Sylvaine Guyot

junior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2018/2019
discipline French Literature
Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures, Harvard University

Research project

Scenographies of Bedazzlement. Adherence and Theatricalities in Early Modern France


My project aims to outline a historical anthropology of visual emotions, by examining how different regimes of theatricality overlapped and contradicted one another in early modern France.

It is generally accepted that the capacity to “bedazzle” — to unify the audience in unanimous amazement — characterizes the purpose of the arts during the French neoclassical age. However, oddly enough, no seventeenth-century dictionary takes note of this positively connoted meaning of the verb “éblouir”. In Les Scénographies de l’éblouissement (under contract, Classiques Garnier, 2020), the bedazzlement that interests me is that for which the seventeenth-century dictionaries gave no definition, but which was nonetheless a central issue in many discourses and representations of the period.


I analyze a constellation of objects in which the tension between the theologico-political model of éblouissement and the socio-esthetic model of séduction is reflected — i.e., at once activated, represented, and questioned: the firework displays that, in Ancien Régime Europe, celebrated canonizations, coronations, and peace treaties (i); the machine tragedies that encountered huge success in the mid-seventeenth century (ii); the representation of light in painting from Le Lorrain, who was the first to place the sun within the painted landscape in the 1630s, to the Colorists of the early eighteenth century (iii); and the ekphraseis found within the correspondence of the Princess Palatine and the Mercure galant, which carry not only the imprint of the bedazzling principle of official iconography, but also the trace of a singular “style” of seeing what “touches the heart” (iv).

Investigating the conflicting models for generating adherence through spectacularity in early modern culture, Les Scénographies de l’éblouissement sheds light on the paradox of absolutism: at the moment when the ideology of power endorsed the consensual power of the spectacle, theatricality revealed itself to be an “interstitial” practice, open onto ambivalence, contradiction, and resistance toward the official regime of representation.





Sylvaine Guyot is Professor of Romance Languages & Literatures at Harvard University, where she served as the 2017-18 Interim Chair for Theater, Dance & Media. A former student at the École normale supérieure, she holds an agrégation in Classics and a PhD in French literature and performing arts from Paris 3-Sorbonne Nouvelle. Her research interests focus on early modern performance practices in France, with particular emphasis on the representation of the body, the history of visual emotions, the notion of the tragic, the staging of the repertoire, and the relations of aesthetics, cultural institutions, and politics. Stationing herself at the cross-flow of scholarly research, digital humanities, and artistic creation, she is a co-leader of the transatlantic “Comédie-Française Registers Project” and the director of company La Troupe at Harvard.


Selected publications


The Eighteenth-Century French Stage Online, with J. Ravel (eds), MIT Press, Cambridge. [forthcoming]


Littéraire. Pour Alain Viala, with M. Roussillon, M-M. Fragonard & D. Glynn (eds), Artois Presses Université, Amiens, 2018.


Racine et le corps tragique, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 2014.


Jean Racine, Théâtre complet, with A. Viala (eds), Classiques Garnier, Paris, 2013; 2nd edition, 2017.


Racine ou l'alchimie du tragique, PUF-CNED, Paris, 2010.



senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2014/2015
Paris Institute for Advanced Study
discipline History
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2013/2014
Paris Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Literature
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2011/2012
Paris Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Anthropology
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Paris Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Sociology