Kean or Disorder and Genius by Jean Paul Sartre ; Based on the play by Alexandre Dumas
Kean or Disorder and Genius by Jean Paul Sartre ; Based on the play by Alexandre Dumas
Kean or Disorder and Genius by Jean Paul Sartre ; Based on the play by Alexandre Dumas

Kean or Disorder and Genius by Jean Paul Sartre ; Based on the play by Alexandre Dumas

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London : Hamish Hamilton, 1954. First British Edition. Hardcover. 146 pages ; 19 cm. $10 schilling dust jacket. Pages are unmarked and binding is firm.


ON JANUARY 11th, 1836, Frederick Lemaitre, then the most popular actor in France, accepted an engagement at the Theatre des Varieties, and a week later Theaulon, one of the resident authors at the theatre, undertook to write a new play for the occasion, taking for his inspiration the English actor Edmund Kean, who had died three years previously. Theaulon promised to complete the play in five days, and kept his word, but—not surprisingly—the actor did not entirely approve of the result, and with the consent of all concerned, it was given to Alexandre Dumas pere to rewrite. Such was the success of the new version that it ran for over a hundred performances and won for the actor one of the greatest triumphs of his career.

Those who saw the French film Les Enfants du Paradis will remember that while Jean-Louis Barrault played the part of the mime Deburau, the role of the actor Lemaitre was enacted by Pierre Brasseur, and it became logical that he should wish to revive the part made famous by his predecessor. It was, however, evident that much rewriting would be necessary if the play were to succeed with a modern audience. While Brasseur was appearing in Jean-Paul Sartre's play Le Diable et le Bon Dieu {Lucifer and the Lord) they were discussing these difficulties one evening over supper, when, to Brasseur's delight, Sartre offered to undertake the commission himself.

To English eyes Kean, or Disorder and Genius, bears little resemblance to the real Edmund Kean of Drury Lane, but in view of the fact that the original was written so soon after the event, the author could not attempt a biographical treatment without giving offence. For this reason, George IV becomes in the playa gallant and dissolute young Prince of Wales, while the rest of the play is peopled with fictitious Ambassadors and heiresses, mountebanks and cut-throats.

The newest version of M. Th6aulon's play provides a magnificent vehicle for the actor, and to a student of the drama is an interesting experiment, combining as it does the flamboyance of the 19th-century theatre with the Existentialist philosophy and modern characterization given to it by Jean-Paul Sartre.

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