FREN 267 Theater Workshop:
Nineteenth Century Comedy

Cours-Atelier de Théâtre: la comédie du XIXe siècle


TR 3:30-4:45

Office hours: ICC 427 or Reynolds 145
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 Jan. 11, 2017<





   The radical change to French society brought about by the Revolution (1789-1804) also had a significant impact on the practice of drama. Although censorship, which had been briefly lifted, was soon resinstated, which made it impossible to treat certain themes, most of the constraining rules for writing plays disappeared. Tragedy, the genre that served as a standard and ideal for playwrights for over two hundred years, was definitively abandoned, and the Romantics, starting in the 1830s, popularized the previously taboo principle that serious and comic strains could be combined in the same play. The surge in "popular" drama catering to the middle and lower classes, also contributed to changing the very nature of theater, which stood unchallenged as the primary form of entertainment until the end of the century (cinema was invented in the late 1890s).
Whereas literary studies tend to envision the
nineteenth century French stage as dominated first by the Romantics (Hugo, Musset, Vigny) in the 1830s and 1840s, at its opposite, by the realistic Drame bourgeois of Alexandre Dumas fils, Émile Augier, Henri Becque and Octave Mirbeau in the second half of the century, the most numerous and successful plays belonged to the genre of Vaudeville (a hybrid form with both spoken and sung lines) and Mélodrame (which focuses on heart-wrenching situations and the stark opposition of Good and Evil), with authors like Scribe, Labiche, Feydeau, Courteline and Pixérécourt. 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
nineteenth century. In so doing they not only improve their skills in spoken French (pronunciation, intonation, rythm), but they also learn more about French drama, and about comedy as both a literary and performative genre. With its post-Revolutionary focus, this course also provides an opportunity to review some important aspects of French history in the nineteenth century.

Course objectives

In this course, students will
• take on and rehearse a part in a nineteenth-century French comedy (TBD based on the number of participants), then possibly perform in a live show;
• practice their close reading skills;
• learn and practice public speaking techniques and strategies (diction, tempo, breathing, posture);
• expand their knowledge of comic drama;
• read other plays of the period in order to become familiar with the features of
nineteenth-century French comedy and melodrama (character types, plot structure, etc.);
• reflect on their rehearsal work and on their learning about 19th-century French drama.

Teaching methodology

   This course requires the active participation of students since most of class time is devoted to doing exercises and 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).
  Although the nature of the work in this course is essentially performative and collaborative, students need to prepare for class by practicing their lines on their own and memorizing them.
  The initial phase of the class involves a close reading of the play 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
nineteenth-century 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 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 (or be completing concurrently) the "Advanced French" sequence in the Georgetown curriculum (101-102 or 111-112 or their 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 a French comedy (TBD) from the nineteenth century;
• done a close reading of the play text and learned a set of strategies for clarifying the meaning of such a text;
• become acquainted with the history of modern comic drama, especially in France;
• become acquainted with a variety of French comedic texts from the period;
• reflected on the nature of "classical" comedy;
• expressed their reflections in writing and in French.


• Presence, Preparedness and Participation: 55%.
• Discussion board messages (at least 500 words per week, in one or several messages): 25%
• Final performance (public or not): 20%



Dramatic Text to be performed (printable version available on BlackBoard)
- To Be Determined
Dramatic texts to be read (required)
- Musset, Fantasio (1833) - Text at <>
- Halévy et Duport, Carte Blanche (1839)(on BlackBoard)
- Labiche, La Poudre aux yeux (1861)(on BlackBoard) - Video also available on BB
- Feydeau, Tailleur pour dames (1886) - Text at <>
Video also available on YouTube <>

Other dramatic texts (optional readings)(on BlackBoard)
- Pixérécourt, Cœlina, ou l'enfant du Mystère (mélodrame, 1800)
- Scribe et Delestre-Poirson, L'Auberge, ou Les brigands sans le savoir (1830)
- Labiche et Martin, Le voyage de Monsieur Perrichon (1860)
- Courteline, Boubouroche (1893)
- Feydeau, Le Dindon (1896)

Required background readings
- Fernande Bassan, «La Comédie de boulevard au XIXe siècle », CAIEF no 43 (1991) (on BlackBoard)
« Le Théâtre du XIXe siècle », site Théâtrons <>

Other background readings
- Anthologie du mélodrame classique, éds. Peter Brooks et Myriam Faten Sfar, Paris, Classiques Garnier, coll. «Bibliothèque du XIXe siècle», 2011.
- Gérard Gengembre, Le Théâtre français du XIXe siècle, Paris, Armand Colin, 1999.
- Hélène Laplace-Claverie, Sylvain Ledda, Florence Naugrette (dir.), Le Théâtre français du XIXe siècle : Histoire, textes choisis, mises en scène, Paris, L'Anthologie de L'avant-scène théâtre, 2008.
- Jean-Claude Yon, Eugène Scribe, la fortune et la liberté, Saint-Genouph, Librairie Nizet, 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 unrelated to class work 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. However, since we will be doing exercises that involve moving around, it is advisable to wear comfortable clothes, esp. shoes (no high heels!).
- No chit-chat unrelated to class matters, please!
- Use of computers and tablets is class is strictly limited to working on relevant tasks matters. Anyone caught using a computer/tablet 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 the device 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 the work, e-mail it to me or post it on a discussion board. 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.