In Letter to Monsieur d’Alembert (1758), Rousseau energetically quashed d’Alembert’s suggestion (in ‘Geneva’, The Encyclopaedia, vol. 7) that Geneva required a theatre in order to keep up with other European cities. Rousseau’s main argument was that the theatre would threaten the identity of the inhabitants of Geneva, perhaps even destroy it altogether. His objections concerned both the structure and the content of theatre. Because theatre encourages both men and women to gather together in public for the sake of entertainment, it would attack the traditional forms of communal life in Geneva such as the strictly separated ‘circles’ of men and women. Moreover, it would also contravene ‘natural’ female modesty which forbids females from showing themselves in public: ‘A woman outside the hearth loses her most perfect enamel and, robbed of her true naturalness, her appearance is unseemly … Whatever she does, the gaze of the public eye is not the place for her.’1 But, for Rousseau, even the male identity is endangered by theatre. Because its ‘main interest … is love’ (p. 210), it threatens to weaken the male and make him effeminate: ‘The constant outbursts of different emotions to which we are subjected in the theatre disturb and weaken us, making us even less able to control our own passions, and the sterile interest which we take in virtue serves only to satisfy our self-love, instead of forcing us to act in a virtuous way’ (p. 210). Thus, he felt that the theatre alienated both men and
women from the ‘fate determined by Nature’ (p. 246) and cut them off from traditional ways of life being passed down to them. It threatened the cultural, gender and, ultimately, also the individual identity of the Genevans. In order to preserve their sense of identity, Rousseau believed, they should not accept theatre into their society.