This article was originally published in Encyclopedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, Volume V. Anonymous. Cambridge: University Press, 1910. p. 831.

CHAMPMESLÉ, MARIE (1642-1698), French actress, was born in Rouen of a good family. Her father's name was Desmares. She made her first appearance on the stage at Rouen with Charles Chevillet (1645-1701), who called himself sieur de Champmeslé, and they were married in 1666. By 1669 they were playing in Paris at the Théatre du Marais, her first appearance there being as Venus in Boyer's Fête de Venus. The next year, as Hermione in Racine's Andromaque, she had a great success at the Hôtel de Bourgogne. Her intimacy with Racine dates from then. Some of his finest tragedies were written for her, but her repertoire was not confined to them, and many an indifferent play--like Thomas Corneille's Ariane and Comte d'Essex--owed its success to "her natural manner of acting, and her pathetic rendering of the hapless heroine." Phèdre was the climax of her triumphs, and when she and her husband deserted the Hôtel de Bourgogne, it was selected to open the Comédie Française on the 26th of August 1680. Here, with Mme. Guérin as the leading comedy actress, she played the great tragic love parts for more than thirty years, dying on the 15th of May 1698. La Fontaine dedicated to her his novel Belphégor, and Boileau immortalized her in verse. Her husband distinguished himself both as actor and playwright, and his Parisien (1682) gave Mme. Guérin one of her greatest successes.

Her brother, the actor NICOLAS DESMARES (c. 1650-1714), began as a member of a subsidized company at Copenhagen, but by her influence he came to Paris and was received in 1685 sans début--the first time such an honour had been accorded--at the Comédie Française, where he became famous for peasant parts. His daughter, to whom Christian V and his queen stood sponsors, CHRISTINE ANTOINETTE CHARLOTTE DESMARES (1682-1753), was a fine actress in both tragedy and soubrette parts. She made her début at the Comédie Française in 1699, in La Grange Chancel's Oreste et Pylade, and was at once received as sociétaire. She retired in 1721.

Purchase Books on French theatre

Search eBay! for theatre collectibles

Home · Theatre Links · Script Archive · Bookstore · Email · © 2002