To narrow our focus, as a group we seized upon one of the earliest major figures we encountered who appeared to be at the heart of the genesis and development of Bourgeois drama in France: Denis Diderot. Two factors we considered in making this decision are the number of scholars who credit his play La Pere de la Famille as the prototype for French Bourgeois drama, as well as M. Diderot's position as the editor of L'Encyclopedie which made him a central figure in the French Enlightenment (a movement which our preliminary research suggests is highly connected to the rise of Bourgeois drama as an art form) as well as making him a central, public figure in the intellectual and cultural scene of mid-18th century France. We further felt that the influence of earlier French and English dramatists on M. Diderot's work, as well as his position at the beginning of the French Bourgeois drama movement might make him a logical starting point for further research, and a lynchpin for bringing our work together.
To address more directly how we as a group reached the idea of using Denis Diderot and George Lillo, let me explain our process: we agreed to each return to class on Thursday with at least one thing of interest related to the topic of "Bourgeois Theatre: 1700-1770", generally understood to be an article from an academic journal or some information to share from a scholarly source. M. Diderot's name appeared prominently in the research of several group members, suggesting to us that he would be somebody about whom a lot would have been written, meaning we could use his name as a gateway to further research. When we discussed other potential areas of interest such as the beginnings of Bourgeois drama in England, or Voltaire's initial attempts to undermine the dominant Neoclassical aesthetic, or looking forward towards the impending Revolution, we realized that Diderot could still be a way to join any of these topics together into a logical chain.
Another strong interest expressed by the group members who had encountered his work in their research was George Lillo, and his play The London Merchant. Some scholars also credit this work as the original Bourgeois drama, and given the interest in our group in this play and the recurrence of his name in our discussion, it seemed foolish to leave him out in the cold. Nobody wants to shut down other people's interest or research at this point in the process, so when someone suggested that we examine both Diderot and Lillo with an interest to comparing and contrasting their work, this immediately opened up a bright vein of research in examining the potential influence of The London Merchant on Diderot and French Bourgeois drama, and determining if there truly are artistic and historical links.
A brief list of the scholarly sources that (along with other materials) led us to select this direction:
Brockett, Oscar G. History of the Theatre. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, Inc, 1968. Print.
Huet, Marie-Hélène. "The Chastised Stage: Bourgeois Drama and the Exercise of Power by Scott S. Bryson." Review. Modern Philology 91.4 (1994): 523-26. Print.
Kennedy, Denis, Ed. The Oxford Companion to Theatre and Performance. N.p.: Oxford UP 2010. Print.
Trott, David. "French Theatre from 1700 to 1750: The "Other" Repertory." Eighteenth-Century French Theatre: Aspects and Contexts. Ed. Magdy Gabriel Badir and David J. Langdon. University of Alberta, 1986. 32-43.