Alexis Piron’s Gustave (later renamed Gustave-Wasa), while relatively unknown to theatre professionals and scholars of dramatic literature today, was a resounding success when it appeared at the Comédie-Française in 1733. Derek Connon, arguably the world’s leading expert on Piron, gives readers today a fresh look at this tragic tale about the political foundations of modern Sweden — a deceptively popular work that enjoyed over 119 performances before 1791, when it slipped into obscurity. With clear prose and fine attention to historical accuracy, Connon provides a comprehensive analysis of Gustave-Wasa, an ‘exotic’ and ‘complicated’ (p. 4) play by an author known more for his bawdy poetry (‘Ode à Priape’), satirical comedies (La Métromanie), and public spats with more illustrious personalities (Voltaire, Marivaux) than for his serious drama. Connon’s edition is written in French and organized into several parts: an Introduction; a commentary on the existing editions; a complete version of Gustave-Wasa with variants in the form of footnotes; several appendices of previously unpublished texts about the tragedy; and a comprehensive bibliography of past and recent scholarship on the play. Connon’s Introduction places Gustave-Wasa in the context of Piron’s career, and provides a close examination of the differences between Piron’s tragedy and the historical sources that informed his narrative. Of particular note is Connon’s tight analysis of Piron’s Gustave — a far more humane and emotional leader compared to historians’ depictions of Gustav Eriksson Vasa, who defeated Christian II of Denmark and the Kalmar Union to win the crown of Sweden in 1523. Connon’s edition also includes a succinct discussion of the variants to the play-text, from its first edition in 1733 to the most recent version of Gustave-Wasa (1928). Differing from several plays that have been revived recently in the MHRA Phoenix or Critical Texts series, Connon does not present the first edition to readers as his main text; rather, he reprints ‘celle qui représente les dernières pensées de Piron’ (p. 42), the ‘definitive’ version that was included in the author’s Œuvres complètes (1758). Overall, Connon’s volume is an erudite and welcome supplement to existing studies on Piron, an author who is slowly gaining recognition among scholars of eighteenth-century French theatre. Those readers who are unacquainted with the dramatist would need more background on his dramaturgy and poetic innovation in order to appreciate fully the Introduction. For example, Connon is correct to assimilate the tragedy into the emotional schemes and dramaturgical strategies that ‘nous trouvons partout dans le théâtre de Piron’ (p. 17); however, more examples from other works by Piron would help illustrate ‘le célèbre esprit pironien’ (p. 22). Novice pironistes should turn to Connon’s other works on the dramatist, which include a monograph, Identity and Transformation in the Plays of Alexis Piron (Oxford: Legenda, 2007), many scholarly articles, and critical editions of Piron’s comedies, L’Antre de Trophonius (London: MHRA, 2011) and Le Fâcheux Veuvage (Liverpool: University of Liverpool, 2008). All in all, confirmed students and scholars of Piron and of French theatre from the eighteenth century will enjoy Connon’s rigorous scholarship and lucid unpacking of this popular tragedy of the early French Enlightenment. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for French Studies. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
French Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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