The Monsters of the abbé d'Aubignac

It is a curious fact that the foremost theoretician of the 17th-century French stage, François Hédelin, abbé d’Aubignac, was the grandson of the foremost French teratologist of the 16th century, Ambroise Paré. This paper reads d’Aubignac’s first known published work, Des satyres brutes, monstres et demons, from 1627.  D’Aubignac’s satyr book argues that the satyr is not a para-normal man-like being capable of salvation as Paracelsus and others had claimed, but rather a monkey, a monster, or a demon.  The treatise accordingly participates in a long history of fascination with the ape, inherited from Pliny, Solinus, and the medieval bestiaries and continuing through Darwin, in an early modern problematic of the satyr which was surprisingly long-lived and wide-spread, and in the very specific belief system of the monstrous, literally inherited by d’Aubignac. His satyr treatise has been practically erased from scholarly considerations of his later work, including the tremendously influential Pratique du théâtre (1657; written ca.1642). This paper will seek to show that the link between these two heterogeneous treatises moves through the literally and figuratively monstrous. That is, the version of theatrical history given in the Pratique requires a villain, and, for d’Aubignac, this villain is Alexandre Hardy, author of ‘ouvrages monstrueux’. The modernity of the Pratique, then, is not established against the antiquity of the first revivals of ancient theatre in the French Renaissance.  Rather, it is established against a closer target, Hardy and his monstrosities.  For the Pratique, which speaks of ‘combien il faut être religieux en la vraisemblance du théâtre’, Hardy sins against vraisemblance with the monstrousness of his theatre, for Des satyres brutes, the monster, produced by coupling between human and non-human, is precisely that which ‘semble non seulement hors de vray-semblance, mais un sacrilege à imaginer.’ Both the literal monster and the monstrous theatre are that which is to be excluded from the religion of vraisemblance.


Amy Wygant
Symposium Title: 
Gods, Men and Monsters – 2001
Author affiliation: 
Department of French, The University of Glasgow, UK