National Theaters across the Channel: Paris/London, 1660-1793

May 2018

Paris and London were the most influential cities producing and mediating performing arts culture in eighteenth-century Europe. That period witnessed theaters emerging as prominent cultural institutions and playing a pivotal role in the formation of national artistic identities. Both London’s patent theatres and the Comédie-Française in Paris were part of a common cultural arena that offered new opportunities for entrepreneurial, artistic, and civic engagement. However, there exists no comprehensive study that compares these theaters’ economic models, political positioning, and artistic trends. Drawing on two recent digital databases – the London Stage Database and the Comédie-Française Registers Project – the seminar begins to fill this historiographical gap and to spark new interpretative debates about cultural connections across the Channel in early modernity. While the Comédie-Française Registers contain titles of plays, box office receipts, and details of expenses for 32,094 nights between 1680 and 1793, the London Stage includes the titles of plays, afterpieces, and musical works performed between 1660 and 1800, along with casting information and occasional financial data. Together, these databases form a unique archive: chronologically coincident sources that document the theatrical practices of two capital cities in the long eighteenth century. Examining them comparatively will offer precious insights into the tensions of the time, between the growth of transnational cultural exchanges and a concurrent drive to establish national repertories, as well as between an emerging theater industry and the political investment of culture.

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