French Literature in 17th Century: Age of Classics Part II

The classic drama

The performance of P. Corneille’s “Cid” (1637; German “Der Cid”) had triggered a literary dispute over failure to observe the classical rules. was held in the Académie française; Corneille wrote regular dramas with the following pieces (including “Horace”, 1641, German “Horatius”; “Cinna”, 1643, German; “Polyeucte”, 1643, German “Polyeukt”). Even the “Cid”, however, characterizes the extreme compression of the dramatic events, which has a decisive influence on the classical French theater; Typical of the plot pattern at Corneille is the conflict between duty (honor) and passion, which is decided by reason and will in favor of honor. The drama J. Racines on the other hand, which combines the ancient tragedy tradition (especially of Euripides) with ideas of Jansenism, shows the downfall of people who fatefully succumbed to their passions (e.g. in “Phèdre”, 1677; German “Phädra”) in a psychologically in-depth presentation compared to Corneille with increased dramatic and linguistic concentration. The classic French comedy was created by the playwright, theater director and actor Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, called Molière, created. Starting from the farce and elements of the Italian Commedia dell’Arte, he developed the character comedy and especially the moral comedy, caricaturing human weaknesses with reference to the »bon sens« (common sense) (e.g. in »Le misanthrope “, 1667, German” Der misanthrope “;” L’avare “, 1669, German” Der Geizige “, and” Le malade imaginaire “, 1673, German” The conceited sick man “), but also critically examined contemporary phenomena (see above) in »Le tartuffe ou l’imposteur«, 1669, German »Tartuffe«).

The literature next to the classic drama

Boileau-Despréaux summarized the classical-rationalistic conception of poetry in the didactic poem “L’art poétique” (1674; German “Die Dichtkunst”). The plea for a rational poetry as well as the imitation of the ideally understood “nature” and antiquity arose from the conviction of the timeless validity of an aesthetic model.

de La Fontaine was also an important representative of classical French literature; although the contemporary public v. a. Appreciating his erotic poems, he went down in world literature as an innovator of the fable: he translated the ancient sources into living verses that did not always follow the classical rules and also turned the moral teachings against court society. Check to see more about France and other countries in the world.

The novel stood outside the norms of classical aesthetics; it was considered a lower genre. C. Sorel (“Vraie histoire comique de Francion”, 1623–33; German “True and funny history of the life of Francion”), P. Scarron (“Le roman comique”, 1651–57; German “The comedian novel”)) and later A. Furetière (“Le roman bourgeois”, 1666; German “Der bürgerliche Roman”) wrote burlesque novels, which were based on the Spanish picaresque novel, were designed as a deliberate parody of the heroic-gallant novels and – inter alia. through the inclusion of different social classes and their language – set apart from the idealism of the shepherd novel. C. de Bergerac’s novelsretained the imaginary framework of the shepherd novel, but had a strongly socially and philosophically critical undertone. The novel “La princesse de Clèves” (1678; German “The Princess of Clèves”) by Marie-Madeleine de La Fayette achieved a new quality. This first psychological novel in French literature, which renounces external motivation and thrives on the subtle analysis of mental processes, was created in the context of French moral studies, which (especially in the concise form of maxim and aphorism) the analysis of human nature and the study of the People in the social environment. She mediates z. B. in the “Réflexions ou sentences et maximes morales” (1665; German, inter alia, “Considerations or moral sentences and maxims”) by F. de La Rochefoucauld and in “Les caractères…” (1688; German “Die Characters oder die Morals in the Age of Louis XIV «) by J. de La Bruyère, an often pessimistic picture of people and society at the end of the 17th century. The literature on memoirs (J. F. P. de Retz and L. de Saint-Simon) also contains moralistic considerations.

The burlesques and travesties of the 17th century, mostly laid out as verse epic, represented an important anti-classical movement, which already questioned the role model function of the ancient authors with the means of comedy. This fashion wave was triggered by P. Scarron with his »Virgile travesty« (German »Virgil travested«), published 1648–52, followed by, among others. L. Richer with “L’Ovide bouffon” (1649–52; German: “The funny Ovid”), C. Beys with “Les Odes d’Horace en vers burlesque” (1652; German “The odes of Horace in burlesque verses”)) and F. Colletet with “Le Iuvenal travesty” (1657; German “Juvenal travestiert”). The classicist Boileau reacted to this in 1674 with the publication of the heroicomic epic »Le lutrin« (German »Das Pult«), which stylistically corresponded more to the ideas of friends of antiquity.

The literature on letters (especially in G. de Balzac and Marie de Sévigné) offers valuable cultural-historical documents and samples of the classical style. Spiritual polemics could also use the letter form; B. in “Lettres à un Provincial” (1656/57), a pamphlet in which B. Pascal defended the Jansenist doctrine against attacks by the Jesuits. His apology of Christianity, »Pensées sur la religion« (1670), which formulates the paradoxes of human nature and belief from a Jansenist point of view, is shaped by the ideal of logical thought and stylistic clarity. The “orthodox” spiritual literature served v. a. the representation of the Catholic Church as a factor of order, among other things. in the confrontations with Jansenism and Quietism; important representatives (especially with artfully designed sermons) were J. B. Bossuet and L. Bourdaloue.

The harbingers of the Enlightenment

In the Querelle des anciens et des moderne, the literary debate triggered by C. Perrault in 1687, numerous authors declared the aesthetic norms of the classical doctrine to be incompatible with the achievements (as well as the technical and scientific progress) of modernity. The conviction of the relativity of artistic taste also meant an approach to evolutionary thinking. At the end of the 17th century – due to restrictions on intellectual life (e.g. the repeal of the Edict of Nantes in 1685) – criticism of the absolutist rule of Louis XIV increased. to. The libertine attacks against Christian dogma and general ideological principles had a particularly serious effect. They found, inter alia. in the writings of C. de Saint-Évremond, B. de Fontenelle and especially by P. Bayle (“Dictionnaire historique et critique”, 1696/97; German “P. Bayle’s historical and critical dictionary”) and were a preparation to the mind of the Enlightenment. Even F. de Fenelon’s educational novel “Les Adventures of Telemachus” (1699; “The adventures of Telemachus…« German) was an attack on the government of Louis XIV. Understood.

French Literature in 17th Century 2