First edition of the Théâtre by Grévin,
preserved in its contemporary limp vellum binding.
Grévin, Jacques. Le Théâtre de Jacques Grévin de Clermont en Beauvaisis, à très illustre et très haulte Princesse Madame Claude de France, Duchesse de Lorraine. Ensemble la seconde partie de l’Olimpe & de la Gelodacrye.
Paris, pour Vincent Sertenas. Et pour Guillaume Barbé. Avec privilège (1562).
Small 8vo [163 x 120 mm] of (12) ll., 328 pp.
Limp vellum, handwritten title on upper cover, flat spine, small worm gallery in the first half with some loss of letters. Contemporary binding.
“First edition dedicated to Claude de France, duchesse de Lorraine.” (Pierre Bérès, Des Valois à Henri IV, 1994, n° 137).
Picot, Catalogue Rothschild, I, n°711 ; Rahir, Catalogue, n°1365 ; Tchemerzine, III, 496 ; N. Ducimetière, Mignonne, allons voir…, n°106 ; Haag, V, 364-366 ; Soleinne, I, n°741 ; De Backer, Catalogue, I, n°341; Catalogue Herpin, n°163 ; P. Beres, Des Valois à Henri IV, n°136.
Second issue with the 1561 title renewed with the date of 1562.
The verso of the title bears a portrait of Grévin at age 23, engraved on wood and attributed to Nicolas Denisot. The 11 ll. following include an elegy of Pierre de Ronsard.
This “rare volume” (Rahir) contains a tragedy titled César, the first tragedy to be composed in alexandrines and the first regular tragedy ever published in France.
“A fundamental work for French literature.” (N. Ducimetière)
“More so than Jodelle or La Péruse, Jacques Grévin (1538-1570) can be considered as one of the founding fathers of modern French theater : like Garnier, he not only got his plays performed but also carefully supervised their editions. Contrary to what the title may suggest, Le Théâtre by Grévin contains numerous poems : they make up, on the one hand, the second part of L’Olimpe, where we notice many imitations of Petrarch, and, on the other hand, the Second Livre de la Gelodacrye, of a more Protestant inspiration, such as the sonnets disdaining all mundane vanities.
But the Théâtre is particularly important because of the three dramatic pieces that Grévin here published for the first time. Grévin had started with a comedy titled La Maubertine. The play was performed at the collège de Beauvais in 1558, but had never been published, even though the author wanted it to be. Shortly before the peace of Cateau-Cambrésis, Henri II requested upon the young man, and it was a considerable honor, a play for the wedding of his daughter Claude with the duke Charles III de Lorraine : it was another comedy, La Trésorière, the story of an adulterous and stupid woman, and performed at the collège de Beauvais, in Paris, on 5 February 1559. Two years later, after he got back from England, he wrote a third comedy, Les Esbahis, performed yet once again at the collège de Beauvais in February 1561. Written in octosyllabic verse, these comedies adopted a downgraded style, as required by the genre. Grévin had tried to render his characters credible by making them talk in a colloquial language, in relation to their social status. For Grévin, adopting the style and manners of the comic authors of Ancient Greece and Rome was a sort of return to the fundamentals. The Italian comedy, recently introduced in France, was a source of inspiration for the Esbahis but also something to mock.
In a more sublime register, the only tragedy by Grévin, César, written between 1558 and 1561, proved a decisive step in the history of French theater : it is the first tragedy written in alexandrines. The play also respected the unity of action, place and time dear to Ancient tragedies. Even though he denied it, the play owed a great deal to the Julius Caesar by Muret, performed in Bordeaux in 1547. But, contrary to his former master, Grévin, while in keeping with propriety, tells of the assassination of the hero through a messenger.” (N. Ducimetière, Mignonne allons voir, n° 106)
“Published in 1561, this edition was put on sale again the following year, and the only modification was the date on the title. The verso of the title bears a portrait of the author at age 23, engraved on wood and attributed to Nicolas Denisot. (I.F.F. XVIè, II, pp. 301-302)” (P. Bérès, Des Valois à Henri IV, 1994, n° 137)
“Grévin was the first, if not to compose (Jodelle and La Péruse had done it before), at least to publish tragedies and comedies in our language.”
Notably, the tragedy of César is quite renowned ; according to Haag, “the progress that this play by Grévin made was considerable and one can suppose that, without our unfortunate civil wars, the Mairets, Rotrous and Corneilles would have been born fifty years earlier. As for comedies and tragedies, Grévin is just as great as his predecessors.”
The copies of the most prestigious literary collections were bound in the 19th century, as were the copies from the libraries Soleinne (1843, I, n° 741), Rothschild (Picot, I, n° 711), Herpin (1903, n° 163), De Backer (1926, I, n° 341) and the one from the catalogue Des Valois à Henri IV from the library Pierre Berès (1994 n° 137) ; as for the copies Rahir (1937, V, n° 1365) and Barbier (Ma bibliothèque poétique, IV-2, n° 51), they are in 18th century binding.
A precious copy, preserved in its contemporary limp vellum, with wide margins (height of 163 mm instead of 161 mm for the Bérès copy).