“All they ever taught him was to dance and play the guitar,” writes Voltaire about the educational background of Louis XIV. A brilliant remark, but rather shallow, as shallow as the education of the king according to Voltaire.
The truth of the matter is that the king’s dancing skills were exceptional, and his guitar was very good. Exactly how good was he? It is not, “Mama, look at me, I can do this!” The young king was dancing professionally! Not for the money, of course; nevertheless, on a big stage with a real audience full of mature critics in the city of Paris where everyone is some kind of a dancer.
Yes, he was dancing with the stars! And not just because he was a king. Like everyone else, he started with very small roles, sometimes even the roles of the females. Little by little he was moving to the third then to the second and even to the first roles. By the end of his dancing career, he had a fairly large repertoire. Ten years on stage give us nineteen smaller parts, and then eleven second and first roles!
How does it fit into the king portfolio? I assure you that in the seventeen century, the king’s formidable choreographic and acting skills did make an impression on his subjects and all over Europe! His powerful performance begins at the moment of Mazarin’s death. The opening of the curtain, the king makes a declarative statement, he is not going to choose a new First Minister! The audience is agape… The curtain falls.
The creation of that theater, known to us as the Court of Louis XIV, takes a few years; to help it, the king first keeps the Ballet of the Court. Then, gradually, as everyone has learned his and her part, the ballet disappears; and smooth performance turns into a daily ritual, from sunrise till nightfall.
“Sire, it is the hour!” This sentence is uttered at seven-thirty every morning, but let us not ignore the tripartite division of the text. First the knock comes from the outside. “What do you want?” answers the voice of the Valet,”The king? He is asleep!” Another knock. The same rhetorical question, the same performative answer. It is on the third knock, the other two treated as preparatory, the ecclesiastics on the outside will announce, “We want Louis XIV, whom God has given us for the King!”
“Sire, it is time.” Oh! Everything, including the excretion, will be performed in public. The greater is the degree of intimacy, the closer is the person to the source of power… But wait! What was that about dancing and playing the guitar? You think you can excrete on stage? Try! But, even if you could, I don’t think there is an acting class you can take, that will convince the spectators that they are in the presence of something awesome. Louis XIV, according to all the witnesses, did this in majesty!