The New International Encyclopædia/Comédie Française
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COMÉDIE FRANÇAISE, kṓ'mắ'dḗ' fräN'sắz' (Fr., French comedy). The official name of the Théâtre Français, the national theatre of France, subsidized by the State for the advancement of dramatic art. Its history dates officially from October 21, 1680, when a decree of Louis XIV. amalgamated the two rival companies of the Hôtel de Bourgogne and the Hôtel Guénégaud, the latter being a fusion, after Molière's death in 1673, of the Théâtre du Marais and the Troupe de Molière. It thus maintains a practically unbroken tradition from the time of the great master of comedy, and is still familiarly known as the House of Molière. In 1682 the King granted to his comedians an annual pension of 12,000 livres (about $2400), their first subsidy. In 1689 they established themselves in a new house, in what is now called the ‘Rue de l'Ancienne Comédie,’ and took the name of ‘La Comédie Française;’ under it they played until the Revolution with a succession of such artists as Baron, Adrienne Lecouvreur, Le Kain, and Mademoiselle Clairon. For a time (1770-82) they were housed in the Palace of the Tuileries itself. Later, on the performance of Chénier's anti-monarchical play of Charles IX. in 1789, violent political discussions arose among the performers, and ultimately they split into two sections: the Republican party, under the young tragedian Talma, establishing a new theatre under the name ‘Théâtre de la République,’ on the site of the present building in the Rue de Richelieu: while the Royalist section took the title ‘Théâtre de la Nation.’ In September, 1793, the latter was suddenly closed by order of the Committee of Public Safety, and the players imprisoned, though they were afterwards gradually released. For a few years the rivalry continued; then in 1799, for a short time, there was an absolute interruption in the history of the Théâtre Françcais. In May of that year, however, the Comédie was once more reorganized and settled in the Rue de Richelieu. Napoleon, while at Moscow, October 15, 1812, prescribed the regulations which, modified in 1850 and 1859, still govern the company. There is an administrateur-général appointed by the Government. The sociétaires are members of the company, who, as shareholders, divide the profits according to certain rules. Before being elected as a sociétaire, an artist must have served in the theatre as a pensionnaire, upon a salary. A sociétaire, after twenty years of service, is allowed to retire with a pension of 4000 francs. The annual sum received from the State is 240,000 francs; and the theatre, being removed from the fear of temporary pecuniary failure, is in no sense a mere business speculation, but serves as an educator of public taste and sets a standard of dramatic training. Here many of the greatest artists of the modern French stage have won their triumphs, including Mlles. Mars, Rachel, Brohan, and, for a part of her career, Sarah Bernhardt, and MM. Talma, Got, Mounet-Sully, and Coquelin. Early in 1900 the historic building adjoining the Palais Royal was partly destroyed by a disastrous fire, but was promptly rebuilt in improved fashion within the same lines. Consult: Matthews, The Theatres of Paris (New York, 1880); Lucas, Histoire philosophique et littéraire du Théâtre-Français (Paris, 1862-63); Bonnassies, La Comédie Française, histoire administrative (Paris, 1874); Joannides, La Comédie Française de 1680 à 1900, dictionnaire général des pièces et des auteurs, preface by Jules Claretie (Paris, 1901); Cochrane, The Théâtre Français in the Reign of Louis XV. (London, 1879); and, for a discussion of many of the plays of its recent repertory, Weiss, Autour de la Comédie Française (Paris, 1892).