Mythical Shakespeares in the Mythical Comédie‑Française. An Uneasy Cohabitation

Par Estelle Rivier-Arnaud
Publication en ligne le 27 décembre 2019


Looking at the reception of Shakespearean plays that were produced at the Comédie‑Française from the beginning of the 20th century onward, we are surprised to acknowledge mitigated reactions. At the beginning of the twentieth century when tragedies predominated in the repertoire, apart from Hamlet (adapted by Dumas) and later Emile Fabre’s Coriolanus which was a significant performance in the turbulent year 1933, the adaptations of the Elizabethan classics did not encounter a frank success nor did they remain in people’s memory. After the Second World War, the technical means used in scenography were rather uninventive and the evolution of Shakespeare’s fame was timid until foreign stage‑directors such as Terry Hands, Jorge Lavelli, Luca Ronconi or Luis Pasqual were invited. But even then, the success of the guests’ productions was uneven for various reasons, which would have made us forget them partly had there not been archives to leave traces of them. Hence, one of the questions that should be raised is : what are the material, ideological or phenomenological events contributing to imprint a given production in the memory of a theatre such as the Comédie‑Française ? Today, we are in a good position to analyse what made mythical Shakespearean productions in the « Ruche » (Beehive) in the 20th century because some time has elapsed. In this paper, I would like to discuss the various reasons that contributed to dissociate successful productions of Shakespeare’s plays at the Comédie‑Française from those that have vanished from our minds for ever. Undoubtedly, either inner political conflicts or international preoccupations have influenced the history of Shakespeare’s reputation in Molière’s House but there is more to be said. This analysis should enable us to anticipate whether productions such as Oskaras Korsunovas’ 2007 Taming of the Shrew or Andrés Lima’s 2009 Merry Wives of Windsor will ever become mythical.


Texte intégral

1The Comédie‑Française is famous in France for being Molière’s theatre and as such, a place where the national repertoire has been favoured over the past centuries1. Plays by Hugo, Marivaux, Beaumarchais, and later Labiche, Courteline, Feydeau among other French names, were regularly staged side by side with Molière’s comedies until late in the 18th century. Shakespeare’s plays only began to be successful in 1792 when Othello was adapted by Jean‑François Ducis2. The play was much rearranged to suit the taste of the theatregoers of that period but it was at least a relevant incursion of the Elizabethan repertoire in « Molière’s House3 ». Although François‑Joseph Talma, one of the anarchist actors of the time and a favourite of Napoleon, greatly contributed to popularise Shakespeare’s theatre in France, his dissentions with the Comédie‑Française may however have partly delayed the English playwright’s asserted presence in the theatre’s seasons. Hence we cannot say that Shakespeare’s plays were recognized and well‑known among Molière’s regular audience until the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries when the comedies and romances were eventually scheduled. Such a statement leads us to point out a first oddity : isn’t it surprising that one of the most famous English classics was not included earlier in the French repertoire with more emphasis ? Furthermore, when we look at the 20th‑century evolution in the Comédie‑Française, we notice that, initially, only a majority of tragedies were considered and that only half of the total amount of plays written by Shakespeare were effectively produced. Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Richard III played a significant part in the success‑story of the theatre, being sometimes staged by two, three or more different directors over the years, while others such as King Lear, Timon of Athens, Much Ado About Nothing or the Henrys were still unperformed. Such a phenomenon partly explains how Shakespeare’s plays may become mythical or not in a place where tradition and patriotism have long governed internal functioning and decisions, and prevailed over international ascendancy. In the following paper, I shall focus on the ways in which Molière’s House is paving the way for Shakespeare’s plays to become part of the national collection, and not merely a foreign intrusion into the French cultural Trust. In other words, I will highlight how the Comédie‑Française is building the myth of Shakespeare in France. However, as Shakespeare’s works have not always been successful in this theatre, it is first necessary to analyse some of the productions that have triggered confusion, debates and even led to chaos. Although it was partly due to the political situation of the country and to the ordeals it had to go through, this does not explain some scathing criticism that has momentarily compromised Shakespeare’s influence there. To a certain extent, a foreign literature was another way to shed light on national fears, bias and incoherencies, especially when plays like The Merchant of Venice, Coriolanus or Macbeth, the plays either propagandistic or damned, were presented in the main auditorium, called Salle Richelieu4. Curiously enough, these scandals have sometimes enabled the audience and the critics to become aware of the relevance of Shakespeare’s own preoccupations that appeared as an anticipation of their own. Hence, what may have been a dreadful experience for the Comédie‑Française has proved useful for the often misinterpreted Elizabethan drama. This is what my section on the « polemical Shakespeares » will point out.

2More insidiously, between the successes and the failures, other kinds of productions have raised questionings proving that Shakespeare’s dramaturgy is undeniably impervious to any predetermined reading for the stage. Some plays have remained « problematic » to adapt The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, The Tempest to name but a few of them as far as adapting and sharing them with an audience are concerned. Is this due to the expectations the latter have of the Comédie‑Française ? Or is it due to their prejudices against Shakespeare’s drama ? We shall try to answer these various questions, if only to help those mythic names, i.e. the Comédie‑Française and Shakespeare, to be harmoniously united.

I. Polemical Shakespeares

3To start with, it seems natural to account for a production that took place in the first half of the twentieth century : Coriolanus staged by Emile Fabre, in 1933‑345. This play stands as a landmark in the history of the Comédie‑Française, not only regarding the reputation that Shakespeare has gained over the decades there, but also because it rather violently confirmed the deep connection the Comédie‑Française has always had with the politics of its time and with the challenging literary forms6. Yet I am fully aware that such a production is also a landmark in most Shakespeareans’ minds, even though they have only been acquainted with it through reviews, press articles and photography. As this production has indeed been the object of a great amount of essays and criticism7, I thought it more appropriate to focus on a more recent production that also launched invectives and caustic comments : The Merchant of Venice staged by Andréi Serban in 2001. Between Coriolanus and The Merchant, two quarters of a century have elapsed and it may seem rather sad to acknowledge that Shakespeare’s plays should still lead to invectives, failing to respect the critical distance between History and drama.

4When Andréi Serban, a Romanian immigrant living in the United‑States, was invited to the Comédie‑Française, he had already staged The Merchant at the American Repertory Theatre in 1998. This version had been highly provocative, and the press had not shown any restraint when it ran as the headline : « Andrei Serban’s not Shy about Shylock », underlying the director’s clear‑cut view about Shakespeare’s Jew : « I didn’t start with a need to defend Shylock », Serban confessed in the interview, « or to find an apology for Shakespeare being anti‑Semitic8 », and as a result, his production tended to give a fair share to the fairy‑tale world of Belmont and to Christian values through the merciful Portia as well. Three years later, the set in Molière’s theatre represented a modern world : the first scene opened on a kind of palestra plunged in an atmosphere of vapours, as in a Turkish bath. Men were massaging and behaving ambiguously towards one another, just like Bassanio and Antonio, whose filial attraction also seemed homosexual. The costumes were contemporary (bathing suits, bikinis, and later a black suit for Shylock, as well as colourful tee‑shirts for the gang of louts) and the changing geometrical design of the décor soon led to austere indoor sets made of perpendicular panels to symbolise an office, then a tribunal. But these visual details would not have been of much relevance had the behaviours of the protagonists not conveyed Serban’s ambiguous reading of the play. Significantly, he cast Andrzej Seweryn, an actor of the Français of Polish origin, as Shylock. Seweryn offered a polyglot version of the character. His performance was expressionistic, showing the antipathetic Jew as a caricature of miserly and stubborn (in)humanity. Even if Shylock is not the only villain of the tale, Serban intended to show him as frightening as he is mirthful9. But what made his reading of the play heavily polemical in a post‑Holocaust world were the echoes of a fascist ideology. For instance, at the end of the performance the image showing the characters preparing themselves to have a shower was read by many as a disquieting – though implicit – allusion to the gas chambers. In the same way, the tribunal in act 4, where the members of the jury in red uniforms wore pointed hats, may also have alluded to a sombre past when the Ku Klux Klan’s terrifying partiality threatened coloured minorities. The race issue has remained at the heart of most political debates about the play at the outset of the 21st century : « you only need to change the word Jewish into Muslim », a reviewer wrote, « and Venice into The United States, and that says it all10 ! ». Serban was blamed for implying that Shakespeare was clearly an anti‑Semite, which sounded unbearable and highly inappropriate within the refined atmosphere of the Richelieu stage. The theatrical semiotics was probably misinterpreted : for most people who attended the play, the sauna emitting opaque fumes was reminiscent of crematorium furnaces, and the weapons used later in the performance tended to depict another version of a modern commando. The press rebelled : how could a national theatre promote such a slanderous and derogatory vision of Shakespeare’s work ? Wasn’t it the Comédie‑Française’s duty to show more rigor and coherence in the way the repertoire should be served and celebrated ? Just as Fabre’s Coriolanus had divided the opinion in 1934, when the audience had rather genuinely identified with the social portrait drawn by Shakespeare, Serban’s Merchant proved once more that such a literature would not receive unanimous approval and esteem in the French capital city if cynical modernism and historical transposition seemed to be the keys of interpretation. If placing Shakespeare’s plays on an equal footing with Hugo’s, Corneille’s and even Brecht’s may result from mere provocation, even anathema, the process seemed (and seems) risky and condemnable. Aren’t Shakespeare’s works worthy of more respectful considerations ?

5Yet let us stress that if a myth is the idealisation of a character, a story or a technique endowed with a force and a particular importance, the creation of the myth relies on several and at times contradictory requirements, such as reputation, rumour, debate and even rejection. The Myth is not always the result of positive interactions, and we may dare to venture that, in the case of the Comédie‑Française, harsh criticism and scandals have been helpful tools in shaping the myth of Shakespeare in France. Hence, it should come as no surprise that a majority of the plays that have been set in Molière’s House over the past decade have often proven problematic to the critical eye.

II. Problematic Shakespeares

6The production of The Taming of the Shrew directed by Oskaras Koršunovas in 2007 is a puzzling example of an undeserved failure. The play was adapted at the Comédie‑Française first in 1891 by Paul Delair, then by Emile Fabre in 1916, and performed in a truncated version until the thirties. More than seventy years later, the challenge was consequently to highlight the depths of the text, and more particularly the subplot. Oskaras Koršunovas had previously staged A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet in his Lithuanian theatre (OKT, 1999 and 200311). He owed his fame in France thanks to the Festival of Avignon where some of his other productions were performed in the original, however this was the first time that he had been invited to such a prestigious theatre as the Comédie‑Française. As he had taken a consistently meta‑dramatic approach to dramaturgy through a dynamic cast and ingenious sets, the Comédie‑Française provided the opportunity to offer a thorough challenging reading of The Shrew.

7Oskaras Koršunovas organized his production around two major devices : the prologue and the panelled costumes. Considered as a peripheral entity, the prologue has often been deleted from productions. And yet, ignoring it means losing a pillar on which the structure of The Shrew is built. Opening against a wall made of skulls rising up to the ceilings in a candle‑lit atmosphere, the prologue guided the audience in medias res into the meta‑theatricality of the tale : Sly (Christian Cloarec), the drunkard, sitting in the prompter’s box, was about to attend the play‑within‑the‑play entitled The Taming of the Shrew and so be edified. The aesthetics of the first tableau was striking for its awe‑inspiring beauty. The skulls and bones appeared in relief on the backcloth, evoking the ephemeral dimension of man and theatre, both bound to become, like this giant ossuary, a mere memorial. For Oskaras Koršunovas, the theatre is the metaphorical place of memory, and enables a palette of individuals called humanity so to speak. But at the outset of the performance, this morbid fresco, reminiscent of purgatory, also seemed to announce a tragedy. Sly’s fate was sealed if he did not become aware of his sin (i.e. his drunkenness). Man, Koršunovas explained, is led from the real underworld (represented by the skulls) to the illusionist paradise of theatre (later represented by a kind of tiring‑house). He explained : « The prologue […] reveals another aspect of the play. Shakespeare’s [philosophy] is that we cannot understand life without resorting to drama, by dramatizing it : life is drama12. »

8What followed in his production only confirmed such a postulate. The characters, carrying wooden panels on which their costumes were depicted, were silhouettes (shadowgraphs) moving in a room representing the tiring house of a theatre where costumes are made or tried on. Significantly, one side of the panels was a mirror to represent the characters’ narcissism ; the other side was adorned with jewellery or clothing accessories symbolizing the character’s psychology. Bianca’s panel, for instance, displayed underwear, whereas on Catharina’s, the sex was hidden by a glove13. The actors explicitly illustrated a theatre‑in‑the‑making, a place where you need to dress up in order to become another. Such a device was clever, as a way of asserting the malleability (or adaptability) of Shakespeare’s dramatis personae : the frontier between a contemporaneous time and the past was erased (the Middle Ages and the Renaissance fused with the 21st century) ; even the genders were indistinct under the shell of the costumes. And in the end the result was an exhilarating control of space, emphasized by the presence of music players on stage. So, really, what was defective in Koršunovas’ project and in what way did it impede Shakespeare’s fame within the Français ?

9Some would argue that French‑style savoir‑faire was here being challenged by a Lithuanian radical approach to theatre, but this would not be an adequate grievance, because previous foreign stage‑directors had cleverly handled the Comédie‑Française’s company and even brought about a revival in the old House14. No. More intrinsically, several inadequacies between the play‑text and its performance were stressed. Koršunovas probably failed to « tame » the actors, who were not really convincing in their parts. Playing with panels and thus being deprived of natural gestures tended to impede their movements. Even though dances and chases occurred, they often seemed awkward, inappropriate or artificial. The panels deprived the performance of any poetry, causing an inadequate rigidity and preventing the fluidity of the action. This omnipresent device proved cumbersome and inappropriate in a comedy. Last but not least, the image and the script did not match. Koršunovas chose François‑Victor Hugo’s classical translation for its musicality. He probably thought that such a choice would secure the success of the performance in a theatre where tradition of some kind has always been favoured. Alas, it had the opposite effect, because Hugo’s lines sounded quaint (delightfully though) in a meta‑dramatic set exalting the topicality of the subject‑matter.

10And yet we should eventually do justice to Koršunovas’s work. If his creation will probably not stand as a monument in the history of the Comédie‑Française, it will contribute to shape the myth of Shakespeare there. Indeed, the Baroque plastic arts in which Koršunovas tumultuously and insolently moulded Shakespeare was organic and invigorating. The panels were to be read as contact sheets forming a giant puzzle and an oblique symbol of theatres’ boards, i.e. the memory of the past, the celebration of Shakespeare’s wooden O. In this respect, not surprisingly, one of the final images of the production reasserted the Tudor myth, when Cato (Françoise Gillard), relieved of her panel and of her obstinacy, appeared dressed as Elizabeth I. The device was not new, but it clearly bridged the gap between Koršunovas’ informal treatment of classical drama and the expectations of the fairly conservative audience.

11Arguments for and against could be added to all those that we have already mentioned. Such a production divided opinion and we may wonder why it underlined an incompatibility between the Comédie‑Française and Shakespeare more than it offered a stimulating source for theatrical practice and critical perspective. Conversely, through Oskaras Koršunovas’ daring directorial choices, the vision one might have of Shakespeare was distorted, failing to match contemporary expectations : as Shakespeare is now considered a comedian as much as a tragedian, entertainment and enchantment have to be more grandiose. The audience, growing tired of mere symbolist artefacts, now look forward to dreamlike bewitchment. The Comédie‑Française is consequently bound to provide food for thought in Shakespearean performing arts.

III. Mythical Shakespeares

12And this indeed remains the gist of the problem : how can the Comédie‑Française assert its authority over Shakespeare today if they are not able to satisfy the necessary reforms in both spheres of performance and textual approach ? It must be admitted that the productions of Shakespeare’s plays within this institution have not often been regarded as examples in the same way as those of Peter Brook for the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, or of Ariane Mnouchkine for the Théâtre du Soleil to mention but just two of them. A mythical performance may be recognized as such with the benefit of hindsight but the history of performance also shows that major successes have been immediately revered as landmarks in the field of theatre, and no production of the Comédie‑Française has ever been ranked among the main Shakespeareans… until recently.

13In 2009, another foreign director was invited to the Comédie‑Française : Andrés Lima, a young Spanish artist who had recently staged Titus Andronicus in the ancient arenas of the Festival of Merida15. His work, based on improvisation and body language, had proved most promising. For The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Comédie‑Française, he also encouraged the free involvement of the actors on stage and their direct communication with the audience so as to do away with the fourth wall. His choice for this particular comedy was not innocent. The text is full of lingual incongruities, pranks, and double‑entendre, which might sound unfit for the red‑velvet‑padded Richelieu theatre. But Lima managed to be convincing by resorting to a clever adjustable set and basing his rehearsing method on fun and light‑heartedness. « The actors must be both clownish and realistic », he claimed. « Working on [Shakespeare] requires a choral involvement16. » By federating the Comédie‑Française’s company and avoiding third‑rate acting, his work was bound to value the play‑text more than the text‑agents. In other words, what prevailed on stage was a physicality that served the textual material and not the contrary. The performance opened on a candle‑lit scaffolding representing the tavern and ended in an enchanted forest inspired by fairy tales, and the main thread leading from one scenery to the other was wood : wooden furniture, wooden floor, wooden scaffolding, and the woods as a final tableau. Obviously this choice was designed to evoke the boards of Medieval Mysteries together with Molière’s first travelling theatre. Thus it was a clear insight into the historical resemblance between Shakespeare’s and Moliere’s artistic background.

14The success of this production lay in three « f‑words » : Folly, Falstaff and Fairy. Folly because the production managed to highlight the ambivalences of the play whereby the comedy proves a rather bitter one. Indeed, while Falstaff is expected to be the object of passion in the play, he is subjected to a grotesque farce and disdain17. Lima dressed the characters in Elizabethan costumes except in the final tableau where they appeared in extravagant carnival garments, thus plunging the atmosphere in a universe reminiscent of A Midsummer Night’s Dream or As You Like It18. Humour seen as an explicit edifying process prevailed over a wiser didacticism based on restraint and distance. The success of the performance rested mainly on Falstaff, and the actor, Bruno Rafaelli, excelled in his part. The tall actor, turned into a fat, awkward and rude character, offered a perfect counterpoint to the skimpy grimacing Ford (Christian Cloarec), which provided a laughable duet fuelled with verbal sparring and quips. In the final scene, the fairy world and the romance regained the advantage over the pathetic farce. In the nocturnal atmosphere of the décor, the palette of the richly brocaded costumes together with the music and the dances subtly evoking the concluding gigs of Shakespeare’s finals, poetically stimulated the senses, so that the play’s density, starting in the prosaic underworld to reach the lyrical flight of love, was eventually conveyed.

15It is not mere chance if I chose a picture of Lima’s production for the cover of my book, Shakespeare dans la maison de Molière as his work was a fair credit to Shakespeare’s dramaturgy19. Premiered in December 5th 2009, the performances ran until February 11th 2011, the date of its rerun, and played to a full house. The reviews were eulogistic. Does this suffice to consider the production mythical ? We should remain humble and careful although we must admit that such a success probably prompted other directors to stage Shakespeare at the Comédie‑Française. In 2013, Jean‑Yves Ruf directed Troilus and Cressida, a new play to enter the repertoire, signalling the return of the tragedy that had vanished from the theatre for almost twenty years20. In October 2013, Hamlet was staged by Dan Jemmett (starring Denis Podalydès), and in 2014, new versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (by Muriel Mayette‑Holtz) and Othello (by Léonie Simaga) were on the agenda.

16Some would argue that the recognition of a masterpiece may depend on the genre of the play, a comedy being usually more unanimously approved than a tragedy. But this is too easy an argument as our accounts of Serban’s Merchant and Koršunovas’ Shrew have shown. Myth‑making at the Comédie‑Française is not an easy task because of various parameters, such as an often demanding and obtuse middle‑class audience ; a company imprisoned in a rigid frame of long‑standing (and sometimes obsolete) statutes, forced to fulfil the agenda of alternative shows and commitments made outdoor. Political solicitations may also influence the inner policy of the national theatre, inviting foreign directors who come with their savoir‑faire and own convictions, triggering a self‑critical process in the House and questioned the nature of its relationship with Shakespeare. The theatre seasons in every theatre, whether it is a national or a provincial one, cannot ignore the international theatrical circumstances. Maurice Escande, the administrator of the Comédie‑Française in the seventies, had been ahead of his time when he was the first to invite a British artist, Terry Hands, to handle the intransigent company of the Français. Richard III, first performed at the 1972 official Avignon Festival as a token of the company’s open‑mindedness, was so successful that Pericles and Twelfth Night soon followed21. This does not mean that all foreign directors will be the keys to success ever after, but they will undoubtedly stand as stimuli to envisaging ? Shakespeare’s classics within another well‑substantiated critical literature and a refreshing contemporary exoticism.


BORNE, Dominique and Henri DUBRIEF, La Crise des années, 1929‑38, Nouvelle histoire de la France contemporaine, vol. 13, Paris, Seuil, 1989.

CUMMINGS, Scott T., The Boston Phoenix, 10‑17 August 1998.

DE VIGNY, Alfred, Othello, Le More de Venise, Paris, Levasseur, 1830.

KORSUNOVAS, Oskaras, « Programme », La Mégère apprivoisée, Comédie‑Française, 2010.

LIMA, Andrés, « Programme », Les Joyeuses commères de Windsor, Comédie‑Française, 2010.

MÉREUZE, Didier, « L’actualité saisie par Shakespeare », La Croix, 21 September 2001

« Metteur en scène et traducteur. Dialogue », Le Marchand de Venise. Programme de la Comédie‑Française, 6 July 2001, p. 13.

RIVIER, Estelle, « A Lithuanian Theorem : Oskaras Korsunovas’ Taming of the Shrew at the Comédie‑Française », Cahiers Élisabéthains, 75 (Spring 2009), p. 46‑53.

_______________ Shakespeare dans la Maison de Molière, Rennes, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2012.

SCHWARTZ‑GASTINE, Isabelle, « Coriolanus in France from 1933 to 1977 : Two Extreme Interpretations », in Dirk Delabastita, Jozef de Vos and Paul Franssen (eds.), Shakespeare and European Politics, Newark, University of Delaware Press, 2008, p. 126‑134.


1 It is also one of the reasons why this place is also called the « 1680 » corresponding to the date when it became Molière’s company’s official venue.

2 Actually, Ducis had already adapted three plays, Romeo and Juliet (1772), King Lear (1783) and Macbeth (1784) but they were called mere imitations as they did not have very much in common with Shakespeare’s plays, except the title (the name of Shakespeare was not even mentioned). See Alfred de Vigny, Othello, Le More de Venise, Paris, Levasseur, 1830, p. 200. During this tumultuous period of the French Revolution, the Company moved to Richelieu Street to settle in the Théâtre de la République that would later be called the Comédie‑Française.

3 The Comédie‑Française is also nick‑named « Maison de Molière » (Molière’s House or the House), « la Ruche » (the Beehive) or the « Français ».

4 Significantly, Cardinal Richelieu (1585‑1642), Louis XIII’s prime minister and an eminent statesman who defended the royal powers over the aristocracy during the 17th century, is the name of the main auditorium where the Comédie‑Française’s company performs. The other theatres, the Studio‑Theatre in Le Louvre and the Théâtre du Vieux Colombier, near the Luxembourg Gardens also regularly stage plays.

5 At the beginning of the 1930s in France, the people were confronted with social inequities and reduced to the soup kitchen while others, on the contrary, were able to enrich and control monopolies. The government was removed from power and the Popular Front formed to offer « bread, peace and liberty » to the masses. The similarity between such a social context and the Roman plebe’s own in Shakespeare’s play could not but arise from a staging at the heart of the French capital. For more detail, see Dominique Borne and Henri Dubrief, La Crise des années, 1929‑38, Nouvelle histoire de la France contemporaine, vol. 13, Paris, Seuil, 1989, p. 54.

6 In 1830, the riotous staging of Victor’s Hugo Hernani was another example in the kind, opposing the Classics to the Romantics, and leading to the victory of a new art.

7 See Isabelle Schwartz‑Gastine, « Coriolanus in France from 1933 to 1977 : Two Extreme Interpretations », in Dirk Delabastita, Jozef de Vos and Paul Franssen (eds.), Shakespeare and European Politics, Newark, University of Delaware Press, 2008, p. 126‑134.

8 Scott T. Cummings, The Boston Phoenix, 10‑17 August 1998.

9 « Numerous actors, including Laurence Olivier, wanted to prevent Shakespeare from being accused of anti‑Semitism and portrayed Shylock as a nice, sentimental and noble character. I think this vision is unfair and I agree with Harold Bloom who wrote in The Invention of the Human that Shylock is both a funny and a frightening villain, even those two aspects have now vanished » ; in « Metteur en scène et traducteur. Dialogue », Le Marchand de Venise. Programme de la Comédie‑Française, 6 July 2001, p. 13, (my translation).

10 Didier Méreuze, « L’actualité saisie par Shakespeare », La Croix, 21 September 2001, (my translation).

11 OKT, Oskaras Koršunovas Theatre situated in Vilnius (Lithuania), was founded in 1998 (

12 Oskaras Korsunovas in the programme of La Mégère apprivoisée, Comédie‑Française, 2009, p. 8, (my tranlation).

13 Some panels were richly decorated, while others showed the mere outlines of the body or of a gesture. The costume designer (Virginie Merlin) drew her inspiration from medieval illuminations, as well as from various artists from the 16th century, such as Jerome Bosch and Arcimboldo. Beige and light pink colours were predominantly used to reflect the flesh and the sensual pleasures of the body. For an analysis of the process of creation, see Estelle Rivier, « A Lithuanian Theorem : Oskaras Korsunovas’ Taming of the Shrew at the Comédie‑Française », Cahiers Élisabéthains, 75 (Spring 2009), p. 46‑53.

14 Let us just mention Terry Hands who, in the 70s, met with three successive successes : Pericles, Richard III and Twelfth Night.

15 Festival of Merida, Spain. Titus Andronicus, directed by Andrés Lima, Company Animalario.

16 Andrés Lima in the programme of Les Joyeuses commères de Windsor, Comédie‑Française, 2010, p. 9, (my translation).

17 Let us remind the reader that tradition had it that Elizabeth I had ordered a love‑story for Falstaff to Shakespeare.

18 For instance, Doctor Caïus (Andrzej Seweryn) was dressed as a green serpent with a long suggestive tail, Falstaff was an ass, Anne Lepage (Giorgia Scaillet) was a butterfly‑winged fairy hanging from the flies. There was also a black Pierrot and a profusion of mainly devilish and monstrous‑looking creatures.

19 Estelle Rivier, Shakespeare dans la Maison de Molière, Rennes : Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2012.

20 In 1994, Georges Lavaudant staged a new version of Hamlet.

21 Richard III, translated by Jean‑Louis Curtis, 1972 Avignon Festival, starring Jacques Eyser, Jean‑Paul Roussillon, François Chaumette, Michel Etcheverry, Michel Aumont (Richard), Michel Duchaussoy, Simon Eine ; Pericles, Pince of Tyr, 1974, starring François Beaulieu (Pericles), Michel Aumont, Ludmila Mickael, Catherine Hiegel ; Twelfth Night (1976) with Pierre Dux (Malvolio), Geneviève Casile (Olivia) and Ludmila Mickael (Viola).

Pour citer ce document

Par Estelle Rivier-Arnaud, «Mythical Shakespeares in the Mythical Comédie‑Française. An Uneasy Cohabitation», Shakespeare en devenir [En ligne], N°9 - 2015, Shakespeare en devenir, mis à jour le : 28/12/2019, URL :

Quelques mots à propos de :  Estelle Rivier-Arnaud

Estelle Rivier‑Arnaud is associate professor at the University of Maine in Le Mans, France. She is a specialist of Shakespeare in performance. She has published her thesis, L’espace scénographique dans les mises en scène des pièces de Shakespeare en France et en Angleterre de 1950 à nos jours (Bern, Peter Lang 2006) and more recently, a historical analysis of Shakespeare’s plays produced at the Comédie‑Française (Shakespeare dans la maison de Molière, Presses Universitaires de Rennes (2012). In ...