The Theatre of Illusion

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L'Illusion comique plays with the idea of theatre within the theatre and has many layers of representation:.

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The complex structure of the play, based on a mise en abyme and a play on appearances is designed to confuse the reader. The game of illusions is found in the Baroque idea that life is a theatre; and Corneille exploits this idea by mixing the real life of Clindor and the role that he plays.

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Disguise and changing identity are marks of the Baroque in this play. The grotto can also be interpreted as a metaphor for the theatre and its spectators. The linearity of the story is broken several times, and numerous digressions interrupt actions that overlap and are often incomplete. The principal story is interlaced with many subplots. The inconsistency of the plot is reinforced by the amorous inconsistency of the characters.

This instability is present again at the end when Pridamant and the reader cannot distinguish between reality and fiction. L'Illusion comique was written during a period of transition from the Baroque to the Classical , and it can be seen as both a homage to the Baroque theatre as well as a satire of the same. Although this piece is primarily Baroque, certain passages seem to follow the traditional lines of classical tragedy. In spite of the legerity of the plot concerning the lovers, the theme of death appears several times.

The Theatre of Illusion

Of course, there is the false death of Clindor which plunges the play into the atmosphere of tragedy; like Pridamant, the spectator is faced with emotions of terror and pity which are the two great theatrical sentiments according to Aristotle. Devastated by the judgment against her lover, Isabelle imagines her own death like the heroine of a tragedy. Moreover, she is not satisfied to follow Clindor in death; she also hopes to punish her father.

As for Clindor, he uses his memory of Isabelle in order to overcome his fear of death. The Commedia dell'arte is the principal source for the new theatre of the 17th century by bringing together a popular technique with the aesthetic development of the Renaissance in Italy.

The Commedia dell'arte concerns itself mostly with the verbal and physical dexterity of the actors and relies heavily on improvisation. The character of Matamore is directly borrowed from this tradition as well as the juxtaposition of characters from several social classes. Matamore can be compared to Sganarelle, the valet of Don Juan.

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Pastoral theatre takes place in an idealized setting according to the ancient model of Arcadia. The first act of L'Illusion comique borrows several elements from the pastoral, including the grotto and the magician. A tragicomedy uses characters that are relatively close to everyday life who are confronted with situations where emotions get in the way of actions. The mixture of death tragedy and marriage comedy is one manifestation of this. The play has enjoyed renewed popularity in recent years, since Tony Kushner adapted it as The Illusion.

Among other changes, Matamore has become the designer of a shooter video game , while the final act takes place in a night club. In , a new adaptation of the play opened at Under St.

Even in a rationalist age, I've noticed that audiences can get so caught up in a play that they suspend their habitual detachment. John Mortimer, when he was chair of the Royal Court's council, used to chuckle over the fact that, during Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane , even Sloane Square sophisticates would cry out nightly at the moment when the mother in the play burns a crucial letter that will determine her daughter's future.

And only the other night, during O'Neill's Sea Plays at the Old Vic Tunnels , I detected a similar audible concern when an innocent Swedish seaman was about to fall into a trap that would deny him the prospect of ever returning home. Close emotional involvement is one thing.

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But I've also observed lately a self-conscious infantalism amongst audiences that almost verges on camp: I sat close to spectators at the Bush recently who "oohed" and "aahed" at every twist in a play's plot to signal their engagement. And at Saturday night's preview of Master Class at the Vaudeville , a lady behind me reacted with excitable indignation, or outraged delight, every time Tyne Daly's Maria Callas delivered a withering put-down to one of her singing students.

Something strange is going on. It may be that theatrical spectators, like those sad exhibitionists who wear fancy dress at Test matches, desperately want to be noticed. Or it may be that the element of pretence, which forms the basis of theatrical illusion, is being taken to child-like extremes.

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The game of illusions is found in the Baroque idea that life is a theatre; and Corneille exploits this idea by. from From the Theatre of Illusion. By Pierre Corneille. Translation from the French by Richard Wilbur. Act 2, Scene 2. Clindor, a young picaresque hero, has been.

Either way, it worries me. Theatre , for me, is at its best when imaginative surrender is combined with intellectual awareness — and brains are not deposited, along with one's overcoat, in the cloakroom.

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