Amphitryon 38 Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Evaluation

Jean Giraudoux began his writing career with the Paris newspaper Le Matin, for which he wrote many stories. It was a job that introduced him to a number of figures in the literary world. Next, he launched a career as a novelist, but it was not until 1928, with the performance of his play Siegfried, that his name became widely known. He followed up this success a year later with a greater one when Amphitryon 38 was presented. Popular as these plays were, however, Giraudoux was not taken seriously by the intellectual audience until the production of his 1935 play, Tiger at the Gates. The major theme concerns the inevitability of war, and the possibility of another war with Germany was much on the minds of Giraudoux’s French audience—of people throughout the world—in 1935.

Giraudoux’s other employment, as an inspector general of diplomatic posts abroad, did not prevent him from continuing to turn out plays and novels, and his drama Electra (1937), as the title suggests, continued his practice of using ancient Greece for the setting, a distancing device to help his audience see themselves more clearly. In his 1939 play, Ondine, he availed himself of a German legend concerning a water nymph.

A number of Giraudoux’s plays and stories were published and presented posthumously. Critical acclaim waxed throughout the 1950’s and later, and Giraudoux’s plays have been performed many times in all parts of the world. His major theme, the reconciliation of the ideal with the real, has proven popular in decades of rapid social change, decades that have required continual readjustment on the part of those who have had to live through them. One of his favorite devices—putting contemporary sentiments and expressions in the mouths of figures from ancient legends—provides the pleasures of incongruity. This device is well illustrated by Amphitryon 38. The number presumably signifies that the author is aware of the fact that many writers before him have made use of this legend, although there may have been more or fewer than...

(The entire section is 862 words.)