Conversation and Performance in Seventeenth-Century French Salon Culture
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AbstractThis work focuses on social and artistic performance in seventeenth-century French salons, and the representation of this aristocratic culture through performance. It seeks to understand how polite amateurs regarded professional performers, and vice versa. I use the study of performance to reveal distinctive constraints and liberties of early modern aristocratic culture, to identify and compare its aesthetic and moral values, to uncover forgotten practices specific to the salon, and to elucidate the rapport between the sexes in this social setting. Finally, I consider the salon as a subject of dramatic representation in order to interrogate the distinctions and reflections between aristocratic performance and professional performance in the seventeenth century. The art of conversation practiced in the salon was a performance that hid itself between interlocutors under a guise of refined "naturalness." It was integral to aristocratic culture, as were the polite arts of singing, poetic recitation, acting, voiced reading, and impersonation. However, all of these performances presented certain risks for salonniers, for through them the performer could possibly appear affected, duplicitous, immodest, undignified, or malicious, the same vices commonly attributed to lowly stage performers. My study proposes answers to the following two questions: How did salonniers endeavor to reconcile performance artistry with the aristocratic ideals of naturalness and civility? How did salon performance practices in turn influence stage practice, notably the staging of salon conversation?