History Of French Theater

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Course Information
Theatre Arts
Terms offered: 
Language of instruction: 
Contact Hours: 
Additional student cost: 



This course on the French theatre is taught in conjunction with the famous summer theatre festival held in Avignon, France, a short train ride from Arles. Our classroom work begins with an introduction to the origins of the French theatre in the 17th century and includes an overview of the French theatre from that period to our own. Where their engagement with discrete plays is concerned, students will read and analyze the texts of selected plays that will be performed at next summer's Avignon theatre festival, where they will be attending the performance of that play. In Avignon, students will also meet with directors and actors involved in this summer's festival so as to discuss issues related to theatrical production. Our primary reading materials are the plays we study, which are determined by the offerings at the festival. The definitive list will be introduced into this website as soon as the festival makes its selections known. The course will include short lectures and class discussion, evenings (or mornings) at the theatre, and debates with theatre actors and other professionals. Students must complete all required readings, participate in consistent and meaningful ways related to class discussions and debates, and write two short term papers and one longer final paper. All work will be completed in French.

Method of presentation: 

Lectures, discussions, attendance of performances, discourse with professionals.

Required work and form of assessment: 

Full reading of the texts, active participation in class, final paper (7-8 pages) and written exercises (3-4 pages).


1st Session: Introduction to the course

  • Historical overview of theatre in France
  • Short history of the Avignon Festival

2nd Session: Brief presentation of Classical Theatre

  • Different sorts of plays (Tragedy/Comedy) Introduction to Molière’s play : l’Ecole des femmes
  • Exercise

3rd Session

  • TBA

4th Session

  • Students must have read entirely Molière’s play : « L’Ecole des Femmes »
  • Study and commentaries in class
  • What makes it a « classical » play (or not !)
  • Exercise

5th Session: 18th Century Theatre

  • Explanation in class of the difficulties of Marivaux’s play La Dispute
  • Study of the different characters
  • What is production ?
  • Exercise

6th Session

  • Further reading of Marivaux’s play « La Dispute » 
  • Notions of production and role of the Director
  • Notion of « reading » a play
  • Written exercise : comment Jean-Pierre Miquel’s article on « the Director »

7th Session

  • Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of cruelty
  • Themes of loneliness and violence
  • Contemporary writing
  • Exercise : Prepare Questions for Visit to Avignon

8th Session

  • Antonin Artaud’s Conference du Vieux Colombier
  • Field Study: Avignon
    • Departure for Avignon where we will spend the entire day (date to be determined). We will discover Avignon and different performing places. We will be welcomed at the « Maison Jean Vilar »to hear about the founder of the Festival and to be informed on audio and visual archives. After the performance, we will talk with actors; each student must have questions ready. Afternoon Free time for a production or a lecture. Evening return to Arles.

9th Session

  • TBA

10th Session

  • Debate on play seen the previous day.
  • Introduction to Valère Novarina’s text : Réserve d’acteurs
  • News forms, work on sounds, language as a noise
  • Exercise: what surprised you in the Director’s choices?

11th Session

  • Text to be read
  • Study of the difficulties of the text
  • Construction of the Play
  • The role of music
  • Field Study: Afternoon excursion to Avignon

12th Session

  • Debate and conclusions on plays studied
  • Current perspectives
  • Can theatre still find its place in our modern society ?
Required readings: 

To be determined