An Introduction to French Classical Tragedy by C. J. Gossip (auth.)

By C. J. Gossip (auth.)

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This refers to the carnaval season, which filled the period each year from Epiphany (6January) to Ash Wednesday, the first day in Lent. Apart from this, for psychological or other reasons, different kinds of plays were staged at different times of year. The theatre season ran from just after Easter to the beginning of Len t of the following year; the break allowed for religious observance and, more mundanely, the hiring of actors or the renewal of contracts. It appears that tragedies were, on the whole, performed in winter, while the better weather was thought a suitable time for comedy.

Much of this garb, whether supplied by the troupe leader or provided by the actors and actresses from their own wardrobes, is highly anachronistic. For example, the frontispiece to Tristan I'Hermite's tragedy La Mariane, staged at the Marais in 1636 and dealing with the victim of Herod the Great, shows a group ofcharacters with a wide variety ofclothes and a range of exotic headgear: hats, turbans, plumes. Ribbons, lace, plumed hats, even on occasions white gloves, are difficult to reconcile with ancient secular or Christian subject-matter.

First 'nights' were normally on a Friday, to allow for the hoped-for success to draw in big crowds at the subsequent Sunday performance. If the word 'nights' has to be in inverted commas, this is because all seventeenth-century public performances in France were in effect matinees-as they were at, for example, the Globe in London, but for the differen treason tha t the pi t and part of the stage there were open to the sky. Only invitation performances at the French court or possibly in private chateaux would take place in the evening.

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