Whether through its association with 1789 or 1830, with the German labor movement of the nineteenth century, or the fight against fascism in the twentieth, the stirring sound of the national anthem of France is familiar to us all.1 (And film buffs everywhere have a powerful image of this last association thanks to the unforgettable depiction of the song in Casablanca.) Less well known is that this famous song, though feared during the 1790s as the terrorist “chant” of the guillotine,2 also provided René-Charles Guilbert de Pixérécourt with the ingredients, and a ready-made dramaturgical recipe, for inventing a new theatrical genre.3 With its simple division of the world into vulnerable, imperiled enfants on the one hand, and powerful, plotting tyrans on the other, and its demand that the latter be killed, “La Marseillaise” may well have helped to stoke the fire of the Terror and certainly helped legitimize its violence. But in terms of its plot, characters, and politicomoral thought, even in terms of its diction and spectacle,4 “La Marseillaise” also laid down the dramaturgical rules for playwriting in revolutionary Paris, showing the father of melodrama how to make for the happiness of the enfants de la patrie—those in the audience and those on the stage.
Jennifer Wise is an associate professor of theatre history at the University of Victoria. Her book Dionysus Writes: The Invention of Theatre in Ancient Greece (Cornell University Press, 1998) was nominated for two U.S. book awards, and her Broadview Anthology of Drama (2003) is a standard university textbook. The Moons of Jupiter, Wise's play about Galileo's children, written for the International Year of Astronomy (2009), was a finalist for the Herman Voaden National Playwriting Competition, and her translation of Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui will be published by Methuen in 2012.