“Le bon ange de son maître”: mélodrame animalier et théâtre humanitaire

This article traces nineteenth-century melodramas that featured live animals, the abuse of whom awakened in the audience feelings of commiseration and humaneness. By analyzing the work of playwrights in the line of Gilbert de Pixerécourt, Eugène Scribe, Edmond Rochefort, Ferdinand Langlé, Philippe François Pinel-Dumanoir, Adolphe D’Ennery, Ferdinand Laloue, Fabrice Labrousse, Théodore Barrière and Léon Beauvallet, among many others, we may better comprehend the path that both led to and followed the passing of the first law aimed at defending and protecting animals in France: the 1850 Loi Grammont. Some of the plays paved the way towards this legal shift, and some reflected its precepts in the aftermath of the act, stirring feelings of empathy towards animals amongst theatre-goers. The plays’ ultimate objective was not the defense of animals per se (in the modern sense). However, their arousal of emotions linked to a Manichean spectrum of moral behaviors ranging from good to evil, their penchant for the triumph of virtue, and the pathos resulting from the verbal and physical abuse or, eventually, the (fictional) death of the animals in the melodrama, resonated with a shared feeling of humaneness that was so much a part of the discussion about what was considered beneficial for society. (In French.)

Ignacio Ramos-Gay
Université de Valence