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The history of France has been the basis of plays in the English-speaking theater since the English Renaissance theatre.

16th century

Christopher Marlowe wrote The Massacre at Paris (1593)[1], based on events during the reign of Charles IX of France, king from 1560 to 1574 and of Henry III of France, king from 1574 to 1589. In the first scene, a marriage is celebrated between Marguerite of Valois, sister to Charles IX, and Henry of Navarre, king of Navarre, future Henry IV of France. Soon after, Gaspard de Coligny, leader of the Calvinist French Huguenot faction, is shot to death by a man in the hire of Henry I, Duke of Guise, leader of the Catholic League, an event which precipitates the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre in August 1572.

William Shakespeare wrote The Life and Death of King John (1596), Henry V (1599), Henry VI, part 1 (1592), Henry VI, part 2 (1591), and Henry VI, part 3 (1591)[2], based on events during the reigns of John of England, king from 1199 to 1216, Henry V of England, king from 1413 to 1422, Henry VI of England, king from 1422 to 1461 and from 1470 to 1471, Philip II of France, king from 1180 to 1223, Charles VI of France, king from 1380 to 1422, and Charles VII of France, king from 1422 to 1461.

In the first scene of King John, John of England receives a message from Philip II of France, demanding that he abdicate his throne to his nephew, Arthur I of Brittany, believed to be the rightful heir. When John refuses, war is declared. But to obtain a stronger claim to his throne and to appease the French (act 2 scene 1), John agrees to a marriage contract between Blanche of Castile, his niece, and Louis the Lion, Philip's son (1200). In 1203, John captures Arthur, who eventually dies (act 4 scene 3).

In the first scene of Henry V, Henry V of England asks noblemen and clergy whether he is entitled to the crown of France, who answer affirmatively, based on French Salic law. As a part of the Hundred Years' War, 1337–1453, the English forces invade France, besieging Harfleur (1415), act 3 scene 1, and defeat the French at the Battle of Agincourt (1415). In the final scene, the king marries Catherine of Valois (1420), daughter to King Charles VI.

In the first scene of Henry VI part 1 during the funeral procession of Henry V (1422), the duke of Bedford and other noblemen learn of military disasters at the hands of the French, led by the dauphin Charles, future King Charles VII, who successfully recapture several cities on French soil. In act 1 scene 8, the siege of Orleans is lifted (1429) by Charles with the help of Joan of Arc (1412–1431). In act 4 scene 1, during the coronation of Henry VI (1429), the Yorkists wear white roses on their hats, while the Lancastrians wear red roses, prefiguring the War of the Roses (1455–1485). In act 5 scene 6, Joan of Arc is condemned to be burnt alive, but no mention is made of her trial (1431). In the first scene of Henry VI part 2, King Henry VI of England marries Margaret of Anjou in 1445, of the House of Valois, niece to King Charles VII, arranged by the marquis of Suffolk, William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk as a way to influence the young king through her. In the marriage contract, the English lose the duchy of Anjou and the county of Maine and no dowry is given (Treaty of Tours, 1445). In the final scene, the Yorkists are victorious after the First Battle of St Albans (1455) during the War of the Roses. In the first scene of Henry VI part 3, the Yorkists confront the supporters of Henry VI, who discuss whether the king should accept the issue of the duke of York as king. Queen Margaret refuses to accept that her son, Edward, be disinherited. With her principal commander, Henry Beaufort, 3rd Duke of Somerset, she fights successfully for a while the Yorkists but is eventually defeated by them, whereby the son of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, is proclaimed King Edward IV of England and she sent away to France (1461).

17th century

George Chapman wrote Bussy D'Ambois (1607), The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron (1608), The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois (1613), and with James Shirley The Tragedy of Chabot, Admiral of France (1639),[3] based on events concerning Louis de Bussy d'Amboise (1549–1579) during the reign of Henry III of France, Charles de Gontaut, duc de Biron (1562–1602) during the reign of Henry IV of France, and Philippe de Chabot (1492–1543) during the reign of Francis I of France.

John Crowne wrote The History of Charles the Eighth of France, or The Invasion of Naples by the French (1672),[4] based on events during the reign of Charles VIII of France, king from 1483 to 1498.

John Dryden and Nathaniel Lee wrote The Duke of Guise (1683),[5] based on events during the reign of Henry III of France.

18th century

Edmund John Eyre wrote The Maid of Normandy; or, the Death of the Queen of France (1794)[6] concerning Charlotte Corday's murder of Jean-Paul Marat (1793) during the Reign of Terror.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey wrote The fall of Robespierre (1794)[7], based on events during the French Revolution, when Maximilien Robespierre led the activities of the Reign of Terror.

19th century

Sarah Pogson Smith wrote another play on Charlotte Corday's murder of Jean-Paul Marat (1793) during the Reign of Terror, entitled The Female Enthusiast (1807)[8].

Dion Boucicault wrote Louis XI (1855), an adaptation of a French play of the same title (1832) by Casimir Delavigne, based on events during the reign of Louis XI of France (1461–1483).

Tom Taylor wrote Jeanne d'Arc (1871), based on the life of Joan of Arc (1412–1431).

Harry Forrest and Paolo Giacometti wrote Marie Antoinette(1890), based on the life of Marie Antoinette [9].

George Bernard Shaw wrote The Man of Destiny (1897)[10], based on events during the reign of Emperor Napoleon I of France (1769–1821). In the one-act play, General Napoleon Bonaparte has beaten the Austrians during the First Italian campaign at the Battle of Lodi (1796). Having recently married Joséphine de Beauharnais, he intercepts a letter meant to betray his wife's attachment to his friend, Paul François Jean Nicolas, vicomte de Barras (1755–1829), main executive leader of the Directory regime (1795–1799).

Another play on Bonaparte includes Richmond Sheffield Dement's Napoleon (1893)[11].

20th century

Herbert Trench wrote his own Napoleon (1919)[12].

Percy MacKaye wrote Jeanne d'Arc (1906)[13], based on the life of Joan of Arc.

George Bernard Shaw also wrote on the life of Joan of Arc: Saint Joan (1923). In the first scene, Joan, with support from Jean de Metz and Bertrand de Poulengy, successfully petitions the garrison commander at Vaucouleurs, Robert de Baudricourt, for permission to visit the French royal court at Chinon (1429). During scene 4, mention is made of Joan's raising the siege of Orléans (1429) with Jean de Dunois, John of Orléans. Joan's trial at Rouen occurs in scene 6, with Pierre Cauchon, bishop of Beauvais as the main interrogator, where she is condemned to be burnt alive for heresy (1431).

Another play on Joan of Arc includes Joan la Romée (1926)[14] by Frank Harris. There is also Joan of Lorraine (1946)[15] by Maxwell Anderson. In a play-within-a-play framework, an acting company stage a dramatization of the story of Joan of Arc.

William Devereux wrote Henry Of Navarre (1909)[16], based on the life of the eventual King Henry IV of France.

Doug Wright wrote Quills (1996)[17], based on the life of the Marquis de Sade in the years of his imprisonment at Charenton, starting in 1803. The director of the institution, Abbé de Coulmier, seeks to prevent the marquis from communicating his writings, such as his novel, Justine. The relations between the marquis and Madeleine Leclerc, daughter of an employee at Charenton, are described.

21st century

Marie Antoinette: the color of flesh (2007)[18] depicts the times of the young French queen while exploited by her portrait-painter, Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun. In Henry III of France (2010)[19], King Henry III of France battles the influence of the Duke of Guise during the French wars of religion.


  1. Marlowe, Christopher. Complete works. Oxford University Press, 1987.
  2. Shakespeare, William. Complete works (6th ed). New York: Longman, 2008.
  3. Chapman, George. The Plays. New York: Russell & Russell, 1961.
  4. Crowne, John. Dramatic works. H Southeran, 1874.
  5. Dryden, John. The works, vol 14: Plays, 1993. Los Angeles: University of California,
  6. Eyre, Edmund John. The maid of Normandy. Z Jackson, 1794.
  7. Coleridge, ST, Southey, R. The fall of Robespierre, Norwich: Benjamin Flower, 1794.
  8. Smith, Sarah Pogson. The female enthusiast. J Hoff, 1807.
  9. Forrest, H; Giacometti, P. Marie Antoinette. New York: Samuel French, 1890.
  10. Shaw, George Bernard. Complete plays and prefaces. New York: Dodd Mead, 1987.
  11. Dement, Richmond Sheffield. Napoleon. Chicago: Knight, Leonard & co. 1893.
  12. Trench, Herbert. Napoleon. Oxford University Press, 1919.
  13. Mackaye, Percy. Jeanne d'Arc. London: The Macmillan Company, 1906.
  14. Harris, Frank. Joan la Romée: a drama. London: Fortune Press, 1926.
  15. Anderson, Maxwell. Joan of Lorraine. New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1998.
  16. Devereux, William. Henry Of Navarre: a romantic play in four acts. Memphis: General Books, 2010.
  17. Wright, Doug. Quills. New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1996.
  18. Gross, Joel. Marie Antoinette: the color of flesh. New York: Dramatists Play Service, 2007.
  19. Lalonde, Robert. Henry III of France. 2010.
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