Centre for Continuing Education

Portraits of Pre-Revolutionary France Course: The 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries

History. See the future. It’s in the past.

The world as we know it today has been shaped by events of the past. Learn about history the smart way with History courses at the University of Sydney.

This history course will focus on some of the major figures in the cultural life of pre-revolutionary France, beginning with Michel de Montaigne, the outstanding essayist, traveller and mayor of Bordeaux. The cultural significance of the work of the poet Antoine de Baïf and the composer Claude Le Jeune and their work at the Académie de poésie et de musique in later 16th century Paris will then be studied in detail. The 17th century will be represented by three of its most outstanding figures: the philosopher, mathematician and scientist Blaise Pascal, and France’s two greatest classical playwrights: Molière and Racine. For the 18th century the focus will be on Mme de Pompadour and Marie Antoinette, both of figures of great significance during France’s most elegant age.


On completion of this history course participants will:

  • have a deeper understanding of the different personalities studied, their achievements and the varied cultural environments in which they lived.
  • be able to appreciate the central role played by the court in French life in the pre-revolutionary period.
  • be able to appreciate the tensions between court and bourgeois society over the development of new and challenging ideas in philosophy, drama and the other arts.
  • be able to appreciate the continuities in French cultural over these three centuries.


The course content which will be covered in this history course will include:

  • Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592): philosophical essayist, classical scholar, traveller and diarist, mayor of Bordeaux.
  • Jean Antoine de Baïf (1532-1589) and Claude Le Jeune (c. 1530-1600): the Académie de poésie et de musique and its work in Paris in the 1570s and 1580s: the courts of Charles IX, Henry III and Henry IV, the Wars of Religion and the Peace of Nantes 1598.
  • Blaise Pascal (1623-1662): child prodigy, writer, philosopher, mathematician, scientist.
  • Molière (1622-1673): France’s greatest comic playwright and his theatre.
  • Jean Racine (1639-1699): France’s greatest dramatist and his plays—French classical tragedy in context.
  • Mme de Pompadour (1721-1764): mistress of Louis XV and arbiter of taste at the French court—her role as patron of the arts and court singer.
  • Marie Antoinette (1755-1793): princess of Austria, Dauphine and Queen of France—her patronage of the arts and her significance as the focal point of French court culture; the tragedies of her public and private life.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Statement of completion

What others say.

  • I find the course informative, interesting and so well presented by the tutor and would certainly recommend it.

  • I have attended a number of courses presented by this tutor, and they are all very well researched and very well presented. The use of a variety of resources and aids and the topics are always interesting and thought-provoking.