Dramatic Point of View. L’École des femmes and Le Misanthrope
The architecture of seventeenth-century French plays has always been a source of personal fascination. In this essay I propose to consider one aspect of that complex organization, specifically how the author may inscribe a point of view in the play. What I will argue is that certain plays are grounded or centered in one character to such a degree that the audience perceives the dramatic universe from the perspective of that character. One will immediately object that a play does not have a POV because it does not have a narrator, because it is mimetic. Indeed, except for rare cases (e.g., Corneille’s Illusion comique), there is no narrator and only indirect signs of an implied author (in a preface or the stage directions). Every character who speaks may be understood to voice his or her own point of view. Yet certain plays, through their very construction as well as by other means, favor one character and his or her perspective over the others. Consider two extreme cases that also happen to be two of the most important plays of the period: Phèdre and Tartuffe. The former is the quintessential POV play: Racine ensures that we experience the world on stage through Phèdre. In the case of Tartuffe, the opposite is true: we do not have access to any interiority that would lead us to see the world through his eyes.
Ekstein, N. (2014). Dramatic point of view. L’École des femmes and Le Misanthrope. Papers on French Seventeenth-Century Literature, 41, 315-341.
Papers on French Seventeenth-Century Literature