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Culture Wars: Early Modern French Theater
and Contemporary American Culture
in the General Education Classroom

Diane Duffrin Kelley


1. Connections courses are meant to "to develop an understanding of the interrelationship of fields of knowledge" and are "to be taken after completion of all other university core requirements, in the junior or senior year." See

2. For example, DeJean writes, "No sooner are they created than our latest 'popular' trends are brought into the university by our neo-Moderns" (29).

3. For other recent publications on the role of technology in American culture, see Carr, The Shallows, Bauerlein, Brockman, Powers, and Vaidhyanathan.

4. A useful work to provide a counterpoint to Bloom's claims is Lawrence W. Levine's "Through the Looking Glass" in The Opening of the American Mind, particularly pages 3–15 and 31–33.

5. By "intertext," I mean the cultural, historical, and literary references within a primary text that connote additional meanings and enrich the value of the plot. Intertexts for Angels in America that I ask students to research include the following: the discovery of HIV, Roy Cohn, Revelation (Bible), Sunset Boulevard (1950 film), Reaganomics, Mormonism, Ethel Rosenberg, Millennium and/or Apocalypse (Bible), Lazarus (Bible), the score to the HBO Film, Tiresias, Bolsheviks, Ravens (as symbol), John Brown, Perestroika, Joseph McCarthy, Lillian Hellman, Jacob (Bible), Jonah (Bible), Anomie, Dybbuk / Kaddish, Sheba / Come back, Little Sheba, Bethesda, Walter Benjamin, Jean Cocteau and his film Beauty and the Beast (on this last intertext, compare Act I scene 7 in "Millennium Approaches" [in Part 1 Chapter 1 of the film] to this scene in Cocteau’s film:

6. In addition to images of paintings, architecture and interior design, secondary sources include Apostolidès, Bénichou, Murray, Greenburg, Berlanstein, and Mittman.

7. We read the five plays from Fowlie’s collection, Five Classic French Plays, which includes The Cid, Phaedra, The Intellectual Ladies, The Game of Love and Chance, and The Barber of Seville as well as Graffigny’s Cenia and Olympe de Gouge’s Black Slavery, or the Happy Shipwreck.

8. This website by Christa Williford, entitled "Playhouses of Seventeenth-Century Paris" includes excellent historical information as well as three-dimensional mock-ups of the primary seventeenth-century Parisian playhouses.

9. See Greuze paintings such as "Betrothal in the Village" and "The Punished Son" at

10. If technology continues to inform class conversations, a visit to the library to examine the planches that illustrate the Encyclopedia can inform a discussion of science and technological advances.

11. The relevant section begins, "No theater is permitted in Geneva." Rousseau’s response is available in a translation by none other than Allan Bloom, entitled Politics and the Arts: Letter to M. d'Alembert on the Theater. By Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This book also contains relevant excerpts from the "Geneva" article as an appendix.

12. A good e-reference is Gregory S. Brown’s Field of Honor: Writers, Court Culture and Public Theater in French Literary Life from Racine to the Revolution.


Apostolidès, Jean-Marie. "1661: From Roi Soleil to Louis Le Grand."  A New History of French Literature. Ed Denis Hollier. Cambridge, MA:  Harvard UP, 1989. 314–20. Print.

Bauerlein, Mark. The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Ages Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes our Future (or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30). New York: Tarcher / Penguin, 2009. Print.

Bénichou, Paul. Selection from "The Hero in Corneille." Man and Ethics. Trans. Elizabeth Hughes. Garden City, NY:  Anchor Books, 1971. 1–8. Print.

Berlanstein, Lenard R. "Women and Power in Eighteenth-Century France: Actresses at the Comédie Française." Feminist Studies 20.3 (Fall 1994): 475–506. Print.

Berman, Morris. "Liquid Modernity." Dark Ages America: The Final Age of Empire. New York: W.W. Norton, 15–47. Print.

Bloom, Allan. Introduction: Our Virtue. The Closing of the American Mind. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987. 25–43. Print.

Brockman, John, Ed. Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think? The Net’s Impact on our Mind and Future. New York:  Harper Perennial, 2011. Print.

Brown, Gregory S. Field of Honor: Writers, Court Culture and Public Theater in French Literary Life from Racine to the Revolution. New York: Columbia UP, 2002. Project Gutenberg. Web. 8 September 2008.

Carr, Nicholas. “Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.” The Atlantic (July/August 2008). Web. 1 September 2008.

---. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2011. Print.

DeJean, Joan. Ancients against Moderns: Culture Wars and the Making of a Fin de Siècle. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1997. Print.

The Encyclopedia of Diderot and d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Web. 31 May 2011.

EPC: electronic poetry centre. Web. 31 May 2011.

Five Classic French Plays. Ed. and Trans. Wallace Fowlie. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1997. Print.

Gouges, Olympe de. Black Slavery, or the Happy Shipwreck. Translating Slavery: Gender and Race in French Women’s Writing, 1783–1823. Ed. Doris Y. Kadish and Françoise Massardier-Kenney. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1994. 84–119. Print.

---. Declaration of the Rights of Woman (1791). Web. 31 May 2011.

Graffigny, Françoise d'Issembourg d'Happoncourt de. Cénia (1750). The Lunatic Lover and Other plays by French Women of the 17th and 18th Centuries. Ed. Perry Gethner. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1994. 283–330. Print.

Greenburg, Mitchell. "1637: Toward French Classical Tragedy." A New History of French Literature. Ed Denis Hollier. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1989. 273–78. Print.

Hunter, James Davison. "The Enduring Culture War." Is There a Culture War? Dialogue on Values and American Public Life. Ed. James Davison Hunter and Alan Wolfe. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2006. 10–40. Print.

Kant, Immanuel. “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment? (1784).” Web. 31 May 2011.

Levine, Lawrence W. "Through the Looking Glass." The Opening of the American Mind. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996. 3–15 and 31–33. Print.

Mittman, Barbara. "Women and the Theater Arts." French Women and the Age of Enlightenment. Ed. Samia Spencer. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 155–69. Print.

Murray, Timothy. "1634, 13 March: The Académie Française." A New History of French Literature. Ed. Denis Hollier. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1989. 267–73.

Playhouses of 17th–Century Paris. Web. 31 May 2011.

Powers, William. Hamlet’s BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age. New York: Harper, 2010.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Selections from "Letter to d’Alembert on the Theater" (1758). Politics and the Theater Arts. Trans. Allan Bloom. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1960. 9–27 and 47–57. Print.

Sontag, Susan. "The Way We Live Now." The New Yorker (November 24, 1986): 42–51. Print.

Vaidhyanathan, Siva. The Googlization of Everything (and Why We Should Worry). Berkeley: U of California P, 2011. Print.

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