Nov 8th, 2018, 04:00 PM

17th Century Classics Never Get Old

By Shadi Ayoubi
Palais Garnier, L'Opéra National de Paris. Image Credits: Flickr/Fougerouse Arnaud
The best dramas you’ll ever see.

Paris is a city where art shines, including the theatre. Yet plays are becoming more and more underrated. Some pillars of French theatre are the 17th-century plays, such as Molière’s L’Avare, Pierre Corneille’s Le Cid, and Jean Racine's Phèdre. These plays range from comedies to tragicomedies, farces to tragedies. Throughout Paris, the plays are available for viewing. Most are shown three to four times a week, depending on the theater, and student prices are available.

The good thing about theatre is that you don't always have to understand everything that is said. The facial expressions and physical acts the actors perform allow for a non-native French speaker to enjoy the play as much as any Parisian would. An example of this is Molière's L'Avare, which never fails to make the audience laugh. The play's protagonist, Harpagon, is responsible for most of the giggles of the audience through his display of his greed, tyranny, and ego. Le Misanthrope, which is regarded as one of Molière’s masterpieces, has gained popularity in recent times. When it was produced in 1666, the play was considered a flop. Now the main character, Alceste, entertains the audience by attempting to seduce a young woman named Célimène.


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You can check out Molière’s plays at Théâtre le Ranelagh, except Le Tartuffe, which you can see at Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin. Le Tartuffe, also known as The Imposter, is one of Moliere’s biggest plays. It took 18 months to write a new version, as the first one was censored by Paris’s archbishop. The newer version has been a great success. The playwright places us in the home of a peaceful and honest family who are suddenly confronted by the presence of a stranger. He fakes being religious and fools them one by one.

Another great French dramatist is Pierre Corneille, whose plays you can also see in the theater. His plays defied the classical rules of Drama and paved the way for a new era of creativity. In his most famous piece, Le Cid, Corneille portrays the relationship of Rodrigue and Chimène, which is affected by Don Diègue. The relationships between this group of people highlight the idea of choosing between different morals. Every year, from June until the end of October, the Théâtre du Nord-Ouest hosts a "Corneille" Festival, in which they put on all of his plays.


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If tragedy is more your style, you can go to Laurette Théâtre to see Jean Racine's Phèdre, or his play Britannicus at La Comédie Française, which is the "oldest active theatre company in the world." The theatre has two thousand seats and has its own troupe, made up of a band, singers, actors and other performers. His most famous play, Phèdre, is about the second wife of Thésée, the king of Athens, who falls in love with her step-son, Hippolyte. Inspired by Greek tragedies, the protagonist finds herself having to deal with the consequences of her actions.

These plays are a founding base of French literature and theatre. If you are looking to improve your French, watch some of the best actors in the world, and want some different Friday-night entertainment, you should check these plays out.