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I am looking for a word that fits the following criteria:

  1. A person who loves to perform, or craves attention
  2. Preferably without a negative connotation (such as attention whore)
  3. Suitable in writing
  4. Suitable for describing a person in the 17th century France
  • Why not use contemporary terms to describe a characteristic of the past? – user66974 Mar 18 '15 at 7:37
  • Ditto josh61, is there a reason why a more modern-day expression cannot be used to describe a historical figure or a character in the past? Are you looking for a formal expression, or one that was in use in the 17th century? – Mari-Lou A Mar 18 '15 at 7:54
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    'Craves attention' requires a negative denotation. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 18 '15 at 8:23
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I think exhibitionist may fit your description:

  • a person who behaves in ways intended to attract attention or display his or her powers, personality, etc.

and grandstander (also used in a figurative way)

  • Someone who performs with an eye to the applause from spectators in the grandstand.
  • Taylor Swift loves to perform. Are you accusing her of ... ? – Blessed Geek Mar 18 '15 at 7:58
  • @BlessedGeek I don't think Taylor Swift was performing back in the 17th century. – Mari-Lou A Mar 18 '15 at 17:18
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You can say that someone enjoys to be in the spotlight.

Meaning they enjoy being the center of attention.

No longer available since the 17th century France constraint.
Maybe go with the simple - performer.

  • Thanks for the answer, but the situation I'm describing is set in the 17th century France. So spotlight probably didn't exist yet. :( – NoodleFolk Mar 18 '15 at 7:23
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artiste (n.)
1819 in English, from 1804 as a French word, from French artiste; a reborrowing of artist, at first in a foreign context, later used to fill the gap after the sense of artist had become limited toward the visual arts and especially painting.

Artiste: an admirable word (albeit somewhat Frenchified) of late applied, with nice discrimination, to every species of exhibitor, from a rope-dancer down to a mere painter or sculptor.

something a little earlier...

show (n.)
Meaning "display, spectacle" is first recorded 1560s; that of "ostentatious display" is from 1713 (showy is from 1712).

showy (adj.)
1712, from show (n.) + -y (2). Related: Showiness; showiness. Originally in a positive sense.

showman (n.)
"one who presents shows," 1734, from show (n.) + man (n.).

showgirl (n.)
"actress whose role is decorative rather than histrionic" [OED], 1836, from show (v.) + girl.

Perhaps this...

performer (n.)
1580s, agent noun from perform (v.). Theatrical sense is from 1711.

  • A show-off. – GEdgar Mar 22 '15 at 12:13
  • @GEdgar but would you use this word to describe a 17th century French performer? Perhaps... – Mari-Lou A Mar 22 '15 at 12:20
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Difficult to find a positive or neutral expression for such a person, given the characteristics you describe fit perfectly with 'narcissist', a term which is usually interpreted negatively. 'Egotist' may fit, and may be considered less negative. Otherwise, possibly, 'prima donna'.

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