French Theatre Stages in the 1600s

Written by martha mendenhall
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French Theatre Stages in the 1600s
French theatres in the 1600s offered seating in galleries and standing room before the stage. (Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

French theatre reached a major turning point in the 17th century, producing the world-renowned playwrights Moliere, Racine and Corneille. This era's theatres were also known for their sumptuous productions, using elaborate scenery and costumes. The most famous stages of the 1600s in France were the Hotel de Bourgogne, the Theatre du Marais, the Palais Royal and La Comedie Francaise, all located in Paris.

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Hotel de Bourgogne

Constructed on the site of the residence of and named for Duke of Burgundy in 1548, the theatre was built to present the only public theatrical performances in Paris. This theatre's stage was small and dominated by the large, movable sets that accompanied the action. With no permanently affixed seating, the space offered standing room on the floor before the stage or in the galleries that lined the theatre's walls. The Hotel de Bourgogne became home to Les Comedians du Roi in 1610. This company, in service to the King, was Paris' first permanent theatre company and performed successfully in this theatre until their merger with the Comedie Francaise in 1680.

Theatre du Marais

This stage was created in 1634 by converting a tennis court, a common conversion of the period, since tennis courts offered the tall ceilings and large open space needed to create the appropriate areas for stage and audience. The converted playing space was very popular with Parisians of the day, since it was located in one of Paris' trendiest and most fashionable areas. The original tennis-court conversion burnt down in 1644, and the Theatre du Marais was rebuilt to great success, offering shows that rivalled those at the Hotel de Bourgogne.

Palais Royal

While both the Hotel de Bourgogne and the Theatre du Marais offered public performances, the Palais Royal began its stage life in 1641 as a private theatre in the home of Cardinal Richelieu, called the Palais Cardinal. The theatre was renamed the Palais Royal when it fell into the hands of the royal house upon the Cardinal's death. This space is significant for its proscenium stage, built specifically for theatrical performance rather than having been a converted property. Once subsumed into the King's holdings, the Palais Royal was used for performances specifically for His Majesty, until Moliere and his company were granted permission by the king in 1660 to use the space as their home theatre. Moliere's company opened the space up to public performance and remained in residence until Moliere's death in 1673.

La Comedie Francaise

This most famous French theatre company began its life with the merger of Moliere's company and those originally of the Hotel de Bourgogne and Theatre du Marais between 1673 and 1680. The newly merged company began its performance life on the stage at the Hotel du Guenegaud (a converted tennis court), but transferred to the stage built specifically for the company, La Comedie Francaise, in 1689. This playing space was also a converted tennis court, but had a stage design that gave the theatre a horseshoe shape, with the audience area rounded, so that all seats actually faced the stage. La Comedie Francaise still operates (though in a different building) today and is known as the National Theatre of France.

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