Author Archives: Katherine Astbury

Napoleonic theatre and the body

Society of Dix-neuviémistes annual conference, Paris April 2016

Three members of the French Theatre of the Napoleonic era ran a panel on Napoleonic theatre and the body at the SDN annual conference last week.

The panel aimed to strip away some of the assumptions about aesthetic production of the age and reassert the significance of theatre and the theatrical for contemporaries by exploring a body of theatrical works from the Napoleonic era. The three papers focused on the physical body of the playwright, the actor and Napoleon respectively and in so doing reassessed Napoleonic theatre from three distinct but related angles: politics, performance and prints of the period.

Vincenzo DE SANTIS : Dramaturgie et médecine chez Lemercier. Le cas de la Démence de Charles VI

Composée autour de 1806, La Démence de Charles VI fait partie des pièces que Lemercier écrit pendant l’Empire. La représentation de la tragédie – qui a fait l’objet de deux éditions tardives – a été systématiquement empêchée par la censure sous plusieurs formes de gouvernement.
Grâce à une lecture croisée du texte de Lemercier et du Traité sur les démences de Philippe Pinel, médecin que l’auteur connaissait, nous essayerons d’illustrer les raisons de ce refus qui reposent essentiellement sur la caractérisation du roi et sur la manière dont son corps est mis en scène dans la tragédie.

Clare SIVITER: Performing tragic bodies: a review of the evolution from theatrical Classicism to Romanticism

By taking the tragic actors’ body during the Napoleonic period as a point of departure, this paper will show how declamation, gesture and costume altered contemporaries’ understanding of the classical canon – the body of plays which form the basis of contemporary French theatrical thought. For example, contemporary critics record a progression from gesture as an externalised expression accompanying the line, to an action which conveyed the inner emotion of the character, epitomised by the Talma’s incarnation of Oreste in Iphigénie en Tauride, where his body conveyed such violence that his wig fell off. The aim of this paper is therefore to show the importance of the actor’s body through the performance of tragedy in the development of Romanticism. In so doing, it will re-evaluate the narratives which have dominated thus far and expand the focus beyond Talma to the Comédie-Française troupe as a whole, shedding light in particular on the little studied revolutionary actresses Mesdemoiselles Raucourt, Duchesnois, and George.

Katherine ASSTBURY: Napoleon’s theatrical body


Napoleon ensured that the publication of caricatures was carefully controlled during the Empire but during the First Restoration, French print makers portray the former Emperor first as an object of fairground entertainment, then a commedia dell’ arte figure, or a character from melodrama. The association of the Emperor with popular, low theatrical culture by his opponents aims to emphasise his illegitimacy but it is simultaneously used by those who remain sympathetic to him as a way of stressing his popularity. Thus theatre becomes the dominant metaphor of prints from 1814-1815 and Napoleon moves from being a pot-bellied, scheming Harlequin in pro-Restoration prints, to a slim, acrobatic Pierrot post-Waterloo. This paper will explore the tensions between high and low theatrical culture and the relationship between theatre and political legitimacy through the body of Napoleon as a way of untangling some of the contradictions of the Hundred Days.

SDN panel

‘Collectionner la révolution française’, 23rd-25th September 2015, Grenoble and Domaine de Vizille, Musée de la Révolution française

Collections of objects from the French Revolution were the topic of discussion, as a modern-day collection of French Revolutionary scholars gathered in Grenoble and then at the Musée de la Révolution française in Vizille, nestled in the Alps. A blog space is far too short to give this fantastic conference full justice but the programme can be found here, and hopefully the ‘actes’ will be published:

 The first afternoon opened with an introduction from Michel Biard, who was followed by Alain Chevalier’s paper which gave a very useful overview of the French Revolution collecting habits, from 1790 to the present day. Laurent Le Gall and Serge Aberdam’s fascinating papers relied heavily upon regional collecting practices and scholarship, whilst Raymond Huard concentrated upon the collector Marcelin Pellet’s republican influences in the construction of his collection.

 After a spooky arrival at Vizille which was bathed in fog, the second session ‘Collections érudites, collections engagées’ got underway. Tom Stammers, who we were lucky enough to have speak at the Revolutionary Researchers Study Day in 2014, spoke about Jean-Louis Soulavie, and his collecting habits during the Revolution, especially papers which could later be helpful for him in the changing political tides. Michela Lo Feudo was concerned with how Chamfleury’s collection had been dispersed, and proposed alternative notions of collection, such as that of novel writing. Jean-Marie Bruson then spoke about the Count Alfred de Liesville’s collection which was instrumental in the Musée Carnavalet’s holdings. Aurore Chéry then gave a great paper on the modern royalist collections, their activities since the bicentenary, and questioned the ethics of these collections.

The afternoon focused on the institutions of the Bibliothèque nationale de France with Yann Fauchois’s paper, and the Archives nationales with the archivists Yann Potin and Martine Sin Blima-Barru. All the speakers highlighted the difficulties of classification of the Revolutionary collections, most amusingly and disbelievingly in Martine Sin Blima-Barru’s paper on Dubois who was employed by the Archives nationales in the nineteenth-century and stole many documents to collect their signatures, which after being divided, were re-collected by the Archives nationales. Magali Charreire finished the afternoon with a paper which would have attracted many Revolutionary Researchers, on Pixerécourt, Nodier and Lacroix.

 The final day saw the collections become international. Vladislava Sergienko, Guillaume Nicoud, and Elena Myagkova all spoke about the intriguing Russian collections and archives of the French Revolution, including their classification, division and how the French Revolution was understood through the Russian Revolution. Then the focus became Anglophone, with Julia V. Douthwaite asking whether one can collect innocently, especially for an American institution which receives patronage or has an ideological aim, after which Kate Astbury and Clare Siviter gave a paper on the Marandet Collection at the University of Warwick and how it can be used online. The afternoon finished with historiographical collections, with Antonio De Francesco speaking about Harvard University’s collection of Alphonse Aulard’s works, and Yoshiaki Omi’s paper on the Michel Bernstein collection in Japan.

 In all, it was an enthralling conference which created much discussion and debate!

Clare Siviter


Journées doctorales, Réseaux politiques et culturels européens sous la Révolution et l’Empire, 30-31st March 2015

At the end of March we travelled to Clermont-Ferrand to attend an excellent doctoral event, hosted by Philippe Bourdin and Cyril Triolaire (CHEC, Université Blaise Pascal) before two days working on the Therepsicore project on French theatre in the provinces 1791-1813. In attendance were British students from Warwick, KCL and St Andrews, led by Kate Astbury and Katherine Hambridge, the Clermentois doctoral students from the Centre d’Histoire Espaces et Cultures (CHEC), and those from the Institut Histoire de la Révolution française (IHRF), Paris-I Sorbonne, with Pierre Serna and Jean-Luc Chappey.

The event was launched by two presentations on the CHEC’s databases. The first by Andoni Artola, who showed us his impressive database tracking the networks of the Spanish Revolutionaries. The second by Cyril Triolaire and a presentation of the Philador gateway which combines multiple research projects and databases, enabling researchers to track provincial artists during the Revolution and Empire. After the first of many wonderful lunches Kate Astbury also presented the Waddeston collection of Revolutionary prints, Warwick’s Marandet Collection, and the 100 Days virtual exhibition ( The afternoon saw a start to the doctoral presentations, with Matthieu Ferradou (IHRF) who is working on human and intellectual networks between Ireland, France and the United States during the French Revolution.  Then came the turn of Bruno Petit (CHEC) who is researching illegal printing of counterrevolutionary pamphlets in Switzerland and identifying their provenance. The day ended with Jeanne-Laure Le Quang (IHRF) and the presentation of her doctoral project on the police during the First Empire.


After the intellectual stimulation of Monday, Tuesday quickly followed suit. François Avisseau (IHRF) commenced the day by presenting his research on the postal system during the Revolution and the Empire in modern day northern Italy. Guillaume Colot (CHEC) then followed with an account of his project on Catholic newspapers and journalists during the Revolution, before Côme Simien (CHEC) finished the morning with a paper on ‘maîtres d’école’ and ‘instituteurs’ from the end of the ancien régime up until 1802. After yet another delicious lunch, Clare Siviter (Warwick) spoke on tragedy and the classical tradition during the Napoleonic era and the final presentation was given by Christie Margrave (St Andrews) on women and nature in the works of French female novelists 1789-1815.


This was an incredibly enriching event and thoroughly enjoyed by all. It was a great opportunity to meet French doctoral students working on similar subjects, learn about new research, discuss our Revolutionary research with excellent scholars, and as per usual we all had lots to talk about!


The Warwick team then had a presentation on database entry for the Therepsicore project which aims to create a database of provincial French theatre from 1791 to 1813. After this we spent Wednesday and Thursday morning going through archive photos: Kate and Katherine focused on Lille whilst Clare concentrated on the Vendée. We are hoping to work remotely tracing theatre personnel, performances and theatrical works to enter into the database during our next session in Clermont-Ferrand, hopefully in the Autumn with other contributors to the project. ​

Clare Siviter


Revolutionary researchers: the transnational

The theme of this second reading group, led by Clare Siviter, was ‘France and the Transnational’, leaving the definition of ‘transnational’ intentionally broad to encourage the discussion of ideas and themes which might reach beyond the obvious issue of sovereign boundaries. The reading—extracts from David Bell’s Inventing Nationalism; John Isbell’s The Birth of European Romanticism; Rahul Markovits’ Civiliser l’Europe: Politiques du théâtre français au XVIIIe siècle; and the collaborative effort by Ann Thomson, Simon Burrows, Edmond Dziembowski, and Sophie Audidière, Cultural Transfers: France and Britain in the Long Eighteenth Century—was intended to draw out these sorts of interpretations.

We began our discussion by focussing on this very issue. Jonathan opened up by asking the group to consider how we might best define the communities under scrutiny: is the nation a useful framework for us to work within when we as researchers are predominantly concerned with shared ideas within a community of cultural elites working across national boundaries? In other words- is transnationalism an intrinsic aspect of ‘cultural transfer’ anyway? It was agreed that the process of cultural transfer within these communities is perhaps more interesting than the functionalities of national politics; but that the construct of the nation is an integral part of how we map this process.

This naturally provoked a discussion on the idea of ‘cultural transfer’ as a concept (dealt with in Cultural Transfers), which we concluded by agreeing that ‘cultural transfer’ between sovereign states is at least as interesting for the means by which cultural ‘objects’ are transferred as for the end result itself.

We also discussed the notion that sovereign states were keen to encourage culture transfer as a means of achieving a ‘cultural monopoly’, or acquiring ‘cultural capital’. One particular example that stood out in the discussion was Napoleon’s contest with Great Britain for Egyptian cultural artefacts at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Sarah suggested that we pursue this further- what function does ‘cultural capital’ play within a transnational framework? Notions of ‘heritage’ dominated the discussion- Oskar argued that we might perceive heritage as a foundation on which cultural acquisitions might be ‘spent’ to construct something entirely new.

Turning towards the cultural ‘objects’ themselves, it was pointed out by Fabio that the framework is as much an issue of romanticism as of transnationalism. Indeed, where we consider Staël’s De l’Allemagne (the focus of Isbell’s The Birth of European Romanticism), the two are perhaps even inseparable. The romanticists were keen on pushing back to the past, with German romantics in particular frequently recycling classicism through re-reading of ancient Greeks etc. Might we—as Clare suggested—perceive this as a form of ‘temporal transnationalism’, where cultural transfers crossed both national and temporal boundaries?

But what do we mean by romanticism? This proves to be a problematic term within disciplines, let alone across disciplinary lines. Can we really discuss romanticism within a methodological framework of ‘temporal transnationalism’? Sarah suggested a helpful metaphor- romanticism as an umbrella, where ideas ‘hang together’ wherever they are but which (as Michael posited) take on slightly different meanings depending on the location of their performance (thus back to the importance of national identity in the process of cultural transfer).

Some form of transnational mediation of meaning is possible, however, if we consider the cultural hegemony of what some scholars have termed l’Europe française during the eighteenth and the early decades of the nineteenth centuries. It is a problematic mediation, however, given there was also a very dynamic and reciprocal practice of import and export in France, particularly of Italian and German cultural objects. Therefore, from a cultural perspective, it is difficult to limit oneself to writing purely national histories, given that the practice of dialogue between them was so well entrenched.

Nevertheless—and in conclusion of our discussion—we agreed that alongside any meaningful discussion about issues pertaining to culture and transnationalism, we need to consider the importance of nationalism within the same context.

Jonathan Huff

Revolutionary researchers reading group

The first Revolutionary Researchers event of 2015 was a reading group on the theme of ‘Continuity and Rupture’ in the period 1789-1830 on 26th February at Warwick before a fascinating seminar with Munro Price on 1812-1814 and the fall of Napoleon.
Jonathan has been the driving impetus behind this first reading group and the reading we discussed was as follows:
·      Roger Chartier ‘Do Books Make Revolutions?’ in Roger Chartier, The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution, trad. by Lydia G. Cochrane (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1991), pp. 67-91
·      François Furet, ‘The French Revolution is Over’ in The French Revolution in Social and Political Perspective, ed. by Peter Jones (London: Arnold, 1996), pp. 30-54
·      James Johnson, Listening in Paris: A Cultural History (Berkeley, Los Angeles; London: University of California Press, 1995), pp. 97-163
·      James Leith, The Idea of Art as Propaganda in France, 1750-1799: A Study in the History of Ideas (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965), pp. 70-129
 Two main themes dominated the discussion, namely those of ‘compartmentalisation’ and ‘construction’.
We found that revolutionary scholarship has tended to ‘compartmentalise’ events. In music, the decade 1789-1799 has tended to be seen as 1789-1793, 1793-1795, 1795-1799. Theatre is marked likewise by the changes of 1789, 1791, 1793, 1799, 1806 and 1807. We then discussed how much these external political events shaped the repertoire being performed. On the one hand, certainly some cultural elements were removed with these ruptures, but we found that through popular demand, institutional choice, and political allusion the repertoires actually contained many more elements of continuity that this compartmentalised vision has allowed for. When rupture does occur there are also numerous external factors such as the actors themselves or the physical conditions of the buildings which are not uniquely political. After this there was the difficult question of how to measure change and how this altered between the arts and between genres. From this, using Chartier and Furet, we thought about the notion of ‘construction’, both the extent to which the Revolution fashioned the ‘Enlightenment’ and how the ‘Revolution’ has been, and continues to be, shaped since the events of 1789.
The theme of ‘Continuity and Rupture’ was then suitably extended by a seminar with Munro Price where he explained why 1812-1814 were the years of Napoleon’s downfall rather than 1815. By 1815, Price considers that Napoleon could not remain leader of France even if he had won at Waterloo. From a variety of unexploited archives from high profile figures such as Metternich, Price demonstrated Napoleon’s continued refusal of peace and his psychological inability to retreat in time or accept rather than dictate a truce. This seriously questions the true extent of Napoleon’s military genius and the dominant narratives surrounding the final years of the First French Empire.
Clare Siviter

Liberation, Occupation—Inspiration Bonaparte? Literary and Artistic Responses to Napoleon

Liberation, Occupation—Inspiration Bonaparte? Literary and Artistic Responses to Napoleon

California State University Long Beach

14-15 November 2014

Devon Cox, PhD candidate on the ‘French Theatre of the Napoleonic Era’ project at University of Warwick recently attended a conference on artistic and literary responses to Napoleon Bonaparte hosted by the Department of Romance, German, and Russian Languages and Literatures at California State University Long Beach. Being a multi-cultural, multi-lingual department, the scope of papers and presentations was pan-European, leaning heavily towards German responses, particularly those of Schiller and Kleist, but incorporating an engaging mixture of British, French, Italian, Russian and Spanish responses as well.

The conference began with a series of readings of literary responses to Napoleon Bonaparte from writers across Europe. These included excerpts from Napoleon’s meeting with Goethe (1808), ‘German Catechism’ (1809), ‘War Songs of the Germans’ and performed scene from The Prince of Homburg [1809] by Heinrich von Kleist as well as:

  • Excerpt from War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869)
  • “In the Desert” by Herman Melville (1876)
  • Excerpt from Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis by Ugo Foscolo (1802)
  • “Spanish Civil Catechism in Questions and Answers” (1808)
  • Excerpt from “Memoires of Friedrich von Hoven” by Friedrich von Hoven (1840)
  • “Napoleon” by Walter de la Mare (1906)
  • Excerpt from Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866)
  • Excerpt from Ten Years of Exile by Madame de Stael (1804)
  • Excerpt from “Of Tombs” by Ugo Foscolo (1807)
  • “To Karl Theodor von Dalbert” by Friedrich Schiller (1804)
  • “Letter to Otto August Rühle von Lilienstern” by Heinrich von Kleist (1805)
  • “Ode to Buonaparte” by Lord Byron (1814)
  • Excerpt from Act II of Tosca by Giacomo Puccini (1899)

The conference illustrated the overwhelming diversity of responses to Napoleon in literature, drama, art and architecture across Europe and beyond.  These included responses during the Empire period and in the subsequent two centuries.

Day One focused on German responses to Napoleon at the outset of the nineteenth-century. Professor Jeffrey High (CSULB) presented on “Napoleonic (pre-)Occupations: Schiller’s Aesthetic Vision of Bonaparte and German Unification” followed by Laura Anna Maco’s (Università di Padova) paper on “Friedrich Hölderlin and The French Revolution, and Napoleon: Biographical Encounters and Literary Responses” exploring the work of writers in an anti-Napoleonic milieu.

A familiar theme in many of the papers was that of Napoleon’s central role in the development of nationalism and national identity in early nineteenth-century Europe. Noah Ziggy Gentele (Yale University) presented on “Ingres and the Perspectives of Bonapartism” in which he unpacked portrayals of Napoleon Bonaparte in the paintings of Ingres as a manifestation of visual propaganda in Napoleonic France.  Gentele’s paper tied in closely with that of Devon Cox (University of Warwick) who presented a paper on ‘History, Nationalism and the Napoleonic stage’ wherein he discussed the portrayals of historic figures on the Napoleonic stage in both Britain and France as mechanisms of propaganda and nationalism.

Day Two of the conference hosted an interesting battery of papers dealing with post-Revolutionary interpretations of the French Emperor. These papers included Professor Clorinda Donato (CSULB) presented on a fascinating paper on fame and the intellectual role of women in Napoleonic France with her paper “Fame, Writing, Creative and Political Foils: Madame de Staël and Napoleon Bonaparte” and Wolf Kittler (UC Santa Barbara) “Napoleon’s Take on Partisan Warfare: An Analysis of His Letters” presenting responses from Napoleon’s legions in the French islands of the Caribbean.

These were followed by a mixture of artistic responses to Napoleon’s Italian rule manifest in Italian art and architecture with Pasquale Palmiere (Università di Napoli) presenting “The Cult of Saints in Italy during the Napoleonic Age” and Richard Wittman (UC Santa Barbara) presenting “Napoleon, Roman Architecture, and the Catholic Church’s Place in the World”.

The afternoon of Day Two took a distinctly literary turn with posthumous responses to Napoleon Bonaparte with Joannes Endres (CSULB) “Friedrich Schlegel and the Musée Napoleon”, Alana K. Eldrige (University of Nebraska, Lincoln) “Under Napoleon’s Shadow: Balzac’s Young Hero and the Post-revolutionary Lens of La Comédie humaine”, Harold Schefski (CSULB) “Napoleon as Villain in Tolstoy’s War and Peace”, Priscilla Sanchez (CSULB) “Identity Theft: Bonapartism in Maupassant’s Boule de suif” and Enrico Vettore (CSULB) “Acquainted with the Emperor: Napoleon Bonaparte in Carlo Emilio Gadda’s Work”

The questions and concerns raised from this conference have illustrated a staggering amount of research being done in the field of Napoleonic art and literature. It also revealed a host of work yet to be done and I look forward to future conferences on the subject.

Devon Cox

The actress in France and Britain in the 19th century

On the 4th November 2014 the Sorbonne’s Theatre Studies research seminar PRITEPS (Programme de recherches interdisciplinaires sur le théâtre et les pratiques scéniques) held its first general seminar of the academic year on the subject of the actress. The two speakers were Florence Filippi, who has worked extensively on the Napoleonic star actor Talma, and Muriel Pécastaing-Boissière, whose research concentrates on Victorian theatre, an interesting comparison given our project’s interests. Leaving Talma to one side to concentrate on his female counterparts, Filippi’s paper was entitled ‘Emergence du vedettariat théâtral sur la scène française (XVIIIe-XIXe siècles)’. She argued that although French actors gained the status of citizen in 1790, were no longer judicially excluded as they had been under the ancien régime, and women gained emancipation, female celebrity was a new means of continuing the pre-existing marginalization. For Filippi, actresses were in an ambiguous position being both adored and hated, since they went against the bourgeois ideal of a good woman and wife. In examining this ambiguity, Filippi delved into the tension between the reality of the actress and the illusion of her performance onstage, and its relationship with the real world, concluding that the illusion can inform reality. Muriel Pécastaing-Boissière highlighted the continued social exclusion of actresses in Victorian Britain in her paper ‘Les Actrices victoriennes : entre marginalité et conformisme’. After Filippi’s paper it was evident that British actresses occupied a very different position in society principally because of the rigorous class system and strong protestant ideas. For example, a British actress once divorced could only be re-hired if she were to remarry, regardless of whether she actually lived with her new husband or not. Whereas the large French theatres were supported by the State, the British theatres were funded by their performance. This relegated the actress into an even more ambivalent position because she had to simultaneously attract an audience but separate herself from them to maintain an acceptable position in society: she was both marginalized but had to conform. According to Pécastaing-Boissière the refusal of star actresses to perform problematic roles such as Lady Macbeth had an active influence on the development of British playwriting, either hindering strong female roles or forcing the creation of ‘melodramatic’ plays where virtue and order reign at the end after subversive female actions. This led to an interesting discussion comparing the female roles of the two tradition’s repertoire. It was suggested that French theatre had a stronger tradition of dominant women such as Phèdre and Roxane, and as such perhaps it was more acceptable for a French audience in the nineteenth century to contemplate the convincing illusion of the challenging woman, which Victorian society could not tolerate.

Clare Siviter

Prisoner of War theatricals at Portchester castle

On 27 October 2014, Project Investigator Kate Astbury and PhD student Devon Cox went to Portchester Castle (English Heritage) to find out more about the prisoners of war held their during the Napoleonic wars. The prisoners performed theatre in the basement of the keep,. Locals came to watch performances of well-known plays and recent Paris productions, with the prisoners writing their own music to Pixerécourt melodramas for instance, Archival material allows us an insight into the creation of the plays and the conditions in which the prisoners performed. The basement space would have had seats and boxes for the audience but there would have only been 2 entrances on to the stage. Devon’s PhD will look in more detail at the prisoner of war theatricals so watch this space!

Napoleonic Neglect: The Case for Excavating French Theatre of the First Empire

The team all gave papers at a curated panel of the International Federation for theatre research world congress which was held at Warwick, July 2014. Professor Jan Clarke chaired the session which was entitled: Napoleonic Neglect: The Case for Excavating French Theatre of the First Empire.

Here are the paper abstracts:

Katherine Astbury, Case study: melodrama

Theatre was an important tool for Napoleon Bonaparte but it has been almost entirely ignored by recent criticism, which has focused instead on French Revolutionary theatre. The few modern studies that have been undertaken on the immediate post-Revolutionary era continue to conclude that theatre of the Napoleonic period is aesthetically inferior. Horne (2004) for instance concludes that “not a single French play of any value dates from the Napoleonic period”. And yet, the First Empire is a period when theatre flourished and when its foremost dramatic form, melodrama, was exported around the world. It is time to strip away assumptions about aesthetic production of the age and explore instead how some of the methodological advances in approaches to Revolutionary theatre might be applied to the Napoleonic era. This paper will offer Pixerécourt’s melodrama as a case study for how we might reassess Napoleonic theatre. Pixerécourt was one of the most successful playwrights of the period and his plays regularly ran to hundreds of performances. Using a manuscript of the Forteresse du Danube as a case study, it will discuss some of the difficulties involved in excavating a forgotten period in theatre history (no calendar of performances), a forgotten play (no modern editions), and a genre typically dismissed as staged morality for the people. The manuscript lends itself to reflections on sources, the influence of German and British theatre, the importance of music in the development of melodrama, the role of politics, as well as the layers that make up performance. It will also touch on issues of audience, class and hierarchy. This paper will be of interest to specialists of French and British theatre specialists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Katherine Hambridge, The Status of the Score in First Empire Melodrama

Melodrama, the most popular form of theatre under Napoleon, has long been characterised as a theatrical genre notable for the importance of music – without the extant musical scores being subject to substantial scholarly attention. Dealing with such scores, however, immediately raises a number of questions about their ontological status. To what extent was music considered by theatres and audiences a part of the ‘work’? Unlike English melodrama, scores were rarely printed for home consumption, and when melodramas left Paris for the provincial theatres, local composers would often write new music. Would there have been a hierarchy between the ‘original’ music at the premiere, and subsequent scores? What might we conclude from the relatively scarce critical commentary on melodramatic music in newspaper reviews?

This paper is an attempt to historicise the ontological status of the musical score in First Empire melodrama. The relation between ‘score’ and ‘work’ has long been problematized and theorised within musicology, and a comparison with opera can be productively applied here, particularly given Pixérécourt’s claim that he invented melodrama by taking the songs out of opéra comique. Considering what might have been distinctive about the theoretical and practical role of music in melodrama, as opposed to other musico-theatrical genres, reveals the interrelation of questions of high and low art and publishing and performing practices in determining the status of music in theatre. Combining source studies and close-readings of musical scores with historical approaches to production and reception, I explore how music functioned and was received as a stratum of melodrama: in performance, in discourse, and in its textual residues. Specific attention will be given to the scores for some of the most popular melodramas of this period, including Pixérécourt’s La Forteresse, La femme à deux maris, La Citerne and Robinson Crusoe, and Caigniez’s Le Jugement de Salomone.

Clare Siviter, Case study: tragedy

What happened between the death of French Classical tragedy and the birth of Romantic drama? This question has been frequently posed, yet never properly answered. Indeed, to believe some scholars, nothing of theatrical importance occurred between 1799 and 1815, despite the famous acting advances of Talma, the legendary reviews of Geoffroy, the development of scenography, melodrama and the drame. Therefore, as the bicentenary of the fall of Napoleon approaches, and after the successful revival of interest in French Revolutionary theatre, there is an urgent need to reassess Napoleonic theatre. This paper will address the initial methodological problems posed by the study of tragedy as a genre 1799-1815. Digging down through the accrued layers of two-hundred years of interpretation, it will use tragedy as a case study to show how Napoleonic theatre, text and performance, was received during this era and how, in contrast to the current literature on the Napoleonic era, a period’s theatre can never be limited to its own new dramatic productions, reinforcing the very dynamic nature of theatre produced throughout the ages on a specific audience. Moving from reception to perception, this paper will also explore how memoires, theatre documents, contemporary theorisations to name but a few can lead to a more accurate understanding of how Napoleonic society conceived of their theatre in terms of a dramatic heritage or departure after the caesura of the Revolution before the advent of Romanticism and in turn establish the dramatic education of the Romantic generation, essential to understanding their own movement. Consequently, this paper will be of interest to specialists of French and British theatre specialists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Devon Cox, Horrible Histories: History, Nationalism and the Napoleonic Stage

1804—the same year that Napoleon was planning an invasion of Britain—the Parisian stage hosted three separate productions of Guillaume le Conquérant (William the Conqueror), first as a drame historique by Alexandre Duval at the Théâtre Français, as a melodrama by André-Jacques Coffin-Rony and Leblanc Clement at the Théâtre de la Gaîté and finally as a five-act fait historique at the Théâtre de la Cite. Similar anti-English propaganda plays were becoming a feature of the Parisian stage including Jeanne d’Arc, ou la Pucelle d’Orléans by Cuvelier de Trie at the Théâtre de la Gaîté in late-1803.

This paper will closely examine a series of anti-English propaganda plays in their historical context as manifestations of an early nineteenth-century nationalistic (Bonapartist) agenda on the French stage. As historian David Bell points out, in the first decade of the nineteenth century French nationalism took a “strongly historic turn.”  The French envisaged “a new structure…lovingly put together out of hallowed, ancient material.” In doing so they “engaged in a massive effort of recuperating, preserving, and displaying what now came to be called the nation’s heritage, including folklore, art works, music, monuments, costumes, and historical personalities.” (Bell, Cult of the Nation in France, 201-202)


In this paper I will explore these efforts of “recuperating, preserving, and displaying” French history and attempt to illustrate how these manipulated historical portrayals influenced and impacted upon the theatre of the early-nineteenth century. In doing so I will also be drawing connections and questioning disjunctions between the French historical narratives and similar works produced on the English stage, particularly John Cartwright’s highly propagandist pantomime/ballet Joan of Arc; or the Maid of Orleans at the Covent Garden Theatre in 1798.


French Revolutionary doctoral workshop (1789-1830), June 2014

Clare Siviter, one of the project team, organised an extremely successful doctoral training day on Wednesday. In the morning, 9 PhD students from French studies to History of Art to Music presented their doctoral research. A number of themes and issues emerged as common to the different projects. The interaction of the public and the private, and of aesthetics and politics are two potentially rich avenues to explore further. The role of education at the time was another common area of interest. Some thorny issues students are grappling with include the nature of Romanticism, the changing concept of work (from a vocation to a trade), the status of the text and the role of memory.

In the afternoon, academic colleagues from around the country ran skills sessions on using archives.

Dr Jessica Wardhaugh (University of Warwick) gave an introductory overview in her ‘Archives: a user guide’. She encouraged the doctoral students to reflect on why they might want to use archives and how they might be used to strengthen the originality of the thesis. Her key tip was to make sure you go into the archive with research questions, even if you refine and revise those once you start looking at material!

Dr Sabine Chaouche then offered reflections on how to use archival research creatively for theatre projects and the methodological issues that arise when you use the archives. She gave some great examples from her own work of the importance of tracking your research topic through a variety of approaches. She talked through the benefits of a chronological study of texts on your topic (which allows you to identify plagiarism, or borrowings by later writers) and of comparative study (looking at developments in costume in England and France for instance it is clear to see that costume development developed first in England). She reminded us of the importance of linking material conditions (stage architecture, entrance points on the stage etc) with the texts.

Dr Tom Stammers explored the archival turn in the humanities in recent years, a return to empirical research, and the mapping of institutions rather than ideas. The range of sources has been enlarged recently through the incorporation of ephemera as valid archival material. He reminded us that the archive is always incomplete and that it has been created by political institutions, something which necessarily affects what material was preserved and how it was categorised. His tips included searching for manuscript sources through CCFr ( ) and CALAMES ( He also reminded us that collections such as De Vinck’s collection of prints are not representative of what was being produced at any one period between 1770 and 1870 but reflect the interest of the private collectors assembling the material (so the BNf’s Revolutionary prints are disproportionately Parisian and of the court).

The day concluded with a discussion of future directions for the group and possible events for next year.

Impossible n’est pas français and the theatre of dreams?

Impossible n’est pas français: Can Napoleon inspire the French to a World Cup win?

While Britain prepares to remember the bicentenary of Waterloo next year as a time when the country gave the French – and ‘Boney’ in particular –  ‘a damn good hiding’ (Leon Watson, the Mail Online, 23 June 2013,–Three-thousand-actors-recreate-famous-battle-198-years-Wellington-beat-Napoleon.html ), the French continue to have a very different relationship with Napoleon Bonaparte.

May 2014 marked the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s first exile to the Island of Elba after he had abdicated on 6th April 1814. It also marked the unveiling of the slogan to be painted on the French team bus for the World Cup in Brazil. The slogan was chosen by fans voting in a competition run by FIFA and sponsors Hyundai and the winning slogan was : Impossible n’est pas français, a reworking of a phrase Napoleon used in a letter to General Lemarois in July 1813. In the letter, Napoleon replied to the General (who had suggested the task of defending Magdeburg was not going to be possible) with the following :  ‘Ce n’est pas possible, m’écrivez-vous ; cela n’est pas français. Je suis donc mécontent de votre lettre’ (see Correspondance de Napoléon I (Paris : Plon, 1848), vol 25 p. 479, available on google books). Napoleon’s words became a saying : Impossible n’est pas français.But why was this voted the favourite slogan for the team bus by fans? (They rejected . “En route vers l’exploit” and “Un pour tous et tous pour la France” (see, 12  May 2014). It is unlikely to be nostalgia for the Emperor. It is probably a result of the team’s rather improbable win in the second leg of their play-off match against Ukraine in November 2013. 2-0 down after the first leg in Ukraine, they won 3-0 at home to book their place at the World Cup finals in Brazil. used the phrase in its match report as a header:

Impossible n’est pas Français

Les Bleus au Brésil

Le 19 novembre 2013 | Mise à jour le 19 novembre 2013
Axel Capron, de


Whatever the reason for picking a Napoleonic slogan, it seems to be working for now. Two games in to their World Cup campaign, France have already scored 8 goals and the last time they won their first two games at a finals (in 1998), they went on to win the tournament…


Clare Siviter on ‘Jeux de mémoire et de l’oubli’

‘Jeux de mémoire et de l’oubli’
On 5th June 2014 the French National Archives held a study day on ‘Constuire les sources d’une histoire de la Révolution française, jeux de mémoire et de l’oubli’ co-hosted by the Institut d’histoire de la Révolution française. Having personally been faced with incomplete inventories, confronted the scarcity of sources, and dug through archives boxes containing all manner of ‘mélanges’, the topic of memory and neglect seemed more than appropriate.
The day’s papers offered a variety of insights into the current status of French Revolutionary research, covering a variety of topics from parliamentary minutes to memoires, from the Revolutionary governments’ ordering of ever increasing statistics to today’s methods of classification and publication. The papers relied upon sources from a range of archival institutions (both public, such as the Archives nationales, the Bibliothèque national de France, international online sources, such as Gallica and Stanford’s collections, and private collections). Throughout the papers there was the strong sense of the relative paucity of the archive because of the disintegration and destruction of innumerable documents, both at the time and later by events such as the Paris Commune fire. The archive is always selective in its holdings, as we in turn are selective in our visits and research today. To this effect, the idea was raised that archives should be more readily accessible, partially to combat our subjective selection through the confrontation of the mass of information. Regardless of the archives’ absences, there was still the strong feeling that as yet unfound sources could overturn the dominant narratives of French Revolutionary history. This was even stronger since the archive is ever expanding, with new collections and sources arriving, classifications changing, and the very notion of a ‘source’ expanding beyond the written text.
 The reunion of archivists and historians was particularly fruitful in rethinking the changing methodologies of historiography and the publication of archival information. The famous narrative work of Jules Michelet was juxtaposed to the scientific rigour demanded by modern approaches. Pierre Serna correctly illustrated that such a scientific approach denied the essential role of emotions, which Bettina Frederking argued could be found for contemporary readers in the narratives of Michelet. This narrative history was, however, reproached by multiple papers for its subjectivity, with Yann-Arzel Durelle-Marc and Anna Karla contending that memoires and the processes of self-glorification played a large role in the construction of a selective account of the Revolution’s history. Throughout the day there was the consensus that French Revolutionary Studies is undertaking a Foucauldian archaeology. Academics and archivists are working together to exhume a more global picture of the French Revolution, which challenges the dominant narratives we know today. The archive was presented at multiple interludes as a crucial source for restabilising networks of relationships, a concept advanced as an essential step in the excavation of a more accurate picture.
The selection of papers by Jean-Luc Chappey, Cécile Robin and Anna Karla that treated Napoleonic and Restoration views of the ‘Revolution’ were particularly useful for this project. These societies reflected and organised their knowledge and memories of the Revolution as a means to terminate the Revolution, to end the chaos, and to relegate it to the past. The recurring need to distance oneself from the Revolution, be it in 1802, 1806 or the 1820s, begs the significant question, in returning to the sources, of whether it is time to question 1799 as the ‘end’ of the French Revolution.  ​
Clare Siviter
University of Warwick

Melodrama workshop


In March 2014, the AHRC-funded ‘French Theatre of the Napoleonic Era’ and the ERC- funded ‘Music in London’ projects co-organised a conference on European stage melodrama c. 1800 at King’s College, London, entitled ‘The Melodramatic Moment, 1790-1820’. As a prelude to the academic papers, a workshop was held to explore the various relationships between text and music in the first act of English and French versions of La Forteresse du Danube. This melodrama, by René Charles Guilbert de Pixerécourt, was first performed in January 1805 at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin, with music by Francesco Bianchi. Translated by Theodore Edward Hook into English, The Fortress, with music by Hook’s father James, premiered at the Haymarket in 1807. The English text follows the French closely for the main part, though shortens the dialogue considerably. This close textual relationship between the French original and the English adaptation allowed for a useful comparison of the use of music in the two versions.

Music Sources

The original Bianchi score for La Forteresse has not survived. There are 3 extant scores, the music for the reprise in 1810 by Cantiron and Dupetit-Méré (Avignon), an anonymous score in Montpellier and one by E. Marty held in Lille. The latter is the most extensive in terms of musical cues and was selected to be basis for the workshop largely on this criteria alone as the amount of music and – unusually – performance directions in the score, detailing the timings of music in relation to the action, gave us more information as a basis for investigating the role of music in an early French melodrama: survival rate of scores for the early years of the 19th century is very low. We still have to find out at which performances this score was used, and would like to know more about the composer: we know, however, that each regional theatre would have used its own music while taking the printed text from the Paris publication of the play – hence the three different manuscript scores from regional theatres from Montpellier, Avignon and Lille. This opens up the possibility of regional variations in contemporary audience’s understanding of what melodrama was – an issue beyond the scope of this workshop but one to bear in mind for future examinations of provincial scores.

The Hook music for The Fortress survives only in printed piano score. It was relatively common for the scores of English melodrama to be published and songs, madrigals etc were often inserted into the English melodramas in part to make the sale of the score more viable. As such, the two scores are fare from equivalent musical objects: one a set of manuscript parts for performance, riddled with mistakes, and the other a published piano reduction of stage music for publication, with the possibility of numbers added in (though the musical numbers did correspond to indications for music in Hook’s published play text). As scores are so scarce, however, the opportunity for direct comparison between English and French versions of the same play was too good to miss – and was, as it turned out – revealing.

Workshop Format

The workshop was directed by Professor Gilli Bush-Bailey (Central) who has worked extensively on practice-based research of this nature in conjunction with Professor Jacky Bratton (RHUL). The two project teams were also involved in the debates and discussions surrounding the text and scores over the course of the day. Musical director Mark Austin was present throughout, accompanying the Hook scenes on the piano and conducting the musicians for the French scenes. The four actors from Central School of Speech and Drama were given an introduction to eighteenth-century acting styles and stock gestures ahead of the workshop. The workshop itself consisted of two two-hour rehearsals with a further hour as final run-through before performing the first act of Hook’s The Fortress in its entirety, and the musical cues from Pixerécourt’s La Forteresse. The second of the two-hour rehearsals and the performance at the end were attended by an audience of academics, who were then invited to join the teams in a discussion of the rehearsal/performance process, chaired by Jacky Bratton



Aiden Condron

Jamienne Devlin

John Fitzpatrick

Sam Gibbs


Musical Director and Pianist

Mark Austin


Musicians (for French score)

Violin 1                      Ed McCullough

Violin 2                      Lucy Goddard

Viola                           Guy Raybould

Cello                           Rosie Goddard

Double Bass             Vera Pereira

Oboe                          Jesse Coby

Bassoon                    Joanna Stark


Rehearsing the Hook

The actors had to unlearn everything they had been taught about modern acting , which meant that they had to work very hard at adjusting to the 19th-century tradition of acting. We quickly abandoned a sit-down read-through and moved to acting out the scenes.  There are already some preliminary conclusions to draw from the process of rehearsal and performance:

Whereas reading through script and score we thought we would miss out all the repeats in the musical numbers – there seemed too much music for the description of stage action-, once we started working with the music, we decided we wanted as much as possible. Here the importance of pantomime in melodrama became very clear: we used the music as a prompt  – and sometimes as quite a specific guide – to build up pantomime scenes, based on quite brief stage directions in the script. One example of this would be how the increasing frequency of pointed accents in the musical number covering Alice searching in the box of books suggested to us her increasing frustration. Jamienne (playing Alice) and Aiden (playing Everard) quickly built up a mime scenario – sometimes holding poses for several second – with its own little narrative: waiting for the other character Vincent to leave; commencing the search; Everard getting distracted by the books and Alice taking over; Alice getting more and more frantic. We ended up wanting more music for this, rather than less!

In general, there seemed more room for farcical scenarios and physical comedy in the English version. The scene when Oliver sounds the alarm to stop Everard escaping took on a clearly comic nature because of the lively tune. Even slowed down, the music still seemed to encourage the actors representing the soldiers to perform comically.

The collective impression of the English music was that it was stylistically more conservative, and dramatically less specific than the French score, which followed the dialogue and action closely. So, for instance, the final scene of the act in the Hook adaptation contained an ‘end of act’ piece of music that didn’t seem to cater for the mood of the scene as suggested by the text.

The musical cues in the French score

The actors performed an English translation of the original French text, but in rehearsal we kept in mind the length of lines/ phrases when working on musical cues. As we worked on the French score after the English one, there was the possibility that we were influenced by our interpretation of the latter: however, the score (and libretto) actually led to quite different stagings and interpretations of the action, notably less comic.

The manuscript partition and the libretto sometimes indicated different places for the musical numbers – this is consistent with other French melodrama scores – and as a result, there was a lot more trial and error than with the English score where it was always clear when the music should be played. However, the performance directions in the manuscript score did indicate how text and music should be put together in ways that weren’t obvious simply from the stage directions in the printed libretto: when Oliver sounds the alarm about Evrard escaping, the music continues under the off-stage shouting of the soldiers in pursuit (as indicated in the score by the direction that the music should finish at a certain point). There was nothing comic about the music, which was tense and discordant, and our interpretation of the scene as a result sought to emphasise drama, rather than comedy.

The role of Oliver was key in both French and English versions, and required some tricky miming of emotional experience. Sometimes, particularly in the letter-reading scene, the music gave some useful cues as to the timing of emotional processes. But the French score in particular could be more ambiguous – and more demanding: experimenting with varying the tempo of the musical number covering the embrace between Olivier and his adopted father Evrard, revealed how by slowing it down (and the on-stage action, as a result), we could intensify the emotional impact of the relationship between Evrard and Olivier.  Similarly, the final monologue of the act was succeeded by music that seemed to express the moral dilemma facing Olivier (contrasting sharply with the English score), and required gestural externalization of the emotions just expressed in the spoken text.

In noting the variety of dramatic functions that music fulfilled in the play, we also noted that the function could remain ambiguous. Some music seemed to represent noise; diegetic (eg. part of the on-stage sounds world) music; emotional processes; stage action, some off-stage action. Some musical numbers could have had a dual function. When Alix hears music from outside the castle – the music of the Hungarian peasantry – we tried her speaking over it, as well as listening to it, or moving to it. When she spoke over it, the juxtaposition served to heighten the nostalgia that she expressed verbally. The music makes definite gestures towards folk music – towards being the sounds that she hears – but with full scoring and at some length eg. if she didn’t speak over it, there would be considerable dramatic stasis. These could suggest a moment of tableau, however.

Video extracts from the workshop will be available online soon.


Napoleon’s theatre legislation of 1806 in the provinces

In March 2014, the Napoleonic theatre team held a workshop with Cyril Triolaire (Theatre Studies, University of Clermont-Ferrand). Cyril offered us an overview of the work of the Therepsicore project (led by Professor Philippe Bourdin – see ), which for the last 3 years has been gathering details of archival material held on theatre in the archives in France outside Paris. He gave us a preview of the database which will contain the research team’s findings and presented some additions to the findings of his thesis, published in 2012 as Le Théâtre en province pendant le Consulat et l’Empire, Clermont-Ferrand, Presses Universitaires Blaise Pascal, 2012.

The main thrust of Cyril’s arguments about Napoleonic theatre is the extent to which the Napoleonic regime based its development of theatre organisation on Revolutionary practices. The decision to create privileged troupes in the provinces represented an egalitarian desire to diffuse Parisian repertoire throughout the Empire. So while Napoleon is re-establishing an ancien régime tradition of theatrical privilege, it is based on a belief in the usefulness of theatre for creating a new social order which had developed during the Revolution.
Discussion after the presentation was wide ranging. We discussed how few performance posters have been found in the provincial archives and how coverage of performances in the provincial press was also less regular than might be expected. This means that only registers and receipt books can provide an accurate account of which plays were performed and when. One of the intriguing details that analysis of these throws up is that the rhythm of performance in the provinces changed as a result of the Napoleonic decrees on the organisation of theatre in 1806/07. Some provincial towns lost their permanent theatres for instance. When touring, the privileged troupes tended to perform more frequently than before (every couple of days, with more plays per evening), leading to short but intense bursts of theatrical activity in a town before the troupe moved on. However, Cyril also called into question the extent to which the decrees on theatre reorganisation affected the provinces. The effect of the degrees was certainly not felt overnight and although in theory the reforms led to a professionalization of troupes, they didn’t eradicate amateur troupes, especially in more remote areas where the privileged troupes rarely toured.
Cyril reminded us of the importance of seeing the decrees on theatre of 1806 and 1807 in the context of the other decrees of 1806, notably the decrees on festivals (February) and on imperial catechism (April).
We also discussed the definition of mélodrame – if a play in Paris is given the label it is largely because of the size of cast, special effects, etc – performed on a large stage with expensive set and costumes, and with a full orchestra. The Parisian mélodrames were “à grand spectacle”. But what were performances in the provinces like? It seems that each theatre used its own music and the cast, stage, orchestra and budget would have been much smaller – what remains of the elements one would identify as making up a mélodrame? The question is open for discussion!
Katherine Astbury


French Theatre of the Napoleonic Era

The purpose of this blog is to chart progress on an AHRC-funded research project based at the University of Warwick entitled ‘French Theatre of the Napoleonic Era’. The project is being run by Dr Katherine Astbury (French Studies) and the team is made up of Dr Katherine Hambridge, who is a postdoctoral research fellow, Devon Cox, and Clare Siviter, both PhD students. The project takes as its starting point the University of Warwick’s unique collection of Marandet plays (2000 plays from the 18th and 19th centuries) to re-examine the theatre of the First Empire in order to see whether recent methodological approaches to Revolutionary theatre can be applied to the aesthetic and institutional conditions imposed by Napoleon.