Invisible marks: representations of baptism and death in 17th-century Parisian hagiographic dramaturgy, 1630-1650

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Together, baptism and death symbolize the bookends of a life of Christian morals and values. They are also the bookends of the tales of converted martyrs represented on the secular Parisian stage in the mid-17th century. In this presentation, I consider the expressed desire of the protagonists to be baptized and I explore their subsequent baptism as an "invisible", i.e. a profound though indiscernible, mark of the Christian body. For that purpose, I refer specifically to Corneille's masterpiece Polyeucte, martyr, Rotrou's Le Véritable saint Genest and to saint Eustache, to whom two plays were dedicated a few years apart, Le Martyr de saint Eustache by Nicolas Desfontaines and Saint Eustache, martyr by Balthasar Baro. The invisible talisman of baptism is transformative, a source of strength and wisdom for those protected by it and provides the impulse to defy tyrants, persecutors and sometimes even loved ones in the effort to gain ground on the ultimate goal of eternal life in their God's kingdom, through the fulfillment of death, or life's destination. In the context of 17th-century dramaturgy and aesthetics, baptism becomes a doubly invisible mark when considering that it, along with the death of the protagonist, is omitted from the play due to the formal constraints of the French neo-Aristotelian stage. The absence of the two life events on stage reflects the undetectable nature of the seal of baptism and accompanies the transition from Baroque to Classic aesthetic in French dramaturgy.


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