Jean Chapelain

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Jean Chapelain, contemporary painting by an anonymous artist

Jean Chapelain (born December 4, 1595 in Paris , † February 22, 1674 in Paris) was a French writer and cultural politician .


Chapelain came from a family of lawyers and mastered the classical languages ​​as well as Italian and Spanish, which made the relevant literature of his time accessible to him. He was a student of François de Malherbe , a pioneer of French classical music , and continued his endeavors by practicing and promoting poetry that obeyed strict rules and was to benefit the state and its official occasions.

In this capacity, Chapelain was attacked many times, for example by Nicolas Boileau , and the French romantics finally made him the epitome of the uninspired state poet and art judge. Molière , on the other hand, is said to have seen Chapelain as a model for Philinte in The Misanthrope (1666), a positive figure who seeks to induce the radical protagonist of this comedy to be moderation and social inclusion.

Drama theory

His Lettre sur la règle des vingt-quatre heures ( Letter on the rule of the 24 hours, 1630), which was addressed to Antoine Godeau and circulated in the circle of the Hôtel de Rambouillet , an influential literary salon , was important for the theory of drama in French classical music . It is a treatise on the Aristotelian doctrine , according to which the act presented must be completed within 24 hours, because only this corresponds to the requirement of "vraisemblance" (probability).

In this letter Chapelain turns against the theater of his time, namely against the popular entertainer Tabarin , by prefixing him with the Roman actor Quintus Roscius Gallus (who, with Cicero's applause , had oriented the art of acting to political rhetoric ). Based on the need to free the theater from the “gothismes” (that is, from its medieval remains of tradition) and to orient it towards antiquity, Chapelain also concludes that there is a necessary “unity of place” that cannot be found in Aristotle. The unity of the place is justified by the correspondence between poetry and painting ( Ut pictura poesis ) called for by Horace : In analogy to the improbability that more than a day would pass in the three hours of a theatrical performance, the viewer could not be shown credibly long distances . Chapelain oriented himself on Italian playwrights and theorists, especially Julius Caesar Scaliger . With his treatise he was an indirect reaction to what he considered to be the irregular theater of the most prolific playwright of the first decades of the 17th century, Alexandre Hardy .

Literary works

Chapelain's translation of the picaresque novel La vida del Pícaro Guzmán de Alfarache (1599) by Mateo Alemán , 1619, was widely used. Another poetological treatise, the Discours de la poésie représentative ( speech on performing poetry, 1635), had little impact.

Chapelain's main work is the verse epic La Pucelle d'Orléans ( The Maid of Orléans , 1656), which was intended as a kind of founding myth of the French state. Chapelain tried, as he justified it in detail in his foreword, to place a woman on the side of the Homeric heroes, which earned him some ridicule, the best known was Voltaire's (from today's perspective misogynistic) parody of the same name (1752). The last twelve chants remained unprinted due to harsh criticism from the literary public.

Political functions

Thanks to the fact that in 1634 he was one of the founding members of the Académie française ( Fauteuil 7 ) and knew how to use it, Chapelain was a powerful exponent of the Parisian literary scene for almost 40 years. He was loyal to ministers Richelieu and Jules Mazarin . In the Querelle du Cid in 1637, Chapelain Richelieus supported the rejection of Pierre Corneille's drama by drafting an official statement from the Académie française against this work. He also worked as a poet in the service of high-ranking people, as chief critic of the Académie (which, according to the founding mandate, was to watch over good taste in language and literature) and as an epic poet .

From 1661, Chapelain kept a royal pension list on behalf of the minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert , on which authors were placed who were acceptable to the minister and his young King Louis XIV and thus appeared worthy of an annual gratuity .

From 1654 Chapelain was a member of the Accademia della Crusca in Florence . In 1663 he became a member of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres .

See also


  • Paul Mesnard: Histoire de l'académie française depuis sa fondation jusqu'en 1853 . Charpentier, Paris 1857.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Jean Chapelain: Opuscules critiques , ed. by Anne Duprat. Droz, Geneva 2007, pp. 222-234.
  2. Matei Chihaia: Institution and transgression: staged victims in tragedies of Racine and Corneille . Narr, Tübingen 2002, p. 57.
  3. ^ Membership list of the Crusca