Rébellion, révélation et résurrection
Hagiography, or accounts of saints' lives, persists in literature through the ages. It accompanies historical movements and moments, serves as a memorial and remembrance, and often sends a message, explicit or implicit, relevant to the reader's contemporary world. In the early 17th century, hagiographic plays were a brief vogue on the recently renewed Parisian secular stage. In recent years, there has been a reawakening to this dramatic corpus, to its value and its challenges. The current work continues the effort to shed light upon the genre, which is often seen as mediocre when compared to its counterparts that resulted from the classical renaissance of the Grand Siècle in France. I limit my corpus to hagiographic tales of Christian martyrs (some of whom were not yet canonized in this period). The protagonists typically follow a life of pilgrimage. A secular period is followed by conversion, ascetic life, and finally death at the hands of detractors. These are often political, religious or emotional tyrant figures. Most of the saintly heroes in the corpus live at the time of Roman persecutions; others come from a more recent past, such as Thomas More and Joan of Arc. My objective is two-fold: on the one hand, I strive to establish the corpus's relationship to 17th-century religion, by exploring the Jesuit influence on dramatists and reflecting on the seeds of the "querelle de la moralité du théâtre"; on the other hand, I attempt to establish the corpus's relationship to the art of theater, at a time when classical secular theater was emerging in France. Moreover, I aim to affirm the compatibility between church and theater through their successful conciliation in the corpus. This compatibility is further justified by drawing a metatheatrical discourse from the texts, relevant to the time in which they are produced and by the plays' employment of the topos of theatrum mundi. The two objectives intersect in the ultimate goal of including and interpreting this genre as an essential part of a milestone in French intellectual, religious and cultural history. The first chapter focuses on the aesthetic background of the period, with an emphasis on the Baroque spiritualizing impulse in the arts, stemming from the Counter-Reformation and the Council of Trent. I also provide the foundations of theater within theater as a mode of dramatic expression common in the 17th-century repertoire, which becomes necessary for a better understanding of the metatheatrical discourse perceived in the hagiographic corpus. The second, third and fourth chapters focus on the individual plays, with a close reading and analysis of their form and content. After addressing the history of religious theater and its underlying message, I turn to the characteristics of the corpus and analyze strategies used by dramatists to adapt to (or skirt) the progressively more restrained regulations of classical secular theater. I then reflect upon the performativity and theatricality of the plays and discern the metatheatrical discourse in specific dramas. Finally, the fifth chapter is a holistic embodiment of the previous chapters, with an in-depth study and interpretation of Jean Rotrou's Le Véritable saint Genest. From my interpretations and reinterpretations, I conclude that this corpus, short-lived on the Paris professional stage, informed the debate surrounding theater in the 17th century in France, as well as in the polemic regarding its relation to the church. The decline of the genre, occurring around 1650, reflects and symbolizes the progression from a literature of the Counter-Reformation, of the European Baroque, to a literature with an independent French identity, rooted in neo-classical and Aristotelian reinterpretations. Following Lionel Abel's definition of metatheater, I support the idea that this corpus contributed positively to an aesthetic and cultural transformation nascent in French society at this particular historical moment.