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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

XII. Shakespeare on the Continent

§ 15. Popularity of the Adaptations of Ducis

In the later years of the eighteenth century, his plays were adapted to the French stage by several hands and in many different ways; but only one of these adapters need be mentioned here, Jean François Ducis, who occupied Voltaire’s seat in the Academy. In his Hamlet (1769), Roméo et Juliette (1772), Le Roi Lear (1783), Macbeth (1784), Jean sans Terre (1791) and Othello (1792), Ducis succeeded in reconciling a very genuine enthusiasm for Shakespeare with what now seems to us an extraordinary lack of taste, in adapting him for presentation to the French theatre-goer. He was himself, however, ignorant of English and obliged to draw exclusively from French translations. But, in spite of these disadvantages, Ducis succeeded where no one had succeeded before him: he made Shakespeare—mutilated, it may be, but still Shakespeare—popular on the French and on the Italian stage; and it was in the Othello of Ducis that Talma achieved one of his greatest triumphs. However we may condemn these distorted adaptations, we should at least remember to the credit of Ducis that his stage versions of Shakespeare’s plays outlived the French revolution, were still popular under the first empire and were remembered when Marie-Joseph Chénier’s Brutus et Cassius (1790), a play that may be described as the last attempt to reduce Julius Caesar to the law and order of classic taste, was forgotten.