Theodore de Banville is known to most students of French literature as a Parnassian poet. He was also a dramatic author. With the exception of one or two plays his dramatic work remains relatively unknown. None the less his theatre merits study as an expression of his time in that it does not reflect his time. Banville drew the subjects for his plays from history and from mythology. He remained faithful to the "art for art’s sake" movement in his dramatic work as well as in his poetry. Banville’s plays do not paint French life of his day nor do they teach a lesson or have a moral. He refused to downgrade his art so that it served any cause but its own. Banville abhorred utilitarianism in art.
His plays are written in verse except for Gringoire. Like his poetry, his plays are executed with great care and precision. We can admire them for the musicality and the sonority of his verse. Banville peopled his dramatic world with mythological or historical figures which remind us more of indecisive butterflies than tragic heroes or real people.
Perhaps the most important element to be considered in his work is fantasy. Banville was an optimist who preferred not to see the world around him which he felt was permeated by mediocrity and
bourgeois taste. Banville through his theatre of fantasy expressed his reaction to the-bourgeois theatre of Scribe, Dumas and Augier and also to the naturalist effort by providing the French public with an alternative. His plays provided an escape from daily life into a joyful world of musical poetry, satyrs, gods and goddesses, princes and princesses and beautiful- maidens, in short, a fantasy land
accessible to many only through the pen of Banville.
We must note, however, the failure of Banville’s theater during his lifetime and even now. Banville tried to reinject Comedy with poetry and lyricism. He claimed that without it Comedy becomes merely a puppet show. He succeeded in his own work but not in changing the course of dramatic history which was already well along the road to the naturalist theatre.
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UNM Department of Art and Art History
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Gutiérrez, Christina Candelaria. "Le ThéAtre PoéTique De ThéOdore De Banville." (1972). https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/arth_etds/139