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N.2/2021 Filosofia e generi letterari nel XVIII secolo

Di popolo, di maschere e di virtù. Il teatro di Louis-Sébastien Mercier

Caterina Piccione

Published in December, 2021

Of people, masks and virtue. The Theatre of Louis-Sébastien Mercier.

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The combination of different literary genres is a leitmotiv of Mer- cier’s works, in which the ideas of Enlightenment come together with a pre-romantic sensibility. In particular, his plays, as well as his treatise on theatre, outline a new literary genre: the “drame”. Mercier aims at reforming theatre in order to address it to the largest number of people and to put on stage the people themselves. In his “drame”, the author often describes histories of ordinary day life where characters are considered in their social condition, with a special attention to lower classes and their unfair situation. Standing out from a prescriptive morality, Mercier’s “drame” shows several episodes of inequity and exemplary behaviors as examples of applied ethics, in the conviction that impressions and sentiments can inspire people more than any moral commandment. Even when characters are famous men, they are primarily painted by Mercier in their human qualities, in their lights and shadows; that’s why it seems contradictory the author’s suggestion of reintroducing theatrical masks. Actually, this proposition (that is probably Mercier’s best-known thesis about theatre) is provocative and has to be contextualized in the complexity of his theatrical view. To understand how Mercier puts into practice this view, it can be useful a close reading of two plays, La Brouette du vinaigrier and Montesquieu à Marseille.


Louis-Sébastien Mercier; Popular Theatre; Drame bourgeois; Theatrical mask; Enlightenment; Moral philosophy.



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