(Augustin-)Eugène Scribe

Definition

Theater

  • (1791 - 1861) French playwright, who developed the well-madeplay with its close-knit plot. He dominated the Paris theaterfor more than 30 years of the early 19th century, earning a fortunefrom his output of over 400 works (many of which were written in collaboration).Most of his works were light vaudevilles; he also wrote 35 plays - comedies, tragedies, and historical dramas - as well as operalibretti and a ballet. His work was an important influence on EugèneLabiche, Victorien Sardou, and even Henrik Ibsen'sfirst play Catilina (1850). Scribe was elected to the AcadémieFrançaise in 1836.

    He began writing for the theater in 1810 and became knownin 1815 with the vaudeville success Encore une nuit de la GardeNationale, in which he substituted figures from contemporary societyfor the conventional characters of the genre. His most successfulplay was Adrienne Lecouvreur (1849), written in collaborationwith Ernest Legouvé (1807 - 1903); the first productionfeatured Rachel in the title role of the 18th-century actress, whowas supposedly poisoned by her rival (see Adrienne Lecouvreur).Sarah Bernhardt played Adrienne for the first time in 1880 and itsubsequently became one of her most famous roles.

    By the latter half of the 19th century Scribe's dull characterization,contrived plots, and feeble language were increasingly recognized.Even Bernhardt decided in 1905 that the original version of AdrienneLecouvreur was too bad to perform ("I don't know how Rachelmanaged...I can't do a thing with it") and wrote her ownversion for a US tour. Later generations blamed Scribe for corruptingthe art of playwriting, and none of his works are performed today.It is said that when the German poet Heinrich Heine was dying he wasasked if he could hiss: "No, not even a play of Scribe's,"he replied weakly.

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