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Durham University

School of Modern Languages & Cultures

Events in Modern Languages & Cultures

IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - Professor Jan Clarke (Dept of French, Durham University): 'Stage Lighting as Spectacle in 17th-century France'

18th February 2014, 17:30, Birley Room, Hatfield College, Durham University

All authors and designers of baroque operas and machine plays tried to dazzle their spectators, not only by the sumptuousness of their costumes, decors and stage machinery, but also, in a certain sense, literally. The clouds that carried divine characters down to earth were always ‘blazing, the palaces were ‘brilliant’, encrusted with crystals and precious stones that ‘dazzled’ the eyes… Horror effects, for their part, frequently called for the use of fire: the Python projected flames from its eyes and mouth, chariots were destroyed by bolts of lightning, palaces and pastoral perspectives burned, and innumerable Furies danced with their flaming torches. The spectators’ taste for such effects is confirmed by the fact that many were imitated on the comic stages: at the Comédie-Italienne, in the puppet theatres or the fairgrounds. All this implies a technological sophistication that is rarely attributed to the seventeenth-century public stage. In this lecture Professor Jan Clarke will explore the use of lighting effects on all the major Parisian stages in the latter half of the seventeenth-century, showing not only to what extent such effects were integral to the conception of spectacle at this time, but also attempting to explain how some of them may have been created. The actors were afraid of fire, with good justification: the Marais and Palais-Royal theatres both went up in flames and it is no coincidence that so few baroque playhouses remain. There is, therefore, no better proof of the power exerted by lighting effects over the popular imagination that all troupes were prepared to employ them in venues where everything was made of highly inflammable materials and where the fire buckets stood always ready.

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