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


Simply legendary

Eliza T. Williamson

This play was a toughie--


Always makes me want to scream with recognition.

J.M. Slowik

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

Terina Goldman

genet's great society point of view


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!

Chris Campanioni

Genet's many wonderful plays can all be summed up into one play: The Balcony. You'll want to re-read this just as soon as you've finished the final page.

David Stephens

Jean Genet's controversial play The Balcony takes place within a "house of illusions" where men dress up as bishops, generals, judges, and even the indigent to play out bizarre sexual fantasies while a revolution takes place throughout the surrounding city. It retains the nonspecific time and location of other absurdist plays but adds a meta-theatrical flamboyance. It's as if Genet tossed sex, religion, Marxism, psychoanalysis, reality, and illusion in a blender together and this is the concoction that emerged.All of these elements continually slide around and meld together in different ways. Parallels are drawn between sex and revolution and the illusions of both common and powerful men. (Parallels are probably drawn between sex and just about everything else here, really.)The most noticeable aspect of the play is the ubiquity of performance. Not only do the men who come to the brothel pretend to be in positions of power, it seems that according to Genet, the actual people in power are pretending every bit as much. Their alleged power only comes from the heightened sense of importance they have instilled in themselves through frivolous measures. There is no clear distinction between any of these people—purportedly great or small. The prince and the pauper are the same person.However, if Genet denigrates authority figures, he's not much kinder to the lower strata. Revolutionaries are not so much out to create social change but revel in chaos and debauchery while those who obsequiously follow the orders of the higher-ups have basically become slaves to actors pretending they are in charge.As odd a mix as this all might sound, it does somehow seem to work. Even if it's not always clear what's going on—the last act became particularly confusing—there is a morbid exuberance that impels readers/viewers forward not only to see how far this eccentric play can push the boundaries but also to force them to make sense of the events and find where their own performance fits into this brothel of a world.

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.

Leif Erik

This was one of my favorite things about my very brief journey into the CSUS English department. An Absurdist view of political morality and simultaneously a meditation on the possibility of authority co-existing with virtue (spoiler alert: they can't)


Strange quite good


on page 26

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.


A neat exploration of icons and public figures and the people behind them. It would be neat to see staged.

Danny Campbell

Though long winded, this play is infamous for a reason. Provocative and thought provoking, Jean Genet makes you sit back and wonder where appearances and "parts we play" in life come to fruition. ITs not just "The balcony" where these characters live and breathe but in our own lives as we also put on appearances. We are just as guilty of creating "characters" as we interact with different people. Though the subject matter is provoking I still couldn't catch a vision for it. A great play is marked by my being able to envision it happening on stage as I read...and this one, for whatever reason, lacked that special something.

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