The passing of the hours - time, structure, rhythm and light in Benserade’s verses for the Ballet de la Nuit

This paper examines time and timing in Benserade’s four-part Livret for the Ballet de la Nuit. It reconsiders the significance of the contribution which a precious poet from the salon of the Marquise de Rambouillet makes to this hybrid divertissement royal. After the night terrors of the Fronde, Benserade officially recaptures the hours of darkness as a time for court entertainments. His verse portraits add value to the moment when the young Louis XIV takes his place in the ballet as the brightest and best of the hours on the clock face. Much appreciated in his day and patronised by a succession of powerful figures, Benserade has received only limited attention since. Comparing the court calendar with that of the salon during this period brings a new perspective to the study of his versification of the series of ballets de cour danced by Louis XIV. Habitués had banned dance from the salon, but those to whom Benserade’s verses were henceforth addressed danced to a musical accompaniment, while his verses were often read in silence beforehand. The ever-changing rhythm of the Livret offers important clues to the choreography of the Ballet de La Nuit. The choice of theme prefigures the chronological precision which was to characterise the organisation of Louis XIV’s court. Benserade’s attempt to control les heures déréglées may not be as scientifically accurate as Huyghen’s revolutionary pendulum clock of the same period, but together the poet and the mathematical physicist managed to refine the new French King’s sense of the passing of the hours.

Elizabeth Woodrough
Symposium Title: 
Le Ballet de la Nuit - 2004
Author affiliation: 
University of Exeter