History fact, October 21 in Paris: the birth of the Comédie-Française

Published by Manon C. · Updated on 21 October 2021 at 16h24 · Published on 7 October 2021 at 15h03
The Comédie-Française is founded on October 21, 1680 by order of King Louis XIV resulting from the fusion between Molière’s company and the Hôtel de Bourgogne’s. The king’s idea was simple: putting an end to the quarrels between the two rival troupes while reaffirming royalty through the promotion of classic French theater at a time with the Comédie-Italienne is very trendy.

Resulting from the fusion between the only two companies in Paris at this time, the company of the Hôtel de GuénégaudMolière’s former company – and of the Hôtel de Bourgogne, the Comédie-Française cultural institution is founded on Monday October 21, 1680 by order of king Louis XIV.

Also known as Théâtre-Français, this is the first and permanent theater company of French comedians created by the king for several reasons: to face companies of Italian actors while the Comédie-Italienne is highly coveted, to promote classic French theater while reaffirming the monarchy’s power and put an end to the pointless squabbles between the two rival Parisian companies.

Troupe de MolièreTroupe de MolièreTroupe de MolièreTroupe de Molière

Molière’s company makes its debuts from 1658 at the court of Louis XIV and the writer quickly becomes the young king’s favorite for whim he creates many shows in partnership with the best stage designers, choreographers and musicians of their time. But the playwright dies in 1673, at 51, a few hours after playing for the fourth time the main part of The Imaginary Invalid.

Deprived of his thinker, the king’s company now led by Molière’s widow, Armande Béjart, and his stage fellow Charles Varlet aka La Grange, becomes worn out. The rival company of the Hôtel de Bourgogne jumps on the occasion and makes the most of this dramatic event to tout for several actors such as Michel Baron, La Thorillière and the Beauval spouses who leave Molière’s troupe to join theirs.

La mort de MolièreLa mort de MolièreLa mort de MolièreLa mort de Molière

To put an end to these quarrels sometimes leading both companies to perform the same plays at the same time, seven years after Molière’s death, on October 21, 1680, Louis XIV orders the fusion of the King’s company set at the Hôtel de Guénégaud, rue Mazarine, with the company of the Théâtre de Bourgogne, uniting therefore comic and tragic companies. The Comédie-Française is born.

The first joint performance is held a week later and the Comédie-Française adopts at the same time a significant motto: “Simul et singulis”, “being together and oneself”. French exception, the troupe swings between comedies and tragedies. The repertoire then includes all of Molière’s and Racine’s plays, as well as a few plays by Corneille, Scarron and Rotrou.

This fusion is also a way for the king to shine a light on classic French theater while reaffirming the grandeur of the French monarchy at a time the Comédie-Italienne is very trendy. Therefore, the French actors get from the king the monopoly of performances in French in Paris and a generous pension of 12,00 French livres. Inside the very company, the latter are hierarchized between “boarders” and “members” who can take part in the managing of the theater.

Théâtre de l'OdéonThéâtre de l'OdéonThéâtre de l'OdéonThéâtre de l'Odéon

First set at the Hôtel de Guénégaud, the Comédie-Française has to move many times during the next century. Expelled in June 1687 from the Hôtel de Guénégaud as ordered by the King on the pretext that they jeopardize the tranquility of the religious Collège des Quatre-Nations, comedians settle in 1689 in the Jeu de Paume by the Etoile, then in the Palais des Tuileries and in 1782 in the théâtre de l'Odéon then called Hôtel de Condé where the company performs for the first time Beaumarchais’ “The Marriage of Figaro” that was censored until then for its vehement critic of the nobility and the aristocracy.

Under the royal protection of the king and gentlemen from the King’s Chamber who can decide for the detailed program and the selection of comedians so far, they are now evolving in status. Now enjoying civil rights, they have their royal pension removed as well as their monopoly on the French repertoire.

But during the French Revolution, during the Reign of Terror, the very monarchist ideas of the Comédie-Française led to its closing on September 3, 1793, as ordered by the Comité de Salut Public and comedians are jailed. Escaping from the guillotine, the troupe – somewhat scattered by a break between pro-monarchists and pro-republicans – is re-established in 1799 by the Directoire.

Théâtre français de la RépubliqueThéâtre français de la RépubliqueThéâtre français de la RépubliqueThéâtre français de la République

Helped by writer François de Neufchâteau – now Secretary of the Interior – the Comédie-Français permanently settles in the Théâtre français de la République, the Richelieu room built in 1786 by architect Victor Louis by the Palais-Royal following the fire of the Opéra room in 1781.

Very coveted during the First Empire and the first years of the Restoration, the Comédie-Française enjoys Napoleon I’s protection who through the Moscow decree signed in 1812 manages its managing and organization. Through 87 articles, the Emperor lays on paper the theater administration, the financing of the company and the addition of new plays; measures still in effect today.

Now placed under the conservatorship of the Ministry of Culture, the Comédie-Française now enjoys three theaters in Paris – the Salle Richelieu, the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier and the Studio-Théâtre – where they play a repertoire of 3,500 plays, mostly including classic plays, as well as more modern stagings and plays by foreign playwrights.

Although he is dead for seven years when the Comédie-Française is created, Molière is still considered as the ruler of the French institution that is nicknamed Molière’s house. The chair he started to agonize on during the performance of the “The Invisible Invalid” is still displayed down the Galerie des Bustes, after the public foyers in the Salle Richelieu.

Practical information

Location

2, rue de Richelieu
75001 Paris 1

Access
Métro Palais Royal - Musée du Louvre

More informations
Iconographies :
En-tête : Intérieur de la Comédie-Française en 1790
La troupe de Molière
La mort de Molière
Le théâtre de l'Odéon
Le théâtre français de la République, salle Richelieu

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