The Nature and Function of the Servants in Comedies First Performed at the Comedie-Francaise Between 1685 and 1732: Plays by Regnard, Dufresny, Dancourt, Lesage, and Destouches

Gibson, Kenneth John Steele (1987) The Nature and Function of the Servants in Comedies First Performed at the Comedie-Francaise Between 1685 and 1732: Plays by Regnard, Dufresny, Dancourt, Lesage, and Destouches. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Servants figure prominently in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French comedies, but there remain many gaps in our knowledge of these figures. The object of the present study is to go some way towards remedying this situation by subjecting the servants in the mainstream French comedies of five of the more important authors in the period after Moliere's death to detailed critical analysis, concentrating on their nature and their dramatic function, rather than on their literary origins or their relationship to their real-life counterparts. Part I examines the extent to which the characteristics of the fourbe (previously the most memorable male servant type) are to be found in the valets of the plays being considered. Chapter 1 establishes the principal features of the fourbe by reference to Moliere's most famous tricksters, and shows that while many of Regnard's servants have elements of the stage trickster in them, none is a supreme fourbe. Chapter 2 shows that in Dufresny the servants lack the basic instincts of the fourbe, while Chapter 3 reveals that although the servants in Lesage's La Tontine and Crispin rival de son maitre show fourbe characteristics, in the latter play these are counterbalanced by aspects untypical of the fourbe, while in Turcaret the principal servant is the antithesis of the fourbe. In Chapter 4 it is demonstrated that Destouches's servants generally show no fourbe characteristics and are used merely as confidants, while in Chapter 5 dancourt's servants are also shown to be no fourbes. Overall, therefore, it appears that in the plays under review the servants are extremely varied, with the fourbe no longer constituting the predominant male servant type. Part II focusses on the ethos of the male servant. In Chapter 1 it is shown that although Regnard's servants are attracted to fashionable society, and may dream of advancement, they are motivated more by the love of fun, and the desire to show themselves superior to others, than by ruthless self-interest. Moreover, questionable though their activities may be, the servants are perceived as amoral rather than immoral, partly because the audience is caught up in their tricks and disarmed by their comedy, but principally because their behaviour creates a world of fantasy in which there is no moral dimension. Chapter 2 shows that Dufresny's servants have no views on society, and pursue only short-term self-interest; moreover, because they inhabit a world largely devoid of fantasy, they are judged to be moral or immoral depending on the nature of those whom they support. In Chapter 3 Lesage's servants are seen to share the interest in advancement shown by Regnard's figures, but pursue it more ruthlessly. However, a number of factors prevent them from emerging as evil creatures. Chapter 4 reveals that Destouches's servants are unusually upright, and support conventional moral values. But although they have a part to play in the promotion of a moral view, they are not alone in this, as other 'decent' figures also throw their evil opponents into relief. Finally, Chapter 5 demonstrates that Dancourt's servants are essentially amoral figures who show an amused and uncritical acceptance of dubious behaviour. They are developed neither as individuals nor as social types, however, which may explain why, despite allusions to their disreputable past, they do not in fact behave with ruthless self-interest. In these authors, therefore, variety is the hallmark of the servants' ethos, both in terms of their outlook on the world and their motivation. Part III concentrates on the nature and function of the female servants. Chapter 1 reveals that in outlook and behaviour Regnard's figures range from a servante de bon sens or servante devouee to a soubrette perfide, while their contribution to the mechanics of the plays shows similar diversity. Chapter 2 demonstrates that Dufresny's servants are less varied in outlook and more consistent in their functional role. Chapter 3 shows that Lesage's servants, each of whom displays a unique blend of personality and functional utility, are so varied as to defy categorisation, while Chapter 4 suggests that it is mainly by acting as confidants and creating comedy through their outspokenness that Destouches's servants contribute to his plays, although, despite their forthrightness, they are not traditional servantes devouees. Finally, Chapter 5 shows that in outlook Dancourt's servants fall between the servante devouee and the soubrette perfide, while it is by acting as confidants that they contribute most to the functioning of the plays. Overall, the servants emerge as extremely varied individuals who can only rarely be categorised as soubrettes perfides or servantes devoudes; their functional roles are also varied, although the majority of them have an important part to play as confidants. (Abstract shortened by ProQuest.).

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Theater history, French literature
Date of Award: 1987
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1987-77587
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Jan 2020 11:53
Last Modified: 14 Jan 2020 11:53

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