Theater as Machine, Theater of Machines in Seventeenth-Century France Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Viano, Catherine
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Romance Studies
  • According to traditional historiography, seventeenth-century French theater is characterized by a pure, unified, classical and disciplined aesthetic known as Classicism. However, several theatrical pieces resist this Classical ideal with special effects and the use of theater machines. My dissertation examines this “spectacular aesthetic” that plays a fundamental role in theater production throughout the century. I show that theater machines were used across genres, in tragedies, comedies, tragi-comédies, comédie-ballets, ballets de cour and operas. The ubiquity of machine effects in all kinds of dramatic entertainment testifies to the power or popularity of the spectacular throughout the Classical period. This project also examines how playwrights and engineers use machines to stage powerful acts or perhaps undermine the authority behind those acts. My dissertation unfolds in three chapters, each devoted to exploring the efficacy of dramatic spectacle from aesthetic, critical and cultural early modern perspectives. By focusing on the value playwrights, machinists, and actors had for the effects theater machines produced, I will expand upon our understanding of how dramatists interpreted the range of affective responses to theater, including but not limited to Aristotle’s catharsis. Moreover, by comparing seventeenth-century approaches to the spectacular with more recent thinking about the role of technology in producing wondrous effects in entertainment, the dissertation compares seventeenth-century notions with today’s understandings of the affective responses to spectacle.
Date of publication
Resource type
  • Heitsch, Dorothea
  • Welch, Ellen
  • Wolfe, Jessica
  • Lyons, John
  • Fisher, Dominique D.
  • Melehy, Hassan
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2018

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