FREN 264Theater Workshop:
18th Century Comedy

Cours-Atelier de Théâtre: comédie du XVIIIe siècle


TR 2:00-3:15

Office hours: Reynolds 145
TR 3:30-5:00
and by appointment

A significant amount of information pertaining to this course is sent via e-mail to your <> address: please check your mailbox regularly.

It may be modified over the course of the semester. Always refer to the latest on-line version.

> Last updated on January 13, 2016<





   Throughout Europe, the late 17th and 18th centuries were a golden age for comic drama, and France stood out with one of the greatest playwrights in history, Molière, as well as a large number of lesser known (though excellent) authors and plays. In those days, theater was the main social and cultural activity of the higher strata of society, a favorite pastime indulged not only in official playhouses, but in the fairgrounds and in private residences as well. Therefore, people then tended to envision theater in its performative dimension at least as much as a literary genre, and today we can really only understand plays from this period through performance, by studying the conditions in which they were staged, by seeing them staged or, better yet, by performing them ourselves

Course goals

   In this course, students take on a part in a production of a French comedic stage play of the 18th century, and perform it on stage. In so doing they not only improve their public speaking skills in French, but they also learn more about Early Modern French drama, and about comedy as both a literary and performative genre.

Course objectives

In this course, students will
• take on and rehearse a part in a French comedic play of the 18th century (TBD), then possibly perform in a live show;
• learn and practice public speaking techniques and strategies (diction, tempo, breathing, posture);
• briefly review the history of French Early Modern drama;
• read other plays of the period in order to become familiar with the features of "classical" comedy (character types, plot structure, etc.);
• practice their close reading skills;

reflect on their rehearsal work and on their learning about 18th-century French drama.

Teaching methodology

   This course requires the active participation of students since most of class time is devoted to rehearsing a stage play. The teacher will provide constant suggestions and feedback on acting techniques as well as on French diction. At the end of the semester, the class may live performances in which everyone will take on a part (length of time on stage may vary). The methodology is definitely "learning by doing."
  Although the nature of the work is essentially performative, students need to prepare for class by learning lines and rehearsing on their own.
  Part of the class involves a close reading of the play to be performed in order to clarify unknown or obscure vocabulary, but also allusions and references in the text.
  Students will also reflect on the work being done through complementary readings of other notable Early Modern French comedies, and engage in a continuing conversation using BlackBoard's Discussion Board feature.

Attendance and Punctuality

  Every student is expected to be present for every class and arrive on time (repeated tardiness will be penalized). If an absence is anticipated, the instructor must be notified beforehand by e-mail or by phone (ext. 5852).
   An absence may be "excused" if it was caused by an unforeseen event or accident that made it impossible or extremely difficult for a student to attend class, and which can be documented. If you feel sick enough to miss class, then you should also seek medical attention and obtain a certificate from the health care provider who treated you. If you suffer from a chronic mental or physical condition that occasionally flares up to the point of incapacitating you, you need to be registered with the University health services in order to be granted accommodations.
   A student who was absent (justifiably or not) remains responsible for finding out what was done or assigned during the missed class(es), and for turning in assignments on time. Unjustified absences will result in a reduction of the portion of the final grade allotted to "Presence, Preparedness and Participation."
   You must come to class prepared by having completed readings and other assignments as indicated by the instructor, in an appropriate manner (see the "Total Commitment Policy"). Manifest lack of adequate preparation will result in a reduction of the portion of the final grade allotted to "Presence, Preparedness and Participation."


Participants need to have completed the "Advanced French" sequence in the Georgetown curriculum (or its equivalent), or be able to demonstrate a level of French speaking and listening proficiency congruent with the course objectives. Contact Dr. Spielmann at if you are not sure that you qualify.

Honor system

  All aspects of this class fall under Georgetown University's honor system. If you are not thoroughly familiar with its provisions, please review them at A point of particular concern is using source material appropriately and avoding plagiarism : "Plagiarism, in any of its forms, and whether intentional or unintentional, violates standards of academic integrity. Plagiarism is the act of passing off as one’s own the ideas or writings of another (…). While different academic disciplines have different modes for attributing credit, all recognize and value the contributions of individuals to the general corpus of knowledge and expertise. Students are responsible for educating themselves as to the proper mode of attributing credit in any course or field. (…) Note that plagiarism can be said to have occurred without any affirmative showing that a student’s use of another’s work was intentional.





  By the end of the semester, all students will have

• rehearsed and performed a part in an 18th-century French comedy;
• worked systematically on their vocal delivery (pronunciation, intonation, rythm, tempo)
• become acquainted with the history of French Early Modern comic drama, and a variety of comedic texts from the period
• reflected on the nature of "classical" comedy;
• expressed their reflections in writing and in French.


• Presence, Preparedness and Participation: 40%.
• Discussion board messages (at least 500 words per week, in one or several messages): 30%
• Live performance in the play: 30%


Dramatic Texts to be read (and, for one of them) performed (available on BlackBoard)
- Charles Rivière Dufresny, L'Esprit de contradiction (Théâtre-Français, 1700)
- Alain-René Lesage, Arlequin roi de Sérendib (Foire, 1715)
- Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux, L'Île des esclaves (Théâtre-Italien, 1725) et La Dispute (1744).
- [Alexandre Salley], Le Bon-homme Cassandre aux Indes
(En société, vers 1730)
- Louis Carrogis, dit Carmontelle A bon chat, bon rat (En société, vers 1750, pub. 1768-1771)
- Beaumarchais, Le Barbier de Séville (Théâtre-Français, 1774).
Complementary Critical Work (available at Lauinger Library)
- David Trott, Théâtre du XVIIIe siècle. Jeux, écritures, regards. Essai sur les spectacles en France de 1700 à 1789. Montpellier, éditions. Espaces 34, 2000.


   For greater authenticity, we will only use materials originally produced for a French speaking public: Only purely administrative matters (such as this syllabus) will be handled in English. In all other circumstances, including discussion and critique of your work in class or during office hours, French will be used exclusively orally and in writing, by you and by the instructor. You will never be asked (with rare, very precise exceptions) to translate anything, nor are you expected to use translation ever as a means to accomplish your work in this class. NO BILINGUAL DICTIONARIES ARE ALLOWED IN CLASS. Use of a monolingual dictionary is strongly encouraged, however.

Attitude and Behavior
  This is a class held in a university classroom. It is not a meeting of a book club at a local library branch; it is not a game in a stadium or a workout at the gym; it is not a get together at someone's home or a pajama party in your dorm room; it is not a luau at the beach. Please dress and behave accordingly!
- No eating or snacking during class (drinking is OK)
- Cell phones, smartphones and other mobile communication devices must me turned off and stored away in a pocket or a bag (except for emergency situations, with prior notification to the instructor)
- No wearing of gym shorts, flip flops, exercise/sport gear, pajamas, lounge wear, grass skirts, etc.
- No chit-chat unrelated to class matters
- Use of computers is class is strictly limited to working on relevant tasks matters. Anyone found using a computer in class for anything else (checking e-mail, Facebook status, stock prices, playing games) will be issued a warning the first time, and, the second time, banned from using a computer in class altogether for the rest of the term.

Preparation and Participation
   You must prepare for class by going over assigned material, and by formulating questions, remarks and comments for class discussion. Each hour spent in class should be matched by about 45 minutes of preparation before class, and another 45 minutes of follow-up work afterwards. Every evening, review what was done in class that day to verify that you understand it; if necessary, use books and on-line resources for clarification. Bring up unresolved items in class, or discuss them with your instructor during office hours.
  Each and every student is expected to participate in every class, not only by responding to prompts and questions by the instructor (or to other students' comments), but also by volunteering comments and questions without being prompted (see also the "Total Commitment Policy").

  Deadlines indicate the absolute last day and time when assignments should be turned in. The cut-off time is the end of class on the day of the deadline, whether you bring in a hard copy of your paper or e-mail it to me. It is not advisable to start working on an assignment on the day it is due. Give yourself enough time to allow for unforeseen delays or problems (printer running out of ink, e-mail bugs, network access down, etc), which cannot be used as excuses for not meeting a deadline. Acceptable excuses are acts of God, system-wide server outages and documented medical emergencies.