Date & Place: Monday 12 January, at the IHR, London.
Speaker: Katherine Astbury (University of Warwick)
Paper Title: French Theatre of the Napoleonic Era
Chair: Alison Carrol (Brunel)
It was a wet, cold January night… and Katherine Astbury managed to lighten up everyone’s evening by giving us a truly vibrant, engaging and enthusiastic paper about her new research project on French theatre in the Napoleonic era. Her research is part of a big AHRC project which re-examines theatrical productions and performances in the Empire – a period which tends to be completely dismissed by scholars. Indeed, no ‘chef d’oeuvres’ were created under Napoleon, who strictly policed the cultural productions of the time. Moreover, examining themes such as ‘melodrama’ in the Napoleonic era challenges traditional narratives which argue that French romanticism – completely different to European romanticism, they claim – was born in 1820, with Victor Hugo.
Astbury, who leads this vast project, is here to completely revisit this narrative. According to her, audiences engaged a lot with theatre during this period; plays were always being put on; political messages were deeply intertwined to the melodrama on the stage. This period more than deserves to be studied after a long period of silence. With her team of doctoral and postdoctoral researchers, Astbury goes beyond the textual studies of the plays themselves: by adopting an archaeological approach, they are ‘excavating a forgotten period of theatre history’. They examine performances, memoirs, costume, music, and bring to life this long-forgotten output of theatrical production. Astbury’s paper on Monday conveyed this big picture of her research project, but she also focussed specifically on Pixerecourt’s melodrama under Napoleon, and the 100 hundred days when Napoleon returned from France to exile. Indeed, the corpus of plays produced throughout his reign is so vast that an intricate, detailed study of one playwright, or of these 100 days, is a much more feasible approach.
There is much more to say about theatre under Napoleon, and we urge you to explore this project further (here is one link: http://ftne.hypotheses.org). Thanks again to the speaker, the chair and to all the attendees.
Join us in two weeks on 26 Jan 2015 for Constance Bantman (University of Surrey) who will be discussing ‘Informal internationalism: networks and mediators in the French anarchist movement, 1880-1914′. http://www.history.ac.uk/events/seminars/136