Undergraduate Course Descriptions

01:420:337 - The French Theater - Take No For An Answer! The Art of Not Giving Consent Then And Now

  • Credits: 3

Prerequisites: 420:215 or 420:217 or 420:216 or 420:218

Course description: Saying “no” is never easy. It was even harder when you were born a woman in seventeenth-century France when society (i.e. men) ruled everything from love discourse to conversation and codes of civility. One might ask why we should care if this reality belongs to the past. Recent events in the French cultural sphere have shown that women’s subjugation is not quite relegated to a bygone time. French actresses (Haenel, Ovidie), women writers (Springora, Despentes) and the #MeToo movement have brought questions of female agency and consent to the fore. Fear, guilt, shame or lack of power: the reasons why a woman struggles to say no are numerous. But even when women claim their freedom to resist, they risk remaining inaudible and invisible. Why is it so hard to take no for an answer? Our goal in this course is to deconstruct the ways male expectations and societal norms from the early modern era to the present have imprisoned feminine discourse; this analysis will enable us to craft new tools of rhetorical resistance.

First, we will resurrect and document stories of female refusal in the hopes of demystifying feminine consent. Theater is particularly efficient for this project because it conveys female resistance as speech acts but also as bodily language. We will ground our discussions in key scenes (by Scudéry, Villedieu, Racine) that explore resistance to rape (Lucrèce), to male laws (Antigone), to an assigned passivity (Andromaque), and we will consider the inability to fight (Semiramis). The analysis of rhetorical tools will be both reflexive and creative. We will then focus on the most effective ways to perform resistance. By making video clips, crafting poetry, writing strong exhortations or turning to the visual arts, students will design personal answers to forms of oppression. The time has come to change our models. In this course, students will learn to build a dialogue between theater from the past and today’s culture to overthrow the patriarchy.

Faculty: Professor Jennifer Tamas

Course Materials:

Scudéry, Les Femmes illustres ou les harangues héroïques, 1642 (ISBN: 978-907-88324-5)
Molière, Les Précieuses ridicules, 1659 (ISBN: 978-2035839077)
Madame de Villedieu, Le Favori, 1664 (ISBN: 978-2705694777)
Racine, Andromaque, 1667 (ISBN: 978-2017064534)
Angélica Liddell, You Are My Destiny, 2014 (ISBN: 978-2846814355)

Language of Instruction: French. All documents and readings will be available through the Canvas’ website

Course Satisfies Learning Goals:

  • Enhance students’ understanding of the cultural contexts in which those earlier works were written
  • Generate critiques using basic critical terms and concepts in French for literary analysis
  • Sharpen skills for active reading comprehension, oral communication, and essay-writing in French
  • Understand key concepts of our society using the cultural legacy of our past


20%: Class participation and attendance
20%: Midterm: creation of a monologue about oppression using virtual arts and written text (3 minutes long)
20%: Power point oral presentation of student’s choice
40%: Final exam: creation of a scene using rhetoric tools and visual arts (5 minutes long)

Exams, Assignments, and Grading Policy:

Students will demonstrate their mastery of said learning goals, weekly via class discussion, productions and performances. Students will be evaluated at regular intervals throughout the semester via ONE oral presentation and TWO productions combining visual arts and creative writing (midterm and final exam).

It will also be possible for students to produce a collective work about female agency in place of their final exam. I will help you decide on the format (a radio show, a clip, a short movie) and we will present this collective work in order to earn a French Prize! This is a very exciting way to learn and use new materials in order to make visible female authors! For more details, look here: http://ledeuxiemetexte.fr/jelalis/faq.php