Siege of Toulon Update 2: Toulon In Theater

Continuing my project on theater and politics in revolutionary France (abstract) (update 1) I read and analyzed two works written in 1794 shortly after the republican victory over royalist forces in Toulon: La prise de Toulon, drame héroïque et historique by Pellet Desbarreaux (you can read the script here), and La prise de Toulon par les français, by B. D’Antilly (here on Gallica). Whereas Desbarreaux’s work is a 3-act play in prose and comparatively short, D’Antilly’s is a 3-act opera composed of prose, verse, and songs. Although I’ve spent the past couple days on secondary sources and plan to do more research on the context of the plays, I’ll focus on the text itself in this post!

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Siege of Toulon Update 1: Records of the Convention Nationale

As the first stage of my project in examining representations of the 1793 siege of Toulon (abstract) I made use of the records of the National Convention’s proceedings to gain an idea of how the siege was described in contemporary political discourse. Since an overwhelming amount of records mention Toulon during this time, I had already decided to limit my readings to documents mentioning Toulon from December 1793, the month in which the siege ended and the republican forces were victorious. That way, I was able to read documents from the end of the siege period as well as the beginnings of the victory’s celebration and commemoration. (If anyone is interested, here is the database where I accessed these records!)

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Théâtre de Guerre: The 1793 Siege of Toulon in the Plays and Political Discourse of the French Revolution

Theater has been consistently used for political purposes, and it can be argued that power, and politics, is intrinsically spectacular in nature. The intersections between theater and politics were especially evident during the French Revolution: the newly-established representative democracy was characterized by its theatricality at the same time that new works of theater reflected political questions and were used to promote the Republic’s ideals. In this context, pièces de circonstance – plays based off of recent events – became widespread. The Revolution’s pièces de circonstance offer a unique source for examining how the spheres of politics and theater interacted at this time. To that effect, I will use as a case study the 1793 siege of Toulon, in which republican forces recaptured the city following a royalist uprising. The siege and ensuing victory were frequently referenced in political discourse, and also served as the subject matter for a profusion of contemporary plays and operas.

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