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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Code, performance and ideology : the dialogue of reception as dramatic praxis in Voltaire's tragedies Leith, Hope Mary


This dissertation undertakes to examine the dramatic prixis and the ideological systems which shape Voltaire’s tragic oeuvre. This study takes the position that these texts are multi-voiced, open-ended and performance-directed. The analytical approach taken draws from semiotic, Marxist and feminist critical techniques. Thirteen plays were chosen for analysis: "Artémire" (1720), "Hérode et Mariamne" (1724, 1725, 1763), "Eriphile" (1732), "Zaïre" (1732), "Adélaïde du Guesclin" (1734, 1751, 1765), "Zulime" (1740, 1762), "Mahomet" (1741), "Sémiramis" (1748), "Oreste" (1750), "Rome sauvée" (1752), "Olympie" (1760), "Le Triumvirat" (1764) and "Les Guèbres" (1769). Chapter I undertakes the analysis of the textual codes, largely concentrating on the language which resulted from or which perisisted despite external reaction to the text, in order to reconstruct the rules by which language operated in the tragic form. Tragedy's requirement of "noble" language and action restrict it to those who had the classical education necessary to understand and manipulate its rules, thereby establishing a gender and class privilege within the text. Chapter II begins with the premise that performance is not external or incidental but integral to the texts under examination. It details the impact which performance and performers had on the text and on public response to that text. It also brings to light Voltaire's profound ambivalence towards this influence on "his" texts. The desire to control performance led Voltaire to become a "director" of his plays in the modern sense, as he sought to impose his ideas of decor, costume, staging and declamation. Chapter III defines ideology as the system or systems of belief which underlie and inform the texts. The analysis is organized around three broad areas of social organization: government, religion and the family. Special attention is paid to the status and treatment of women within these areas. The chapter examines whether the systems revealed are static or dynamic over time, personal to Voltaire or drawn from a wider social group, radical or conservative in content. The Appendix to this study furnishes a chronological table of textual transformations for each play studied, giving the source, location, date, extent, speaker, content and function of changes.

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