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Philippe Quinault, Dramatist

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William Brooks

Much work has been done in recent years on Quinault’s librettos, but no major study of his spoken plays has appeared since the monumental thesis by Etienne Gros, published in 1926. Moreover, he has never been the subject of a monograph in English. There is a need to re-assess the influence of his life on his plays, and to re-evaluate Gros’s findings in the light of eighty years’ research into seventeenth-century French theatre in general. This book rejects the deterministic approach that sees his plays as apprentice pieces for the greater achievement that is his corpus of librettos, as well as the implicit comparative approach that pigeon-holes his work, in passing, by borrowing from the pithy judgements of Boileau. To what extent does Quinault’s steady move away from comedy and light tragi-comedy to tragedies that combine love and menace go hand in hand with his search for greater integrity, better characterisation, and ever more credible plotting? How did he come to create and retain a tremendously faithful audience that even the withering mockery of Boileau failed to discourage? And is there any purpose in retaining the time-worn comparison between the author of Andromaque and the author of Astrate?
Contents: A Brief History of Quinault Criticism – Characters: Heroes and Villains – Social and Political Themes – Plot and Artifice – The Transmission of Information – False and Mistaken Identity – Visual Action and Music – Genre and Tone – Quinault’s art poétique – Quinault, his Audience, and his Critics – Quinault and Racine.