Eugène Scribe  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Augustin Eugène Scribe (24 December 1791 – 20 February 1861), was a French dramatist and librettist. He is best known for the perfection of the so-called "well-made play" (pièce bien faite). This dramatic formula was a mainstay of popular theater for over 100 years.

Scribe was born in Paris. His father was a silk merchant, and he was well educated, being destined for the law. However, he soon began to write for the stage. His first piece, Le Prétendu sans le savoir, was produced anonymously at the Variétés in 1810, and was a failure. Numerous other plays, written in collaboration with various authors, followed; but Scribe achieved no distinct success till 1815.

Scribe's main subject matter was the contemporary bourgeoisie. He mastered his craft writing comédies vaudevilles, short middle-class entertainments, often with songs. He wrote very popular pieces with elaborate plots full of clever twists. What they lack, it is generally thought, is depth of character, thought, or social criticism. They stand in sharp contrast, for example, to Romantic plays of the same period, such as those of Victor Hugo.

His first major success was Une Nuit de la garde nationale (Night of the National Guard, 1815), a collaboration with Delestre Poirson. Much of his later work was also written in collaboration with others.

He was extremely prolific. He wrote every kind of drama--vaudevilles, comedies, tragedies, opera-libretti. To the Gymnase theatre alone he is said to have furnished a hundred and fifty pieces before 1830. He had a number of co-workers, one of whom supplied the story, another the dialogue, a third the jokes and so on. He is said in some cases to have sent sums of money for "copyright in ideas" to men who were unaware that he had taken suggestions from their work. Among his collaborators were Jean Henri Dupin (1787-1887), Germain Delavigne, Delestre-Poirson, Mélésville, Marc-Antoine Madeleine Désaugiers, Xavier Saintine and Ernest Legouvé.

He wrote libretti for operas with almost every major opera composer of his time in France and Italy. He collaborated with Giacomo Meyerbeer on a number of occasions, and also provided the words for works by Giuseppe Verdi, Vincenzo Bellini, Daniel Auber, Fromental Halévy, François Boïeldieu, Gaetano Donizetti and Gioacchino Rossini. At the time of his death, he was working on the libretto for Meyerbeer's L'Africaine.

His debut in serious comedy was made at the Théâtre Français in 1822 with Valérie, the first of many successful plays. His understanding of the mechanism of the stage and of the tastes of the audience was wonderful. For purely theatrical ability he is unrivalled, and his plays are still regarded as models of dramatic construction. Moreover he was for fifty years the best exponent of the ideas of the French middle classes, so that he deserves respectful attention, even though his style be vulgar and his characters commonplace.

He wrote a few novels, but none of any mark. Among the actors he wrote starring roles for are Mlle Mars and Rachel. Scribe was elected to the Académie française in 1834. His Œuvres complétes appeared in seventy-six volumes in 1874-1885. See Legouvé, Eugène Scribe (1874).

Select list of comedies

The best-known of Scribe's comedies are:

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