Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Brief thoughts on Chapelain and English Neoclassicism

In his survey of The Classical Drama of France (OUP, 1971), Wll G. Moore dismisses many of the neoclassical theorists as 'proto-critics' who, at best, were 'paving the way for true criticism by the practices of animated discussion' (1971:64). He does, however, show respect to Chapelain, who was tasked with the development of the neo-classical doctrine. 

He writes as a man called to stem disorder and to curb individualism: 'nothing is more certain than that pleasure is produced by the observance of order and by what is credible. The Ancients constructed their works on the very principles which people wish now to destroy, If confusion and ineffectiveness in the theatre could give pleasure, it would be for rustics and entirely unable to affect civilised men. I wish to watch a performance and not a jumble.' (ed. Hunter, 1931:128)
(Moore, 1971:66)

Chapelain is chiefly remembered for his insistence on the 'twenty four hour rule' - an elaboration on the detail of Aristotle's unity of time. He was supported by Cardinal Richlieu, who coordinated the Académie française. Alongside François Hédelin, abbé d'Aubignac, he was a staunch defender of the neoclassical and resisted change. 

Chapelain's stentorian comments represent the most disappointing strand of critical writing: determinedly conservative, he equates an established dramaturgy with a moral good, and demeans experimental as both 'a jumble' and a threat to social stability. 

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