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Religion, Ethics, and History in the French Long Seventeenth Century - La Religion, la morale, et l’histoire à l’âge classique


Edited By William Brooks and Rainer Zaiser

In June 2006 delegates from eight countries representing six French, US, and British-based learned societies met at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, for a conference on the French long seventeenth century entitled ‘Modernités/Modernities’. Twenty of the best papers on religion, ethics and history were selected for this volume, and they present new perspectives on topics as diverse as devotion and pornography, artifice and the pursuit of truth, Bruscambille and Pascal, historiography from the sixteenth century to Voltaire, and, of course, the Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes.
En juin 2006 un colloque sur le thème de la modernité pendant l’âge classique a réuni à St Catherine’s College, Oxford des spécialistes venus de huit pays pour représenter six sociétés savantes dont quatre françaises, une américaine, et une britannique. Vingt communications choisies parmi les meilleures sont recueillies dans le présent volume, sur des sujets aussi divers que la dévotion et la pornographie, l’artifice et la recherche de la vérité, Bruscambille et Pascal, l’historiographie tant du seizième siècle que de Voltaire et, bien entendu, la Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes.


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Bruscambille’s Head and the Location of Early Modernity 279


HUGH ROBERTS Bruscambille’s Head and the Location of Early Modernity ‘Or ça, Messieurs, il y en a beaucoup en ceste compagnie qui portent une teste sur leurs espaules sans sçavoir ce qui est dedans’.1 So begins the ‘Prologue de la teste’ of the comedian known as Bruscambille, who performed at the Hôtel de Bourgogne in Paris, the first public theatre in France, in the first three decades of the seventeenth century.2 It was Bruscambille’s job to silence the rowdier elements of the crowd, including the gamblers, prostitutes and ruffians who populated the parterre, with a short speech or ‘prologue’ before the main per- formance. This article shall primarily address the question as to how, if at all, the ‘Prologue de la teste’ pertains to modernity. This question is overtly paradoxical for two reasons. Firstly, in terms of the seventeenth-century ‘modernes’, Bruscambille would without doubt be an ‘ancien’, although of course he would scarcely register in the debate. Secondly, unlike a Montaigne, a Descartes, or a Pascal, Bruscambille is manifestly not part of a grand narrative of the emer- gence of our modernity. The question therefore seems absurd from the outset. However, there is no need here to adopt a seventeenth-century definition of modernity. The question can therefore be rephrased in 1 I am grateful to Professor Marie-Madeleine Fragonard and Professor Terence Cave for their helpful suggestions on this article. 2 ‘Prologue de la teste’, Prologues tant serieux que facecieux. Avec plusieurs Galimatias par le Sr D. L. (Paris:...

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