More than three centuries ago, the French comedy, with the motto “Simul and Singulis” - to be together and to be yourself - with a beehive and bees as its emblem. Directed by Moliere, all the activities and life of this troop were initially noted by La Grange (1635-1692), a faithful friend of Molière. Thanks to him, we know his story.
Before the Comédie-Française
Molière led a troop at the Palais Royal in 1670, but the competition was fierce: two other troupes existed at the Marais and at the Hôtel de Bourgogne. After Molière's death, his troop merged with that of the Marais and moved to the Hôtel Guénégaud.
The year 1680 was rich in events. On August 18, the king orders that these 2 remaining troops play together. On August 25, this new joint troupe under the direction of La Grange, presents a first play. Finally, on October 21, the king signed a lettre de cachet decreeing the founding of a unique troupe with the aim of "making the performances of comedies more perfect" and granted the monopoly of performances in French. The plays performed by some of the 27 actors chosen by the king are those of Molière, Corneille, Racine, Scarron, Rotrou. As artists, we find Armande Béjart, La Grange, Melle Champmeslé, Du Croisy ...
Comédie Française: the birth of an institution
On January 5, 1681, the actors founded an association regulating in particular the pension system. Provided with a pension of 12,000 pounds, the troupe will take the name of "Comédiens du Roy", but will often be denigrated by Italian artists. From there, the term “Comédie Française” was born. Too close to the Collège des Quatre-Nations, the troupe had to leave the theater in 1687 and moved in 1689 to what is now rue de l'Ancienne Comédie, a new theater built according to the plans of François d´Orbay.
After the disappearance of Louis XIV in 1716, the troupe had to fight against the Italian Comedians, favored by the Regent. They change repertoire by creating the “tearful comedy” and use the works of Voltaire, Destouches, Nivelle de La Chaussée, Marivaux.
Thanks to Louis XV who settled the debts of the troop in 1766, the French transformed the theater by creating boxes, enlarging the stage, making the sets and costumes more natural. Moving to the Tuileries Palace in 1770, they presented Beaumarchais's Barber of Seville in 1775, consecrated Voltaire in 1778, and then ensured the triumph of the Marriage of Figaro in 1784 in their new theater in Faubourg Saint Germain, the current Odeon.
When the Revolution arrives, the life and status of French artists changes. The troupe was dissolved in 1792. Losing their royal pension and with the new name of Théâtre de la Nation, they moved into a room recently built by Victor Louis, but on September 3, 1792, the Committee of Public Safety closed the Odeon , stops the actors, seizes their papers and imprisons them. Thanks to Charles Labussière, an employee of the Committee of Public Safety, they avoided the guillotine and were freed in 1793 when Robespierre fell.
It was only in 1799 and thanks to the Directory through the intermediary of the writer François de Neufchâteau, that the French Comedians could move to the Théâtre Français de la République, rue Richelieu. On April 17, 1804, the members formed a new society, the protector of which was Napoleon. This is how he established the "Moscow" decree on October 15, 1812, signed in the middle of the Russian campaign, consisting of 87 articles, reorganizing the Comédie-Française, the statutes still in force today. The members are called Sociitaires, led by Talma until 1826, when she died. The Members will call on the “romantics” to increase their repertoire: Alfred de Vigny, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas and on February 25, 1830, they presented “Hernani”, but the “Burgraves” by Victor Hugo in 1843 was a failure, the audience aspiring to a more classic tragedy.
Louis Napoléon reorganized the administrative functioning of the Comédie Française in 1849 by creating the post of administrator and it became the “ordinary troop of the Emperor” in 1859. Until 1871, it was the triumph of “comedy”. bourgeois ”with characters like Sarah Bernhardt and authors like Banville, Ponsard, Augier. The "Tout-Paris" goes to the theater, but between 1885 and 1913 the financial difficulties are there, the actors are brilliant in the "tragic", the "comic" is less and the comedies "of manners" appear. It must be said that the theater fire in March 1900 does not make things easier: a catastrophe is avoided and for safety reasons, the number of seats is gradually reduced from 2000 to 900 today.
During the 1st war and until the 2nd, the Comédie Française made "patriotic" theater. Despite the unrest, new playwrights as well as foreign authors are welcomed. This is how we read names such as Louis Jouvet, Mauriac, Pirandello and the prestige is preserved during this 2nd world war.
The theaters of the Comédie Française
The Comédie Française will perform in two venues: the Richelieu room and the Luxembourg room or the Odéon. In the years which followed the end of the war, on several occasions, the Odeon would be part of the Comedy and then be withdrawn definitively in 1988. But places were sorely lacking: in 1993, the Théâtre du Vieux Colombier was awarded to him as second. room and in 1996 a new room was opened at the Carrousel du Louvre.
Today, the Comédie Française is a public industrial and commercial establishment, dependent on the Ministry of Culture. But according to the statutes initiated by Napoleon, the members are boarders and members under the leadership of the dean.
"Boarders" are members hired by the Administrator, forming part of the troop and having less than one year of presence. They become "Members" after one year of service, chosen by the Administrative Committee and by decree of the Ministry of Culture. They pass to the status of "Honorary Members" after twenty years of presence, when they are retired. They are recognized for their quality work and can play from time to time in the troop. The "Dean" is the oldest member, leading the troop and ensuring that the original principles are maintained.
The Comédie Française, as we have read, has a monopoly on performances in French. Its repertoire, made up of 3000 pieces, appeals to the great classics, but it also features foreign authors like Shakespeare and more modern ones like Ionesco and Beckett. Molière is and will remain the most performed author: more than 30,000 times since the creation of the troupe with his best-known pieces: the “Tartuffe”, the “Avare”, the “Misanthrope”, the “Imaginary Medicine” "And the" Doctor in spite of himself ". Its current administrator is Éric Ruf.
- History of the Comédie-Française: From Molière to Talma by André Blanc. Perrin, 2007.
- Big and small history of the Comédie-Française: The Age of Enlightenment 1680-1799 by Maurice Lever. Fayard, 2006.