation). A harmony has to be maintained between sensitivity and sensibility, feelings and mind. But consequently, from the existence of this link between ‘heart’ and ‘reason’, there emerges an unconventional form of acting as the inner side gives the actor his own style, his ‘own accent’.

Moreover, Tournon’s views differ from Riccoboni’s because enthusiasm is not associated with certain madness (‘scenic furor’). Even if the actor is one with the role, he can still control his acting. The balance between reason and heart gives rise on stage to what I call a ‘scenic sincerity’ because the outer side is in concordance with the inner side. The notion of natural which, since the seventeenth century, had been synonymous with a mechanical but scrupulous application of conventions, of rhetoric or dramatic codes, is rejected in favour of this new concept of ‘authenticity’. Being ‘sincere’ on stage becomes vital. It shows a perfect harmony between being and doing, between the inner and the outer which can be felt by the members of the audience as non-dissonant acting. Authenticity results from a synchronization between dramatic situation (the story of the play) and scenic situation (the performance, when and where the actor plays his part). This conception of staging is really interesting. It offers freedom to the actor. He can make mistakes, he can forget a word or a gesture… it does not really matter: the Spectator often does not know the play or, if so, does not know the lines in full. The ‘impression’ of sincerity is primordial as it has a direct effect on illusion. The members of the audience can enter directly into the story (a sort of in medias res illusion) because they do not feel the necessity to think about what they are seeing. The preservation of the coordination between body language and declamation, their permanent unity, immediately gives to acting a ‘plausible’, totally ‘vraisemblable’ aspect which is more ‘persuasive’ than a mechanical and cold actor whose gestures are compassed, because they are too studied. That is why Tournon distinguishes actors from ‘comédiens’:

Supposons maintenant un tableau qui puisse nous confirmer cette vérité ; imaginons pour cet effet deux Acteurs, tous deux jouant Orosmane ; le poignard levé sur Zaïre qui s’avance à la faveur de la nuit ; l’un se croyant en effet un Orosmane trompé par sa Maîtresse, par ce qu’il eut de plus cher au monde ; le cœur en proie à tous les mouvements que la tendresse, la jalousie, l’amour & la fierté peuvent produire ; la main tremblante, l’œil égaré, furieux, attendre Zaïre, frémir de désespoir, balancer entre la vengeance & l’amour, & fondre sur elle en l’immolant à sa rage. À l’instant même, il croit voir son rival, il ne respire plus que la vengeance ; sa fureur redouble : … mais un seul mot lui fait voir son erreur, & cette erreur met le comble à son désespoir ; il est entre la vie & la mort, sa voix est éteinte, à peine il existe, & s’il tarde à rejoindre son Amante, à descendre au tombeau, ce n’est que pour prendre soin de ce qu’elle a dû chérir ; mais ayant tout prévu, son désespoir l’emporte, il se frappe & va trouver Zaïre. Voyons maintenant à côté cet autre imitant la fureur d’Orosmne ; il a étudié la Nature, il sait les effets extérieurs que les passions ont coutume de produire dans telle ou telle situation ; il grince les dents, ses membres se raidissent & son œil est tranquille ! il fait mille efforts, il frémit, & courant sur Zaïre ; prêt à lui plonger le poignard dans le sein ; il conserve toute sa présence d’esprit, s’arrête, prend la situation la plus avantageuse & la frappe le plus joliment du monde : je demande à présent lequel des deux doit persuader le plus (17) ?

The real actor does not imitate nature but follows it because he is completely absorbed by his action, by his own inner illusion. The conventional actor seems cut off from life (without a soul) because he thinks about what he has to do on stage: he looks for an ‘aesthetic’ style of acting. The dictate of rules helps to increase the distance between the role and the actor on stage, when it should be eliminated: the actor can never be in the role and therefore he can never be the role. Then he remains a ‘comédien’. The modern meaning of acting is assimilated to a particular form of existence on stage which involves the commitment of the actor’s all being as he immerses himself in the theatrical situation.

Mlle Dumesnil could symbolize this renewal of acting. A dramatic anecdote which often appears in essays depicts how the actress greatly surprised the audience during a performance of Merope (tragedy by Voltaire):

Avant Mlle Dumesnil, on ne croyait pas qu’il fût permis de courir sur la Scène dans une Tragédie. On voulait que dans toutes les situations & les circonstances possibles, les pas de l’Acteur fussent mesurés & cadencés. Mlle Dumesnil osa rompre ces entraves bizarres. On la vit dans Mérope traverser rapidement la Scène, voler au secours d’Egysthe, en s’écriant : Arrête… c’est mon fils. Auparavant, on ne soupçonnait point qu’une mère, qui volait au secours de son fils, dût rompre la mesure de ses pas (18) .

C’est à la nature plus qu’à l’étude que mademoiselle Dumesnil était redevable de ces grands effets ; elle ne devait qu’à ses inspirations ce que d’autres obtenaient par combinaisons. Il n’en était pas de son jeu comme celui des anciennes actrices, comme celui de la Champmeslé ou de la Duclos, dont tous les tons étaient notés, dont tous les mouvements étaient réglés, dont les pas mêmes étaient comptés d’avance. Dumesnil jouait d’instinct ; et c’est par cela même qu’elle était supérieure dans toutes les situations où la passion domine, et où les personnages du rang le plus élevé obéissent, en dépit d’eux, aux impulsions de la nature. Avant mademoiselle Dumesnil, une reine de théâtre, emprisonnée dans sa dignité, osait à peine marcher sur la scène. La tradition exigeait que, dans toutes les circonstances, ses mouvements fussent mesurés et cadencés ; elle ne permettait pas même que, pour voler au secours de son fils, n’eût-elle pas la couronne en tête, une mère en rompît la mesure. Quelle fut la surprise du public quand il vit Mérope bravant, ou plutôt oubliant cette ridicule étiquette, à l’aspect du glaive levé sur Egisthe, traverser la scène à pas précipités, se jeter entre lui et Polifonte, entre lui et les soldats, l’œil en pleurs, la pâleur sur le front, les bras tendus vers le tyran, et s’écriant d’une voix sanglotante : Arrête.... il est mon fils ! C’est dans l’ivresse d’une émotion qu’il n’avait pas connu jusqu’à ce jour alors, qu’il proclama Dumesnil la première des tragediennes (19) .

These two anecdotes stress the fact that too many rules had destroyed dynamism on stage. ‘Inspiration’ is opposed to ‘combination’ which symbolizes only artificiality, and in a way, obsolescence because it is attached to the past. Mlle Dumesnil, ‘forgetting’ the principles of traditional acting when she immersed herself in the scenic situation and not in what she had to perform, invented a new style. Her acting required instinctive movements, liberation of emotions created in relation with the circumstances. In the case of Mlle Dumesnil, we see an ‘abstractionalisation’ of reality by the stream of consciousness: she forgets the rules because she forgets she is playing a role in front of people, and because she creates her own multi-sensational theatre in her mind. The imagery of the role pre-exists and is actualized by performing. We note that in the case of acting, inner senses (feelings, visual imagery, imagination, inner ‘speech’…) are more animated than external senses (seeing, smelling, hearing…), or actually, competing in creating the role which also requires the intervention of memory systems (belief, knowledge of the world, of oneself, autobiographical..), automatisms developed during rehearsals (details of the text, stage effects, etc…). It seems that acting means rather filling a space, a suspension of consciousness in which the actor’s all being is involved and in which improvisation plays a large place (especially during the most tense or dramatic situations). Acting seems more authentic because it is not entirely prepared or put on stage.

Vital energy, primary forces are, for the thinkers of the Enlightenment, synonymous with Nature, which is why acting should always include deep basic feelings created during the time of the performance. Mlle Dumesnil’s acting is proof that the effect of ‘vraisemblance’ on stage should not be to comply with the rules of ‘bienséance’ but to direct one’s thoughts and feelings towards the present situation. Here, the scene cannot allow the actress to remain in a sort of rigid dignity, even if she is playing a noble and aristocratic role. The pressure of death is strong; imminent (the queen’s son may be killed). It is a scene where characters have to face an emergency. The actress cannot think or prepare her movements and tones because she would not be in the tempo of the performance. The expression of passions in a violent crisis creates a palpitating rhythm (and then, an animation). They can seem natural only if the actress is clearly involved in the doing and focused on immediacy. She must be extremely reactive and adapt her acting not only to what is supposed to be (the lines, the story etc…) but also on what actually is (what her fellow actors are doing, how they do it etc…).

Respect for convenience and decency is absurd in a situation which needs interactivity and coordination between all the actors: gestures are the result of a projection of the inner being of each actor not only onto their role, but also onto the performance. The violent and disordered expression of ‘pathos’ becomes a priority on stage, whatever the rank of the character. In the Enlightenment, the theatre abandons the ideal of ‘etiquette’ for a realistic spectacle of passions which is fundamentally close to the profound nature of the Human being (sensualist). Baron was the first who insisted on this aspect: « Les règles défendent disait Baron, de lever les bras au-dessus de la tête ; mais si la passion les y porte, ils feront bien : la passion en sait plus que les règles (20) . », writes Marmontel. The ideal of a ‘proportionate’ and ‘fair’ style of acting in regards to the situation and the intensity of the passions was to become more and more important throughout the century.

Progressively the originality of the actor, his own interpretation of the role seen most obviously in the case of a ‘classic’ character (Racinian, Cornelian or ‘Moliéresque’), is soon considered to be fundamental in the ‘birth’ of the character during the performance, which becomes, on stage, a truly ‘creative’ process. It is the singularity and the individuality of the actor which are esteemed, that is, his imagination, his subjectivity and his vision of the role. The Enlightenment tries to abandon generalisations derived from the conventions of mimesis, dramatic poetics, and rhetorical actio. The actor, to be an Actor, has to distinguish himself from the others by demonstrating a personal style, which symbolizes at the same time his art (his mastery of acting) and his superiority (his acting always seems surprising, he is always innovating and his acting becomes a yardstick as he is copied by bad actors who are unable to create). The ‘subjectivisation’ of the role by consciousness is necessary: from this inner link floods out genius.

Then it is in the process of building a character as a real being that makes the Actor, understood as the alliance between the character, the person and the personage. Movement (gestures, declamation, etc.) on stage is the result not of a mechanical reproduction of the signs of passions, but of an inner impulsion. Body is essential: inner movements require a true transposition into the chimerical world, an identification with the role which does not depend on the conformity with a code (to be identical or to be a copy of the role set out in the text.

The expression of emotion by the actor was the first stage in a debate between actors and audiences which was to become a thrilling polemic and extend across the centuries .

Sabine Chaouche


1. Stanislavski, C., 1936. An Actor prepares. London: A. and C. Black publishers, 2006, p. 312.
2. Charpentier, 1758. Causes de la décadence du goût sur le théâtre. Paris: Dufour, pp. 66 and 77-78.
3. Louis XIIIth said that the comedians can be gentlemen but in fact, the actor is never considered other than a depraved man and even more woman constantly depicted as prostitute.
4. Buffat, M. ed, 2003. Lettre à d’Alembert sur les spectacles. Paris: Flammarion, pp. 132.
5. Id., pp. 71-72.
6. Magnien, M. ed., 1990. Poétique by Aristote. Paris: Librairie Générale Française, VI.( § 15-20), pp. 95.
7. Abbé d’Aubignac, 1657. La Pratique du Théâtre. Paris: chez l’auteur, pp. 65.
8. See my new monograph : 2013. La Mise en scène du répertoire à la Comédie-Française (1680-1815), Paris: Champion, coll. Les 18e siècles, n°166, 955 p, (publication in August).
9. See Chaouche, S. ed, 2005. La Scène en contrechamp, anecdotes françaises et tradition de jeu au siècle des Lumières. Paris: Champion.
10. Chaouche, S. ed, 2000, Paradoxe sur le comédien. Paris; Flammarion, pp. 89.
11. Grimarest, 1707. Traité du récitatif. In S. Chaouche, ed. Sept Traités sur le jeu du comédien de l’action oratoire à l’art dramatique, 1657-1750. Paris: Champion, 2001, pp. 330.
12. See my study, 2001. L’Art du comédien, Déclamation et jeu scénique en France à l’âge classique, 1629-1680. Paris: Champion, first part.
13. Riccoboni, L., 1738. Pensées sur la déclamation. In op. cit., Sept Traités sur le jeu du comédien, pp. 455.
14. Pensées sur la déclamation. In op. cit., Sept Traités sur le jeu du comédien, pp. 493.
15. Expressed used by philosopher Daniel Dennett about the Cartesian theatre (analogy of the mind to a theatre).
16. Tournon, 1782. L’Art du comédien vu dans ses principes. Paris: Cailleau et Duchesne, pp. 58-59.
17. Ibid., pp. 22-25.
18. Chaouche, S. ed, 2005. La Scène en contrechamp. Paris: Champion, anecdote 120.
19. Vincent, A., 1829. Les Souvenirs et les regrets du vieil amateur dramatique. Paris: C. Froment, pp. 58-65.
20. Marmontel, 1753. Article déclamation théâtrale. Encyclopédie.CD-rom Redon.

Sabine Chaouche

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