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French Theatre and Performance

Module Code: FR265
Module Name: French Theatre and Performance
Module Coordinator: Dr Kate Astbury
Not running 2018-19
Module Credits: 15

Module Description

This module aims to examine the evolving nature of French drama from the 17th century to the 20th century considering texts and performances in their social and political climate. Echoing Molière, who said "Le théâtre n'est fait que pour être vu", we will be looking not just at the text but also at questions of mise-en-scène. Where possible the syllabus will include plays being performed locally (eg in 2019 the RSC performance of Molière’s Tartuffe updated to be set in modern-day Asian Birmingham) and students will have the opportunity to do a creative project if they wish for assessment.

In 2018-19 the plays have been selected to allow for a comparative study of the themes of disguise and religion across the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

They include Molère's classic comedy Tartuffe about an imposter who ingratiates himself into the rich household of Orgon only to be unmasked thanks to the quick wits of Orgon's wife, Elmire . Its resetting in 2018-19 (in modern Britain at the RSC, in contemporary America at the Theatre Royal Haymarket) will allow us to explore the continued relevance of French 17th-century satire.

Beaumarchais' Le Barbier de Séville was a smash hit in the 1770s, using comedy to attack the prevailing treatment of women, social inequality and politics. The quick wits of the servant Figaro ensures that love and youth win through in the end.

Olympe de Gouges was one of the most successful women playwrights of the 18th century and wrote revolutionary theatre to highlight the principles of Liberté, égalité, fraternité. Her Gothic drama Les Voeux forcés has the people of Paris march on a convent to ensure the happy ending.She would be executed for her feminist belief in political, social and racial equality and her plays written out of theatre history - we'll explore why.

Victor Hugo claimed to have revolutionised French drama in the 19th century both in language and theme. In his swash-buckling Romantic drama Ruy Blas, a servant shows he is worthy of the love of a queen but society's prejudices prevent a happy ending, thereby reinforcing Hugo's political message.

By the end of the module, students will have:

i) engaged critically with a range of French theatrical texts and performances from at least 3 centuries from the 17th to the 20th

ii) developed greater insight into the evolution of French theatre from the classical model to the contemporary (the chronological span will vary from year to year depending on available performances)

iii) developed their capacity to work with original source material in the target language and to examine and analyse such source material in a coherent and succinct manner.

Module Outline 2018-19

Themes: Religion and disguise

Weeks 1-3: Molière: Tartuffe

Weeks 3-4: Beaumarchais, Le Barbier de Séville

Weeks 5-7: Olympe de Gouges, Les Vœux forcés

Weeks 8-10: Hugo, Ruy Blas

Week 11. Revision

I hope to organise an optional visit to see Tartuffe performed in Stratford but students not able to see the performance will not be disadvantaged in the assessment of the module. We will use DVD of a number of performances to think about mise-en-scène.

Assessment Method:


1 x 2000-2500 word essay and 1 x 1hr exam


1 creative project and accompanying 1500 word essay

What is a creative project?

Your creative project should respond to one or more of the texts studied on the module. Like an essay, it should be driven by a clear research question – this question might be specific (for example, ‘How might a sequel to Les Voeux forcés work?’), or it might be open-ended (for example, ‘How might a set design for Le Barbier de Séville respond to the play's verbal imagery?’). Either way, the aims of your project should be clear and focused, and expressed in the accompanying essay of 1500 words.

What form can a creative project take?

You should discuss the form of your creative project with your tutor. Examples include (but are not confined to):

Creative writing (poetry, plays, screenplays, short stories, novel chapters)
Visual art (paintings, photography, drawings, sculptures, graphic novels, scrapbooks)
Design (set, costume, publicity images, projections)
Performance (drama, dance, music, monologue, installation)
Media (short film, radio drama, recorded music, computer game)
Lesson/workshop plans
It is not marked in itself - the mark comes from an analytic essay relating to the creative project -
The essay should indicate the thinking, analysis and research which has led to the creative piece. It should not be written as a journal; rather, it should be structured in the manner of a normal academic essay, with a clear sense of focused, analytical thinking and wider reading. You should certainly reflect on the extent to which your project has helped you to explore, and perhaps answer, your research question. The essay should include a bibliography and be presented to normal scholarly standards.

The project has to be devised in conjunction with the tutor to ensure that it is feasible and not overambitious.