One of my main preoccupations in reading last summer was to catch up and take account of recent research on the relations between literature and politics in the reign of Louis XIII. I ordered the publications of the University of Strasbourg — Vives Lettres, numbers I and IV, the publications following the research on complots and coups d'État, 1996-1997.
Volume I begins with a useful exploration by Jean-Claude Waquet of the key terms in Furetière, especially conjuration. This is a useful point of departure, especially in his emphasis on how Furetière read Lipsius — the effect (p. 30) that among the things that ruin a state, there are secret forces, e.g. attentats, trahisons, and presumably conjurations and their forces ouvertes, such as factions, seditions and war (presumably civil war). Waquet also notes that Furetière does not bring up the crime of lèse-majesté in his treatment of the subject.
Christian Monchel's study of the coups d'État of the 1590 siege of Paris explores the controversies between Barclay and Bellarmine, with a coup d'État being the pope's sovereign power not to receive a heretic as king of France. Mouchel explores Boucher's views on papal power to depose kings (and resistance by the people). He stresses how the preacher remains essentially just that. There is a nostalgia for the unity and hierarchy of spiritual and temporal powers — the latter including the populus, which is (p. 57) "une assemblée multitudo) prudente et juridiquement constituée de nobles (proce-rum), de Sénateurs et d'hommes pourvus de l'autorité qui donne la vertu, la probité, le jugement et la dignité." The Respublica remains intact above the king, with the Parlement being the quintissence of the peuple.
Yves-Marie Bercé explores the 1640 plot headed by Soissons against Richelieu — situating it in a long line of plots, and the still rebellious situation in the Southwest. Were there no pamphlets or manifestos put out to justify the conjuration-conspiration? Perhaps not; perhaps the justifications for taking up arms had worn too thin; perhaps Bercé analyses these in his article in the festscrift for Arlette Jouanna to which he refers. Soissons was, of course, killed; and the rebellion faded completely, with — it seemed to many — God's hand firmly on Richelieu's side.
Michel Seville works through all the typical mémoires about the Cabale des Importants, and discovers that none, really none, recount the gravity and intensity of intentions to assassinate Mazarin — before 1807, when Henri de Campion's Mémoires were published, and here the discourse not only of conspiracy but also of murder became known. But instead of exploring the whole problem of memory in conspiracy, Seville turns to a more banal issue of noble behavior — one brother rebellious, one accepting of authority, and one in the Church. The works by J.M. Constant and Arlette Jouanna would have helped elucidate the "brouillon" brother; and Seville seems to take everything (and therefore the upright brother) at his word! The missed opportunities here are to relate the roles of leading women plotters, notably Mme de Chevreuse, with the likes of Émilie and her successors in the complot sub-genre of plays from the same decades. And there is so much evidence of just how maladroit the plans were — to the point that one wonders about the theatricality of "real" court society. Marc Fumaroli's most interesting Introduction to the Mémoires of Henri de Campion show the way toward just how much more may be done from the perspective of political culture.
Mélanie Aron takes up three points — the Mascardi version of the Fiesque conjuration, the Gondi version of 1639, and the Cardinal Retz version of the life he led as factieux and would-be chef de parti in the Fronde. Gondi does not follow Mascardi on the principal characteristics of Fiesque. A heroic persona brimming with intelligence and ability to supervise and carry out a conspiracy against Doria is seen as the "historical ideal of life" (the phrase is J. Huizinga's) that Gondi would want to realize in the Fronde. The heroism and intellectual perspicacity are there in the Mémoires, to make the Cardinal triumph with his pen when in fact he did not do so in the Fronde. Aron has good control over the writings about Retz, notably Pintard and, of course, D. Watts. There are no surprises here, but perhaps there should be none. What remains to be done is to work out Mascardi's perspective and intentions.
Sophie Dalbourg notes the large number of plots and other political activities in Mme de Villedieu's Carmente and makes an interesting inference that, while supportive of divine-right authority, Villedieu actually justifies uprisings against unjust authority! She also condemns taking power by force (p. 124). Just how these views were reconciled remains unclear. And in this novel only women seem capable of serious reflection on the problems of political power.
At the end of this first volume of papers published by the Strasbourg group on conspiracy, conjuration and coups d'État, it is certainly evident that this is an immense subject. With notable exceptions recourse to research in political philosophy and ethics has been sparse. Authors have also often become bogged down in simple narration of the texts they are presenting. But still, the result is interesting and promising for the future.
Volume IV of Vives Lettres begins with Olivier Millet's account of three plays where a political assassination takes place onstage. The first play is by François de Chantelouve; the second is by the then-Leaguer and future historiographer of Henri IV, Pierre Matthieu; and the third is by Simon Belyard. Millet draws on the recent works by Bourgeon and Crouzet about Coligny's assassination. Millet's principal aim — and he is convincing — is to show the essentially dramatic aims of these authors.
Catherine Marchal tackles the question of popular tyranicide in Lope de Vega's famous Fuenteovejuna. She seems quite aware of the literature on the play and is quite convincing when she notes that the center of the play, or its main message, is less the successful popular tyrannicide than the celebration of monarchy. Y.-M. Bercé showed in his thesis how nobles who were aberrant or out-of-bounds were killed, and this is a similar story.
Dominique Moncond'huy explores tragedies that have conjurations as their principal subject. The Mort de Sénèque is her principal subject. There are some nuances added to Apostolides's views. For her, there was a genuine political tragedy of conjuration, and Cinna is part of it. She stresses how the conjuration is the final element that permits Augustus to be completely legitimate. There is a very interesting quotation from d'Aubignac about what the public would accept — i.e., not accept except in certain conditions, a tyrannicide on the stage.
Alain Couprie takes up where Couthon left off, i.e., with the seventeen conjurations that occurred under Richelieu. I do not agree with him about Cinna, however, when he says: "La conjuration est le fait de personnes privées qui, ne détenant pas le pouvoir, cherchent à se l'accaparer" (p. 94). Émilie, yes, but not Cinna or Maximilien, both of whom are from quite historically important and powerful families. They were not private persons.
There is an interesting quotation from the Prince of Conti, who says that the most recreative part of the play is what Cinna says to Émilie! Throughout these essays there is a tendency to draw too strongly on binary modes of analysis, in this case Couprie's conclusion that coup d'État and conspiracy are more theatrical situations than juridical notions (p. 104). The effort to delineate the champs littéraire from other aspects of a culture does not always yield interesting results.
Janine Elkouby's exploration of how Tacitus's account of the Conjuration of Pison is refracted in Tristan's and Lenoble's plays — notably La Mort de Sénèque — breaks new ground when she discerns how Tacitus is rather more ambiguous about Seneca than is the heroicization that takes place under Tristan's pen. Similarly, Epicharus becomes a symbol of total virtue. The seventeenth-century proclivity toward heroicization is something ever present, and something we know about, but which can never be emphasized and comprehended entirely — since we live in such an anti-heroic age. Rob Schneider's current research on self-censorship by authors in the decades after the Wars of Religion helps elucidate just how the crying need for a sense of order, and the fear of further religious controversy and political instability, could channel psychological and creative energies toward the making of heroes, saints and, of course, the culture that created the Sun King.
Alain Niderst, as we might expect, accomplishes much more than his modest title, "Rois et tyrans de Racine." He begins by evoking Anouilh to suggest that the "jeux des rois" rather than heroes are the central feature of Corneille's plays. He then quickly and accurately sums up the non-written constitution as it functioned in the seventeenth century, and goes through all of Racine's plays to elucidate how kings and tyrants are mobiles, even if, in some cases they are absent or believed dead. Racine does not challenge in any way, nor enrich the French ensemble of idées reçus about kings and tyrants, except in the sense that he casts an ironic eye on all these problems of power and legitimacy. This does not, of course, impede him from exploring all the passions and frailties of human existence. Niderst is onto something profound here. There is all this politics and power, but it seems not to stimulate active engagement. The political seems emptied of substance — reminding one of Conti's remark about to the effect that what Cinna says to Émilie is more engaging to the listener than all the tirades about empire. In Racine, power is characterized in such a way that the reader-listener identifies more with the heart than with the head. Niderst ends by saying:
Réaffirmant comme Corneille, les principes intangibles de la souveraineté, Racine ne le fait nullement avec la simplicité parfois laborieuse, de son devancier. Ses scènes, ses tirades politiques, sont faciles, mélodieuses à l'excès. Rien là que de normal, puisqu'il répète ce que d'autres ont dit, mais cela entraîne "un peu de jeu," une rupture très fine, qui aggravée, conduirait tout cela au néant. (p. 147)
Charles Mazouer takes up the theme
of rebellion by the son in his study of Houdar de la Motte's Inès de
Castro of 1723. The theme rattles through the centuries, in
numerous ways, but the essential point is that the imperious, if not
quite tyrannical father has a son who rebels against him, thus one more
"measure" of what legitimate authority is, or is not, in a king. The
plot includes clandestine marriage — obviously. Paternal permission to
wed had long since become one of the "marks" of sovereignty, in effect,
of a king over his son. It's interesting to find that this play was
really quite well received when it appeared — on a subject scarcely
actuel. Still, nourished on all those novels set in the sixteenth
century, the "public" could nonetheless work out the political issue of
limits on authority in kingship beneath the purely emotional love story
involving a husband and a wife.
We'll keep watching the Strasbourg initiative and, of course, wish it well as it pursues a direction so ably trail-blazed by Noémie Hepp and Georges Livet.