Neoclassicism was a movement involving all forms of art (theatre, literature, and architecture) in which the artist drew upon Classic Greek and Roman models as examples of perfection. Neoclassical theatre observed a strict adherence to the unity of time, place, and action and also placed importance on decorum and verisimilitude (true to life) in playwriting. During the 16th and 17th centuries civil wars and unrest interrupted the development of French theatre. It was not until the mid 17th century that stability returned and French theatre was able to progress. Most French theatre during the 16th century was tied to its medieval heritage of mystery and morality plays but the humanist movement and the access to ancient writers such as Seneca, Euripides, and Aristophanes enabled French theatre to progress. Neoclassical theatre became associated with grandiosity; costumes, scenery and stages were altered to fit with these new ideals. Cardinal Richelieu, Louix XIII’s Prime Minister advocated the adoption of proscenium stages and attempted to establish some standards for French literature, many of his ideas came from Italy. The French neoclassicists recognized only two genres of drama, tragedy and comedy and the two forms could never be mixed. Verisimilitude in playwriting meant that the supernatural was forbidden on stage and the goal of drama was to teach. Neoclassical productions often had special effects and sound effects with elaborate staging. At the end of the 16th century various forms of performance from Italy were also shown on the stages of France including Commedia dell’arte and pastorals.
Jean Baptiste Moliere