The novel begins on mid-winter's holiday in Paris of the middle ages. Hugo goes to great lengths to describe the architecture of the period and imparts a sense of the hierarchy of the period using the interactions of his characters. Hugo's contemporary readers, enamored of the French Revolution and the ideals of liberty, would recognize the oppressed mass of the Parisian population in the play's mob-like crowd. They would also recognize the intellectuals whose descendents would later fuel the Revolution in the sarcastic scholars who, in the novel, are quick to wield their sarcasm against authority. Most importantly, Hugo's readers would have been amused by the obscure and lengthy titles handed out to opportunists during the height of royal influence. As such, a poet like Peirre Gringoire presents a play that is clearly intended to flatter the Dauphin (whose counterpart in the play is the golden dolphin) and which results in a boring, over wrought script. It's apparent that the mob favors Coppenole and his suggested Fool's Pope rather than Gringoire's genuine but unpopular play though we are led to develop sympathy for poor Gringoire whose passion is genuine even if his play is off the mark. We are left to wonder with Pierre Gringoire what the crowd meant by "Esmeralda" and why that name should be an occasion for wonder and excitement.
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame: Novel Summary: Book I Analysis