The Public Theatres : 1625-1660
The major public theatres of Paris between
1625-1660 were the hotel de Bourgogne and
the theatre du Marais.
The first theatre du Marais which was
converted from tenis court in 1634.
When it burned in 1644, it was replaced
immediately with more elaborate structure
which remained in use until 1673.
The new marais measured about 115 feet in
length, 38 feet in width and 52 feet in height.
The pit, for standing spectators, was 61 feet
by 38 feet, the side walls had three galleries,
the 1st two divided into boxes.
The third given the over to paradis, The rear
of the auditorium
the stage raised about 6feet above and
sloped upward towards the back.
Scenic Practices in the Public Theatres
Documented in ‘Le Memoire de Mahelot,
Laurent, et des Autres Decoraeurs’
○ Scenic Practices : 1622-1635
○ Italian Ideal in Scenery: 1640-1660
Scenic Practices : 1622-1635
71 Notices (scenic requirements), 47
Compiler : Laurent Mahelot
Major Scenic Designer: George Buffequin
Unity of Place – Not common
(Number locales represented by a mansion)
Machines (Boats, Gods, and Furniture)
Italian Ideal in Scenery: 1640-1660
Cardinal Richelieu had the architect,
LeMercier construct first theatre in France –
Stage: 59 feet Wide x 46 feet Deep
Auditorium: 59 feet Wide x 65 feet Deep
Two undivided gallaries surround the hall
Open with Mirame
Called Palias Royal after the Death of Cardinal
Richelieu (Theatre came under the control of the
Noted Playwrights –
○ Tragedy reached its peak
○ Phedre – Acknowlegded masterpeice
○ Long Decline of Tragedy after Racines retirement
○ One comedy, The Litigants
Reached its Peak in 1660s and 1670s
Noted Playwright and dramatist – Moliere
Held a Court position
Formed ‘Theatre illustre’, Which then Merged with
Charles Dufresne – Moliere was elected as head
of the troop.
Also wrote comedy ballets –
○ The Bores
○ The Forced Marriage
○ Princess of Elide
Also attempted serious drama – Don
Garcie de Navarre
Great acheivements are in comedies of
character and manners:
The School for Husbands
The School for Wives
The Learned Ladies
Plays either in Verse or Prose
Directed his own plays and played the
leading role himself
Plays set in drawing rooms
o Jean-Baptiste Poquelin
(stage name - Molière).
o One of the best French playwright
and actor at his time.
o considered to be one of the greatest
masters of comedy in Western literature.
o Preference for tragedy, but became
famous for his farces.
o Public theatres in Paris remain unchanged
from the 1640s until Molière’s death.
Théâtre du Palais-Royal
The Palais-Royal was originally known as the Palais-Cardinal.
Residence of Cardinal Richelieu.
In 1637 Richelieu asked his architect Jacques Le Mercier to
begin work on the theatre, which opened in 1641.
Upon Richelieu's death in 1642, he left the property to King
Louis XIII, and it became known as the Palais-Royal.
The theatre was used by the troupe of Molière from 1660 to
1673 and as an opera house by the Académie Royale de
Musique from 1673 to 1763, when it was destroyed by fire.
It was rebuilt and reopened in 1770, but again was destroyed
by fire in 1781 and not rebuilt
Plan of the Palais-Royal in 1679 with
the location of the first theatre in blue.
The Comédie-Française has had several homes since its
In 1689 it acquired a new home, the Etoile tennis court.
Remodeled by the architect Francois D’Orbay at the cost
of 200,000 livres which put the company in debt for many
D’Orbay ignored the exterior walls of the
tennis court and constructed a horse-shoe shaped
• On the ground floor was a standing pit backed by an
amphi-theatre raised about 6 feet.
• Along the walls were two levels of 19 boxes
surmounted by an undivided gallery.
• Total capacity was about 2,000.
• Stage was 41 feet deep by 54 feet wide but available
acting area was restricted by 5 rows of benches on
each side of the stage.
• Stage was equipped for flat wings & shutters but
since changes of scene were rarely required, the
machinery was minimal.
Main changes indicated a trend towards simplicity.
Most settings represented a single place and were
composed of flat wings.
Shutters may have been pierced by doors, since
entrances from the sides were impossible due to
A shutter or curtain was opened to reveal another
place behind the one previously shown.
The typical setting at the Comédie-Française
supplied a suitable though neutral background,
which placed less emphasis upon illusion and
focused upon the actor.
Typical backgrounds included:
palais à volonté - a neutral setting suited to the
action without particularized details. Might
represent a street, a square, or palace. A variation
showed tents near a battlefield, often with a sea or
city in the background.
chambre à quatre portes (room with four doors)
– domestic architecture, usually interior, less
formal as compared to palais à volonté.
DECLINE OF THE FRENCH
By 1700, two Parisian troupes with monopolistic
privileges had divided the whole range of drama
The vigor of the early years had been replaced with a
spirit of conservatism.
After the battle of the ancients and Moderns in 1688,
attempts to maintain the glory of the 17th century
stagnated and died.
All of these were reflections of political and social
A lot of revenue was spent on building the city of
Versailles and conduction a series of wars which led to
a huge drain in the country’s economy.