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Wedding_ball_of_the_Duc_de_Joyeuse,_1581Wedding of Anne de Joyeuse with Marguerite de Vaudémont, 24 September 1581 in Le Louvre. On the left under the dai are Henri III, Catherine de Médicis, and Queen Louise. French school 1581-1582. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



Le Ballet comique de la Reine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Molière (15 January 1622 – 17 February 1673), born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, spent several years performing outside Paris. His first troupe, l’Illustre Théâtre, established in 1643, went bankrupt and, in 1645, Molière was imprisoned. He had to leave for the provinces.

Les Précieuses ridicules, a one-act play which premièred on 18 November 1659, was Molière’s first Parisian success and he would produce several other plays, about thirty-four, eleven of which were comédies-ballets, ten with music by Jean-Baptiste Lully and one, with music by Charpentier. However, preceding the comédie-ballet, was the ballet de cour.

The Ballet de Cour

Circé ou le Balet comique de la Royne (1581)

The first ballet, a ballet de cour, was Circé ou le Balet comique de la Royne (1581). It was commissioned by Catherine de’ Medici, and choreographed by Balthasar Beaujoyeulx, or Baldassarre da Belgioioso. As we have seen frequently, the Renaissance began in Italy and, consequently, many ‘French’ institutions find their origin in Italy. Dissemination was often due to marriages.

The Ballet comique de la Reine was performed on 15 October 1581 at the court of Catherine de’ Medici. It was part of the wedding celebration of the Duc de Joyeuse‘s, a court ‘mignon,’ a dandy, marriage to Queen Louise’s sister, Marguerite of Lorraine). The text of the ballet was written by Nicolas Filleul de la Chesnayne. Girard de Beaulieu wrote the music.

The Ballet comique de la Reine was created for the wedding celebration of Queen Louise’s sister, who married le Duc de Joyeuse (1561 – 1687), a court ‘mignon,’ a dandy. The text was by Nicolas Filleul de la Chesnayne. Girard de Beaulieu wrote the music. And, as noted above, Beaujoyeux, or Belgioioso, was its choreographer.

Louise was married to Henri III of France, a son a Henri II and Catherine de’ Medici, who was assassinated by Jacques Clément, a Catholic fanatic. As for Anne de Joyeuse (1561 – 1687),  he perished at the hands of French Calvinist Protestants, called Huguenots, 800 of whom he had slaughtered. In fact, the French wars of religion are the backdrop to the creation of the ballet de cour.


Les Fées de la forêt de Saint-Germain (First performed in February 1625)
“Entrée des Esperlucates ”
Grand Ballet de la douairière de Billebahaut” (First performed in February 1626)

Daniel Rabel: the “grotesque” in the ballet de cour

  • Daniel Rabel
  • the grotesque

Daniel Rabel (1578 – 3 January 1637) was a man of many talents. Wikipedia describes Rabel as “a Renaissance French painter, engraver, miniaturist, botanist and natural history illustrator.” As a painter, Rabel produced grotesque depictions of ballet, but beginning in 1617 until his death in 1637, Rabel was a set designer for theatres and for ballets de cour.

In our context the term grotesque (from grotto) is not pejorative. The ‘grotesque’ is an aesthetics as is the ‘baroque.’ Medieval gargoyles and misericords are acceptably ‘grotesques.’ Beverly Minster, a 12th-century cathedral, has a fine collection of grotesque misericords. In the 19th century, Hugo would revive the grotesque. His 1831 novel, Notre-Dame de Paris features Quasimodo, a hunchback. The “grotesque” is associated with the Middle Ages and the 19th century.

Le Roi danse

Les Fées de la forêt de Saint-Germain” was danced at the Louvre in February 1625, with Louis XIII himself in the role of a “valiant fighter.” (See Daniel Rabel, Wikipedia.) Louis XIII also danced in the ballet he composed, the Ballet de la Merlaison.

Louis XIII and his brother, Gaston d’Orléans, danced in the Ballet du Sérieux et du Grotesque. Louis XIV was also a dancer. On 23 February 1653, Louis XIV danced in the Ballet de la Nuit, at the Petit-Bourbon, a theater.

Louis XIII’s Le Ballet de la Merlaison

You may remember that Louis XIII, the Sun-King’s father, wrote the Ballet de la Merlaison. Louis XIII was a composer and he composed a ballet. Consequently, the creation of ballet is associated with both Louis XIII and his son, Louis XIV. However, Louis XIII’s Ballet de la Merlaison is a ballet de cour as had been Circé ou le Balet Comique de la Royne. As noted above, Louis XIII performed in the ballet he composed.

Other ballets de cour were performed before 1661, when Molière created Les Fâcheux, (the Bores), to music by Lully. King Louis XIII, the Sun-King’s father (Louis XIV), was a composer and, as noted above, he played a role in “Les Fées de la forêt de Saint-Germain.” Louis XIII composed the Ballet de la Merlaison, a ballet de cour.


Le Ballet de la Merlaison by Maurice Leloir, in Dumas père’s The Three Musketeers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Comédie-ballet

  • Le Bourgeois gentilhomme: comédie ballet and “play-within-a-play”
  • Jean-Baptiste Lully
  • Molière

For a long time, little attention was given Molière’s contribution to ballet, and my book, if ever it is published, will not improve matters as I will discuss only one comédie-ballet: George Dandin (1668). However, one cannot ignore Le Bourgeois gentihomme (14 November 1670), where the ballet is both entertainment and a play-within-a play. Monsieur Jourdain is deceived into marrying his daughter Lucile to Cléonte who has disguised himself into the son of the Mufti, le grand Turc. This is a case of comedy rescuing comedy.

Molière wrote the text of his comédies-ballets, and the text may be read independently of the divertissements, for which he also wrote the text. However, these ballets inject laughter into Molière’s comedies several of which are somber works. The ballets are, to a large extent, part of the comic text.

Except for The Imaginary Invalid (1673), the music of Molière’s comédies-ballets was composed by Jean-Baptiste Lully, born Giovanni Battista Lulli. Pierre Beauchamp (30 October 1631 – February 1705) was Molière’s choreographer.

All three, Molière (playwright), Lully (composer and dancer) and Pierre Beauchamp (choreographer), are major figures in their respective profession and Molière’s comédie-ballet a significant step in the creation of ballet. Lully was named director of Académie Royale de Musique in 1669 and worked with Philippe Quinault, his librettist. The Académie Royale de Musique developed into the Paris Opéra and the smaller Opéra Garnier. Since 1989, performances have been held at the 2700-seat theatre Opéra Bastille.


L’Opéra Garnier



L’Opéra Garnier, Le Grand Foyer

Comédie-ballet and le style galant

Several ballets de cour and the related comédies-ballets were staged. It would seem that Voltaire La Princesse de Navarre (1745) is that last comédie-ballet. It was performed to music by Jean-Philippe Rameau (25 September 1683 – 12 September 1764). (See Comédie-ballet, Wikipedia.)

A few years earlier, Rameau had composed Les Indes galantes with libretto by Louis Fuzelier. It was performed by the Académie Royale de Musique at its theatre in the Palais-Royal, in Paris, on 23 August 1735. The ‘style galant’ had entered comédie-ballet heralded by André Campra‘s L’Europe galante, written to a text by Antoine Houdar de la Motte on 24 October 1697. It was an opéra-ballet, which we are not discussing, not a comédie-ballet.

We close with Rameau’s Les Indes galantes, which was not an opera but a turning-point in the history of ballet in the galant style. Specialists were now developing ballet.  


  • Les Fâcheux (The Bores) the first comédie-ballet (1661)
  • Vaux-le-Vicomte

Molière wrote eleven comédies-ballets, the first of which was Les Fâcheux (The Bores), created by Molière and Lully and performed at Vaux-le-Vicomte, Nicolas Fouquet’s magnificent castle. Fouquet invited a newly-crowned king Louis XIV to a lavish feast at Vaux, which took place on 17 August 1661, but Louis grew jealous. We have read that story. Louis XIV used ballets to cultivate the image of the Sun-King. Therefore, to a certain extent, ballet was put into the service of absolutism.


Sources and Resources


With kind regards to everyone.

Below are scenes from Belgian filmmaker Gérard Corbiau‘s Le Roi danse (2000)


Grotesque Musician from the Ballet du Sérieux et du Grotesque, 1627
(Art Gallery of Ontario)


© Micheline Walker
10 April 2016