Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Jean Anouilh, with a career spanning more than fifty years, was one of France’s most popular and successful dramatists. While there is one central theme running through his canon—the eternal conflict between idealism and reality—he arranged his plays in groups, according to the dominant tone, his maturing view of life, and forms that range from light comedy to tragedy.

The “black plays” are bitter and pessimistic. Restless Heart, which falls in this category, marked Anouilh’s emergence as a precocious and promising young playwright. While the play is somewhat simplistic and heavy-handed, the absence of melodrama, the control of emotion, and the blend of the comic and tragic reveal Anouilh’s increasing mastery of style as he moved away from naturalism toward theatricalism. In Jézabel (pb. 1946), Le Voyageur sans bagage (pr., pb. 1937; Traveller Without Luggage, 1959), and L’orchestre (pr. 1962, pb. 1970; The Orchestra, 1967), the central characters rebel against society not only because of past experiences that prevent their integration into society but also because of their increasingly romantic nature.

In the “pink plays,” the characters escape ugly reality through fantasy and illusion. Le Bal des voleurs (pr., pb. 1938; Thieves’ Carnival, 1952), the most famous work in this category, is a farcical depiction of love amid the various classes of...

(The entire section is 449 words.)