The great return of theatrical comedy

The great return of theatrical comedy

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© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: February 2005

Historical context

During the XIXe century, the rise of the bourgeoisie and the influence of its customs on the rest of society aroused the derision of many free spirits, especially among writers. If the Joseph Prudhomme by Henri Monnier represents the type of the satisfied bourgeois who boasts of commonplaces ("It's my opinion and I share it"), Labiche's theatrical work, less caricatural, endeavors to show them. through and mediocrity by means of laughter: “I devoted myself almost exclusively to the study of the bourgeois, of the 'Philistine'; this animal offers endless resources to those who know how to see it, it is inexhaustible. Endowed with great verve, Labiche wrote in collaboration with other authors (Clairville, Dumanoir, Émile Augier) numerous comedies in which he gently castigates bourgeois common sense (A straw hat from Italy, 1851 ; Monsieur Perrichon's Voyage, 1860 ; Powder in the eyes, 1861 ; The jackpot, 1864). In return, the mediocrity of the social perspectives offered by the bourgeoisie, first criticized by the romantics (Stendhal, Musset) and the Bonapartists, was notably revealed in the second half of the century by Daudet (The little thing), Flaubert (Madame Bovary) and Maupassant (A life). In this sense, the work of Alfred Jarry (Ubu) is the heir to the social laughter cultivated by Labiche and then by Courteline.

Image Analysis

The portrait of Eugène Labiche by Desboutin, an artist close to the Impressionists and particularly Degas, is very revealing of the character. The playwright is a round, calm man with a humorous grin, who carefully avoids any eccentricity (short hair, no beard, when it was in fashion). Yet his direct gaze appears blasé, without illusions.


Unlike Barbey d´Aurevilly, his integration into the bourgeoisie seems to have caused Labiche to lose all anti-conformism. It is undoubtedly only through theatrical writing that Labiche managed to overcome his lack of courage in the face of the bourgeoisie. It seems that the circular and imprecise touch that surrounds the writer's face conveys both his fullness and his serenity, and materializes the doubts about his social convictions.

  • writers
  • portrait
  • theater
  • Stendhal (Henri Beyle, said)
  • Labiche (Eugene)
  • Musset (Alfred de)
  • Flaubert (Gustave)
  • Maupassant (Guy de)


Gérard GENGEMBRE The French Theater in the 19th Century Paris, Armand Colin, 1999 Eugène LABICHEThéâtre (2 vol.), Paris, Robert Laffont, coll. "Bouquins", 1991.Philippe SOUPAULTEugène LabicheParis, Mercure de France, 2000.Heinrich SCHWARZArt and photography: forerunners and influenceNew York, William E.Parker, 1985.

To cite this article

Jérémie BENOÎT, "The great return of theatrical comedy"

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