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Jean Anouilh  1910 - 1987


Read a Biography of Jean Anouilh

One of the most popular French dramatists since World War II, Jean Anouilh {ah-noo-ee'}, born June 23, 1910, died October 3, 1987, was sometimes called a mere entertainer. Choreography and music are often integrated into his plots; yet a seriousness and a pessimistic view of life lie beneath his farce and caricature. His protagonists usually reject compromise--and thus life.

The result is either death or a retreat into illusion that becomes untenable. Happy resolutions are patently like fairy tales. His lovers are usually confronted by insurmountable money problems because one is poor and the other wealthy.

Anouilh's collected works are color titled after the dominant mood of each. His two collections of pieces noires, or black plays, include Eurydice (1941), which is a modernization of the Orpheus legend, and Antigone (1944), an immensely popular and frequently performed modernization of Sophocles' play set in World War II France. It stresses the grim choice between practical compromise and unbending idealism. The best of the pink, or lighter, plays are Thieves' Carnival (1938; Eng. trans., 1952) and Time Remembered (1939; Eng. trans., 1955). The witty pieces brillantes, or glittering plays, include Ring Round the Moon (1947; Eng. trans., 1950), Colombe (1951; Eng. trans., 1952), and The Rehearsal (1950; Eng. trans., 1961). The pieces grincantes, or grating plays, return to the caustic earlier mood and include four devastating comedies: Ardele (1949; Eng. trans., 1959), The Waltz of the Toreadors (1952; Eng. trans., 1956), Ornifle (1955; Eng. trans., 1970), and Poor Bitos, or The Masked Dinner (1956; Eng. trans., 1963).

Of Anouilh's pièces costumées , or history plays, the most important are The Lark (1953; Eng. trans., 1955), about Joan of Arc, and Becket, or The Honor of God (1959; Eng. trans., 1962).