Adrienne Lecouvreur



  • (1692 - 1730) French actress, who brought a delicate naturalisticstyle to the French stage during an era of bombastic overacting. Voltairecalled her "this incomparable actress, who almost invented theart of speaking to the heart". Unfortunately her success inspiredjealousy in her fellow actresses. After making her Paris debut (1717)in Crébillon's électre at the Comédie-Française,Lecouvreur went on to increase her reputation in works by Racine,Molière, and Corneille. She was equally famous for her beautyand her charm, and her salon became renowned as a meeting place forartistic Parisians.

    In 1721 Lecouvreur became the mistress of the general Maurice de Saxe, which made her the target of an attempt at poisoning by one of Saxe's betterestablished mistresses. Lecouvreur took her revenge by stationingherself directly under the box of her rival to deliver a strong speechabout those who commit crime and show an unblushing countenance. Saxe'sdesertion of Adrienne is said to have caused her sudden death sixmonths later at the age of 38, although her public predictably blamedpoisoning.

    As an actress, she was refused a Christian burial by the CatholicChurch. Her body was interred at midnight in a corner of the Rue deBourgogne with such secrecy that its resting place has never been found.She had died in the arms of Voltaire, who wrote a furious poem against theChurch in France, contrasting her funeral with that of the Britishactress Anne Oldfield, buried in Westminster Abbey earlierthat year.

    Lecouvreur was further immortalized in the successful buthistorically inaccurate play Adrienne Lecouvreur by EugèneScribe and Ernest Legouve (1849).