Hamlet in France
Michèle Willems
Given the French liking for elegant variation, it is significant that, from an early stage, the expression “l’auteur d’Hamlet” should have been used by critics as a synonym for Shakespeare. Voltaire who prided himself on being the French discoverer of Shakespeare had probably never read or seen a Shakespeare comedy: his 1733 “Letter on Comedy” refers only to “Shadwal, Wicharley, Vanbrouck and Congreve”[all sic], while his famous Letter on Tragedy concentrates on Hamlet and Addison’s Cato. Only a limited number of Shakespeare plays are mentioned in eighteenth-century criticism and they are all labelled “tragedies”: Voltaire translates short passages from Hamlet, and a large part of Julius Caesar. Macbeth, Othello and King Lear are the only other plays critics ever allude to. Consequently, the evolution of the reception of Hamlet in France often sums up and subsumes the fluctuations of French attitudes to Shakespeare.
1725-1820: Hamlet discovered.
Growing familiarity with the play.
It was essentially through Hamlet that Voltaire discovered and assessed Shakespeare. His first allusion to the play was made in English, in Letter xviii “On Tragedy,” which was published in London in 1733, in Letters Concerning the English Nation, and only a year later in French, in Lettres philosophiques. Along with Othello strangling his wife on the stage, the critic scorns the gravediggers (“drinking, singing ballads, and making humorous reflections on skulls”) as examples of the “dreadful scenes in this writer’s monstrous farces, to which the name of tragedy is given.” At the same time, in order to call attention to “some of the beauties of great Genius’s,” Voltaire gives his own version of “part of the celebrated soliloquy in Hamlet”; there follows an adaptation in rhyming alexandrines beginning with “Demeure; il faut choisir, et passer à l’instant De la vie à la mort, et de l’être au néant...” (Besterman, 44-8). In his Shakespeare and Voltaire (1902), Thomas Lounsbury translates back what he calls “this intolerable deal of Voltaire” into “Pause, it is incumbent to choose and pass in an instant From life to death, or from existence to nothingness...” (66), but his flat-footed lines do not do justice to the ample rhythm of Voltaire’s alexandrines, a domestication of Shakespeare’s blank verse which familiarizes readers with a soliloquy soon to become iconic.
Indeed, in section 12 of his diary entitled Le Pour et le Contre (1733-38), Abbé Prévost, commenting upon Voltaire’s Letter xviii, quotes the critic’s judgments on Hamlet and his imitation of “To be...”; he remarks in a note that Voltaire’s insertion of “Dieux cruels s’il en est!” (at line 3) is a blasphemous exclamation that is wrongly attributed to Hamlet. He then gives his own literal prose rendering of the same soliloquy, stressing the difficulty of finding a French equivalent for “the whips and scorns of time” (1993, 169-71). In one of his Letters on the English and French Nations, Abbé Le Blanc gives a synopsis of the play that stresses its similarities with Electra and foregrounds the ghost, the gravediggers and the “greatest beauty” of the prince’s already inevitable soliloquy (1747, 2, 76-88).
French readers were soon able to approach Hamlet a little nearer, when Pierre-Antoine de La Place published the first adaptation of the play in 1746. This was part of Le Théâtre anglois, a ten-volume anthology of English drama which ranged from Shakespeare to Congreve and Addison. La Place’s shortened version of Hamlet alternates translation (or rather paraphrase) and synopsis. The latter is reserved for “everything which is not connected with the plot,” as he explains in the Discours sur le théâtre anglois, largely borrowed from Pope, which prefaces his volumes (1, cxi); yet the advice to the players or Hamlet’s appreciation of Horatio are preserved in full, whereas the court scene, the first soliloquy and Horatio’s relation of the ghost’s apparition are reduced to a few sentences in which some distant Shakespearean echoes are sometimes perceptible, like Hamlet answering his mother: “je ne sais paraître que ce que je suis” [I can only appear as what I am] (for TLN 257). Some passages are deemed worthy of alexandrines, others have to be content with prose. Thus, while Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy is granted only a prose equivalent, his brief conversation with the ghost seems to come straight out of Corneille’s Le Cid: “Frappe, venge ton père et montre-toi son fils” [strike, revenge your father and prove a worthy son] (2.318) sounds very much like Don Diègue’s famous injunction to his son: “va, cours, vole et me venge” [Go, run, fly and revenge me]. Claudius’s soliloquy in act 3 is another rare speech in alexandrines. As for the important cuts and omissions in the text, they are meant to spare Shakespeare “our compatriots’ criticism for passages they might consider as weak, ridiculous or improper” (Discours, cxii); yet the scene with the gravediggers is given in full, “because it is famous in England, being so unusual” (2 d, 379n). As it is, La Place’s Hamlet presents an interesting form of appropriation, an intermediary between Shakespeare’s drama and French tragedy, a more lively alternative to a sedate classical theater which was in need of rejuvenation.
While the reading-public was thus made acquainted with an approximate Hamlet, prospective spectators had to wait another twenty-five years for an approximation of the play on the stage: this was Ducis’s Hamlet, tragédie imitée de l’anglois, performed for the first time on 30 September 1769. Although a great admirer of Shakespeare, Ducis could not read English and had to rely on La Place’s adaptation for his source. The result was a new play, heavily influenced by the classical rules, with only eight speaking roles in alexandrines throughout, action (mostly reduced to narration) taking place inside the palace in 24 hours. The main characters are now flanked with confidants to whom they can relate past events and reveal future plans. Thus Claudius (who is not the brother of the King who has just died) plots usurpation of Hamlet’s throne with Polonius; Gertrude pours out her remorse into Elvire’s breast (she has poisoned Old Hamlet—decorously, with a cup of poison placed beside his bed); and Hamlet tells Norceste (Horatio’s equivalent) about the apparitions of the ghost—which his friend soon explains away as hallucinations. Thus are Hamlet’s doubts and hesitations clearly justified, especially as he is discovered to be in love with Ophelia who happens to be Claudius’s daughter. Ducis’s prince, like La Place’s, finds himself caught between duty and love, as epitomized by the alexandrine he shares with Ophelia:
Oph. Vous, massacrer mon père?
Ham. Il m’a privé du mien (5.2)
[You, murder my father? He deprived me of mine].
Though the ghost is never seen or heard, he is felt to be hovering about. To replace his apparition in the closet-scene, Ducis hits upon a device later immortalized in a portrait of Talma as Hamlet by Lagrenée, exhibited at the 1810 “Salon,” in which the actor is seen clutching an urn: the hero is on his way to his mother’s closet to present her with the ashes of her former husband; the urn, a metonymy more than a metaphor of the dead father, provides a decorous equivalent for both the ghost and the play-within-the-play: when Hamlet orders Gertrude to swear on the urn that she is innocent of the murder, she swoons. The prince eventually proves worthy of the throne by killing Claudius and sacrificing his love for Ophelia who lives on. Her madness, like the gravediggers or the fencing match, would be out of place in such a classical play. And yet Ducis’s Hamlet was hailed as a tasteful innovation, probably because it also drew on the resources of bourgeois domestic drama, a popular genre at the time (Molé, who took the part of the prince, was then also playing in Diderot’s very successful Père de Famille). Though—or probably because—it was drastically adapted and forced into the French classical mould, this Hamlet was extremely popular with the public; it was the only version performed at the Comédie-Française for 82 years (with 203 performances before 1851); it was also the text through which many countries in and even outside Europe, discovered the play. Unshakespearean as it was, it allowed audiences to become familiar with the ordeals of the Danish prince. French spectators, like English ones before them, were first offered watered-down versions of Shakespeare’s plays, supposedly adapted to the taste of the day. These bland imitations of the originals nevertheless introduced them to a more lively type of drama than they were used to.
Another event that promoted familiarity with Shakespeare, again on a European scale, was the publication, between 1776 and 1782, of Pierre Le Tourneur’s 20-volume translation of Shakespeare’s Works, Hamlet appearing in volume 5, in 1779. The translator took a number of liberties with the text in order to satisfy the refined taste of his subscribers who ranged from Louis XVI and the French Royal family, to the King of England. He nevertheless offered the reading-public the first authentic prose rendering of the play, with a long preface which included an Épître au Roi, a life of the dramatist, an account of Garrick’s 1769 Jubilee, and a Discours inspired by the prefaces to various English editions.
• Voltaire’s “war” with Shakespeare.
This major contribution to Shakespeare’s reputation in France triggered off another episode of his, and Hamlet’s literary life. Piqued by the success of Le Tourneur’s translation and by the growing popularity of the English dramatist, Voltaire, in the midst of the Seven Years’ War, engaged his own “war” with Shakespeare, using Hamlet, the “barbarous” play, as his main weapon. Hostilities had in fact opened earlier, in 1761, with Appel à toutes les nations de l’Europe des jugements d’un écrivain anglais, which was Voltaire’s irate reply to the anonymous “Parallèle de Corneille et de Shakespeare.” This article, supposedly translated from the English, and published on 15 October 1760 in the Journal encyclopédique (100-5) proclaimed its author’s preference for Shakespeare over Corneille. This roused Voltaire’s fury. His appeal to the impartial taste of Europe to decide between Shakespeare and the French master includes a seemingly objective synopsis of Hamlet which is in fact a parody, prosaic paraphrase and bland narration slyly reducing the play to a senseless disconnected story. He again quotes his own translation of “To be,” contrasting it this time with a literal rendering of the original which emphasizes its obscurities. And yet he concludes that this raw diamond, which is full of flaws, would lose part of its weight if it was polished (Besterman, 63-76).
Voltaire’s growing aggressiveness towards Shakespeare, especially after the success of Le Tourneur’s translation, was due to his realization that the supremacy of French classical tragedy (and of his own plays) was threatened. This nationalistic reaction was shared by a number of his contemporaries. What was at stake was not only the survival of rules, unities, decorum, propriety and the like, but the so far unchallenged superiority of Corneille and Racine. In July 1776, Voltaire writes in fury to his friend d’Argental about Le Tourneur: “ce misérable... veut nous faire regarder Shakespear comme le seul modèle de la véritable tragédie..; il l’appelle, le dieu du théâtre... Il ne daigne pas même nommer Corneille et Racine” [“the wretch... wants us to consider Shakespeare as the only model for tragedy...; he calls him the god of the theater... and does not condescend to name Corneille and Racine” (Besterman, 174)]. The following month, he convinces d’Alembert, then Secretary of the Academy, to read in his name a letter addressed to this noble body of critics. In this long chauvinistic diatribe against Shakespeare, the aged critic accumulates instances of the English dramatist’s coarse taste and lack of art. Hamlet figures, but not prominently this time, through a short caricaturish synopsis which foregrounds the ghost, the murder of Polonius (due to his being mistaken for a rat), Ophelia’s madness and, predictably, the scene with the gravediggers which “the translator” is blamed for maintaining in the play, when even Garrick has done away with it (Lettre à l’Académie française. Besterman, 191-2). In his “patriotic” campaign against the English dramatist, Voltaire now constantly refers to “Gilles” (and not Will) Shakespeare, Gilles being a name for a traditional clown in popular theater: “Gilles, dans une foire de village, s’exprimerait avec plus de noblese et de décence que le prince Hamlet” [Gilles, in a village fair, would express himself with more propriety and nobility than prince Hamlet], he comments in 1764, in a review of Lord Kames’s Elements of Criticism after giving a literal translation of the “too solid flesh” soliloquy (Besterman, 86-7).
• Hamlet made classical.
The censures and sarcasms of Voltaire (and of many of his contemporaries) are largely to be explained by the domination of a dogmatic classicism that French critics claimed to maintain for the benefit of Europe. These staunch upholders of the rules of Aristotle could not conceive of any form of drama outside the canons of orthodox tragedy, and it was obvious that Shakespeare’s plays in general, and Hamlet in particular, did not conform to the canon. In 1751, Abbé Le Blanc, a playwright and translator who had spent many years in England, wrote a satire on English dramatic practice which clearly refers to Hamlet without ever mentioning the play. In Supplement of Genius, or the Art of Composition of Dramatic Poems as practised by many celebrated Authors of the English Stage, he draws up a list of the necessary (and to him, ridiculous) ingredients that make up an English tragedy; this corroborates the recurrent criticisms addressed to our play: a large number of characters, an intricate plot that mingles tragedy and comedy, a ghost, a heroine going mad, disaster falling on the guilty, vulgar language, etc... In France, tragedy was then conceived as an elitist aristocratic entertainment that had to be presentable to the Court; this explains why breaches of decorum and the use of improper style were more often inveighed against than violation of the unities; thus Hamlet’s allusion to his mother’s shoes is repeatedly singled out for reprobation, along with Francisco’s line, “Not a mouse stirring” (TLN 15). The latter example of Shakespeare’s vulgar mind is often quoted in contrast to Racine’s own dignified way of evoking the silence of the night in his 1674 Iphigénie (1.1.9): “Mais tout dort, et l’armée, et le vent, et Neptune” (“all is asleep, the army, and the wind, and Neptune”). The opposition between the two seems to occur first in a letter in which the Marquis d’Argens, a great traveller and theater-goer, expresses the usual objections to the play for the benefit of his fiancée, Mademoiselle Cochois, an actress well-known at the time (Letter 14 in Lettres philosophiques et critiques par Mademoiselle Co... avec les réponses de Monsieur d’Arg..., 1744). Voltaire, ever a supporter of poetic diction, first mentions the mouse in the course of his biased narration of the play in Appel à toutes les nations... (Besterman, 64) and presses his point in his 1764 review of Lord Kames’s Elements of Criticism as this author had dared to criticize Racine’s poetic line (Besterman, 87-8). Again, the contention is not devoid of nationalistic undertones. Indeed, we find the comparison between Shakespeare’s “mouse” and Racine’s “Neptune” repeatedly bandied about in patriotic sparring on both sides of the Channel: it reappears in the 1776 Lettre à l’Académie; this time, the reference to the mouse is declared to be “guardroom language,” unpronounceable in front of the elite of a nation (Besterman, 201). It is clear that Voltaire considers “the mention of a mouse (as) beneath the dignity of tragedy,” as Thomas Davies suspects in his 1784 Dramatic Miscellanies. In this context, it is amusing to find that, in Le Tourneur’s translation, the mouse becomes an insect (“pas un insecte n’a remué”), a gesture of good will which was obviously wasted upon Voltaire.
The critical crusade for taste explains the adaptors’ and translators’ efforts to force Hamlet into the classical mould: La Place’s anthology singles out important moments of the play and translates them in alexandrines; Ducis rewrites the play following the rules of orthodoxy; even Le Tourneur’s comparatively faithful prose translation resorts to omission and alteration to make the text more decorous and presentable, a fact that Voltaire brings out in his 1776 letter to the Academy by pointedly translating some coarse speeches glossed over by Le Tourneur, like Iago’s lewd description of Desdemona’s lovemaking in Othello (1.1) or the porter’s monologue in Macbeth (Besterman, 189-90).
• The paradox.
And yet, in spite of the fundamental contradiction between the classical ideal of tragedy represented by Racine and Corneille, and Shakespeare’s practice as it appears in Hamlet, eighteenth-century critics hardly ever pronounce a wholesale condemnation of the play, except perhaps Voltaire in the bitterness of old age. In fact, the critical reception of Shakespeare’s drama in France is often reminiscent of the beauty-and-fault criticism which characterizes neo-classical reactions in England. The very first allusion to Hamlet in French is a case in point: in a Dissertation sur la poësie angloise, attributed to La Roche, a French refugee in Holland, the anonymous author sums up the play as “some extremely powerful” speeches mixed with “low features” (1717, 204). Abbé Prévost, though less sensitive to the play’s blemishes than most of his contemporaries—he admires its sentiments—dislikes its irregularities and buffoonery. The arguments, sometimes even the terms, used by French critics often seem to echo those of their English colleagues; indeed, Voltaire justifies his worst attacks on Hamlet in his Letter to the Academy by appealing to the authority of Rymer (Besterman, 201). Even when he likens the play to the work “of a drunken savage,” he still detects in it “some sublime passages worthy of the greatest genius” and singles out the ghost of Hamlet’s father as a one of those “sparkling beauties” (Dissertation sur la tragédie ancienne et moderne, published as a preface to Sémiramis, 1748; Besterman, 57-8). As for his famous iconoclastic boast: “c’est moi qui le premier montrai aux Français quelques perles que j’avais trouvées dans son énorme fumier. ” [I was the first to attract French people’s attention to the few pearls which I had discovered in his huge dunghill] (Lettre à d’Argental, Besterman, 175), it resorts to imagery used with hardly more restraint by Dryden, Nahum Tate and others to justify their adaptations of the plays. Following their English predecessors, the most favorable critics, like Le Tourneur in his Discours des préfaces, explain that Shakespeare, being born in a barbarous age, was ignorant of the rules and could only imitate nature. As late as 1800, Mme de Staël distinguishes between Shakespeare’s sublime beauties, which are the sign of a natural genius, and his faults, which are to be imputed to the age he lived in. She describes Hamlet (which she mentions only in a footnote) as his most beautiful tragedy, marred by “the most revolting errors of taste” (“Des tragédies de Shakespeare” in De la littérature... 1959, 1: 205). If Voltaire and his contemporaries all concur that Shakespeare had no taste, they allow more and more that he had genius.
These paradoxical judgments are corroborated by the dialectic of rejection/attraction, repulsion/fascination, which seems to structure the response to Hamlet and its author: just as Shakespeare is both a genius and a barbarian, his most famous play is a fascinating monster. Oxymoron and unresolved contradiction are constants in the critical appraisal of the time. This is particularly manifest in the reactions to such forbidden ingredients of tragedy as the supernatural, the mixing of genres, or madness on the stage. Voltaire was so conscious of the theatrical impact of the ghost that he introduced one, first in Eriphyle (1732), and then, in spite of its failure, again in Semiramis (1748) where the ghost of Ninus (presented in the preface as appearing on a similar occasion to that of Hamlet’s father) had to thread his way through the rows of young fops encumbering the stage. Abbé Le Blanc speaks of the “terror and force” of the ghost scene (1747. 2: 77). Baculard d’Arnaud, the founder of the “Sombre” school (whose model was Shakespeare) and a great admirer of Macbeth, considers that Banquo’s ghost is surpassed by that of Hamlet’s father and he isolates as most impressive the character’s silent gesture when he beckons Hamlet to follow him (1765, lii). A new conception of tragedy, radically different from that of Corneille and Racine, is revealed to the reading public through Le Tourneur’s translation, at a time when Garrick is the darling of Paris society “salons” with his performances of some Shakespearean scenes. There is no record of interpretations of Hamlet, but the actor is said to have made a great impression in the scene where Macbeth follows the dagger into Duncan’s room. Although objectionable by classical standards, the use of the supernatural, the emphasis on action rather than on narration and many other irregularities, were gradually paving the way for a new form of drama, freed from the shackles of orthodoxy.
This is not to say that the time was ripe for critical reassessments. Even the French Revolution did not alter critical attitudes overnight. At the turn of the nineteenth century, the army of neoclassical critics of Shakespeare still marched forward, Chateaubriand making up the rearguard with severe judgments on the improprieties of his drama. In the chapter he devotes to “Shakespeare” in his 1801 Essais sur la littérature anglaise, he describes Hamlet as “that tragedy of lunatics, that royal Bedlam, where everyone is either insane or guilty of a crime, where feigned madness combines with real madness, the madman mimics the fool, and the dead themselves deliver a fool’s skull on the stage” (1861, XI, 595).
In 1822, English actors coming to perform Othello in Paris were hissed out of the theater at Porte-St-Martin by an audience still traumatized by the French defeat at Waterloo. In his 1825 Racine et Shakespeare II, an indignant Stendhal reports seeing banners of “Down with Shakespeare! He is one of Wellington’s aides-de-camp” (1927, 150). Stendhal’s politico-literary pamphlet contains few precise references to Shakespeare’s plays but uses the dramatist as a positive “romantic” pole opposed to an “academic” theater hampered by its use of the alexandrines and its strict observance of the unities. The symbolic rivalry between Racine and Shakespeare now takes a new turn: as the century moves on and the romantic movement develops, Shakespeare is quoted more and more as a precedent for a different conception of art, and Hamlet, with its ghost, gravediggers, scenes of madness and liberty of expression is tapped as a reserve of precious examples. The monstrosity and wildness berated by Voltaire gradually come to symbolize modernity and freedom.
1820-1900: The Romantic Hamlet.
• The impact of the stage Hamlet
The wind of change begins to blow at the end of the 1820s: the increased presence and success of Hamlet on the stage and the multiplication of translations testify to its influence and to the popularity of the English dramatist. In September 1827 and July 1828, the English actors returned to Paris to perform Othello, Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet. Kemble, followed by Macready in 1844, enjoyed a triumph in the part of the prince. Harriet Smithson (later to become Berlioz’s wife) played Ophelia. The Hamlet performed in English for the first time in Paris was a pruned version of the play, limiting the complexities of the plot, but the ghost was actually seen on the stage, the scenes of madness were performed and audiences discovered a less grandiloquent style of acting than they were used to. Victor Hugo, Théophile Gautier, Berlioz, Delacroix and others were carried away. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Paris audiences still associated Hamlet with Ducis’s naturalized version, then invigorated by the acting of Talma who starred in it from 1803 to 1826. Although the famous actor more often performed Corneille and Racine, his impersonation of Hamlet, in a black cloak and carrying a dagger in his belt, managed to capture some of the terror of the play, as when the sight of the ghost (who remained offstage) was reflected on his face, a moment greatly praised by Mme de Staël in De l’Allemagne (1968, 2: 37). Talma knew English perfectly (he had lived in London for eight years as a child); he had studied Shakespeare’s text, and he suggested various changes to Ducis. In 1792, he had performed a colored Othello, but the audience had risen in horror when he killed Desdemona. The limits of stage decorum could only be pushed back very slowly.
The English version of Hamlet presented by the English actors played its part in this evolution of French taste. It moved Delacroix to draw a series of lithographs highlighting famous images of the play (Hamlet with the ghost, with his mother, with Horatio and the gravediggers the death of Ophelia, the death of Hamlet, etc) and Alexandre Dumas, who had been impressed by Ducis’s version when he was 15, to write his own adaptation of the play. Though Dumas considered Shakespeare as the greatest creator after God, his own Hamlet, prince de Danemark is a pale and distant imitation of the original creation. Completed with the active collaboration of Paul Meurice, it was first produced at the Théâtre Historique in 1847. Written in rimed alexandrines, it retains the general line of the story but with a number of cuts (Fortinbras and Norway; Laertes’s journey to France and Hamlet’s to England, etc), and some “improvements,” such as an early scene in which Hamlet declares his love to Ophélie (whose name rimes with “jolie,” and later with “folie”). His violent injunctions that she “go to a nunnery” are diluted into melodramatic exhortations: Dumas’s prince is a straightforward character, innocent and in love; he does kill Polonius but he is then eaten up with remorse. A number of indecorous events and expressions have been excluded, along with Francisco’s ill-fated mouse. Ophelia’s songs are expurgated; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do not die. The ending conforms to the necessities of poetic justice: the ghost appears after Hamlet has wounded Claudius and Laertes to deal out punishments in terms reminiscent of the ghost scene in Richard III: the sentence he passes on Laertes ends on “prie et meurs” (pray and die); it is echoed in the conclusion of that passed on Gertrude (“espère et meurs” [hope and die]), and then on Claudius ( “désespère et meurs” [despair and die]). As for Hamlet, he is condemned to live on: “tu vivras” [Thou shalt live].
At the same time many scenes, although reshuffled, remain faithful to the original; Hamlet’s meandering reflections are recognizable in the translated soliloquies, and the graveyard scene is given in full. In subsequent versions, Meurice will gradually come closer to the original, restoring the first apparition of the ghost as well as the order of some scenes (Hamlet’s advice to the players is no longer given the moment they arrive in Elsinore, nor is Claudius at prayer spared after Hamlet has killed Polonius). For the 1886 revival at the Comédie-Française and with Mounet-Sully in the title-part, Meurice agreed to restore the Shakespearean ending, although he maintained that this was not a “dénouement à la française.” Fortinbras was eventually reintroduced in 1896. This last version was to be used by the Comédie-Française until 1924, and by various provincial theaters until after the second world war.
This was a Hamlet which could satisfy French classical taste, and yet, with its spectacular costumes and settings and its magnificent acting, it also encouraged confusion of the character with a romantic hero. As earlier with Talma, the public empathized with the actor taking the title part. From 1847, Rouvière was to enjoy great fame as the prince for twenty years: in a black cloak and with a pointed beard, his Hamlet was influenced by Delacroix’s representation of the character in the series of 16 lithographs which he had completed by 1843. Although the lithographs are generally considered conventional and insipid when compared to this great colorist’s paintings of similar subjects (“Hamlet et le spectre de son père” [Hamlet with the ghost of his father, 1825], or “Hamlet et Horatio au cimetière” [Hamlet and Horatio in the graveyard, 1839]), all these pictorial representations testify to the fascination of the age for the melancholy prince and for the mysteriousness of the play. Rouvière would reproduce the tradition, inherited from Kemble (and recorded in a stage-direction by Dumas) of crouching to spy on Claudius and the Queen during the play-within-the-play. Mounet-Sully (who took over the part from 1886 until his death in 1916) would later spy on them from behind Ophelia’s fan. This famous actor was acclaimed in the part in more than 200 performances and toured the United States with great success in 1894. The Boston Advertizer for May 8 noted that the actor delivered the “solid flesh” soliloquy with “a direct handling of his arms and person on the word flesh,” a piece of stage-business which the reviewer read as “a national conception of such a poetic passage” (quoted by A. C. Sprague, 135). Mounet-Sully was the first to use tablets on which he wrote “One may smile and smile....” His “to be or not to be” was spoken as a dialogue with his dagger which he sheathed only when Ophelia appeared. His Souvenirs d’un tragédien, published in 1917, reveal his quest for a more authentic text (he was probably responsible for the reintroduction of Fortinbras), based on his intimate knowledge of the English original and on his close study of François-Victor Hugo’s translation which he annotated in the margin (see J. Jacquot, 1964, 422n). In the second half of the century, the play became more and more popular on the stage, but always in adapted form, or even, from 1868, as an opera, with music by Ambroise Thomas and lyrics by Michel Carré and Jules Barbier. In this case, the story was oversimplified, the focus shifting to Ophelia whose madness was staged in a ballet in which the heroine rose in the clouds; but the ending was similar to the denouement in Dumas’s adaptation, with an avenging ghost meting out justice. Over the years, Hamlet had become associated with a few striking pictures in the minds of the general public: the ghost, the gravediggers, Ophelia running mad, the duel with Laertes, and above all Hamlet delivering his inevitable soliloquy. First translated by Voltaire as an example of “one of those forcible passages which atone for all (Shakespeare’s) faults” (Besterman, 44), then remorselessly adapted and imitated, this speech, spectators discovered, could also be sung with gusto: “Être ou ne pas être... ô mystère!/ Mourir!... dormir!... rêver peut-être!...”
Though progress towards appreciation of a more authentic Shakespeare was much slower on the stage than in translation and critical appraisal, the three modes of reception contributed, in their different ways, to the emergence of a romantic Hamlet and later to the construction of the Hamlet myth. For a long time, the impact of the actors impersonating Hamlet was greater than that of the text, even for critics who could read it in the original: thus, when in 1810, Mme de Staël enthused over Talma’s reaction to an invisible ghost, she was referring to Ducis’s Hamlet in which the ghost remained confined off-stage (De l’Allemagne, 1968, 2: 37); at the other end of the century, Mallarmé (who, as a teacher of English, certainly knew the original play) wrote his essay on Hamlet for the Revue indépendante (Nov. 1886) on the occasion of Mounet-Sully’s performance in the Dumas-Meurice Hamlet; and he mentioned Fortinbras (in a note published in the Revue Blanche in 1896) only after this character had made his first appearance on a French stage.
Hamlet for readers and Hamlet on the stage
Yet, while spectators were deprived of the sight of the ghost and of the presence of Fortinbras and were even led to believe that Hamlet could live on, readers were offered translations more and more faithful to the original. François Guizot’s revised edition of Le Tourneur’s, published in 1821, reintroduced most of the passages previously omitted, along with the offensive mouse and rat. In 1840, Benjamin Laroche, a journalist, translator of Byron and Dickens, published a translation in prose which was to run into seven editions. Though more accurate than its predecessors, it sometimes paraphrased the text at the cost of the imagery, whereas François-Victor Hugo’s Oeuvres complètes de Shakespeare, published in 15 volumes between 1859 and 1865, often combined faithfulness and felicitous invention.
The joint action of the Hugos, father and son, provides one of the highlights of the romantic cult of Shakespeare. It was François-Victor, the son (and not Victor, the father, as is sometimes believed) who, having no knowledge of English at the start, took a dozen years to translate the works of his idol. And Victor, the father, who, in the year of the tercentenary, published a bulky book entitled William Shakespeare. François-Victor Hugo’s famous translation, described by Swinburne as “a monument,” was the first one to depart from conventional language and poetic diction, at the risk of shocking its readers. Coarse language was no longer omitted, nor were improprieties or quibbles glossed over. This was Shakespeare unmuzzled (“sans muselière,” 1864, 223), to take up the father’s definition of his son’s translation in his William Shakespeare which was originally meant as a preface to the translation. In effect, the book soon turns into a glorification of England’s poet and develops into a theory of genius based on the latter’s privilege to take his own road; essentially, it proclaims the preeminence of Shakespeare among all authors living or dead and survives as an example of French bardolatry. Both Hugos cut romantic figures themselves in the father’s relation of their first reactions to the political exile which confined them to the Channel Islands during the reign of “Napoléon-le-petit,” as Victor called him (1851-70): “I shall gaze at the ocean,” said the father; “I shall translate Shakespeare,” said the son” (13). Together, they epitomize the way in which translation and criticism of Shakespeare interact throughout the century to promote a dramatic theory which extols as beauties the faults earlier deprecated by Voltaire.
From the 1820s, French critics had turned to Shakespeare for militant support of their romantic cause. In 1827, in his Préface de Cromwell, a manifesto for freedom in art and drama (the word now used in place of the coded “tragedy”), Victor Hugo refers to Hamlet and the gravediggers as a glorious precedent of the combination of the grotesque and the sublime which he advocates for the new drama (1949, 35). In 1829, Alfred de Vigny uses the preface to his adaptation of Othello as Le More de Venise to expose his own dramatic theories based on the mixing of genres and of styles. Shakespeare is now used as a standard in the fight for a new theater and as a source of inspiration by the new dramatists. Thus his historical dramas, though never yet performed, evidently influenced the practice of romantic dramatists, from Alexandre Dumas’s 1829 Henri III et sa cour to Alfred de Musset’s 1835 Lorenzaccio, so clearly reminiscent of Hamlet, through Hugo’s important series of Histories starting with Hernani which, in 1830, won the battle for freedom in art. In January of the same year, the Duc de Broglie, reporting on the success of Vigny’s Othello with a long drawn-out military metaphor, had concluded that, on 25 October 1829, the French theater had been taken over by “Attila-Shakespeare” (Revue française, n° XIII): the “barbarian” drama had overthrown the national tragedy.
Yet, in his chronicles of the contemporary theater, Théophile Gautier deplores that the Comédiens français should prefer Ducis’s Othello to Vigny’s more authentic version and should only perform Shakespeare “in very small doses” (Histoire de l’art dramatique en France depuis 25 ans, 1859, 285 and 263). The contradiction between the revolution in critical theory and a stage practice that continued to classicize Shakespeare was bewailed by convinced Romantics like this witness and actor of the romantic revolution (Gautier remains famous for the red waistcoat he was wearing for the “battle” of Hernani—though, by some accounts, it was only pink). Both the failure of French romantic drama and the age’s reluctance to stage more authentic versions of Shakespeare become more comprehensible in the light of his recurrent criticisms of the successful bourgeois theater and its confined over-decorated space. Gautier calls in vain for an open theatrical space which would allow quick changes of scene and more mobility, and for a popular audience, “un véritable public comprenant la fantaisie avec une merveilleuse facilité” [a real public understanding fantasy with wonderful facility]. He uses the provocative metaphorical title “Shakespeare aux Funambules” (La revue de Paris, 1842) to review a popular pantomime presented at the “théâtre des Funambules” (the word normally refers to tight-rope walkers) in front of a public after his own heart, “in their shirt-sleeves... with caps over their ears.” “Si jamais l’on peut représenter Le Songe d’une nuit d’été, La tempête et Le Conte d’hiver de Shakespeare, assurément ce ne sera que sur ces pauvres tréteaux vermoulus devant ces spectateurs en haillons” [If Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale can ever be staged, it will have to be on these poor worm-eaten trestles, in front of this tattered audience] (quoted in Anne Ubersfeld’s Théophile Gautier, 225). But though the young literati had managed to shake off the authority of the orthodox Académie, the Comédie-Française (with its bored audience in yellow gloves, as Gautier describes it) was even more set in its conservative ways. It was to be years before a Shakespeare comedy entered its repertoire and forty years before Dumas’s Hamlet, which had had to fall back on the Théâtre historique after being refused in 1846, was allowed to join it.
While the stage Hamlet spoke in alexandrines and used the classical idiom, both the criticism and the translations of the play were more and more concerned with authenticity, more centered on close study of the text and of its Elizabethan context. François-Victor Hugo based his translation on the 1623 Folio which he could consult in Guernsey. His first volume, published in 1859 and entitled Les deux Hamlet, included a translation of the Quarto edition discovered in 1823 (Q1). His substantial introduction appended in 1873, fixes the date of its composition around 1584 and of its expansion into Q2 about ten years later. Émile Montégut’s even more accurate prose translation (published in 1869-70, after an article on Hamlet in the April 1856 issue of the Revue des deux mondes) also contains erudite notes and a discussion of sources, but shares in the more general belief that the 1603 Quarto was an early draft. In Hamlet le Danois (the first monograph on the play, published in 1878), Alexandre Büchner hypothesizes the existence of an earlier play with a ghost. Victor Courdaveaux, whose articles on Shakespeare in the Revue contemporaine (Nov.1863 to Aug.1864) were later integrated into his 1867 Études sur la littérature ancienne et moderne, compares the two quartos, and concludes that Ql was one of the stages in the composition of the play, which was completed by 1604.
The play or the prince?
In the second half of the century, literary criticism of Hamlet is associated with the historical criticism represented by Taine, whose eight-year work on Histoire de la littérature anglaise (published in 5 volumes in 1863-9), began in 1856 with an article in the 15 July Revue des deux mondes, entitled “Shakespeare, son génie et ses oeuvres,” as well as with “study” criticism, mostly academic in origin: Philarète Chasles, Alfred Mézières, Victor Courdaveaux, and later Paul Stapfer and Alexandre Büchner, were all University Professors; and they sometimes declared that Shakespeare’s plays could never be properly staged.
Remarks on Hamlet are thus mostly found in works devoted to Literature in general rather than to Shakespeare in particular. It is surely significant that two of the rare full-length studies of the dramatist, both published around the year of the Tercentenary, should have been signed by France’s famous romantic poets, Lamartine and Victor Hugo. Lamartine’s Shakespeare et son oeuvre (1865) offers little more than a paraphrase and partial translation of the best-known tragedies (Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Othello), and has little to say about Hamlet. The author reproduces Goethe’s opinion of the play, describes it as a series of over-complicated intrigues, and reserves his admiration for Ophelia and for the gravediggers. Victor Hugo’s encomium of Shakespeare is not centered on Hamlet either: referring to the dramatist as “l’auteur d’ Hamlet” seems to him insufficient to embrace his creative genius: “L’oeuvre capitale de Shakespeare n’est pas Hamlet. L’oeuvre capitale de Shakespeare, c’est tout Shakespeare” [Shakespeare’s greatest work is not Hamlet. Shakespeare’s greatest work is the whole of Shakespeare] (1864, 253). Some ten pages are devoted to an analysis of the play, mainly conducted through a comparison with Aeschylus’s Prometheus and, more predictably, with Orestes (241-53); but Hugo is the first critic to remark, further on in the book, that all of Shakespeare’s plays, except two, have a subplot which reflects the main plot: in the case of Hamlet, he notes, the hero starts off a second tragedy of revenge when he kills Polonius, thus putting Laertes in the same situation as himself (291). Hugo interprets this double plot (of which he does not approve) as a sign of the sixteenth century’s attraction for mirror actions which is also manifest in the visual arts (293-5).
Although such insights into the play’s structure remain exceptional, the progress towards romanticism is marked by a new interest in the artistic composition of the play. François Guizot is probably the first to break away from the neo-classical tradition of listing beauties and faults. His “Notice” on Hamlet (appended to his 1821 translation of the Complete Works) connects the gravediggers with a “unique impression of death” which hovers over the whole drama and is epitomized and personified by the ghost of the murdered king (8th ed., 1873, 136). In the 1835 revised edition, the concern for discovering the artistic unity of the play is even clearer. The essay on Hamlet, now written by Prosper de Barante, seeks to uncover the dramatic system of the play which the critic analyzes as ruled by chance and uncertainty: the plot, like the hero, halts and hesitates until it chances upon its denouement, hence “a diversity of incidents,” completed by “a profusion of reflections and speeches” [d’un côté la diversité des incidents, et de l’autre, la profusion des réflexions et des discours]. The characters, from the king to the gravedigger, are all pedants who speak but do not act (264).
But by and large, the romantic context, which constructs Shakespeare to a demi-god ruling over his own universe, encourages critics to concern themselves with the prince more than with the play. Victor Hugo enthuses over the power of genius to create “types,” God having created the “prototype” (1864, 237). The confusion between character and human being logically follows: “the characters of Shakespeare... have an independent existence; they live outside the tragedy. No character serves better to illustrate this than that of Hamlet” (Mézières, 1860, 317). This is partly because interrogations on his hesitations and delay have agitated critics from the start, and more so in the wake of their German counterparts. François-Victor Hugo quotes at length Goethe’s analysis of the character in Wilhelm Meister as a soul burdened by a great task and incapable of accomplishing it. This interpretation is most often used to exonerate Hamlet and to strengthen the vision of the hero out of place in a world unfit for him, already sketched in Mme de Staël’s brief allusion to the play: as early as 1800, she applauded Shakespeare’s “noble idea of representing a virtuous man who finds life unbearable when evil surrounds him” [la noble idée du poète d’avoir représenté l’homme vertueux ne pouvant supporter la vie, quand la scélératesse l’environne] (1959, 1: 205n). The romantic portrait of Hamlet based on the opposition between the hero’s purity and the corruption of the world around him, finds itself completed by the idea, inherited from Coleridge, that it is the hero’s incapacity to move from thought to action which explains his tragedy. Though not given to romantic flights, Chasles notes that “the Greek theater has nothing analogous to this terrible dreamer, Hamlet!... Passion excites him to vengeance...; thought... holds back his arm and paralyzes action.” (1847, 93); even Taine, the positivist, recognizes in him “a poet’s soul, made not to act, but to dream.” (1907, 1: 123), and the prince as seen by Mézières is a dreaming idealist led to his death by his melancholy disposition more than by adverse circumstances.
The romantic image of Hamlet is that of a splenetic hero, suffering from mal du siècle, often identified with Chateaubriand’s René or with Goethe’s Werther. Paradoxically, the mainly classical stage tradition of the play has played its part in the construction of this image of the prince: from Ducis to Dumas, the story of the play has changed, but from Talma to Mounet-Sully, the hero, along with his monologues, has survived as a meditative character faced with an impossible task. Relayed by the pictorial tradition established by Delacroix, the image of a Hamlet delicate and pale, hair blowing in the wind and contemplating skulls, has moved from the stage to critical analysis and invaded literary consciousness. In the course of the nineteenth century, Hamlet acquires an existence of his own. Berlioz is among the first to integrate him into his own life: in his memoirs (Le retour à la vie), he speaks to the hero in the first person and blames him for his own sufferings (“Hamlet! Que de mal tu m’as fait!” [1832, 9]). In the Almanach du mois (Feb. 1845), the novelist George Sand addresses the hero to ask him “the secret of his infinite pain” (“O Hamlet, dis-nous le secret de ta douleur immense”) which she diagnoses as the suffering of a pure soul thrown in the midst of the world’s corruption (Oeuvres, 1855. 2: 63).
Yet, the Hamlets of the nineteenth century do not all conform to the image of the gentle melancholy hero first introduced by Goethe. Courdaveaux, for instance, contradicts the portrait of a weak-willed Hamlet unequal to his task by analyzing the nature of the task: “it is not, as Goethe has wrongfully said, a heroic task which Hamlet is not strong enough to accomplish; it is a horrible obligation for which he is not made.”(1867, 315). Stapfer treats Hamlet as the subject of a moral treatise and sees him as the archetype of the paralyzed intellectual, sick even before he sees the ghost, and eventually subject to moral degeneration. In the Avertissement preceding his translation, Montégut underlines the contradictions in the character and describes him as “both meditative and energetic, manly and irresolute, melancholy and brutal,” at the same time feudal and modern (Oeuvres, 180). Victor Hugo too stresses his ambivalence, and does not conceal his brutality: “prince and demagogue, sagacious and extravagant, profound and frivolous, masculine and neuter... Hamlet is formidable, which does not prevent his being ironic. He has the two profiles of destiny.” (1864, 246; 253). Büchner interprets this duality as the sign of a defective dramatic composition, the character being a compound of the Viking inherited from an earlier play, who tends towards action, and of the Renaissance prince imagined by Shakespeare, who is prone to melancholy reflection. Similar—and related—interrogations on Hamlet’s “antic disposition” divide the critics. Arch-romantics like George Sand plead that their hero is mad, in order to save his image: “Qu’on ne nous dise donc plus que tu n’es pas fou car tu serais odieux” [Let no-one tell us that you are not mad, for then you’d be odious] (Oeuvres 2: 64). Victor Hugo shows more concern with the play as a whole when he considers that Hamlet “plays the madman for safety reasons” (1864, 248); Taine quotes the “too solid flesh” soliloquy to support his opinion that this sensitive soul is already on the verge of madness; though he agrees that his madness is feigned at times, it is clear to him “that this state is a disease, and that the man will not survive it” (120). The question sometimes receives interestingly dual answers: for Büchner, Hamlet’s madness is sometimes real and sometimes feigned, and for Stapfer one is not incompatible with the other.
From myth to mystery.
The enigmatic character of Hamlet, a source of interrogation throughout the century, may serve to confirm his humanity, as when the novelist Anatole France, inspired by Mounet-Sully’s performance, concludes a paragraph on “cet insaisissable personnage” (in which he lists the contradictions of the character) with the direct address “En un mot, vous vivez” [in short, you are alive] (Oeuvres 6: 19). For many critics, the Hamlet mystery is inseparable from the Shakespeare mystery: “destined by nature for genius, condemned by fortune to madness and unhappiness, Hamlet is Shakspeare,” Taine concludes his analysis of the hero (123); and Chasles concurs (but this time the work, not the character, sums up the man): “Hamlet is Shakespeare, as the Misanthrope is Molière” (1867, 101); Courdaveaux goes one better: “it is his [Shakespeare’s] life which is the final explanation of the character of Hamlet, as it is that of the character of Timon, which was conceived at the same period” (1867, 323); “both [Hamlet and Timon] were born of the same sadness and the same weariness of life which Shakespeare appears to have suffered for some two-thirds of his career.” (326). Indeed, critics often turn to the dramatist’s life to support their analyses of character. Hugo opens his book on a Vie de Shakespeare (largely inspired by Aubrey), from which the dramatist emerges as a romantic figure: like Taine, he brings in legends inherited from England to suggest the misery and humiliations first met by the actor-poet who had to look after the patrons’ horses outside the London theaters; Hugo describes him as “perpetually insulted and persecuted, like Molière later” (34). By the end of the nineteenth century, the mythical image of Hamlet, a noble hero pitted against a hostile society, had contaminated that of its creator. Based on distortions, sentimentalism and the assimilation of the character to a living figure, the myth was well-established. The romantic figure had absorbed the classical idiom.
One of the derivations of this myth was the “hamletism” which affected a number of poets, like Baudelaire, whose image of Hamlet was essentially formed by the drawings of Delacroix, or like Mallarmé who owned an illustration of Rouvière as Hamlet by Manet and whose vision of the play was shaped by the Dumas-Meurice Hamlet; as for Jules Laforgue, who probably introduced the word “hamletism” in France, he had gone on a pilgrimage to Elsinore before writing his “Hamlet ou les suites de la piété filiale” [Hamlet or the Consequences of Filial Piety], which was published posthumously in 1887 in a collection of ironically retold myths entitled Moralités légendaires. The very existence of such a parody works as a confirmation of the myth. Laforgue here depicts a histrionic Hamlet, who has disposed of Polonius before the story begins, thus causing Ophelia to disappear. His main preoccupation is arranging the performance of a play. He is constantly determined to act but drifting off into soliloquies on existence. Unmoved, he hears from the gravedigger that Ophelia has been drowned and that he, himself, is Yorick’s brother. He plans to run away with Kate, the player-queen, but is killed by Laertes in the graveyard, a victim of his love for cemeteries: “one Hamlet less, but the race is not lost,” Laforgue concludes. In effect, when mocking Hamlet-John o’dreams, the poet is criticizing himself. Like Baudelaire, who caricatures his melancholy self as “cette ombre d’Hamlet imitant la posture, Le regard indécis et les cheveux au vent” [this shadow aping Hamlet’s posture, With hesitant gaze and wind-blown hair] (“la Béatrice” in Les Fleurs du Mal, 1857), or like Mallarmé who describes his own attempt to break away from the histrionic role of “le mauvais Hamlet” in a sonnet (“Le Pitre châtié,” 1864), Laforgue treats the prince as a soul-mate, as the mirror of his quest for an unreachable absolute and the image of unfulfilled potentialities. For these unsatisfied poets, Hamlet symbolizes precisely the impossibility of fulfillment: in his 1886 essay, Mallarmé defines him with poetical density as “le seigneur latent qui ne peut devenir” [literally, “the latent lord who cannot become”] (1945, 300); in his 1896 note on Hamlet and Fortinbras, the prince, contrasted with the single-minded man of action, is more ambivalent than ever, “le beau démon,” both sweet prince and arrant knave (1564).
In the course of the following century the sweet prince will at times be dislodged by the arrant knave, yet even the maelstrom of two successive world wars will not disintegrate the Hamlet myth but only displace it.
The twentieth century  until World War 2
• Hamlet on the stage.
As the nineteenth century was coming to a close, Sarah Bernhardt started making history with her famous interpretation of the Prince. In 1886, she had played the part of Ophelia at the Théâtre de la Porte-St-Martin, opposite Garnier (an indifferent Hamlet), in a version by Lucien Cressonois and Charles Sanson, influenced by Dumas’s adaptation. In 1899, at the Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt, the characters of Hamlet spoke in prose on the stage for the first time, in a translation by Eugène Morand and Marcel Schwob. The production was an enormous success; it toured the States before going to Stratford-on-Avon. In 1900, on the occasion of the Paris Exhibition, Clément Maurice shot a silent black and white film of the actress fighting Pierre Magnier’s Laertes in the duel scene. Like Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s fragment of King John, which barely preceded it on the movie scene, this five-minute film of Hamlet,  “went no further than being a record of a theatrical performance on a conventional stage,” to be followed, in 1907 by another segment of the play, performed and filmed by Georges Méliès (Rothwell, 1999, 3-4). But in the early years of the century, French audiences definitely associated the figure of the Danish prince with that of Sarah Bernhardt, in black tights and holding a skull, or as she was represented on the poster by Alfons Mucha, in a white cloak, hands crossed on a sword, with the ghost barely distinguishable in the background. Her Hamlet was geared to the expectations of the French public (she would cross herself before following the ghost, an understandable reaction in a predominantly Catholic country); hers was a romantic prince, following the tradition established by Mounet-Sully and by her own interpretation of other mythical figures,: “I have had the rare, and I think, unique privilege to play three Hamlets,” she confided to an English journalist: “Shakespeare’s black-clad Hamlet, Rostand’s white-clad Hamlet, l’Aiglon, and Alfred de Musset’s Florentine Hamlet, Lorenzaccio” (quoted by Robert Horville “Les techniques de jeu de Sarah Bernhardt.” Revue d”Histoire du Théâtre, 1987, 2: 183-208, 185). Yet Morand & Schwob’s very literal version of the play (it lasted five hours) was still marked by the classical idiom; the scholarly translation affected an archaic style, suppressed coarse allusions and glossed over supposed indecencies: Gertrude’s shoes were glamorized into “souliers de bal” (dancing slippers) and the “funeral baked meats” into “le rôti des funérailles” [the funeral roast]. The play-within-the-play was reduced to a few lines and the dumb-show disappeared altogether.
1904, the year of the entente cordiale between France and England, is representative of the contradictions that beset French theatrical life and the production of Shakespeare’s plays at the beginning of the century. While the indestructible Dumas-Meurice version of Hamlet was being revived at the Comédie-Française with the inevitable Mounet-Sully in the title-part, Antoine was producing a complete Lear, in a specially commissioned translation. Strikingly, the most significant landmarks in the theatrical history of the period are provided by memorable productions, not of the French Classics, but of Shakespeare plays; these were the work of prominent directors like Antoine, Copeau or Gémier who thus instigated a veritable revolution in stage-practice. Some seventy years after the romantic playwrights and poets, it was the turn of the stage-directors to shake off the shackles of the traditional theater, and the battles were, again, fought under the Shakespearean banner.
• The death of the romantic Hamlet.
Though Antoine’s name is generally associated with Naturalist aesthetics, he had actually moved away from this first manner by 1892 when he left the Théâtre libre [the Free Theater]. His Roi Lear was the first Shakespearean drama to be performed in its entirety in France. The complete text translated by the novelist Pierre Loti was performed with one interval only, without the then traditional interruptions at the end of each act or tableau. This staging was made possible by the use of a single set made up of drapes which served as a background for unlocated scenes and could be drawn back to reveal painted cloths evoking the castle, the heath or the Dover cliffs. Though bred on the unity of place, French spectators thus discovered that the action of a Shakespeare play flowed easily and excitingly forward once it was freed from obtrusive decor and slow changes of scene; the reshuffling of scenes commonly practiced by adaptors in order to simplify the staging was seen to be unnecessary: it is logical that Antoine’s choice of a single (and mostly bare) set should have gone together with his call for a complete unadulterated text, a self-imposed mission which he was to pursue as a dramatic critic writing for L’Information, becoming vocal whenever a Shakespeare play was “improved” for the stage.
Antoine’s production of Lear was a major step forward in the reception of Shakespeare in France; it ran for a hundred performances and was a source of inspiration for other directors of Shakespeare, including Max Reinhardt who was in Paris at the time. The principles of Shakespearean performance which Antoine had established with his Lear (and was to confirm, as director of the Odéon, with Jules César, Roméo et Juliette and Coriolan) encouraged future directors of Hamlet to turn their backs on fatuous romantic productions striving after the illusion of reality. During the same pre-war period, Camille de Sainte-Croix created La compagnie française du Théâtre Shakespeare, setting it the task to perform authentic versions of plays so far unknown to French audiences. Between 1909 and 1911, he translated and directed stylized productions of ten “new” plays, among them A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Taming of the Shrew. The only previous appearance of a Shakespeare comedy on a French stage had been a heavily adaptated version of As You Like It by George Sand, some sixty years before. But now the new focus on Shakespeare as a man of the theater induced a few directors to extend their Shakespearean repertoire beyond the traditional tragedies. Thus, in 1914, Jacques Copeau, (another name associated with the rejection of spectacular stage-sets and machinery in favour of the bare trestles of the Middle Ages) made theatrical history with an acclaimed production of Twelfth Night at the Théâtre du Vieux Colombier.
In 1913, Lugné-Poe and Gémier, who had taken over the Théâtre Antoine, produced Hamlet in a new very faithful translation by Georges Duval. In the center of the single set, a medieval arch opened onto mobile backcloths which suggested the battlements or the chuchyard, and could also be closed off for indoor scenes. The costumes were gorgeous but the only prop was a bench which could serve as an altar, a table or a coffin. The title-part was taken by Suzanne Déprès, continuing the French tradition for female Hamlets, but she interpreted a determined and lucid character very different from Sarah Bernhardt’s romantic prince. Lugné took the part of Polonius and Gémier that of the gravedigger. As an actor, Gémier had a truly Shakespearean talent, equally at ease in comic and in tragic parts. In the midst of the first World War, he was to create a Société Shakespeare which aimed to develop a theater with a popular appeal. As a director, he was partial to spectacular mise-en-scènes (the much-discussed highlight of his 1918 Antoine et Cléopâtre was described as “an orgy at Cleopatra’s”). Gémier wanted to promote a theater for the people, along with Copeau, whose conversely austere productions also singled out Shakespeare because, like Molière, he had been an actor as well a dramatist.
This new emphasis on the wide theatrical appeal of the English dramatist is to be related to the policy of commissioning translations for the stage which took into account the experience of acting and directing. Antoine had initiated the practice with his Lear. Théodore Lascaris’s translation for Copeau’s successful Nuit des rois had been altered during rehearsals, in connection with gesture, body language and new ideas for the mise-en-scène. In the literary journal Les Nouvelles Littéraires (2 Jan. 1932), Copeau explained that changes had been introduced in the text each time the play was revived between 1917 and 1920. Copeau himself had spent part of the war years translating the tragedies, then the comedies, in collaboration with Suzanne Bing, with a view to producing stage-texts both faithful to the original and easy to deliver in French.
As the gap between the reader’s and the spectator’s Shakespeare diminishes, the stage continues to steal the Shakespearean show and to wage the battle between spectacular productions emphasizing visual appeal, and stylized mise-en-scènes concerned with textual authenticity. Between the two world wars, the movement which gradually carried Shakespearean performance away from the post-romantic tradition, gathered new impetus under the influence of directors (often director-actors) like Georges Pitoëff and Gaston Baty who, with Charles Dullin and Louis Jouvet formed what was known as “Le Cartel des quatre” [the group of four].
George Pitoëff’s production of Hamlet (in which he took the title-part, his wife, Ludmilla, interpreting a memorable Ophelia) illustrates the connection between respecting the dramatist’s word and paring down the sets. As a director (largely influenced by Copeau who, like him, experimented with Shakespeare before moving to something else), Pitoëff considered that faithfulness to the essence of a dramatic text was incompatible with naturalism. After a rather unsuccessful trial-run in Geneva in 1920, his Hamlet was revived in Paris, first at the Théâtre des Arts in 1926, then from 1927 at the Théâtre des Mathurins. The production was based on the Morand-Schwob translation without any cuts. The original Geneva set had been constituted of grey steel panels which, at the outset, suggested the front of the Danish castle. Seen under different lights or from new angles, they later evoked a court-room, a closet (Polonius was killed behind a red curtain) or a graveyard. After a hundred performances in Paris, the grey panels had disappeared. When the twenty-four tableaux had been reduced to a single one, the setting of Hamlet had been found, Pitoëff explains in Notre Théâtre (texts and documents collected by J. de Rigault, 1949, 41). The actor-director, who was sometimes accused of puritanism because he kept stripping down his sets, also rejected any naturalistic stage-business that might distract the spectator from concentrating on the words. Deriding the spotlights and attitudinizing which usually accompanied an actor’s delivery of “To be or not to be,” he writes: “J’exige qu’il (l’acteur) soit seul au milieu de la scène, sans aucune aide, aucun appui et démuni de tout secours. Je désire qu’il soit assez fort pour porter sans faiblesse le lourd fardeau du génie de Shakespeare” [I want him (the actor) to stand alone at center-stage, without any assistance or prop, deprived of any support. I wish him to be strong enough to carry, without any weakness, the weight of Shakespeare’s genius]. The only prop he tolerated was the expressionism of the costumes, here based on an opposition between black and white: Hamlet was dressed in black throughout, but his spiritual struggle (due to an inability to move from thought to action) which Pitoëff saw as the core of the tragedy, was symbolized by a quest for whiteness: Ophelia wore white only once she was mad, “as a precursor of Fortinbras” who appeared, at the end, surrounded with white-clad soldiers, to carry off the dark figure of the prince: “La représentation se terminait dans un triomphe, non dans une torturante angoisse, Hamlet apparaissait alors délivré du monde effrayant qui l’avait écrasé de tout son poids durant sa vie” [The performance ended in triumph, not in heart-corroding anguish, Hamlet being freed of the awesome world which had crushed him under its weight in his lifetime](23). Pitoëff grounded his mise-en-scène on this contrast of characters, thus investing the long-excluded Fortinbras with both historical and symbolic significance, and emphasizing the interdependence of roles in a drama which had, so far, mostly been performed as a one-man show.
With Gaston Baty’s 1928 production of Hamlet, the age’s concern for the authenticity of the text takes an unusual turn, the director opting for the so-called Bad Quarto (Q1, 1603), translated by Théodore Lascaris. Baty explains his choice in an essay entitled “Le visage de Shakespeare,” appended to the issue of the theatrical journal Masques which publishes Lascaris’s “La tragique histoire d’Hamlet” (13, 1928). This quest of the “face” [visage] behind the “mask” may be related to the French fascination for the Shakespearean mystery. Baty considers Q1 as the authentic stage-version, its logical succession of scenes having been conceived by the actor Shakespeare, while Q2 is a text for readers, judging from the unnecessary monologues and verbose descriptions presumably added later by some literary-minded nobleman. Baty’s mise en scène, again with a woman in the title part (Marguerite Jamois who later interpreted Lady Macbeth) can be said to steer a middle course between realism and symbolism: a single set representing the outside of the castle (with a central pillar, a flight of stairs and a number of doors) accommodated the various locations of the play, with the support of lighting or the help of painted cloths. Baty’s rejection of Q2 as too literary for a stage audience (he later tampered with the text of Macbeth for his 1942 production) is at odds with the pursuit of textual authenticity which reaches even the Comédie-Française: in 1932, Dumas’s adaptation was at long last dislodged by the Morand-Schwob translation in a production by Charles Granval; its revival in 1942, in a new more faithful translation by Guy de Pourtalès, introduced Jean-Louis Barrault on the Hamlet scene.
The transition from the pre-war wild and extravagant Hamlet to the post-war lucid character, divided between doubt and faith, is best appreciated through the work of this famous actor-director who not only interpreted the part several times, but also wrote several texts analyzing his evolving conception of the play. This was a period when actors and stage-directors definitely had more to say about Shakespeare than critics and literary figures. Jean Cocteau had remarked about the 1942 Hamlet that Barrault would have to direct the play himself if he was to give his full measure in the part (Cœmedia, 4 April 1942). Granval’s production for the Comédie-Française, although performed as an uninterrupted sequence of scenes in front of curtains (probably a result of Antoine’s liberating influence) had indeed borne the marks of the post-romantic tradition, with blasts of wind and flames punctuating the apparitions of the ghost and hysterical scenes of madness contrasting with the tearful tenderness of the lovers. Jean-Louis Barrault’s 1946 mise-en-scène for the Théâtre Marigny, was very different. The director-actor had obtained from the novelist André Gide a long-awaited translation which was to become a standard and a reference. His own conception of the play is made clear in a well-known lecture, entitled “Shakespeare et les Français” [Shakespeare and the French], which he delivered in Edinburgh where his production was shown in 1948. Having declared that the English dramatist (whose plays, he said, were more often performed than Racine’s) had become a need for French audiences, Barrault explained this feeling of kinship by the similarity between Elizabethan England and post-war France, both having been through a transitional period of doubt, “between an age which had lost its faith and one which had not yet retrieved it” (1959, 120). This was the reason that Barrault opted for an interpretation of Hamlet that could be meaningful for his own time: he conceived the prince as a virile hero, without morbid predispositions, who discovers how difficult it is to act in a corrupted world without staining one’s soul (124). Having surmounted the temptation of suicide, he sacrifices himself to the advent of a new world where faith will become possible. Such an interpretation invests Fortinbras with the positive task of restoring order, and this is confirmed in a later essay in which Barrault, referring also to Richmond, insists that a tragedy does not end with the death of the hero but with the restoration of order, and that the theater will only reach its aim if it remains an art of justice [“le théâtre... n’obtiendra son but qu’en restant avant tout un art de justice”] (À propos de Shakespeare et du théâtre, 1949. 23).
Such pronouncements signify the social function which post-war France conferred upon the theater at a time when it was opening up to new audiences both in Paris and in the provinces. The move towards decentralisation had been initiated by touring companies during the war. From April to July 1942, a young company aptly called Le regain [Rebirth] had performed Hamlet in eighty different towns occupied by the Germans, before ending up in September at the Théâtre Hébertot in Paris. Perhaps because the play had been first performed in the depths of occupied France, the prince, interpreted by its director, Christian Casadesus, was the exact opposite of Barrault’s then romantic hero: he was an ordinary young man unequal to his tragic task who could not be presented as a hero to people who were confronted to the enemy in their everyday lives. The first Hamlet presented in the French provinces may thus have been an anticipation of the anti-hero that was yet to come, later defined by the dramatist Marcel Pagnol as “a chicken with no guts.”
But the death of the romantic Hamlet was not due to the war alone. Between the two world wars, as directors widened their Shakespearean repertoire (introducing comedies as well as other tragedies), the play had lost its emblematic status, just when it was stripped of its elaborate ornamental stage-effects. In post-war France, with provincial dramatic centers like the Grenier de Toulouse or the Comédie de Saint Etienne being created all over the country, and with open air festivals multiplying in the summer, directors turned to Shakespeare in their quest for plays liable to attract audiences from a broad social spectrum. Rather unexpectedly, it was through the History plays that this popularisation occurred, in a political context which was probably favourable to their reception. It is symptomatic that, in 1947, Jean Vilar should have opened the first Avignon festival with Richard II, a play never staged before in France, whose story and references were totally alien to a French audience. Yet the production was a huge success, both in the soon-to-become-famous courtyard of the Popes’ palace, in front of 3000 spectators, then in Paris, whenever it was revived at the Palais de Chaillot (in 1948, 1949 and 1953), before audiences of 2500. Vilar also produced the two parts of Henry IV, and then Macbeth in 1954, with Maria Casarès as Lady Macbeth. The charismatic director-actor was a militant: his whole career was devoted to the promotion of a theater for the people; the book he published in 1975 was entitled Le théâtre service public [theater as a public service] and his name remains associated with that of the famous Théâtre National Populaire (TNP). With his conception of the theater as a collective ritual harking back to Medieval and Elizabethan drama, and a barren stage that anticipated Peter Brook’s empty space, Vilar destroyed the myth that Shakespeare’s plays were accessible only to the elite. The tragedy of Richard, the deposed king, whom the actor interpreted in incantarory tones, moved thousands of spectators, and since 1947, every Avignon festival has presented at least one Shakespeare play.
Subsequent productions of Hamlet (like that by Gabriel Monnet, outside the Château of Annecy in 1955) were characterized by a similar reaching out towards new audiences, and by readings of the text which moved away from psychological analysis of the hero to incorporate the political dimension that audiences now associated with Shakespearean drama: Fortinbras had come to stay. Directors like Monnet, Vilar or Barrault rejected motivations unsupported by the text. The move towards a more authentic Shakespeare which had been initiated by Antoine, was furthered by these directors’ determination to serve the text rather than use it or fashion it in order to suit the supposed expectations of French audiences. While the restricted public of the old Comédie-Française was still being fed on a Hamlet watered down by Dumas, the true French public for Shakespeare was being discovered, as Théophile Gautier had predicted, if not precisely in a popular theater like Les Funambules, at least around bare stages in the open air.
• Criticism before the fifties: the death of Hamlet?
But the new focus on the plays as texts for the stage coincides with a comparative dearth of critical analysis on the page. The First World War, with its heritage of disillusions and spiritual questioning, strips Hamlet of his mythical aura. Paul Valéry, analyzing the post-war spiritual crisis in a letter first published in English by the Athenaeum in 1919, still views the Danish prince as the archetypal intellectual, but only to state that he has no future in a world now dominated by materialistic values. “Now..., the European Hamlet looks on millions of ghosts...,” he writes, and the skulls he contemplates are the thinkers of past ages (Leonardo, Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Marx); having asked himself “what about me, the intellect of Europe?..,” the prince concludes: “Farewell, ghosts. The world no longer needs you. Nor me.” (1924, 20-2). Similarly, Max Jacob explains, in his 1922 Art poétique, that the war has “de-hamletized” the poetry of the avant-garde (1922. 39-42).
As for post-war literary criticism, it appears not so much “de-hamletized” as deprived of native views on the bard. In 1925, Joseph Aynard, writing a piece entitled “Hamlet et les commentateurs” in the Journal des Débats (10 Feb.), lists the contradictions in the character that have always troubled commentators, only to put forward the answers proposed by “M. Mackinnon Robertson... in the last issue of The Criterion,” namely that Shakespeare, re-writing an old tragedy of revenge, was trying to transform a barbarous avenger into a thoughtful one concerned with the consequences of his acts. The same attention to foreign critical trends and publications  characterizes academic criticism which appears more reactive than creative on the subject of Shakespeare. Emile Legouis’s 1928 article in Essays and Studies of the English Association is a case in point. Entitled “La réaction contre la critique romantique de Shakespeare” [the reaction against romantic criticism of Shakespeare], it proves to be a review of E. E. Stoll’s Character Problems in Shakespeare’s plays. Legouis, then a Professor at the Sorbonne, was known in Britain for his masterly History of English Literature (written with Louis Cazamian) which had been published in English in 1926. His chapter on “Shakespeare’s Plays” (1954, 410-38) is a good example of the French synthetical pedagogical approach. In the course of this necessarily brief overview, the dozen lines devoted to Hamlet highlight the contrast between the artificiality of the Pyrrhus speech and the other characters’ natural idiom through which the dramatist “turns his own play from a stage representation into very reality” (428).
English Literature, Shakespeare, and particularly Hamlet, were now part of university curricula, as indicated by the publication, in 1929, of the first scholarly edition of Hamlet aimed at first-year university students. The work of R. Travers, a college teacher, it offers an English text of the play, conflated from Q2 and F1, with half a dozen “traditional” inclusions from Q1. The introduction, written in French, provides a dense analysis of the sources (Saxo Grammaticus’Amleth, Belleforest’s Histoires Tragiques) which postulates the existence of a lost pre-Shakespearean play. The abundant footnotes, written in English, overflow into a series of appendixes (numbered A to M) as if in anticipation of Harold Jenkins’s “Longer Notes” in the 1981 Arden edition of the play. The amount of information (couched in a flowery style and complicated by cross-references and second thoughts) is impressive. The notes refer to Furness’s 1877 Variorum, to Verity’s 1904 Cambridge University Press edition, to Onions’s Glossary, Abbott’s Shakespearean Grammar, etc. Students were later to be offered bilingual editions of Hamlet (like Jules Derocquigny’s 1936 Belles Lettres translation in alexandrines, or Maurice Castelain’s 1938 prose translation for Aubier which includes a fairly descriptive introduction in French and no notes at all); but no new French edition of the English text ever superseded Travers’. French students of Hamlet later turned to the Arden, then to the Oxford or Cambridge Shakespeares.
In the first half of the century, there was little contribution to the understanding of Hamlet, except, marginally, through a thesis defended at a Faculty of Medicine by André Adnès on Shakespeare et la folie (1936), perhaps the first symptom of the French bias for medical and psychoanalytic approaches to Hamlet’s madness. Academic critics of Shakespeare were on the whole content to echo the concerns of their British counterparts, with no particular interest for Hamlet. Significantly, in the quatercentenary issue of Études anglaises (France’s then prominent academic journal), the essay surveying the French reception of Shakespeare since the beginning of the century was entitled “La mort d’Hamlet” (1964, 628-45). A year before, in “The decline of Hamlet,” T. J. B. Spencer, studying the rise and fall of the prince’s reputation in Europe, had concluded that the modern English Hamlet (as seen by L. C. Knights or G. Wilson Knight) was in fact the heir of the disillusioned destructive character celebrated by Mallarmé and parodied by Laforgue (1963, 185-99). But, beyond a similarity in title, the French essay is very different in content. Typically, it does not deal so much with “the death of Hamlet” as with the loss of influence of his creator over French writers and critics, an indication that, in twentieth-century France, Hamlet still often is synecdochic of Shakespeare. Michel Grivelet, the author of the essay, sees the play as both the index and the cause of its creator’s decreasing impact on the literary world, arguing that, in a post-war world in quest of certitude, the image of Shakespeare has suffered from being too often assimilated with that of the irresolute prince. The dramatist’s comparative absence from the literary scene, he suggests, may be the counterpart of his increased and more authentic presence on the stage since the beginning of the century; but, he regrets, theatrical productions do not have the same permanence as critical writing (645).
In this context, T. J. B. Spencer’s demonstration that in the nineteenth century “the future of Hamlet was in France, not in Germany” (196) (contrary to the 1865 allegations of the German critic, Karl Elze, that France had made little progress since Voltaire) sets into unfortunate relief the fact that, in the 1964 issue of Études anglaises, the only essay devoted to Hamlet should have been written by an English critic, Kenneth Muir. A previous issue of the same journal specially devoted to “Shakespeare and the Elizabethan theater in France in the last fifty years” (13-2, 1960) listed four essays on “Shakespeare in translation” (with one specific to Hamlet), thirteen on “Shakespeare on the stage,” and only three on criticism: one (also written by Michel Grivelet) concentrating on “la critique dramatique” (i.e. theater reviewing) and another on the anti-Stratfordians.
This list is revealing of the respective importance of performance, translation and criticism in the reception of Shakespeare in the first half of the century. Besides, the third article on criticism which assesses in English ”French scholarship on Elizabethan Drama,” confirms the impression that academic research has not been Hamlet-inclined since Mallarmé and Laforgue. S. K. J. Heninger’s survey stresses the important contribution of French academics to the reconstruction of the social and intellectual context of Elizabethan drama and to the understanding of Shakespeare’s contemporaries. This may have been a side-effect of the format of the French doctorate at the time, a mammoth task which, until the last decades of the century, encouraged young scholars to write monographs and to approach a writer’s works through his biography. From 1907 to 1958, French scholars thus provided important studies of most of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, but did not, understandably, attempt to write on “the Life and Works of Shakespeare,” even though the French penchant for biography and its enigmas was nurturing a number of Lives-without-the-works, some of which predictably explored the dramatist’s connections with Catholicism and attempted to find in the plays a much sought-after religious message. This was the case of Canon Losten’s 1924 biography, then of Louis Gillet’s, published in 1930. Another well-documented biography is that by Clara Longworth de Chambrun (1947). The French fascination for the Shakespeare Mystery also spawned a number of anti-Stradfordians, the most famous being Abel Lefranc, the champion of the Earl of Derby.
The only academic to write at length about Shakespeare was Henri Fluchère. His Shakespeare, dramaturge élisabéthain, published in 1948, and later translated into English, collected the lectures he had given in Aix-en-Provence during the German occupation. As well as being an impressive Shakespeare scholar, Fluchère was keenly interested in directing and acting the plays; this encouraged him to reject the artificial (but then common) division between page and stage, and to react against character-criticism at a time when most of his French colleagues were still writing psychological portraits of the characters. His book approaches the plays synthetically, through chapters which look at “Technique” or “Themes.” His views on Hamlet were later gathered in the introduction to the play that he wrote, along with other essays, as the general editor of the Complete Works published by Gallimard in 1959. His personal commentary on the tragedy (following the usual considerations on text, date and sources) combines a concise synthesis of twentieth-century criticism with some personal insights. Rejecting exclusive focus on the hero, he approaches the play as “a tragedy of revenge with a revenger who cannot revenge” (1959, xcvi) which logically develops into “an aborted tragedy,”  the hero being killed by a meaningless accident rather than by grim destiny (xciv).
The twentieth century after World War 2.
Hamlet translated
The prestigious Pléiade edition of the Complete Works in French, published in 1959 under the direction of Henri Fluchère, reprinted François-Victor Hugo’s translations, then almost a century-old, for all but ten of the thirty-seven plays (the Poems and Sonnets being translated by Jean Fuzier). This is generally considered as a token of the abiding quality of these still famous translations (which keep being reprinted in cheap editions), rather than a sign of the incompetence of French translators in the fifties. Yet this monolingual edition also reflects the undetermined status of Shakespearean translation in the late fifties, the translations by Hugo fils being aimed at the reading-public, while some other plays (e.g. Susan Bing and Copeau’s Conte d’Hiver) had been translated for the stage. André Gide’s prose Hamlet reprinted in volume 2 (after being first published by NRF in 1949) belongs to the second category, since it was completed for J. L. Barrault’s 1946 production of the play, after the first act had been published in 1929 in the literary Journal Échanges. In the Foreword appended to volume 1 (ix-xiv), Gide indeed explains that this translation is the outcome of a long difficult process, Shakespeare being the most difficult playwright to translate and Hamlet his most intricate text: all his other plays, he writes, are crystal-clear in comparison. The novelist also states that his object was to translate the play for performance. Short as it is, Gide’s foreword is a landmark in the development of Shakespearean translation  which, for the rest of the century, will be a site of theoretical reflection and debate for which Hamlet, with its controversial cruxes (e.g. sallied/sullied/solid), witticisms and quibbles (e.g.kin/kind, sun/son) provides recurrent illustration.
Between 1954 and 1962, the Club du Livre offered its subscribers a bilingual edition of the Oeuvres complètes, with new translations collected by Pierre Leyris and Henri Evans. The contents of the twelve sumptuous leather-bound volumes confirm that at that time the French felt on safer ground with translation than with critical issues. The introductions to the plays are translated from English essays (by Karl Jaspers for Hamlet); the notes and glossaries are reproduced (like the English text), from the New Cambridge edition, with the addition of a few translators’ notes in French. But the preface to the first volume is entitled “Pourquoi retraduire Shakespeare?” [why a new translation of Shakespeare?]. Because, Pierre Leyris explains, translations have to bridge the gap between different ages as well as between different languages and our age must find an equivalent to the oral style of the Elizabethan stage. La tragédie d’Hamlet prince de Danemark published in volume 7 is the work of the poet Yves Bonnefoy, whose comments on, and vindication of, his own translation over the years reveal the problems that beset translators of Shakespeare in general and Hamlet in particular.
Bonnefoy’s article “Transpose or Translate?” published in English in the quatercentenary issue of Yale Studies in French, is itself a translation of his “Transposer ou traduire ?”—first published in French in 1962. Answering Christian Pons who, in an article on Hamlet translations (1960, 116-29), had taken him to task about his rendering of  “to watch the minutes of the night” (TNL 36), Bonnefoy discusses the critic’s suggestion of developing, instead of choosing between, ambiguous meanings “through a movement analogous to the Claudelian verset” (1964, 120). This brings him to the core of the debate which has agitated Shakespearean translators for the last decades: how best to translate Shakespeare’s pentameter? For Bonnefoy, Paul Claudel’s unmetrical rythmical verse (through which this Roman Catholic poet intended to reproduce the swell of the sea and the rhythms of divine creation) is the expression of “a faith—or at least a conviction—and an answer”; such rhythms, Bonnefoy argues, are particularly ill-adapted to Hamlet  whose essence is “lack of a distinctive foundation” and  “infinite questioning” (124). “The translator,” he goes on, “should realize that he does not know the meaning of those works where the question is vaster than the answers.” (125). In such cases, “word-for-word rendering is the only approach, the only intelligence although virtual, of the irreducible enigma of meaning” (126). Bonnefoy later stated more precisely that Shakespeare’s tragedies should be translated in verse, but not corsetted by alexandrines. The translator must find an open form, with lines ranging from 8 to 14 syllables, he repeats in an interview published in Théâtre Aujourd’hui 6 (1998, 45-6).
Jean-Michel Déprats, interviewed in the same issue of Théâtre Aujourd’hui about his own translation of Hamlet (commissioned for a stage–production in 1984), also advocates the translation of pentameters into irregular lines, if only to mark the distinction between blank verse and rimed passages (for which alexandrines can serve), prose being translated as such. Déprats, an academic more familiar with Elizabethan English than many other translators, is renowned both as practitioner and theorician of Shakespearean translation; he is the general editor of the new, now bilingual, Pléiade edition of the Complete Works, whose first two volumes (“Les tragédies”) were published in 2002. His own translations, which will add up to thirty out of the forty plays of the completed edition, have all been tested on the stage, an indication of the evolution of Shakespeare translation since the previous Pléiade edition. Déprats’s priority is “to preserve the performability of the text,” as he stated in a lecture given at the 1996 Stratford Shakespeare Conference (1997, 129). For him, translation approached as a dramatic activity is not synonymous with adaptation. His translations in supple free verse preserve the rhythm and intensity of the original and follow Shakespeare’s text line for line. Referring to Brecht’s gestus, he explains that “the demand for theatricality and the attention to the poetics of the text in fact intersect,” and he quotes Gide’s and Bonnefoy’s translations of TLN 257 (“seems Madam?”) as instances of lines that privilege “intellectual understanding” at the cost of the “theatricality and rhythm embedded in the text” (130). His own translation of the line (“Semble, Madame? Non, est. Je ne connais pas le semble”) in which “semble” is used first a verb, then as an unusual noun, illustrates his quest for verbal economy, even  when this means doing “some violence to French common usage” (131). Like Bonnefoy, whose translation of “mortal coil” (TLN 1721) by “le tumulte de vivre” he quotes as an admirable example of “creative transposition” (132), Déprats believes that, in the wake of modern poetry, the French language can now break away from Cartesian logic and classical timidity.
Thus, alongside the solid, faithful translations, equipped with a traditional critical apparatus, which continue to be available to students of the play (like Michel Grivelet’s competent translation of the play in the second volume of the bilingual edition published in 1995 under his own direction), theatrical scripts striving to combine authenticity and performability are now available to stage-directors. Before we appreciate the influence of this new appropriation of Shakespeare’s text on French productions of Hamlet, we must consult the critical readings which also interact with the stage.
Hamlet criticism since World War 2.
Ernest Jones’s 1949 Hamlet and Oedipus was published in French only in 1964, with a long preface by Jean Starobinski, essentially concerned with the part played by Hamlet’s clinical case in Freud’s elaboration of the Oedipus complex. As in Romantic criticism, Hamlet is again seen as a “prototype” (1964, xxx), this time of the “anomaly which consists in being unable to overcome the Oedipian phase” (xxxiii). By the sixties, however, Paris thinkers had moved from the Oedipus complex to the desire of the Other and were mulling over the representation gap, inducing a “re-hamletization” of French intellectual life in the process. The Hamlet that had haunted the Symbolist poets, then disappeared in the trenches of the first World War, was being resurrected in the Paris of the 1960s. Rather than attempt to sum up in a few lines texts which have provoked volumes of exegesis in English, it seems more relevant to stress Lacan’s persistent reference to (or, as some have argued, identification with) the prince of Denmark in the course of his famous seminars which, once translated into English as Desire and the Interpretation of Desire in “Hamlet”(1977), were to become one of the seminal texts of psychocriticism. And Derrida’s use of the ghost’s injunctions to Hamlet to explore his own ambiguous response to the spirit of Marxism is only one –emblematic– example of the metaphorical recourse to the prince whenever extrapolations on father–son relationships appear to be called for (Spectres de Marx, 1993, 19-76).
Beyond this resurgence of Hamletism in a deconstructed guise, the country of Foucault, Lacan, Derrida and others has nurtured surprisingly few militant analyses of Hamlet among its natives. Even with critics clearly influenced by post-structuralism, like Jean Paris, André Green or Bernard Sichère, theory is mitigated by the French penchant for close textual study and individual judgment. Jean Paris’s 1971 analogies between Hamlet and Panurge make use of Chomsky’s categories to demonstrate that, contrary to Foucault’s claim, the epistemological break can already be detected in Renaissance works. His 1953 Hamlet had been a study of fathers and sons, the death of Fortinbras’s father being foregrounded as the founding revenge which brings the other revenges in its wake, making the play appear as a theatrical mise-en-abyme. As in André Green’s 1982 Hamlet andHamlet,” the theoretical bias (signalled in Green’s case, by the subtitle “a psychoanalytic interpretation of representation”) obliquely reintroduces the hero into his dramatic environment. One amusing side-effect of the hunt for both mirror-images and fathers-and-sons, is that Fortinbras now has his own back and becomes (flanked by his absent father) a subject for debate. In his chapter on the play entitled “Hamlet le fils: la matrice” (1987, 41-98), Sichère is eager to mark his difference: he disagrees with Paris’s presentation of the murder of Old Fortinbras as the original sin; nor does he agree with the approach practiced by Lacan and other psychoanalysts: “un texte nest pas un symptôme” [a text is not a symptom] (1987, 89). Following Joyce’s Ulysses, he prefers to stress the transposition Hamnet-Hamlet and to read the play which Shakespeare wrote in 1601, as the work of the sonless father of a fatherless son [“Shakespeare, père sans fils et fils sans père”] (93).
Avowed Lacanians are just as thin on the ground in Academe, perhaps because scholars responsible for teaching a difficult Elizabethan play in a foreign language shrink from resorting to confusing/confused terminology and quibbling to explain it. Most of the essays or longer works they write in French are intended for students (and/or the general public) and their object is to clarify rather than innovate. Thus in his 1992 monograph on the play (published by the “Presses universitaires de France”), André Lorant refers to the tradition of the Tragedy of Revenge and to that of the play-within-the-play before surveying more modern interpretations. As a comparatist, he also emphasizes the French reception of the play. Similarly, in the introduction to his own translation of the play (1995, 1: 841-66), Michel Grivelet combines the traditional scholarly approach (on text, date and sources) with a clear style and commentaries to smooth down access to the play for the general public and inform the student. His study of the dramatic development of the plot, rooted in historical criticism, also glances at contemporary precedents and views (on revenge, the ghost, the play-within-the-play) and ends on an overview of French reception and the myth surrounding the play. 1997, a year when Hamlet was on the national syllabus for the recruitment of English teachers, produced a rash of publications aimed at the educational market. Among the essays collected by Gilles Mathis for instance (‘Hamlet’ ou le texte en question, 1996), only one claims to propose a Lacanian reading of the play: in “Le problème du désir dans Hamlet” (103-14), Ann Lecercle-Sweet (also the author of a brief introduction to J. M. Déprats’s 1984 translation entitled “Hamlet, or the mousetrap,” in which the prince is revealed to be trapped in all sorts of ways) approaches the play as a theatrical abyme exploring the relation beween phantasms and fantasies, a method she had previously applied to the play-within-the-play seen “as a palimpsest” (The Show Within, 1992, 1, 207-15). But in both collections, even though the influence of Lacanian concepts is sometimes perceptible (as in J. P. Villquin’s “Hamlet et les jeux de miroir,” 1997, 63-78), other theoretical approaches are also glanced at, with several essays focussing on subversion, or on images of the body—politic or other. Reviewers of French Studies on Shakespeare and His Contemporaries (a collection of essays published in English translation by the University of Delaware in 1995) remarked that, by and large, French scholars appeared to be wary of theory and of the single bias; indeed, they like to state their own critical distance, as when Pierre Spriet opens an analysis of Hamlet clearly influenced by Derrida (“The End of the Innocence of Language or the End of the Show?,” 1995, 233-46), with the remark that Shakespeare would not now recognize his play, “hidden as it is under the esoteric critical discourse that delights some of our contemporaries” (233).
Because of the abiding French concern for the plays as artefacts of the Renaissance and/or for the stage, insightful contributions to Hamlet criticism are often to be found inside wider-ranging studies, like J. M. Maguin’s analysis of Hamlet as “la nuit de l’âme” in which, in the course of a large study of the Night theme in Shakespeare’s theater, he suggests that the prince, by identifying to the ghost’s ambiguous nature, is himself contaminated by night and death (1980, 651-86). In a fine scholarly essay entitled “Travels in the clouds”(1995, 11-38), Yves Peyré uses analogy with Renaissance paintings (analysed and reproduced as illustrations) to cast enlightening glances at some of Shakespeare’s plays, for instance: “Theater has for Hamlet the same function as painting does for Leonardo. Like the mysterious forms written in the clouds, the imaginative powers required and released by the theater reveal truth nestling at the heart of illusion” (26). Jean-Pierre Maquerlot uses a similar approach in Shakespeare and the Mannerist Tradition to reassess the “problem-plays” and particularly Hamlet which he studies through “optical effects” (Cambridge UP, 1995, 87-117; though originating in a French Doctoral thesis, the book has not been published in French).
• Hamlet on the stage.
Whatever its avatars, the French fascination for Hamlet has never been denied since Voltaire and we find it reasserted on the stage of the end of the twentieth century. The more Hamlet is considered as a monument, the more it attracts directors (there are at least ten productions worthy of note in the eighties alone); many feel that they must grapple with the play at some stage in their career. Addressing the recently founded “Société Shakespeare française” a year before directing his epoch-making production of the play, the famous director Antoine Vitez defined it as “one of those founding myths which you have to confront some day or other” (Dec. 1982). Although Hamlet is not as much of a classic in France as in England, directors may be motivated by the desire to do something different or to experiment for better or for worse. Amidst this tangle of material, their choice of text may serve as a guide.
In spite of increased reverence for the Shakespeare canon, adaptations have not disappeared from the French stage, even at the end of the century. In 1976, for instance, Denis Llorca staged a Hamlet (first for Les Tréteaux du Midi in Arles, then in Paris) in which a Machiavellian Horatio contrived the apparition of the ghost in order to deceive a homosexual Hamlet. This then sensational production is now chiefly remembered through a long review, published in one of the first issues of Cahiers élisabéthains (10 [1976], 97-103) in which Jean Fuzier inveighed against would-be dramatists who tamper with Shakespeare’s text.
Daniel Mesguich’s 1977 spectacle was very different in quality, resonance and significance, as indicated by Jean-Michel Déprats’s long review-article in Cahiers élisabéthains (14 [1978], 115-20), in which this production shines in contrast to Benno Besson’s more faithful rendering of Shakespeare’s text the same year. Entitled Le Hamlet de Shakespeare, Mesguich’s sophisticated intellectual construction was presented first in Grenoble, then in Nanterre. More sedate, less provocative versions of a similar project were to be taken up at the Théâtre Gérard Philipe in Saint-Denis in 1986, and again in 1996 at the Théâtre de la Métaphore in Lille. This repetition signals the director’s constant engagement with the myth and heritage of Hamlet as a cultural icon more than with the play itself. In fact, the poster for the production, which showed a headless Shakespeare holding the head of Olivier in the part of Hamlet, said it all: this brilliant iconoclastic version went for the metatext more than for the text which Michel Vittoz reworked for each new production. His 1977 “translation” was pseudo-archaic, its artificial medieval French prose being designed to emphasize the distance between Shakespeare’s play and modern audiences. Appositely described by Vittoz himself in an interview as “Shakespeare’s text and not Shakespeare’s” (“Hamlet 1607-1977,” 17), it interpolated material alien to the play, such as extracts from Jean-Louis Godard’s film La Chinoise or fragments by Hélène Cixous. It also included Lacanian puns like the far-fetched “puis-je me Père mettre?” [for “give me leave,” TLN 1207-8]; the quibble on “permettre, Père/mettre” [allow, replace the father]  worked essentially one way even if the actor paused in the middle of “per/mettre” in order to make the allusion to the father perceptible; this complication was presumably meant to stress the multiplication of surrogate fathers at the moment when Polonius proposes taking over from Claudius to probe Hamlet; yet it disappeared from subsequent versions, whereas the translation of Hamlet’s pun on “foil” (TLN 3710) was retained: this was more effectively rendered by  “je ne serai, Laerte, que le reflet de ton fleuret,” in which the mirror-effect between the two words attempts to cover the two meanings of “foil.” Mesguich, who directs the aptly named Compagnie du Miroir, is fascinated by reflectivity and often uses the mirror as a key-image: in this case, he staged two Hamlets (Ariel Garcia-Valdès and Jean-François Bahon) and two Ophelias, one conventional, one unconventional; Horatio, Fortinbras, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were all different forms of Hamlet, Yorick representing his mad part. The ghost did not appear, but then the play coexisted with its own ghost in a production often pronounced to be about the play more than of the play, which is in fact emblematic of the status it had acquired in twentieth-century France.
Conversely, the Hamlets of the eighties seemed to vie for authenticity but with varying results. Benno Besson’s 1977 production, which opened at Avignon before moving to Paris (at the Théâtre de l’Est Parisien), was based on an actable, mostly uncut translation by François Berault, and entitled, after Q1, La tragique histoire d’Hamlet, Prince du Danemark. Though the production only lasted three and a half hours (with the actors racing through their lines), this was felt to be “a very full version” (Cahiers élisabéthains 14 [1978], 97). Yet when, in 1983, Antoine Vitez presented alternate versions at the Théâtre National de Chaillot (a “short” one of three and a half hours, and an unabridged one lasting five hours), the general feeling was that it was “the longer version that seemed to be short” [c’est la version longue qui paraît courte] (Anne Ubersfeld, Antoine Vitez, 1994, 80), even though Raymond Lepoutre’s translation was criticized for its conceits and many mistakes. Now Besson’s production possibly suffered from the chronic perplexity of the French in front of Shakespeare’s “mélange des genres.” Unlike many French Hamlets in which the hero’s witticisms and sarcasms pass unnoticed, this production was a raucous farce, in the manner of Jarry. The prince was interpreted by a comedian, Philippe Avron, as an alien in a world of caricatures. He very neatly derided a court peopled with flatterers and liars who popped up, puppet-like, on the various levels of the set; but, by all accounts, the tragic feeling was lost in the process.
Vitez’s production too was at the other extreme from romanticism. It was plastically beautiful, stylized, even verging on the abstract; the set designed by Yannis Kokkos (a recurrent name in Shakespeare production) was an immense white, polar perspective, sometimes broken up by red velvet curtains creating smaller spaces. A raised platform running across its breadth was used by Claudius as a long table, by Hamlet as a sort of catwalk. The ghost rose from behind it in full Renaissance armor and so, later, did Fortinbras, galloping between rows of pikes. Richard Fontana, from the Comédie-Française, created an unusual paradoxical Hamlet, strong and ebullient, full of dark humor and constant vitality; Claudius, who looked as young as Hamlet, formed a passionate couple with an older Gertrude, while Polonius and the gravedigger were treated as comic figures. Though acclaimed by critics and audiences alike, this production was also felt to be too intellectual and to lack emotion and sensibility.
François Marthouret’s tour of various provincial towns in 1983-4, with a Hamlet (translated by J. M. Déprats) in which he took the title-part, is a reminder that in twentieth-century France the play was made accessible to larger audiences than those of the Comédie-Française, the productions often starting their lives in provincial festivals (Avignon is only one of them) before moving to Paris. Thus, in the late nineties, the Théâtre du Volcan Bleu, a company of four actors, toured provincial towns (staying for two weeks at Mnouchkine’s Théâtre du Soleil) with an adaptation entitled Hamlet sur la route [Hamlet on the road], directed by Paul Golub. Marthouret, a disciple of Peter Brook, started in Lyon before ending up at the now mythical Bouffes du Nord. Apart from its casting film-actress Marina Vlady as Gertrude,  this production was chiefly remarkable for its striking set, a pyramid of entangled corpses on which Hamlet met the ghost, and which suggested, too emphatically at times, the rottenness of Denmark. In this country of living dead, the ghost returned as Fortinbras, the director making significant use of a tradition of sometimes purely economical doubling. The cast was limited to ten actors: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were telescoped into one who then came back as Osric. Shakespeare is expensive to stage, compared to the French Classics, and many smaller companies cannot afford to produce his plays.
In 1988, a very popular production by Patrice Chéreau first used the décor of the “Cour d”honneur” at Avignon, then moved to the very Shakespeare-oriented Théâtre des Amandiers at Nanterre (just outside Paris) with an impressive horizontal set representing a Renaissance facade. This stage-floor, a metaphor for the disrupted order of the kingdom of Denmark, would sink in parts to offer a space to the play-within or a tomb to Ophelia, or, more strikingly, rise to follow the mole-like progress of the ghost or gape open to reveal the underworld from which he had suddenly erupted, galloping noisily on horseback accompanied by eerie music. Performances, in Yves Bonnefoy’s almost complete translation, initially took five hours, but they were gripping: Gérard Desarthe interpreted Hamlet as a melancholy student who came to life with the actors (who wore modern costumes in the midst of an Elizabethan court), then terrified Ophelia (Marianne Denicourt) in the nunnery-scene. Claudius (who doubled as the ghost in Nanterre) and Gertrude (Marthe Keller) had sparkling scenes. An illusion of order was reinstored at the end by a martial Fortinbras who smeared his face with Hamlet’s blood, thus appearing as the obvious next victim of Jan Kott’s “Grand Mechanism” of power, an image of the ruthless cycle of History which the East-European critic had made popular from the sixties.
The eighties were indeed an important period of committed popular theater in which Shakespeare’s plays were largely included, partly under the influence of Kott’s notion of contemporaneity. This was also the time when Ariane Mnouchkine and her Théâtre du Soleil were experimenting with Eastern theatrical forms in a cycle of Shakespeare plays (“Les Shakespeare”) which, unfortunately, did not include Hamlet: out of her proposed cycle of six plays, only three were actually realized (Richard II, Twelfth Night and 1 Henry IV.)
After this decade of Shakespearean effervescence, the nineties may seem anticlimactic. In 1994 however, two productions of Hamlet were vying for attention in Paris: one at the Comédie-Française, directed by George Lavaudant, in Bonnefoy’s translation; another one at the Théâtre Marigny in a mise-en-scène by Terry Hands, then Associate Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Terry Hands had written his own adaptation, sticking close to the English text. Reviewers stressed the British influence perceptible in the pace of this production which unrolled like a thriller, in a French court suggested by Louis XV chairs, whereas in the Comédie-Française’s Danish jail (light and shade playing on a grey box), action was so slow that Fortinbras had to be ousted from matinee performances in order to shorten the production by one hour. Yet, even under an English director, Francis Huster’s boyish Hamlet was said to underplay the comedy and wit of the character, while the acting at the “Maison de Molière” was bewailed for not being what it used to be. Nor were the Hamlets of this fin de siècle as nationally distinct as they used to be.
The Hamlet of Peter Brook, which closed the twentieth century at the French Bouffes du Nord and opened the twenty-first in London and New York, rejected both nationality and iconicity. This was an adaptation in English which reduced the play by half and was performed by a multi-ethnic cast of eight, with Adrian Lester’s black Hamlet towering above Shantala Shivalingappa’s Indian Ophelia and threatening Bruce Myers’s diminutive Polonius who later returned as an Irish gravedigger. This was a long-awaited production, especially after Brook’s 1995 Qui est là?, a montage of mythical fragments of the play and extracts of texts reflecting on the production of Shakespeare’s plays. Barnardo’s opening question  was thus turned into an interrogation of theatrical practice: “Who is there?” when the actor is on the stage? As if in echo, the 2000 production opened and ended on Horatio asking “Who’s there?,” his last question causing the corpses to rise and critics to wonder at the overall meaning of the production. Many stressed the fact that Brook’s radical editing (with Fortinbras again the main casualty) reduced the play to a domestic tragedy. Others noted a deliberate intent to deconsecrate the icon, to play down the purple patches, and to reduce the French text, shown as surtitles, to literal translation. This “Hamlet without tears,” as Ruth Morse defined it in her review for the TLS (15 Dec. 2000, 17) inevitably disappointed “the wiser sort,” but it was an immense success and a timely justification for a global approach to Hamlet.
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Mounet-Sully, Jean. Souvenirs d’un tragédien. Paris, 1917.
Paris, Jean. Hamlet ou le personnage du fils. Paris: Le Seuil, 1953.
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Pagnol, Marcel. Hamlet, prince de Danemark. Paris: Nagel, 1947.
Peyré, Yves. “ ‘Travels in the Clouds’: Metamorphosis, Doubt and Reason in the Renaissance.” French Studies on Shakespeare and his Contemporaries. Eds J.M. Maguin & Michèle Willems . Associated University Press, 1995. Pp.11-38 .
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Rothwell, Kenneth S., A History of Shakespeare on Screen. Cambridge : CUP, 1999.
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Spencer, T.J.B. “The decline of Hamlet.” Stratford-upon-Avon Studies 5. Ed. John Russell Brown & Bernard Harris, 1963. Pp. 185-99.
Serrulaz, Arlette & Bonnefoy, Yves. Delacroix & Hamlet. Paris : Editions de la réunion des musées nationaux, 1993.
Sprague, A.C. Shakespeare and the Actors : the Stage Business in his Plays, 1660-1905.Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1944.
Spriet, Pierre. “Hamlet: The End of the Innocence of the Language or the End of the Show ?” French Studies on Shakespeare and his Contemporaries. Eds. J.M. Maguin & Michèle Willems. Newark : Associated University Press, 1995. Pp. 213-33.
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Taine, Hippolyte. Histoire de la littérature anglaise. 4 vols. Paris: Hachette, 1863-4.
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Travers, René. Hamlet, texte anglais avec une introduction, notes et illustrations documentaires. Paris: Hachette, 1929.
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—. Théophile Gautier. Paris: Stock, 1992.
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Essay on epic poetry. 1727: Essai sur la poésie épique. 1733 (8. 317-318).
•Letters concerning the English Nation. 1733: Lettre 18 “Sur la tragédie”, Lettres philosophiques. 1734 (12. 149-151).
•Dissertation sur la tragédie ancienne et moderne (Preface to Sémiramis). 1749 (4. 501-502).
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Appel à toutes les nations de l’Europe des jugements d’un écrivain anglais. 1761 (14. 196-203).
—. Voltaire on Shakespeare. Ed. Theodore Besterman. Genève : Droz, 1967.
—. Lettres Philosophiques. Ed. Gustave Lanson. Paris: Didier, 1964.
For Further Study.
Abiteboul, Maurice, ed. Lectures d’une oeuvre : ‘Hamlet’ de Wiliiam Shakespeare. Paris: éditions du Temps, 1996.
Anonymous. “Shakespeare in France.” Cornhill Magazine II (1865), 33-51.
Bailey, Helen Phelps. Hamlet in France from Voltaire to Laforgue. Genève: Droz, 1964.
Baldensperger, Ferdinand. “Esquisse d’une histoire de Shakespeare en France.” Études d’histoire littéraire, 2° série. Paris: Hachette, 1910. Pp. 155-216.
Benchettrit Paul. “Hamlet at the Comédie française 1769-1896.” ShS 9 (1956), 59-68.
Chevalley, Sylvie. “Ducis, Shakespeare et les Comédiens français.” Revue de la Société d’Histoire du Théâtre 16-4 (1964), 327-50.
Fluchère, Henri. “Shakespeare en France : 1900-1948.” ShS 2 (1949), 115-125.
Gillet, Louis. “Shakespeare à Paris: Odéon: Le roi Lear. – Comédie française : La tragique histoire d’Hamlet.” Revue des deux mondes 9 (15 May 1932), 460-467.
Golder, John D. “Hamlet in France 200 years ago.” ShS 24 (1971), 79-86.
—. Shakespeare for the age of reason : the earliest stage adaptations of Jean-François Ducis 1769-1792, Oxford : The Voltaire Foundation, 1992. .
Haines, C. M. Shakespeare in France : Criticism, Voltaire to Hugo. London,1925.
Horn-Monval, Madeleine. Les traductions françaises de Shakespeare à l’occasion du 4° centenaire de sa naissance, 1564-1964. Paris: CNRS, 1963.
Israel, Fortunato. “Shakespeare en français: être ou ne pas être?” Palimpsestes 3 (Oct. 1990), Publications de la Sorbonne nouvelle. pp.11-23.
Jusserand, J.J. Shakespeare en France sous l’Ancien Régime. Paris: Armand Colin, 1898.
Lacroix, Albert. Histoire de l’influence de Shakespeare sur le théâtre français jusqu’à nos jours. Bruxelles, 1856.
Maguin, François. Hamlet. Paris: Flammarion, 1995.
Messiaen, Pierre. Les tragédies de Shakespeare. Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1941. (Rpt with new introductions by A.J. Axelrad, 1960). .
Omesco, Ion. ‘Hamlet ou la tentation du possible. Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1987.
Peyré, Henri. “Shakespeare and Modern French Criticism.” The Persistence of Shakespeare Idolatry. Ed. H.M. Schueller. Detroit, 1964. Pp. 1-46.
Reyher, Paul. Étude sur les idées dans loeuvre de Shakespeare. Paris: Didier, 1947.
Scofield, Martin. The Ghosts of Hamlet. The play and modern writers. Cambridge : CUP, 1980.
Taupin, René. “The Myth of Hamlet in France in Mallarmé’s Generation.” MLQ 14 (1953), 433-47.
Vanderhoof, Mary B. “Hamlet : a tragedy adapted from Shakespeare (1770) by Jean-François Ducis : a critical edition”, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, XCVII (1953), 1, 88-142.
Van Tieghem, Paul. Le préromantisme, études d’histoire littéraire européenne. Paris: 1947. 3 vols. 3: “La découverte de Shakespeare sur le continent.”
Willems, Michèle. “’They do but jest’ or do they?: Reflections on the Ambiguities of the Space Within the Space.” The Show Within : Dramatic and Other Insets. English Renaissance Drama (1550-1642). Ed. François Laroque. 2 vols. Montpellier : Presses de l’Université, 1992. 1, Pp. 51-64.
—, “ Hamlet ou la vision grotesque de la mort .” Le grotesque au théâtre, textes rassemblés par J. P. Maquerlot, Rouen, 1992, 37-47.