Performing for the State: Censorship of the French Theatre under Napoleon

Margaret Sproule


During Napoleon’s fifteen years of personal rule over France, social control was key to maintaining power. As part of his plan to reinstate the hierarchal social structure that was overthrown by the 1789 Revolution, Napoleon imposed strict state control over the French theatre industry. In addition to mandating the physical location of theatres, all potential plots and characters had to be approved by censors before production. This allowed for the removal of Revolutionary ideology from this form of mass culture in its entirety. Imperial control over entertainment helped to create a hierarchy similar to that of pre-revolutionary France, solidifying Napoleon’s place as unquestioned, absolute ruler.

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