Tragedy and the Ethics of Resistance Rights in Early Modern French Theater

Thumbnail Image

Persistent link to this item

View Statistics

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Tragedy and the Ethics of Resistance Rights in Early Modern French Theater

Published Date




Thesis or Dissertation


In Robert Garnier's tragedy <italic>Les Juives</italic> (1583), King Nabuchodonosor makes a grand entrance, singing his own praises: "I walk like the Gods, and from the shining sun's rise until its set, none can match my Royal splendor." Nabuchodonosor's blindness to any limitations on his power marks him as a tyrant. In early modern France, identifying tyrannical excess and distinguishing it from the proper exercise of sovereignty was crucial because while subjects had a duty to obey the sovereign, they also had the right to resist a tyrant. During the French Wars of Religion (1562-98), theologians and political theorists vigorously debated the limits and possibilities of what historians have since identified as the <italic>droit de résistance</italic>. This dissertation argues that early modern tragedy participated in and extended these debates. Although Protestants and Catholics disagreed on theological matters during the sixteenth-century religious wars, they shared a tendency to link individual and collective justifications for resistance to tyranny. Protestants and Catholics alike identified the individual's subjective relationship to the divine as ground on which the sovereign should not tread. Likewise, Protestants and Catholics connected the vindication of the individual's subjective freedom to concerns about collective authority and communal salvation. In the aftermath of the religious wars, debate about the <italic>droit de résistance</italic> diminished, as absolutist theories and practices relegated freedom of conscience to the private realm and separated it from questions of the public good. Dramas by Robert Garnier, Jean de Rotrou, Pierre Corneille and Jean Racine, however, picked up and reintegrated these questions. Attending to how tragedies that were first composed, performed, and published between 1570 and 1700 maintain ties between personal complaint and collective lament, I demonstrate how the <italic>droit de résistance</italic> enjoyed a long afterlife in early modern theater. By locating the <italic>droit de résistance</italic>'s persistence in tragedy, I suggest that this genre carries a political concern that has been under-examined. Whereas tragedy has long been read as a genre that is ultimately preoccupied with the exercise of sovereign power, this dissertation underscores how tragedy rehearses and reimagines the possible forms of legitimate opposition.



University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. July 2014. Major: French. Advisor: Juliette Cherbuliez. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 223 pages.

Related to




Series/Report Number

Funding information

Isbn identifier

Doi identifier

Previously Published Citation

Suggested citation

Rosensweig, Anna. (2014). Tragedy and the Ethics of Resistance Rights in Early Modern French Theater. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

Content distributed via the University Digital Conservancy may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor. By using these files, users agree to the Terms of Use. Materials in the UDC may contain content that is disturbing and/or harmful. For more information, please see our statement on harmful content in digital repositories.