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French Theater: 5 Classic Plays


Salut c’est Géraldine, bienvenue sur Comme
une Française TV, Sound French, even to the French. Like famous theatre director Louis Jouvet
once said : “Nothing is more superfluous, more dishonest, more vain, more necessary
than theater.” And because it’s both superfluous and necessary,
everyone in France has learned about some famous plays. We usually don’t talk about them much in everyday life, but they are part of our shared cultural background ; knowing them, or even occasionally dropping
a famous quote, will make you subtly fit in. And they’re also great theater, so worth
reading or if you can, watching. L’Avare – de Molière (1668) Of course I’ll start with the most famous
French theater author, living under Louis the XIVth, le Roi Soleil, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin,
alias Molière. French is called la langue de Molière, the
language of Molière, after all. His company, La Comédie française, is still
playing, and is the most prestigious theater company in France. Molière’s works are well known, frequently
studied, played and revisited, a part of French culture and even French language ; for example,
his protagonist Tartuffe led to today’s word “un tartuffe,” synonym for “un hypocrite,”
a hypocrite. Molière wrote many successful comedies, most
of them using tropes : a rich master and his wily servant, a handsome young man and a pretty
young girl in love with each other, their parents or some circumstance forbidding them
to marry, a special plan, funny misunderstandings, slapstick comedy and social commentary, and
a happy ending. Also people getting hit with sticks, a lot. L’Avare is the best example of this, and
a movie version was made in 1980, but you could also check out Les fourberies de Scapin,
or L’école des femmes, other great plays from the middle school curriculum. Le Cid – de Corneille (1637) Corneille is the other most famous playwright
from le théâtre classique, classical theater from Louis the XIIIth / Louis the XIVth era. Like most tragedians, he wrote with the most
common meter in French poetry, l’alexandrin. It’s like the English iambic pentameter
in its use, but French language doesn’t really use stressed syllables ; l’alexandrin
is made of twelve syllables. Le Cid has its share of famous alexandrins,
but most famously : “Ô rage ! Ô désespoir ! Ô vieillesse ennemie !,” “O rage! O despair! O old age, my enemy!,” where the hero’s father laments his inability to act like he should and like he used to. That’s so famous. Le Cid was in its time a break-out, a new
way to make theater, pushing the envelope of how stories are told in French theater. It’s both a tragedy and a heroic play, with
love and duels and great battles. And still now, a dilemma between two equally
difficult options is called in the name of Pierre Corneille, un dilemme cornélien. Another one I really like from Corneille is
L’illusion comique that I studied when I was at school. Cyrano de Bergerac – de Edmond Rostand (1897) Everyone knows Cyrano de Bergerac. He’s brave, he’s proud, he’s generous,
he’s a master of the sword and the word, he humiliates his opponents in a rap battle
while fighting and winning a sword fight, and yet he’s desperately ugly with his gigantic
nose. As he famously says : “C’est un cap ! c’est
un roc ! c’est une péninsule !” “It’s a cape, it’s a rock, it’s a whole peninsula !,” a sentence he uses on himself to talk about his nose. When he finds his opponent’s insults lacking. In this play, Cyrano helps young and handsome
Christian to woo sweet Roxane with his poems Cyrano is also in love with her, but he
thinks he’s too ugly for her so he keeps it secret from everyone. The play was adapted for TV with famous actor
Gerard Depardieu, and I hear you can find it subtitled on Youtube. It’s also a big inspiration for French comic
De Capes et de Crocs, a great series of adventures that’s also celebrating the adventures of
French theater. Antigone – de Jean Anouilh (1944) This play is shorter and more accessible than
the others in its vocabulary ; it was written during the German occupation of France, L’Occupation,
and deals with themes of rebellion, resistance, revisiting an old Greek tragedy about Oedipus’
children and family. It’s very famous maybe you already knew it. It’s also the story of a teenager, une adolescente,
who needs to rebel against absurd rules, rules that nonetheless need to be enforced, and
she knows it but can’t help but reject them. It’s a popular read au collège, in middle
school; some of my own classmates played Antigone. Another often-studied play from that period
would be Rhinoceros, by Eugène Ionesco where a whole town start turning into rhinoceroses. It’s a metaphor for fascism. It’s quite fun and ends with a stampede. Like Samuel Beckett, Ionesco one of these Parisian playwrights who started le théâtre de l’absurde, absurdist theater. His other famous work La Cantatrice chauve,
is still being played on the small Parisian stage Théâtre de la Huchette every night
since 1957 ! And was inspired by the Assimil method, when Ionesco tried to learn how to
sound English, even to the English ! Le dîner de cons – Francis Veber (1993)
Le dîner de cons is one of these modern French comedies that started in theater and were
successfully adapted as films. These plays have roots in old vaudeville , today
more commonly called le théâtre de boulevard, (played in the popular theaters in the Parisian
neighbourhood “Grands boulevards”). Other recommendations I can add are Un fil
à la patte, the 1875 play and its 2005 movie adaptation, and from the 2010’s, Le Prénom
or even Les Garçons Et Guillaume, à table! Everyone has seen Le dîner de con at this
point, because it’s the best pure vaudeville it’s a light comedy, it’s funny, it’s
witty, the cast is talented, and the play goes fast between several misunderstandings
and revelations ; it’s also more accessible and available for English audiences, so go
now and take a look ! In French, the most famous scene involves
a character named “Juste Leblanc.” Watch it and you would tell me about it. Et toi ? Have you watched French theater,
on stage or on screen ? Which one would you recommend to the Community? Do you have a favorite scene or line ? Share your experience (in French if you dare!)
in the comments below the video. We can all learn from your story. The comment section is the best place to start
discussions and ask questions! — If you liked this video, share it with
your friends on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest! Help me spread the word about Comme une Française. Merci ! Love France? Dream of sounding French, even to the French? Learn how with me, Geraldine, on Comme une
Française.com and subscribe to my email updates for exclusive tips on Real Life in France
every Tuesday PLUS an exclusive video lesson: “Introduce yourself in French.” It’s FREE! Merci for watching Comme une Française TV,
sound French, even to the French. Allez, salut !

11 Comments

  1. Catherine Nguyen Author

    J'ai vu La Leçon par Ionesco sur scène 🙂 c'était un peu bizarre parce que c'est une pièce de théâtre basé sur l'absurdité

    Reply
  2. Carol R. Author

    J'ai adoré votre video. Merci Geraldine! Je rajouterais "Le thêátre du Soleil". Depuis 40 ans, la troupe n'arrete pas d'améliorer: Ariane Mouniskine (la metteuse en scène), pour moi, est la personalité française vivante la plus remarquable.

    Reply
  3. Clémence B Author

    le théâtre est une de mes passions et le fait d'apprendre les dramaturges les plus connus aux anglophones est super intéressant ! continue ainsi

    Reply
  4. Wally Kaspars Author

    Thank you for the information. I will have to read the play from Moiliere. I saw the excellent French movie about Moliere with Romain Duris and Fabrice Luchini. A great film! My favorite play is Alfred Jarry's "Ubu Roi". It's the only one I've seen on stage.

    Reply
  5. Larissa Bernardo Author

    I really enjoy your videos because you give us useful informations about everything, you are not shallow like the others <3 I loved the video you talk about french singers as well, it makes us get into the the french culture and that's AWESOME. Merci beaucoup !

    Reply
  6. Kaitlyn Trussell Author

    Will you please do a video on YouTube lingo? Like how to vlog in French, how to say things like subscribe and comment and stuff like that, maybe talk about some French youtubers? S'il vous plait!!!!!

    Reply

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