In The Balcony by French writer and philosopher Jean Genet, the Chief of Police is a megalomaniac who craves power and wants to be memorialized by future generations. In this theater of the absurd, he has helped stage a rebellion to achieve fame and consolidate his power base. He also has no real feelings for anyone, including Irma, whom he once loved and who professes to still have feelings for him.
The play is set in a brothel outside of which an uprising is taking place. The prostitutes and visitors to the brothel are anxious for the Chief of Police to arrive to help restore order. The brothel customers like to dress up and role play as illustrious members of society like the Bishop, the Judge, the General, and others. Many of them question where the Chief of Police is. They are counting on him to rescue them, but they speak of him with contempt. The Bishop calls him “that wretched incompetent,” and the Judge asks if he is “twiddling his thumbs as usual.”
Yet, he sees himself as a leader and a hero. It becomes clear that he has helped fuel the uprising in order to appear the hero when he rescues the Queen and saves the city. He is also almost indifferent as to whether he achieves fame while he is alive or after his death. Either way, he wants people to remember him for all eternity. In fact, he asks Irma if any brothel customers want to role play as the Chief of Police, and is very disappointed when Irma says no.
He tells Irma that his “image is growing bigger and bigger. It's becoming colossal.” He sees himself as significant and wants others to see him that way, too. He wants to be out-sized in life and in death. Interestingly, he does not aspire to have people love him. He wants them to fear him. He says, “I do what I can, I assure you. People fear me more and more.… I repeat : I do what I can to prove to the nation that I'm a leader, a lawgiver, a builder....” In his mind, being a leader is synonymous with being feared.
He covets a tomb like the ancient pharaohs had and tells Irma that he wants to build an empire that, in turn, will build him. People will remember him for the empire he built, just as people remember Caesar, Napoleon, or Pharaoh. He says, “I'll have my tomb,” just as Pharaoh had.
For the Chief of Police, life and death are virtually interchangeable, as they are for the theater of the absurd. In fact, Carmen, one of the prostitutes, says, “you want to merge your life with one long funeral, sir,” to which he replies, “Is life anything else?”