The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Comédie Française

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Edition of 1920. See also Comédie-Française on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

COMÉDIE FRANÇAISE, kō'mā-dē' frän'sāz' the official name of the national theatre of France which is supported by public funds for the purpose of advancing dramatic art. It was long known popularly as “La Maison de Molière,” or Molière's Theatre, even after it had become, by royal decree in 1680, a national institution; and the two great bodies of actors then in Paris, those acting at the Hotel de Bourgogne Theatre and those at the Génégaud Theatre, had been united and fused into one body. The former, which was Molière's dramatic institution, had originally been an old theatre where miracle plays had been presented as early as 1543. Thus the Comédie Française may be said to have an unbroken tradition reaching back to the days of Molière, and to have had theatre connections for more than a century previous to the death of the great dramatist in 1673. Two years after the amalgamation of the dramatic companies they received a royal grant of 12,000 livres ($2,400) per year; and seven years later they took, for the first, their present designation of players of the “Comédie Française.” From 1770 to 1782 the “Comédie” had quarters in the royal palace of the Tuileries. But the Revolution of 1789 divided the players of the “Comédie Française” into two strongly antagonistic political parties and disrupted the organization to such an extent that all public performances were suspended. Each party reorganized, some months later, as an independent theatrical organization, the Royalists taking the name “Théâtre de la Nation” and the Republicans that of “Théâtre de la République.” In 1793 the former theatre closed its doors and the players were arrested by the Committee of Public Safety; but they were subsequently released and allowed to again open their theatre. Napoleon, in 1812, issued regulations for the government of the national theatre, which are still, with some subsequent modifications, in force. The government appoints a general manager of the theatre, the members of the stock company of which divide the profits according to laws and regulations prescribed by the articles of incorporation of the organization. The “Comédie Française” receives from the French government an annual pension of 240,000 francs. Its membership is divided into “sociétaires” and “pensionnaires.” The former are regular members of the organization and as such receive a pension of 4,000 francs a year after 20 years of service, while the latter are paid actors who may, after a certain length of service, become “sociétaires.”

The building of the “Comédie Française” was so badly damaged by fire in 1900 that it had to be practically rebuilt. This resulted in making the edifice much more modern in every way. The names of nearly all the great actors and dramatists of France have, at some time in their career, been associated with that of the “Comédie.”

Bibliography. — Bonnassies, J., ‘La Comedie Française, histoire administrative’ (Paris 1874); Cochrane, ‘The Théâtre Français in the Reign of Louis XV’ (London 1879); Etienne and Martainville, ‘Histoire du Théatre Français’ (Paris 1802); Hawkins, F. W., ‘The French Stage in the Eighteenth Century’ (London 1888); Joannides, ‘La Comédie Française 1680 à 1900’ (Paris 1901); Lucas, ‘Histoire philosophique et littéraire du Théâtre Français’ (Paris 1862); Pougin, A., ‘Dictionnaire historique et pittoresque du théâtre’ (Paris 1888); Rigal, Eugène, ‘Les Théâtres de Paris 1548 à 1635’ (Paris 1887); Soubies, A., ‘Almanach des Spectacles’ (1890); Weiss, ‘Autour de la Comédie Française’ (Paris 1892).