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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)

Event Archive

‘Openness and Dissimulation in Renaissance Political Tragedy: Pierre Matthieu’s La Guisiade (1589)’

26th January 2016, 17:30, Learning Centre, Palace Green Library, Dr Jonathan Patterson, University of Oxford

followed by a drinks reception at the Cafe, Palace Green Library.

This event is part of the IMEMS Openness and Secrecy seminar series for 2015/16.

Please note that places for this event will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. To book your place click here

Abstract: In 1589, the Catholic lawyer Pierre Matthieu wrote a furious tragedy entitled La Guisiade, during the final French War of Religion: a three-way struggle between moderate and hard-line Catholics, and Huguenots led by Henri de Navarre. La Guisiade is openly – blatantly – political in that it squarely blames the deeply unpopular king of France, Henri III, for the assassination of Henri de Guise, the charismatic leader of the uncompromising Catholic League storming its way to power. And yet, Matthieu is reluctant to vilify the monarch alone. As La Guisiade progresses, secretive, dissimulating counsellors are introduced to sway Henri III towards murder. The most intriguing is the mysterious personage 'N.N.' who stands for an indeterminate array of 'sorcerers, Machiavels, and heretics' supposedly poisoning the king's mind. My paper will focus on some of the wider literary and political issues at stake. Should we read La Guisiade as theatre and / or as political propaganda? If theatre, to what extent does it conform to Renaissance dramaturgical precepts requiring hiddenness and openness as part of the tragic machinery? And if we read the play as a piece of overt propaganda, who exactly does it target, besides the monarch?

Jonathan Patterson is a British Academy Post-doctoral Fellow at St Hugh’s College, Oxford. His research centres on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature and the ways in which it channels social, moral and economic preoccupations in early modern France. He has recently published a monograph entitled Representing Avarice in Late Renaissance France (Oxford University Press, 2015). This work, the first of its kind, traces how thinking about avarice (c.1540–1615) slowly evolved from past traditions to inform wider debates on gender, enrichment and status. Jonathan’s current British Academy research project explores the vocabulary and concepts surrounding villain figures in the French Renaissance. It traces the moral, social and legal dimensions of villainy across a range of Renaissance French genres: poetry, prose fictions, treatises, journals, life writings, and, ultimately, drama, with cross-overs to Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre. Jonathan has a strong interest in methodological reflection on the historical study of words and concepts. He is part of an emergent interdisciplinary network of scholars working on ‘Early Modern Keywords: A European Vocabulary of Culture and Society in a Global Frame’. Jonathan’s paper at IMEMS will relate to a forthcoming article to be published in French Studies (2016). 

Contact for more information about this event.