Theater as Metaphor and Guiding Principle: The French Anecdote Tradition from the Seventeenth to the Nineteenth Century
Theatrical imagery reveals itself as a flexible means of presentation, that is, not the final point of the aesthetic process, but one of its means, a language to describe reality, which is more important than the imagery; in that sense, any discursive practice offering elements from the theatrical lexicon or theatrical method becomes productive. Our analysis shall use as its textual material the tradition of French anecdotes from the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries, a time when the genre of the anecdote actually received this name and when its poetics were conceptualized.It may seem paradoxical to a modern reader that the psychological perspective claimed by the author leads to a reduction of a historical person to just one passion. This feature is highly reminiscent of the logic of creating characters for comedy, and it dates back to the character studies by a disciple of Aristotle, the philosopher Theophrastus, whose work became immensely popular in seventeenth-century France. Theophrastus, a Greek philosopher who lived in the fourth century BC and was the teacher of Menander, identified 30 types (the liar, the slanderer, the grumbler, the arrogant one, etc.); and thus the New (Attic) Comedy became in many aspects a result of the assimilation of peripatetic psychology. The reductionist strategy of the anecdote goes back to the same conceptual and formal methods.