Marriage and desire in seventeenth-century French comedy
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This thesis re-examines the role of marriage in the golden age of seventeenth-century French comedy. It reconsiders received wisdom on the subject to challenge acceptance of the final promise of marriage as a dénouement complet to comedy. Through an analysis of the themes of discontent, cuckoldry, fertility, non-heteronormative desire and widowhood, it offers an alternative view of what comedy can encompass. Close reading of works by Molière, Quinault, (Thomas) Corneille, (Françoise) Pascal, Ulrich and de Visé establishes that comedy can be both enjoyable and satisfying while incorporating elements that conflict with the marriage ideal. This thesis does not attempt to provide a full socio-historical reading of seventeenth-century attitudes to marriage, although an understanding of contemporary attitudes provides a starting point for close textual analysis. Critical theories, notably gender theory, are used where appropriate to further clarify the role of marriage in comedy. Chapter One presents and problematizes the framework of marriage as the structuring principle of comedy, drawing on themes of compatibility, discontent and desire. The second chapter focuses on anxiety regarding cuckoldry in comedy, relating it to the promise of marriage. An analysis of the desires of older characters in projected comedic marriages, particularly as these desires relate to fertility, is the guiding principle of Chapter Three, which also sets out essential terms of reference for the fourth chapter on widowhood and queer desire. The thesis demonstrates that rather than constituting a satisfying and happy ending, a constant challenge is posed to the promise of marriage by on-stage marriages, fears of cuckoldry, widowhood, and ‘inappropriate’ or queer desires. I propose a more nuanced reading, showing that comedy can be fully satisfying and structurally complete without a final promise of marriage, and that, rather, comedy can incorporate significant elements that appear antithetical to the ideal of marriage typically associated with the genre.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2020-05-22
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Print and electronic copy restricted until 22nd May 2020