An Introduction to French Classical Tragedy by C. J. Gossip (auth.)

By C. J. Gossip (auth.)

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5 in 1644. But at the Marais, as in other converted tennis-courts or theatres built to that design, patrons who were seated made up only part of the audience. The area of floor in the centre bounded by the loges and the stage formed the parterre or pit; apart from a very narrow bench along the sides, holding at most perhaps eighty people, there was no seating there at all. 8 metres in length, and here the majority of the spectators stood and watched what they could of the performance. The layout of the theatre's interior had its effect on the nature of the theatrical experience and, no doubt, on the audience's expectations.

It is clear from this and other evi- Staging 25 dence that early seventeenth-century French plays took place in a composite decor inherited from the Middle Ages-a series of small, canvas-covered, wooden-framed compartments juxtaposed horizontally, after the mannerofsome medieval mystery plays, or, much more frequently, in a semi-circular pattern round the three walls ofthe stage and each representing a different setting. Hence the term decor simultane, since various places could be indicated on stage at one and the same time.

In comparison, a pound of bread cost one to two sous, a pound of butter five to eight, a dozen eggs about ten sous and a pair of shoes about three livres, four times the price of normal entry to the pit. What· conclusions can we draw concerning audiences and their possible effect on the drama they saw performed? For all the isolated and perha ps unrepresen ta tive criticisms which have come down to us in prin t, it seems that then, as now, Parisian theatregoing was on the whole a fairly restricted but certainly enjoyable experience.

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