History and Drama: The Pan-European Tradition
Aristotle’s neat compartmentalization notwithstanding (Poetics, ch. 9), historians and playwrights have both been laying claim to representations of the past – arguably since Antiquity, but certainly since the Renaissance. At a time when narratology challenges historiographers to differentiate their “emplotments” (White) from literary inventions, this thirteen-essay collection takes a fresh look at the production of historico-political knowledge in literature and the intricacies of reality and fiction.
Written by experts who teach in Germany, Austria, Russia, and the United States, the articles provide a thorough interpretation of early modern drama (with a view to classical times and the 19th century) as an ideological platform that is as open to royal self-fashioning and soteriology as it is to travestying and subverting the means and ends of historical interpretation. The comparative analysis of metapoetic and historiosophic aspects also sheds light on drama as a transnational phenomenon, demonstrating the importance of the cultural net that links the multifaceted textual examples from France, Russia, England, Italy, and the Netherlands.
The article explores the Russian empress Catherine II’s attempt to fashion her individual and monarchical “self” in historical plays and articles written and published in the late 18th century (“Chesmenskiy dvorets (Chesma Palace)” in particular). The author interprets how Catherine II as an enlightened European monarch used theatrical stage and literature to communicate her political and ideological views as well as to position herself as a dynastic figure among the Rurikids, the Romanovs and members of the European monarchical houses.
Burlesque tragedy was reanimated at the end of the eighteenth century, complemented by everyday social and occupational satire. The genre was resumed in the farce plays Puss in Boots (Der gestiefelte Kater) and The Life and Death of Little Thomas (Leben und Taten des kleinen Thomas), written by Ludwig Tieck in the 1790s through 1810s, i.e. in the pre-Romantic era, when the source texts of famous fairytale plots, interpreted by Charles Perrault on stage, underwent a number of metamorphoses and transformations, finally presenting a whole in-built gallery of characters and a panorama of plots. Symbolically, Ludwig Tieck made Fielding – the author of the Tragedy of Tragedies about Tom Thumb – one of the central characters in his cycle of fairytale farce commentaries. Meanwhile, the methodology of blending scenes, quotes, figures, and texts into a farce did not need to be rediscovered. It could actually become a powerful tool, which Ludwig Tieck demonstrated skillfully.
Alexander Ostrovsky’s dramatic heritage has been primarily regarded as ‘slice-of-life’ plays in the Russian historico-theatrical tradition, due to the detailed descriptions of everyday life and sociopsychological characters/types it represents. The very first (and until recently the only monographic) study of Ostrovsky in a west European language was Ostrovski et son théâtre de mœurs russes (1912), by the French Slavicist Jules Patouillet,¹ which gave priority to this point of view among Western historians of literature and theater, too.