From the time they were produced for the first time on the Romanian stage, Ion Luca Caragiale’s plays have maintained a preeminent position in the Romanian national repertory and have become established in the repertory of many other European theaters. Indeed, Caragiale has been seen as the founder of the modern Romanian theater, a significant influence on such famous Romanian expatriates such as Marcel Iancu, Tristan Tzara, and Eugène Ionesco.
Caragiale was a fine observer of human nature; he aimed his wit at many aspects of society, hoping to improve it through laughter by causing the public to recognize itself in his characters: “In him,” wrote Caragiale’s contemporary, journalist Raicu Ionescu-Rion, “we see man stumbling toward light, man suffocated by the present, seeking something better.” The poet Alexandru Vlahuǎ, another contemporary, pointed out that one of the major sources for Caragiale’s greatness was his ability to re-create on the stage a series of typical characters such as the eternal idealist, the venal bureaucrat, the cynical journalist, the innocent citizen, and the spoiled brat. Caragiale showed ignorance parading itself as seriousness, dishonesty trying to pass for wit, and cynicism trying to be mistaken for independence of mind. The playwright hoped that his reader, sensitized by the satire, would say with renewed conscience, “I want to be a different person.”
Caragiale’s social criticism made for him many powerful enemies. He had been introduced by the poet Mihail Eminescu and by Ion Slavici to Titu Maiorescu’s influential circle, Junimea (the youth). He published many articles of drama criticism in the group’s journal Convorbiri literare. Yet his constant criticism offended some of the group’s members, and he was forced to break away from the circle after ten years. In spite of this disappointment, he did not change his independent attitude, staying away from ideologies and narrow nationalism. To dogmatic ideas, opinions, or systems, he was absolutely indifferent. From the beginning of his career to his last writings, he maintained a sharp eye, a pointed tongue, and an unfailing wit. His posthumous election to the Romanian Academy was a fitting tribute.
“Ion Luca Caragiale.” In Playwrights. Vol. 2 in International Dictionary of Theatre, edited by Mark Hawkins-Dady. Detroit, Mich.: St. James Press, 1994. A concise overview of the life and works of Caragiale.
Ionescu, Medeea. A Concise History of Theatre in Romania. Bucharest: Editura Stiintifica si Enciclopedica, 1981. This history of Romanian theater places Caragiale within the tradition.
Tappe, E. D. Ion Luca Caragiale. New York: Twayne, 1974. A basic biography of Caragiale that provides information on his life and works. Bibliography.