Thanks for our many eagle-eyed readers and your attention to this month’s Crocodile Post. As several folks guessed, this is a French parody of Romeo and Juliet called Roméo et Paquette, published in 1773. This item is a new acquisition, purchased in 2019 from our colleagues at Antiquariat Inlibris in Vienna.
As incredible as it may seem, the first translations of Shakespeare’s plays only began to appear in France in the eighteenth century. Translations meant to be performed, instead of read, did not appear until the last third of the century. The playwright Jean-François Ducis produced the most notable editions, beginning with Hamlet in 1769, and followed by Roméo et Juliette in 1772. This parody, then, appeared very quickly in response to these new productions. Two editions were produced—although both claim on the title page to have been printed in Verona, one was printed in Paris, and the other in Dijon.
The curatorial team was intrigued by this item not only because it appeared so quickly after the Ducis productions, or because it is a wonderful example of a burlesque adaptation that relies on mixing so-called “low” and “high” humor or themes, but because scholarship attributes it to the work of a woman going by the nom de plume Mlle. Carrière-Doisin. Unfortunately, we have little information on who this author might be, although the Bibliotheque Nationale owns multiple works attributed to her under this and various other names. Although the Avertissement to the reader in the front certainly seems written from the perspective of a woman, there is really no way to know. In the January 1773 edition of the Mercure de France, a literary gazette, the writers use the masculine “l’auteur” to discuss the anonymous writer, although again, this only serves to heighten their anonymity. Regardless of the truth of the author’s identity, whoever produced this parody certainly wished for it to seem as though it came from a woman’s perspective.
The Avertissement opens:
This is all in order to laugh, so I beg M[onsieur] Ducis to forgive me for my playful repartee. I would think that I had disrespected his work, of which I am one of the foremost admirers, if, with a serious air, I had undertaken to dress it in a jester’s clothing…several ladies, in a circle where I found myself, proffered that an author capable of casting so much darkness and cruelty on paper, ought to put a little bit of love into his story. In order to convince them that the genius of the Poet is similar to that of a chameleon, who plays with a million colors in front of our eyes without having any himself, I bet ten louis that I would disguise this Tragedy from beginning to end…
The Mercure doesn’t pass judgement, simply repeating some more of the author’s sentiments from this opening—it notes that the author says they will “make an old shrew laugh, and turn serpents into bells of madness;” and “c’est qui a été fait dans cette parodie,” the Mercure concludes. Does what it says on the tin. Another periodical, L’Esprit des Journaux, includes the production in a commentary written in 1793 on the many variations of Romeo and Juliet produced in France. It declares that the parody is “fort plaisante,” despite the author remaining anonymous.
The parody itself is quite a wild ride. In addition to replacing “Juliette” with “Paquette” (possibly a reference to a small daisy), the author has substituted the Cascarets for the Capulets and the Mangecruds for the Montagues. Instead of Mercutio, we have Gargaric. Throughout, as the catalogers at Inlibris noted, the author focuses their parody on “a ribald culinary theme.” References to cooking implements, foods, and eating abound. Although the author doesn’t appear to attempt a word for word parody of any specific parts, such as the famous balcony scene, certain moments do bear a striking resemblance, as when Roméo, apparently overcome with emotion, exclaims, “Quoi! j’aurois la bêtise, adorable Paquette / De tourner contre moi, la balle & la raquette.”
As with many burlesques, the “tragedy” is turned upside-down to have a happy ending—all the characters gather in a garden to drink wine, and celebrate the true love of Roméo and Paquette. As with Shakespeare’s plays themselves, the point of many burlesques was to entertain across the entire social spectrum. Although many critics in the nineteenth century decried the practice of producing such burlesque versions as profaning the originals (one critic in 1833 called a production of Othello, the Moor of Fleet Street, “a species of sacrilige”), they were nevertheless incredibly popular. As Nicoletta Caputo writes in her recent article on nineteenth-century burlesques, “it could be appropriate to recall the Bakhtinian idea of parody as a hybrid of multiple registers and languages” (Caputo, 46). Another scholar writing on the topic, Manfred Draudt, notes that burlesques and travesties “served as an important link between the popular and the more elevated theatres. They not only exploited successes in the court or privileged theatres and parodied particular performances and individual actors but also served to popularise serious drama” (Draudt, 296). An exercise in recursive reflection, burlesques thrived on comparison and familiarity with the original. The author of Roméo et Paquette notes this themself, commenting “If I have succeeded, the ten louis are won; and I dare to say that this Piece serves to elevate the expression of that of M[onsieur] Ducis.”
Special thanks to Antiquariat Inlibris, whose photos appear in this post and whose description provided its basis, and to Caroline Duroselle-Melish, who provided the reference to Paquette’s name referring to a small daisy.
Mercure de France, January 1773, tome 2de, p.
L’Esprit des Journaux, October 1793
Caputo, Nicoletta. “”The Farcical Tragedies of King Richard III:” the Nineteenth Century Burlesques.” Theatre Survey (2021), 62, 25–50
Draudt, Manfred. “The Real Thing? Adaptations, transformations and burlesques of Shakespeare, historic and post-modern.” Ilha do Desterro (2005), no. 49.