Le théǎtre de la résistance des années quarante

Date
1981
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Abstract

The Resistance movement in the French theatre during the forties. Between September 1939 and June 1940 ail theaters in Paris had been closed, but, following the armistice which concluded the 'phony war', this situation was reversed. By the end of 1940 approximately eighteen theaters had reopened for business and, during the course of the following year, virtually ail theaters became fully functional. Initially, the German authorities instituted a form of censorship, under the jurisdiction of the Propagandastaffel, aimed at all forms of literary expression, in order to circumvent all criticism of themselves. As the Occupation stretched on, the Vichy government asserted its right to its own censorship, under the aegis of Frenchmen. The aim of Vichy differed somewhat from that of the Propagandastaffel , inasmuch as its purpose was to prevent any remarks detrimental to this essentially pater- nalistic government. The exaltation of traditional French values (Work, Family and Homeland) were, hopefully, to be expressed in all literary forms. Certain magazines and newspapers complied only too happily with Vichy's requirements. Some authors vented their anger against Jews and Freemasons in strongly pro-Fascist style. Others preferred to keep silent. In the theater world no pro-Vichy works were written or produced. During the Occupation, theater offered a refuge from homes deprived of heating and electricity. To spend an evening in the theater gave a temporary feeling of comfort in the presence of others. It offered a form of escapism from the drab reality of daily life. Stunned by the rapidity of their defeat, the French sought any allusion in the theater to their own intolérable situation. Thus, any play represen- ting the martyrdom of Joan of Arc was eagerly applauded. The German censorship encouraged such plays, in the mistaken belief that they were a criticism of the English, never realizing that, in point of fact, the English persécutons of Joan had been replaced, in the minds of the public, by the Germans. To escape censorship, Jean-Paul Sartre resorted to mythology to express a spirit of résistance to Nazism. His first play. Les Mouches, was presented in 1942. Jean Anouilh followed suit with Antigone in 1944. Whereas Sartre's play was largely mis-understood due to its cumbersome staging and excessive rhetoric, Antigone continued a long and highly success- ful run. The heroine of this play symbolized the résistance to the German intruders. After the war, it again became possible to write for the theater without fear of reprisai. Les Nuits de la Colère, written by Armand Salacrou, was first staged in 1946. It expressed, in documentary style, the agony which France had so recently suffered. In 1948, Albert Camus' L'Etat de siège was presented. This play conveyed, in allegorical manner, the idea of résistance, not only to German domination, but to ail forms of tyranny. Each and every one of these plays depicts similar ideas: the rejection of facile happiness based on out-moded and bourgeois values, the primordial desire for freedom. Both Sartre and Camus, who were new to the theater, failed to put their ideas across, no doubt because of the implausibility of the characters created by them as well as because of their excessive recourse to rhetoric. On the other hand, the plays of Anouilh and Salacrou, who had both been writing exclusively for the theater since before the war, received public acclaim. How- ever, Salacrou's play bas not survived the vicissitudes of time, due to its topicality to a particular time and setting, whereas Antigone continues to be appre- ciated; its archétypal treatment of such thèmes as love, death, and freedom transcends ail temporal or geographical limitations. This study is intended to demonstrate that the idea of Résistance was expressed in the French theater and the public, whose rôle cannot be under-estimated, rose to the occasion in decoding the message intended for it. Sociologically, the theater during the forties was a reinforcement to those who resisted Nazism and Vichy, a confirmation of the necessity that such a situation never again occur, and a salutary reminder of the need to combat any form of despotism. Time gives a more objective perception of the works quoted. The continued success of Antigone confirms that plays of a didactic nature, as also those set in too restricted a place or time period, do not travel well. To endure, a play must be couched in universal terms, applicable to ail mankind.

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French drama--20th century--History and criticism, Theater--France--History
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