The Balcony

ISBN: 0571192971
ISBN 13: 9780571192977
By: Jean Genet

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About this book

Jean Genet's The Balcony, which premiered in 1957, has come to be recognised as one of the founding plays of modern theatre, and is what the philosopher Lucien Goldmann has called 'the first great Brechtian play in French literature'.In a brothel of an unnamed French city the madam, Irma, directs a series of fantastical scenarios - a bishop forgives a penitent, a judge punishes a thief, a general rides astride his horse. Outside, an uprising threatens to engulf the streets. The patrons of the brothel wait anxiously for the chief of police to arrive, but in his place comes the queen's envoy to inform that the figureheads of the establishment have been killed in the uprising. Play-acting turns to reality, as the patrons don their costumes in public in the attempt to quell the insurrection.Illusion and reality, order and dissolution - these are the grand themes of The Balcony, all refracted through the prism of Genet's sexualised genius.

Reader's Thoughts


One of those plays that you definitely need to see staged to appreciate. As a text, I found it uninteresting.

Justine Hince

Jean Genet's "The Balcony" addresses the desire and lust for power, fame, and celebrity through the guise of a brothel. High power figures can see their likenesses as characters in the whorehouse, realizing just how famous they have become. Madame Irma runs her brothel in order to let her clients live out their fantasies while she herself feels trapped in the reality she's created. And while the common folk put the people on pedestals, they forget who is really runnjng the show. Those who wish to rebel against the ruling power need not fight against the celebrities but the ones behind it all, all the while be cautious not to turn into the one thing they think they are fighting against. The idolizing of public figures rings true in today's culture where celebrity rules all. Genet's work remains incredibly relevant to today's audience - he mocks the love affair with fame and points out just how fake all of our lives are if we only dared to look.

Jeffrey Round

The Balcony by Jean Genet (revised edition, trans. by Bernard Frechtman) (Grove Press 1966)Considered by many to be Genet's dramatic masterwork, the play features his trademark sleight-of-hand, where characters transform into other characters: a “house of pleasure” caters to the theatrically-inspired whims of its customers while the city is under siege by rebel forces. When rumours surface that the real leaders are dead, the brothel's clients embody their acquired roles to become a judge, a bishop and a queen in real life. Genet claimed to be inspired to write Le Balcon because of events in Franco’s Spain, though he may also have been indebted to passages in Marcel Proust's final novel, Le Temps retrouvé. This translation is based on Genet's more-politicised, revised version of the play and feels quite tedious in parts. Nor is the idea that the working class would rise up to supplant the ruling class and then turn out to be just as bad as their predecessors really all that novel. On the other hand, this may have been the work that inspired the noir masterpiece, The Cutting Room, by Louise Welsh.


I read this while I was studying in paris, for a course on Genet and Heinrich Muller. my final paper was an examination of the theoretical commonalities between this play and foucault's "surveiller et punir." also saw a brilliant performance of it at the Athenée theater. just brilliant. there's so much here -- I think there is a good translation available. if not, let's get to work on that shit!

Terina Goldman

genet's great society point of view

Corinne Wahlberg

I read "The Maids" a while back and was more impressed by this lesser-known work from Genet. I adore Genet. Maybe because he's French. Maybe because his plays are about sex and power and violence ("these are a few of my favorite things"). In any case, it's worth my time to finish off both my degrees with this fabulous little play and it's worth your time to read it.

J.M. Slowik

A strange little satirical triptych, in its three-act version. The man knows his evil...


on page 26


I would like to say I understood this play and its ambitions when dissecting it in graduate school. Sadly, I cannot. It's a curious read, likely better onstage than on the page. Its twisted pageantry would certainly clue me in to the proceedings; on the page, everything seems either too obvious or too vague for my comprehension.


Simply legendary


I found this play by accident, but strangely it is perfect for me, and uses most of the themes that I gravitate toward in art. I wish I could see this performed live (or even the movie) though because I always find it very hard to read plays and judge them. The ending monologue by Irma is now one of my favorites.


rotten with genius


This play has much in common with the Artaudian "Theatre of Cruelty" concepts, with its ritualistic, highly staged portrayals of violent sexuality serving to illuminate the larger struggles of the world as a whole. This heightened awareness of the lies of theatricality - the prostitutes of the play are trapped in a life of performance, and their clients are sexually and emotionally satisfied with this; the war is fought with the aid of the Madam, Irma's performance skills; and, of course, the war itself is only a theatrical performance, running up against the limits to reality set by the fact that this is a play - was utterly fascinating, but, ultimately, the characters were not richly drawn enough, nor the emotional realism specific enough, to carry the concept through to its full effect.



Czarny Pies

The action of this play takes place inside a brothel while a revolution goes on outside. The brothel caters to fancies. The johns can choose to dress as whatever power figure they choose to be. The police chief in the course of the play watches clients dress as a judge, a bishop and a general. Finally, the insurrection is crushed and the leader of the rebels enters the brothel asking to dress up as a police chief. "At last" says the police chief, "they have seen the truth."I think Genet has written one of the greatest jokes of the twentieth century. Police states are becoming the norm and so it is time that our sexual fantasies adapt. Throughout the play, the different characters utter great one-liners at a rapid pace. Unfortunately,the plot has no more complexity than is in my summary and the characters amongst the most superficials you will ever see.This play is a work of its time. It shows the persistent tendency of the French to offer superficial and self-righteous interpretations of current events.

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