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Research at St Andrews

Julia Tamsin Prest


Julia Tamsin Prest
Postal address:
School of Modern Languages
Buchanan Building, Union St
St Andrews
United Kingdom


Direct phone: +44 (0)1334 463646

Research overview

Julia Prest's research interests focus on early-modern French and francophone theatre, including ballet and opera. She is currently working on a book project provisionally entitled Master, Slave and Free: Theatre and Citizenship from Colonial Saint-Domingue to the Founding of Haiti (1764-1804)Theatre plays an important role in the creation and promotion of citizenship, but it can also deny citizenship via its audience composition, casting practices, choice of repertoire etc.  A society’s theatre culture thus offers an important window onto its perceptions of citizenship.  Adopting a multidisciplinary approach, Julia explores theatre in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) where its primary purpose was to “civilize”.  The “civilizing” of the predominantly European audience was supposedly achieved by its exposure to appropriate metropolitan French culture and ideas.  However, she argues that some of those very ideas alongside new local repertoire, the presence of free actor-singers of colour and even of slave musicians threw up new, conflicting conceptions of citizenship.  If free people of colour initially sought to become French citizens, France’s failure to resolve the question of slavery ultimately led to the creation of the first black republic whose citizens went on to produce Haitian drama of resolutely African-American inspiration.

On 1 March 2018, Julia Prest launched, a website devoted to the vibrant theatrical tradition in Saint-Domingue, featuring a bilingual (French-English) database of public performances of plays, ballets and operas as documented in the local newspapers between 1764 and 1791. The project promises to promote research into the field and was made possible thanks to the support of The British Academy, the Leverhulme Trust and the University of St Andrews.

A graduate in Music and French, Julia Prest wrote her PhD on Molière's comedy-ballets, comparing early performances at the French court (at which Louis XIV was always present and sometimes danced) with subsequent performances in the public theatre in Paris (from which the king was conspicuously absent). Julia's second major project culminated in her monograph, Theatre under Louis XIV: Cross-casting and the Performance of Gender in Drama, Ballet and Opera, first published by Palgrave in 2006 and reissued in paperback in 2013. In her most recent monograph, Controversy in French Drama: Molière's Tartuffe and the Struggle for Influence (New York: Palgrave, 2014; paperback 2016) she provides a detailed, in-depth account of Molière’s five-year struggle to have a ban on public performances of Tartuffe lifted (1664-69).  Drawing on a wide range of theatrical and non-theatrical sources, Julia changes the terms of the debate by challenging received notions regarding the opposition between the sincere believer (vrai dévot) and the hypocrite (faux dévot); she also demonstrates that Tartuffe was itself a key locus for the struggle for influence among competing political and religious factions during the early reign of Louis XIV.  

Julia Prest has published on a variety of other, related subjects including witchcraft and the Affair of the Poisons, medical satire in the work of Molière, the castrato singer, and court ballet as a means of religious reconciliation during the Wars of Religion.  She has also published critical editions of Le Mariage forcé  (1999), La Devineresse (2007) and Les Veuves créoles (2017).

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