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MonkeyNotes-Antigone by Jean Anouilh
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BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Author Information

The French dramatist, Jean Anouilh, was born in Bordeaux, France, on June 23, 1910. His father was a tailor and his mother was a musician. His passion for the theater as a child was part of his varied interests, including philosophy, law, and mathematics. He showed an interest in writing at an early age and began composing verses at the age of twelve. In school, he studied law. After school, he worked briefly in an advertising agency and served as the secretary to Louis Jouvet, a director. Fortunately, these jobs did not stifle his love of life, beauty, poetry, or drama.

Deeply influenced by Bernard Shaw, Paul Claudel, and Pirandello, Anouilh decided early in life to become a playwright. The turning point in his career was seeing Jean Girandoux's play, Siegfried, directed by Jouvet in 1928. The play inspired him to adopt the middle style of theatrical speech. In 1932, his first play, L'Hermine, established his reputation in the theater world as a melancholic romantic. In the same year, he married an actress, Monelle Valentin, who played the heroine in many of his dramas.

Initially, Anouilh produced little income from his literary efforts. Somewhat introspective, his prose work, Pieces roses, dealt with the Themes of poverty in a world of riches and innocence in a world of experience. In 1935, he had a big break, selling the rights of his play, There was a Prisoner, to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. By 1937, he was successfully collaborating with other eminent directors to present his plays on the stage. Most of his work was characterized by fatalism and was known as Pieces noires.

The war years saw the birth of a new 'black' phase in Anouilh's drama, with three reworkings of classic Themes in modern terms: Eurydice (1942), Antigone (written in 1942 and produced in 1944), and Romeo and Jeannette (1946). He created two new categories in his work: Pieces brilliantes introduced comic Themes with romantic delicacy, and Pieces grincantes offered a mixture of savage humor and tragedy.


In 1952, Anouilh wrote The Waltz of the Toreador, which gives a tortured view of the confines of marriage. In 1953, he wrote L'Alouette, a fairly straightforward historical portrait of Saint Joan of Arc. It was followed in 1959 by another historical drama, Beckett, which is a portrait of the friendship and estrangement of Henry II and the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury. Since the advent of the Theater of the Absurd, Jean Anouilh's reputation has been eclipsed by newer fashions and trends. Still, certain plays, like Cher Antoine (1969) and Pauvre Bitos (1959), win acclaim in the United States and in Britain. His best known play is still Antigone, which is a thinly veiled attack on the Nazi occupation of France.

Throughout his life, Jean Anouilh was a temperamental man; he was emotionally insecure, timid, and anxious. He often lost his temper and tended toward pessimism. A self-described comic misanthrope (one who dislikes or distrusts mankind), Jean Anouilh dismissed charges that his plays were too cynical by saying, "my theater is a fairy tale compared to reality!" or "I have no biography and I am very glad of it."

Although Anouilh was a genius, he always felt inferior before intellectuals.

In spite of the darkness and gloom found in many of his plays, Anouilh understood that the primary goal of the playwright is to amuse the audience. He always tried to relieve the bleak morality of his plays with flashes of humor. His biting, elegant satires, like Antigone, entertain the audience by portraying society's rebels as heroes. His fondness for remolding myth, legend, and history is evident in this remake of Sophocles' classic tragedy.

As a dramatist, Anouilh always respected the dramatic teachings of Aristotle and the conventions of classic theater. As a writer of serious plays, he believed that the depth and beauty of a dramatic work are connected to real human experience. As a dramatic innovator, he contributed greatly to the political, tragic, and satirical theater of his time. After a long and productive career as a dramatist, Jean Anouilh died of a heart attack at the age of seventy- seven in October, 1987.

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