Adapting Lully for the London Stage: Reading a Chaconne of 1698

In his prologue to Rinaldo and Armida, the playwright John Dennis is quick to distance this new work from Lully and Quinault's earlier Armide. Despite this, traces nevertheless remain, as evidenced in the dramatic presence of Armida's confidante Phenissa, a figure specially invented by Philippe Quinault. The most notable link with Lully's opera comes, however, in John Eccles' entertainment for Act III, a divertissement-like masque of Venus and Cupid, which includes a chaconne that bears a close resemblance to the famous passacaille given in the fifth act of Lully's Armide. This resemblance becomes even more striking when one takes into account the likely participation of dancers Claude Balon and Antoine l'Abbé, newly arrived from Paris. In comparing Eccles' chaconne and Lully's passacaille, it is possible to note not only common structural features, but also the corresponding narrative role taken by the respective scenes in which the dances feature. It will be argued that the use of such a 'French' element in Dennis and Eccles' work may represent a conscious dramaturgical decision, helping to underline the work's patriotic intent - with this and other features enacting an 'other' that is successfully rationalised and ultimately excluded from the stage. 

Michael Lee
Author affiliation
Trinity College, Dublin