Born in Paris in 1791, Eugène Scribe became one of the most prolific and popular playwrights of the nineteenth century. Son of a wealthy silk merchant, Scribe received a topflight education in preparation for a career in law.  But by the age of 20, he began to turn his attention to the theatre, specifically writing plays for the popular unlicensed companies that were attracting audiences along the Boulevard du Temple.  Often working in collaboration, Scribe produced a wide range of comedies, tragedies, romances, and vaudevilles with varied critical success, but providing regular income and a reputation for commercial integrity. 


Responding to the desires of increasingly bourgeoisie audiences at the height of the industrial revolution, Scribe invented and promoted a systematic method of tightly organized play construction that he called "the well-made play."  His prodigious output resulted in nearly 400 plays, many written by a collection of literary assistants. Much like the great painters who employed apprentices and journeymen artists to fill in the less important details, Scribe created a play "factory" where his employees, tasked with creating different elements of each script, cranked out dramatic pieces at a steady and successful clip. 


His popularity on the French stage and his influence on the medium of theatre resulted in his election in 1834 to the prestigious Académie française--an institution he freely ridicules in Puff.  In addition to his comedies and dramas, Scribe wrote opera libretti and novels.  Among his most famous works are Bertrand et Raton, ou l'art de conspirer (The School for Politicians, 1833), Le Verre d'eau (The Glass of Water, 1842), and Adrienne Lecourvreur in 1849. 


When Scribe died in 1861, he was recognized world-wide as the greatest French playwright since Molière, influencing a number of subsequent writers, including Alexandre Dumas fils and Victorien Sardou.  Yet today, Scribe and his works are virtually unknown, though his influence through his well-made play structure and formalization of middle-class dramatic literature remains very much a part of our twenty-first century aesthetic, perhaps most evident in the formulaic structure of television serials and sitcoms.

Eugène Scribe (1791-1861).

Eugène Scribe: Master of the "Well Made Play"