Baptiste

Definition

Theater

  • Stage name of Jean-Gaspard Deburau (also known as Jan KašparDvořák; 1796 - 1846), France's most famous Pierrot.Born into a family of Bohemian acrobats, he took over the role of the Pierrotat Paris's tiny Théâtre des Funambules on the Boulevard du Templein about 1816. Baptiste transformed the character into a melancholy andpoignant but sometimes macabre figure; as a result of his popularity, Pierrotdisplaced Harlequin as the main character in pantomime. In the partBaptiste wore a new style of white face, a black skullcap (in place of thetraditional large hat), and a costume of loose white trousers and blouse (withlarge buttons but without the traditional ruffles at the neck). He played thepart for 30 years until his death, when his son Charles Deburau (1829 - 73)inherited the role. Jean-Louis Barrault famously recreated Baptiste'sPierrot for the film Les Enfants du Paradis (1945).

    At the height of his fame, Baptiste became involved in a serious scandalwhen he struck out with his walking stick at a drunken man who had insultedhis wife and, by some misfortune, killed him. The resulting court case drewhuge crowds - mainly, it is said, because the people of Paris recognizedtheir one chance to hear the great mime speak. Although Deburau was acquittedand became more popular than ever, there were some in the theatrical world whorecalled with a frisson the actor's tales of his violent, poverty-strickenchildhood - one of which involved his being taught the art of killing with a single blow of a stick....

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