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HENRY BECQUE (1837-1899)

The following biography was originally published in The Continental Drama of Today. Barrett H. Clark. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1914. pp. 129-30.

Henry Becque, the acknowledged originator of the French Naturalistic school, was born at Paris in 1837. His early works were produced in the 'sixties, but La Parisienne and The Crows, his most important plays, were peddled about for years before they obtained a hearing. During the last years of his life, Becque was recognized as the master, the founder of one of the most important movements of [his day]. He died in 1899.

The production of The Crows (Les Corbeaux) in 1882 at the Comédie Française and The Parisian Woman (La Parisienne) at the Renaissance in 1885 marked the beginning of a new school which, in 1887, under the leadership of André Antoine, had a theater of its own, the famous Théâtre Libre, or Free Theater. It was Antoine's idea to give an opportunity to original dramatists of producing, without fear of the censor and without dependence upon the likes of the public, naturalistic plays, as well as to introduce, more or less as models, the plays of Tolstoy, Ibsen, Strindberg, and Björnson.

Becque is a Naturalist because his characters are living beings, because they give the illusion of reality, and because his technique is subordinate to and of less importance than his characterization. He writes because he wishes to give us a "slice of life"; he has no lesson to teach, no sermon to pronounce, no thesis to prove. His plays, in the words of a French critic, "are life" itself. Huneker says, "Becque's major quality is his gift of lifelike characterization. Character with him is of prime importance. He did not tear down the structure of the drama, but merely removed much of the scaffolding which time had allowed to disfigure its façade."