The Politics of the Poetics: Aristotle and Drama Theory in 17th Century France [Book Review]

Foundations of Science 13 (3-4):325-336 (2008)
Since the Renaissance, dramatic theory has been strongly influenced, sometimes even dominated by Aristotle’s Poetics. Aristotle’s concept of tragedy has been perceived as both a descriptive and a normative concept: a description of a practice as it should be continued. This biased reading of ancient theory is not exceptional, but in the case of Aristotle’s Poetics, a particular question can be raised. Aristotle has written about tragedy, at a moment that tragedy had no meaningful political or civic function anymore. As political theory—e.g. as developed in the Politics and the Art of Rhetoric—should contain the risks of transgression in political practice, so poetic theory can contain the risks of the representation of transgressions in poetic practices such as the performance of tragedy. Apart from an account on Aristotle’s Poetics as a integral part of his ethical and political theory, this article argues the (mis)readings of Aristotelian dramatic theory since the Renaissance, and especially in 17th century France are not coincidental. Aristotle’s theory itself fits neatly into a political-theoretical framework or, if one puts it more brutally, an ideology. The particular theatricality of French absolutism took clearly its advantage from this ideological (mis)readings of Aristotle
Keywords Greek tragedy  French tragedy  Aristotle  Pierre Corneille  Aesthetics  Performing arts  Theatre theory  Cultural studies
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