French Literature

French Literature
  • French authors
  • Literature in the Middle Ages
  • Renaissance Literature
  • Classicist Literature
  • Rationalist Literature
  • 19th century Literature
  • 20th century Literature

Classicist literature in France

The 17th century was filled with many literary contributions and the high point, taking place in the later part of the century between 1660 and 1680, is referred to as the “Classical Moment” and was the time when some of the most important pieces of French literature were produced.

In the early 17th century, French literature coincided with the Baroque movement that was developing in the artistic scene. Typical characteristics of this movement include the personal, dynamic, colourful elements as well as the use of images to produce an impact on the readers or spectators. The idea was to surprise, astonish and catch spectators and readers off guard, to play on their senses. Prominent poets of the time included Saint-Amant, Théophile de Viau, Jean-Baptiste Chassignet, La Ceppède and François de Malherbe, while some of the better known playwrights were Alexandre Hardy, Jean de Rotrou and later Pierre Corneille.

In the mid-17th century, literary movement was centred in Paris and both readers and writers formed part of a tightly knit society very much involved with the royal courts, with the focal point being aristocracy and the upper social classes.

Drama continued to bloom with playwrights such as Thomas Corneille, Philippe Quinault and Jean-Baptiste Racine. Comedy also evolved at the hand Pierre Scarron, from using mainly farce to progressing towards romantic comedy. Influence from Spanish and Italian playwrights was evident. Scarron’s comedies were performed on a regular basis by Molière who was author, manager, director and actor all in one, and his profound liking for these plays often got him into trouble with authorities, for whom the satire was sometimes too sharp for their liking, causing them to ban the plays.

During this time the Académie Française and other theorists worked to codify the Classical styles and forms used, which turned them into rigid doctrinarian principles and set the standards of what should and should not be adhered to. This, in a way, curbed French literature for quite some time and lasted well into the 18th century.