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The Eisenhower Library has a collection of 736 plays that were part of a repertory that amused all classes of Paris society from the eighteenth century nearly to the end of the Second Empire. They include the most successful types of plays: mélodrame, comédie-vaudeville, and féerie and were performed at three theaters which specialized in purely popular entertainment. These three theaters were the Gâité, the Ambigu-Comique, and the Porte-Saint-Martin, all located within the Boulevard du Temple region.
The collection is strongest in the period 1800-1830, which accounts for more than half the plays. This was the heyday of both the Boulevard du Temple as well as the mélodrame, a genre which combined tragic events with comic interludes, which made use of music and dancing. The mélodrame usually had an historic or exotic setting, but the comédie-vaudeville, another popular type, drew its subjects from ordinary life. These plays used familiar tunes, the vaudevilles with new words. The music is not given with the published text of the play, but the name of the tune is usually indicated and would have been sufficient for the audience to recognize. Most thoroughly escapist were the fairy-tale plays, the féerie, which used all the theater's resources in scenery and effects. Details of staging are sometimes given.
This group of plays, assembled by an unknown nineteenth-century collector, ends in 1863. The collector brought together his plays from different sources. Some copies were secured from rental libraries; others have the stamps of the Ministry of the Interior, which acted as a censorship agency; and many are still in the paper wrappers in which they were first sold, at bookshops specializing in theatrical publications, or at the theaters themselves. Whatever their source or origination, they remain an unsurpassed resource for the study of popular theatrical taste in nineteenth-century France.
Complementing the popular plays are other French drama collections from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Major seventeenth-century authors such as Pierre Corneille, Molière and Racine are present in eighteenth-century editions and in English, German, and Italian translations. Lesser known seventeenth-century authors, for instance, Thomas Corneille and Boisrobert, are represented in their original editions. Also in this department's holdings is a manuscript collection of 47 letters and other documents relating to the actor Pierre Lafon (1773-1846).
For more information on the French theatre holdings, check the French Theatre Collections Resource Guide.
The holdings also include a large collection of French literature purchased in 2004-2005 from Jean-Marie Goulemot, a private collector in Paris. The material is diverse, including books, periodicals, engravings, drawings, posters, and medals, ranging from the 18th to the 20th century. Much of the collection is oriented toward the avant-garde, so even the 18th-century material tends to be literature of the margins. It is especially strong in 19th and 20th century avant-garde material (Symbolisme, Cabaret literature, political and social satire, Surrealism).
This material is complemented by a fine collection of surrealist and other avant-garde periodicals from the early part of the 20th century, both in its Special Collections as well as in the general collections (stacks). For more information on this collection check the Dada, Surrealist and Avant-Garde Periodicals page.