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4 - Tragedy as History: From the Guisiade to Garnier

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2017

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Summary

Pierre Matthieu was certainly not the first to characterize the French Wars of Religion in terms of tragedy. The intersection between history and tragedy was a commonplace in French writing about the wars from all sides, and in many different genres. An anonymous 1562 “Advertissement à la Royne mere du Roy” complains to Catherine de Médicis about the treatment of the Huguenots, using a theatrical metaphor to warn the queen mother that she risks becoming the main character in the tragedy represented by a France at civil war:

Si vous ne vous esveillez de ce sommeil, il vous sera mortel, et dressez par vostre tollerance un Theatre en France pour y veoir de vos propres yeux jouer la plus lamentable tragedie, dont on ayt jamais faict mention, en laquelle Dieu veuille que vous ne soyez point le principal personnage …

Despite its somewhat garbled syntax, the meaning of this warning is clear enough: if she does not take action, the queen mother risks becoming the protagonist in a most lamentable tragedy, one that will play out in the theater of France before her very eyes. The metaphor was clearly considered a durable one: this same passage, with a few very minor changes, also appears in 1587 in a diplomatic communication from Henri de Navarre to Henri III. In his Remonstrance faicte en la grande chambre … sur la reduction de la ville de Paris (1594) the jurist Antoine Loisel laments the fate of “le peuple, aux despens duquel ceste tragedie se jouoyt.” Matthieu notes that he finished writing his Histoire des derniers troubles de France in a year that saw “des sanglantes tragedies, des monstrueuses rebellions, des meurdres, des assassinats … la France doit estre le Theatre où l'on representera des spectacles effroyables” (111v).

Type
Chapter
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Forgetting Differences
Tragedy, Historiography, and the French Wars of Religion
, pp. 104 - 140
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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