In nineteenth-century France, authorities feared the inflammatory power of the stage, but sought to exploit it as an effective means of propaganda. The focus of this book is on theatrical representations of Napoléon Bonaparte during France’s Second Empire (1850-1870), a period marked by the impérialisation of the capital through the renaming of streets and public spaces. Many heroes of the revolution and the wars of the Empire appeared with Napoléon in these plays. Several featured members of his family, Joséphine and her son, Eugène, the actor Talma, or the fortune teller Lenormand.
Already popular during the July Monarchy, these Napoléon-themed dramas enjoyed a renewed interest with Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte’s rise to power. Although based on historical fact, they were subject to prior government censorship, as were all dramatic works at that time, and were often substantially modified. Intended for a predominantly working-class audience, these historical dramas were carefully revised by the censors so that the narrative they presented strengthening the ties between the First and Second Empires and removed any suggestion of regime change. These dramas highlight the central role theatrical works about Napoléon played in shaping collective memory and myths of national identity during the Second Empire.