Harpocrates at Work: How the God of Silence Protected Eighteenth-Century French Iconoclasts

Author: Law, Hedy

Publication details: The Oxford Handbook of Music Censorship, edited by Patricia Hall. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Weblink: http://oxfordhandbooks.com

Abstract: This article examines music censorship in the Old Regime France by focusing on the politics of theater. More specifically, it analyzes the politics of silence in eighteenth-century pantomime, a type of theatrical dumb show made popular by the Forains. As an example, it considers Les Oracles d’Harpocrate, ou le dieu du silence à la foire by Charles-François Pannard, performed by the troupe Nouveau Spectacle-Pantomime in August 1746. The article shows how Pannard’s pantomime politicizes silence by featuring Harpocrates, the Egyptian god of silence. Using Harpocrate as a trope indicative of a culture of politicized silence, this essay offers a putative model correlating silence and singing, arguing that Harpocrates helps explain silence as a counter-censorship strategy in late eighteenth-century French operas and plays, including Beaumarchais’s Figaro plays and his opera Tarare (1787).