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Books  >>  Art

J. Prest

Theatre Under Louis XIV

J. Prest Theatre Under Louis Xiv Cross Casting And The Performance Of Gender In Dr 2006
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Biographical note:

Julia Prest is Senior Lecturer in French at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. She has published critical editions of Le Mariage forcé (1999) and La Devineresse (2007), and numerous articles on seventeenth-century drama and culture. Her latest book is Controversy in French Drama: Molière's Tartuffe and the Struggle for Influence.

Main description:

Cross-gender casting was an ongoing phenomenon in the French theatre during the reign of Louis XIV. Here, Prest explores the trend and related gender issues in different theatrical genres and different performance contexts. Although professional acting troupes under Louis XIV were mixed, cross-casting remained an important feature of French court ballet (in which the King himself performed a number of women's roles) and an occasional feature of spoken comedy and tragic opera. This book fills an important gap in the history of French theatre and provides new insight into wider theoretical questions of gender and theatricality.

Review quote:

"This concise, well-crafted, multifaceted volume offers a refreshingly original approach to performance practices in early modern France. At the end of this thoroughly researched and illuminating study, Prest explains how French baroque opera, established in opposition to the Italian musical tradition, rejected the most complex figure associated with cross-casting: the castrato." - Choice

"Prest's Theatre under Louis XIV masterfully studies drama, opera, and ballet under the Sun King. Gender ambiguity on the stage is now in danger of becoming a hackneyed and ideological cavalcade, but Prest rigorously makes it new. Like audiences, Prest knows that men and women are biologically different, and her shrewd awareness animates her study. She illuminates Molière, the glory of his age, with authentic insight and deep learning." - Harold Bloom, Yale University, USA

"This is a thoroughly researched, carefully reasoned, and engagingly written study of an important topic. Within the familiar context of the spoken comic drama, ideas are introduced that carry forward into the progressively less familiar material: first the single-sex school performances, of which we can recapture the dynamics without too great a stretch of the imagination; then the court ballet, which is truly a form alien to the modern reader. The last chapter deals with opera, which in one way is an excursion into even stranger territory, since most of the discussion is set against the background of the castrato - certainly the most extreme form of altering the male performer to project a female character. The study is a timely one and it makes an important contribution to the field." - Roger W. Herzel, Indiana University, USA

"In this innovative and engagingly written study, Prest covers ballet and opera as well as spoken plays. Her range encompasses the history, principles, and practices of religious school performances and court performances as well as those of the commercial theatre. She is a sure guide and her analysis of comedy, eroticism, sexual ambiguities, and the courtly ideal is outstanding. Prest's impressive knowledge of the original texts, contemporary polemic, and a wide range of modern critical thinking enables her to present insights and discoveries that will change the way we see seventeenth-century performance practice." - William Brooks, University of Bath, UK

Table of contents:

1. Cross-Dressing and Cross-Casting
2. Unattractive Women: Cross-Casting in Comedy
3. Boys Will Be Girls: Cross-Casting in School Drama
4. Female Roles in Court Ballet I: Men Playing Women
5. Female Roles in Court Ballet II: Women Playing Women
6. Cross-Casting and Gender Ambiguity in Opera


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