Voltaire began his career as a dramatist at the age of 24, with Oedipe, in
1718, and finished it, sixty years later, in 1778, with Irène, shortly before his
death. Differently from today, in the XVIII century is fame in Europe rested
mainly on his theatre. Until his death, he was the most acted dramatis at
the Comédie Française. The classic tragedy in Alexandrine verse was for
him the most supreme form of art. Therefore, acting for Voltaire, who
writes of it in his letters and in the prefaces to some of his plays, is tragic
declamation in verse. He was an author who loved to stage his works and
direct actors: he did not have a general theory of acting, had little interest in
theories and treatises, and did not join in the debate on acting unlike other
intellectuals of his time (Riccoboni, Rémond de Sainte-Albine, Diderot). His
ideas and his opinions on acting, found in his immense correspondence, are
occasional comments on specific cases, and refer to specific interpretations
by actors of his works. Before and after staging them at the Comédie
Française (where, when he found himself in Paris, he directed the plays
himself) Voltaire acted himself in his plays in his théâtres de société, which
served as a sort of laboratory compared to the official theatre. For this
reason, it is from his correspondence (and especially his letters to Mlle
Clairon and to Lekain cited in the article) that we can learn about his ideas
on acting.


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