Today the Président Hénault (1685-1770) is perhaps best remembered for his Abrégé chronologique de l'histoire de France. In addition, this académicien wrote several plays including François II, roi de France, a five-act tragedy depicting 'la jalousie des princes de sang contre messieurs de Guise'. First published in 1747, the play was considered by Hénault and his contemporaries to be the first of a new kind of theatre, one written specifically to be read rather than to be performed. It is therefore arguably the founding text of the tradition of armchair theatre that encompasses Diderot, Rétif de la Bretonne, Musset and Hugo. It is a work that mediates between the page and the stage at a time of unprecedented investment by actors, architects and playwrights alike in the material theatre apparatus. Despite François II's historical, literary and cultural significance, this important text has not been published for over two centuries.
The book takes as its base text the 1768 edition. This second edition features Hénault's valuable preface in which he justifies his decision to write a history in dramatic form by appealing to the precedent set by Shakespeare and by discussing the reader's imaginative reconstruction of the dramatic apparatus. It also includes the dozen pages of the président's own explanatory notes.
The introduction places the tragedy within the context of theatrical developments in mid eighteenth-century France, and considers Hénault's other dramatic works, notably Le Réveil d'Epinimede and Le Temple des chimères, in order to clarify his understanding of dramatic illusion and the pleasures of the imagination.
This critical edition of Hénault's François II asks if we might re(de)fine our understanding of the theatrical; can a work not intended for the stage still function as drama and, if so, why should the founding text of 'le spectacle dans un fauteuil' appear at the very moment when every effort is being made to liberate the stage as a discrete space of illusion and fantasy?