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French Theater  
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AIDS, Liberation, Feminism and Family

In the last thirty years, many playwrights came out of the closet and went beyond the themes of social and self-oppression to explore other issues.

In France, AIDS was devastating to gay theater, carrying away three major playwrights, but it was also a stimulus to some extraordinary work.

Copi (pseud. of Raúl Damonte), the bitingly cynical author of such plays as L'homosexuel ou la difficulté de s'exprimer (1971), left an appropriate testament with the deathbed comedy Une Visite inopportune (1988).

Jean-Luc Lagarce will long be remembered for his poignant picture of a dying son's last visit to a family he can no longer communicate with in Juste la fin du monde (1990).

Bernard-Marie Koltès, considered by many the greatest French playwright of the end of the twentieth century, continues to have plays such as Dans la solitude des champs de coton (1986) and La Nuit juste avant les forêts (1977) staged all over the world.

In Quebec, feminism as much as lesbianism was the subject of La Nef des sorcières, (Collective authorship, 1976) and La Terre est trop courte, Violette Leduc by Jovette Marchessault (1982).

In a sure sign that liberation was making inroads towards social acceptance, the passionate love stories of René-Daniel Dubois' Being at home with Claude (1985) and Michel Marc Bouchard's Les Feluettes (1988) had universal appeal and commercial success, in spite of having gay male characters who were alienated marginals or dreamers.

In the 1990s a more assimilationist trend emerged, with "ordinary" gay characters confronted with aging, the raising of children, and other mundane preoccupations. The best example of this trend is the work of veteran Michel Tremblay, including his televison series Le Coeur découvert (2003, adapted from his novel of 1986).

With the social acceptance of gays and lesbians and the legal recognition of their relationships making rapid progress both in France and in Quebec, the source of dramatic inspiration previously found in alienation, persecution, and marginality is running dry. Even the coming out story, unique to homosexual theater, is now little more than matter for a farce, as it is in Steve Gallucio's Mambo Italiano (2000), an enormous hit on the Quebec stage.

Louis Godbout

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literature >> Overview:  French Literature: Before the Nineteenth Century

While evidence from earlier centuries is sparse, from the sixteenth century onward there were several French writers who treated male and female homosexuality.

literature >> Overview:  French Literature: Nineteenth Century

In the nineteenth century gay and lesbian sexuality becomes a significant subject in French literature.

literature >> Overview:  French Literature: Twentieth Century

The contributions of gay men and lesbians to twentieth-century French literature have been closely intertwined with the course of mainstream literature.

literature >> Overview:  Québécois Literature

Although gay and lesbian Québécois literature has only a fifty-year history, it has flourished and seems destined to merge into mainstream Québécois literature.

arts >> Overview:  Theater Companies

Gay and lesbian theater companies attempt to create their own communities, while also fostering a sense of solidarity with the glbtq community and educating the larger society.

literature >> Balzac, Honoré de

One of the masters of French nineteenth-century fiction, Balzac provocatively includes both lesbian and gay male characters in his novels.

arts >> Bernhardt, Sarah

The most famous actress of her time, Sarah Bernhardt scandalized and titillated Paris by wearing pants, taking men's roles in some of her plays, and having numerous love affairs, some with women.

literature >> Blais, Marie-Claire

Although she was reticent about her lesbianism in her early novels, Marie-Claire Blaise has since written works in which lesbian passion is at once lyrical, mystical, and liberating.

arts >> Chéreau, Patrice

Award-winning French director, screenwriter, and actor Patrice Chéreau has earned international renown for his visionary, often controversial, productions of opera, theater, and film

literature >> Cocteau, Jean

An outspoken homosexual, Jean Cocteau was a prolific poet, novelist, critic, essayist, artist, and filmmaker.

literature >> Colette

One of France's most beloved authors, Colette wrote novels with strong lesbian subtexts.

arts >> Dorval, Marie

Popular nineteenth-century French actress Marie Dorval enjoyed an intense romantic friendship with the writer George Sand that fueled much speculation among Parisian gossips of the time, as well as among later biographers and historians.

literature >> Genet, Jean

Jean Genet's work has left a powerful legacy to post-modernity and remains a provocation to questions of gay identity.

literature >> Gide, André

André Gide, one of the premier French writers of the twentieth century, reflected his homosexuality in many of his numerous works.

literature >> Jarry, Alfred

A precursor of surrealism and credited with having invented the Theater of the Absurd, Alfred Jarry included homosexual characters and themes in most of his works.

literature >> Lorrain, Jean (Paul Duval)

Almost as renowned for his homosexuality and depravity as for his literary achievements, Jean Lorrain was a French poet, novelist, and journalist of the "decadent movement" during the Belle Époque.

literature >> Marchessault, Jovette

Jovette Marchessault was the first Québécoise novelist unequivocally to declare her lesbianism.

literature >> Proust, Marcel

Marcel Proust is the author of A la recherche du temps perdu, one of the major achievements of Modernism and a great gay novel.

literature >> Rimbaud, Arthur

Because his writing stresses liberation, the French "boy-poet" Arthur Rimbaud, whose art is based solely on his individual creativity, is a progenitor of modern gay poetics.

literature >> Tremblay, Michel

Montreal-born playwright and novelist Michel Tremblay draws on his own Catholic working-class background in his presentation of bar culture characters and their relatives.

literature >> Verlaine, Paul

The poetry of Paul Verlaine celebrates both heterosexual and homosexual activity, including lesbian relationships.

literature >> Wilde, Oscar

Oscar Wilde is important both as an accomplished writer and as a symbolic figure who exemplified a way of being homosexual at a pivotal moment in the emergence of gay consciousness.


Cardon, Patrick, ed. Les infâmes sous l'ancien régime: documents historiques inédits recueillis à la Bibliothèque Nationale et à l'Arsenal. Lille: Cahiers GKC, 1994.

Pauvert, Jean-Jacques, ed. Théâtre érotique français au XVIIIe siècle. Paris: Terrain Vague, 1993.

Senelick, Laurence, ed. and trans. Lovesick: Modernist Plays of Same-Sex Love, 1894-1925. London and New York: Routledge, 1999.

"Théâtre et homosexualité." Jeu (Cahiers de théâtre) No. 54 (1990). Montréal : Éditions Quinze, 1976.


    Citation Information
    Author: Godbout, Louis  
    Entry Title: French Theater  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2003  
    Date Last Updated November 6, 2011  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2003, glbtq, inc.  


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