Mark Ravenhill's new play was inspired by Voltaire's philosophical novel, Candide.
Who was Voltaire?
Born in Paris in 1694, François-Marie d'Arouet, known as Voltaire, was a French philosopher.
The son of wealthy parents, Voltaire attended the prestigious Lycée Louis-le-Grand which educated famous writers Molière, Victor Hugo, Charles Baudelaire, Jean-Paul Sartre, along with many painters, philosophers, politicians and scientists.
Throughout his life, Voltaire was controversial and outspoken. He endured strict censorship laws, exile, and was even imprisoned in the Bastille.
Vigorous criticism of the Church resulted in Voltaire being denied a Christian burial, but friends secretly buried his body at the Abbey of Scellières.
First published in 1759, the story traces the journey of a young man who leads a sheltered life, believing that mankind lives in the best of all possible worlds and that everything happens for the best.
But Candide's happiness comes to a sharp end when he is unfairly evicted from his uncle's castle for kissing his cousin and true love, Lady Cunégonde. Cast out into the big wide world, Candide is forced to confront reality.
A slow and painful disillusionment ensues as he witnesses disturbing scenes of evil in the world, shattering his faith in Optimism.
'All will be well. Why, the seas of this new world are already better than the seas of Europe. They are smoother, and the winds are steadier. For certain, it is this new world that will prove to be the best of all possible ones.' (Candide, Chapter X).
Proposed by the German philosopher, Gottfried Leibniz, in his 1710 book Theodicy, Optimism offered a positive approach to the problem of evil, suggesting that more good than evil exists in the world and that we live in the best of possible worlds.
Voltaire was inspired by Leibniz's idea of Optimism, and wrote Candide as a satirical response to the theory.
Read Voltaire's Candide online at Project Gutenberg.
Image: Portrait of Voltaire by Nicolas de Largillière. Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain.