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Forgetting Differences

Tragedy, Historiography, and the French Wars of Religion

Andrea Frisch

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Examines the impact of the royal politics of amnesia on tragedy and national historiography in France, 1560-1630

By juxtaposing representations of the French civil war past as they appear (and frequently overlap) in historiography and tragedy from 1550-1630, Andrea Frisch tracks changes in the ways in which history and tragedy sought to 'move' readers throughout the period of the wars and in their wake. The book shows that a shift from a politically (and martially) active reading of the past to a primarily affective one follows the imperative, so clear and urgent at the turn of the seventeenth century, to put an end to violent conflict. The emotions that neoclassical tragedy and absolutist historiography sought to elicit were intended above all to be shared, and thus a medium via which political and religious differences could be downplayed or forgotten. The book aims to illuminate some of the ways in which the experience of the wars of religion, as registered in tragedy and historiography, contributed to a restructuring of the ever-vital relationship between emotion and politics, and thereby to historicize the very concept of 'esmouvoir'.

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1. Learning to Forget
2. Clemency, Pardon, and Oubliance
3. History without Passion: National Historiography in the Age of Oubliance
4. Tragedy as History: From the Guisiade to Garnier
5. From Emotion to Affect

About the Author

Andrea Frisch is currently Associate Professor of French at the University of Maryland in the US. She is the author of The Invention of the Eyewitness: Witnessing and Testimony in Early Modern France (University of North Carolina Press, 2004) as well as a number of refereed articles in journals including the Journal of Early Modern History, Montaigne Studies, and Modern Language Quarterly.


This is a brilliant and provocative book, upending a good deal of received wisdom concerning the roots of French neoclassicism, the history of tragedy and the emergence of modern historiography. Combining deep historical scholarship with enviable hermeneutic flair, it not only enlivens debates about the historical trajectory and character of early modern French literary and intellectual culture but also opens new avenues for discussion in future.

- Christopher Braider, Professor of French and Comparative Literature, University of Colorado Boulder exciting and very welcome addition to studies on French historiography and theatrical tragedy.
- Michael Meere, Wesleyan University , French Studies, vol 70, no 4
It is hard to do justice to the richness of her argument through summary...the book fields an extended, subtle, and ultimately powerful argument that demands we rethink the connection between a number of cultural fields usually segregated.
- George Hoffmann, University of Michigan, Modern Philology, Vol 113, No 4
This is a beautiful, seminal, crucial work, which scholars of the French Renaissance must consult.
- Charles-Louis Morand-Metivier, University of Vermont, The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol 47, No 3

…this extremely well-researched and argued study shows how "a program to promote national unity and reconciliation" gave rise to a poetics that moved tragedy far from current events in order to "buttress the authority of the monarch and divert attention from political troubles".

- Marc Bizer, University of Texas at Austin, Renaissance Quarterly 70:4

Very few works can accommodate so many ideas and analyses and still be a page-turner like Frisch’s book. This is a beautiful, seminal, crucial work, which scholars of the French Renaissance must consult.

- Charles-Louis Morand-Métivier, University of Vermont, The Sixteenth Century Journal Volume XLVII: 3 (2016)

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