The Language of Courtship

  • Nicholas Grene


The topicality of comedy must always present a problem to those who try to study the theatre of the past. T wo alternatives seem available: either to hunt down remorselessly every allusion, re-building from fragments the lost design of local satire, or to ignore altogether the in-jokes of the period and concentrate on the general thematic structure of the play. Neither method is ideal; for the archaeological approach by focussing on the deadest part of the comedy makes it difficult to believe in its life, whereas the universalising and generalising tendency must sacrifice the particularity which is so often crucial to the comedy’s texture. Love’s Labour’s Lost and Les Précieuses Ridicules are interesting cases in point, for they have both been interpreted as satires of specific literary and intellectual coteries. Molière’s attack upon preciosity has been a traditional arguing-point. Who were Molière’s targets, would-be literary ladies or the distinguished leaders of the salons themselves — les precieuses vraies où fausses? 1 What sort of animus made Molière, recently arrived from the provinces, guy the most fashionable literary movement of the time? By comparison with speculations about Molière and the précieuses, the theories about topical satire in Love’s Labour’s Lost are not nearly so wide-ranging.


Comic Contract Dead Part Sexual Aspect Archaeological Approach Distinguished Leader 
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  1. 3.
    Antoine Adam, ‘La Genèse des Précieuses Ridicules’, Revue d’histoire de la philosophie et d’histoire generate de la civilisation (Lille 1939), 14–46. The weaknesses of Adam’s argument are well pointed out by Henri Cbttez in an article in the same journal, ‘Sur Molière et Mlle de Scudéry’ (1943), 340–64.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    A strong case based on the textual evidence has been made against the ‘school of night’ theory by E. A. Strathmann in ‘The Textual Evidence for “The School of Night” ’ Modern Language Notes 56 (1941), 176–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 5.
    M. C. Bradbrook, The School of Night (Cambridge 1936).Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    A. N. Kaul, The Action of English Comedy (New Haven 1970), see particularly chapters on Shakespeare, Fielding, and Jane Austen.Google Scholar
  5. 13.
    Bobbyann Roesen ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’, Shakespeare Quarterly 4 (1953), 411 – 26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Nicholas Grene 1980

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  • Nicholas Grene

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