Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Welsh, Wil||Carlson, Harry S.

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Speech


Giraudoux; Jean; 1882-1944


It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between Jean Giraudoux' comedies and tragedies, because he uses comic elements and techniques in all of them. This study investigates how these elements and techniques function in two of his plays, Amphitryon 38 and Electra. The plays, part of a group for which he used ancient Greek and Roman sources, are useful for the purposes of contrast and comparison for different reasons. Amphitryon 38 is clearly a deliberate comedy, and Plautus and Moliere provided models with which to gauge Giraudoux' achievement. Electra, on the other hand, is a serious play--some critics have called it a tragedy--that resembles, in some ways, Euripides' tragedy of the same name. For each of these plays, the function of comedy is discussed as it relates to plot, theme, and character. The comic purposes of plot, theme, and character in Amphitryon 38 are twofold: first, the amorous escapades of Jupiter provide Giraudoux with the opportunity to engage in one of the classic functions of comedy--social criticism. Second, Jupiter's involvement in the 'eternal triangle' leads Giraudoux into a more serious area--man's relationship with a capricious fate. The gods personify the amoral 'unknown forces' against which man is destined to struggle, but the nature of which he will never understand. In Electra, Giraudoux takes the classic story of a girl's search for justice for her father's murderers and twists it ironically. Electra becomes the symbol of a cold, inhuman form of vengeance. By the time Electra succeeds in punishing the guilty, her uncompromising attitude has resulted in the virtual destruction of her whole world. Into this serious situation, Giraudoux introduces comedy to underscore the irony of the points he wishes to make. In plot and theme, the adulterous relationship between Clytemnestra and Aegisthus takes on a ludicrous quality, when it is revealed that Aegisthus has had a simultaneous affair with a local tart. And while the characters of Electra and Clytemnestra are locked in a terrible conflict, the conflict threatens to become absurd when they descend to bickering over trifles. In connection with Giraudoux' predecessors, Plautus uses the Amphitryon theme simply to revel in the comic technique of mistaken Identity, In Moliere, Juplter becomes a seventeenth century libertine who takes disgraceful liberties with the lower classes. Euripides, not unlike Giraudoux, uses the Electra story to deal with the moral aspects of vengeance. In both plays, Giraudoux uses comedy as a weapon of rationality to combat the irrational forces that confront man. But comedy also serves another purpose—to preserve illusion. Man needs an illusion of a better form of living in order to be able to endure in a hostile world of 'unknown forces.' In Amphitryon 38, Jupiter leaves Alkmena with the only thing which will ease the blow of the knowledge that she has been unfaithful to her husband—forgetfulness, the illusion that the act of infidelity had never taken place. For Giraudoux, comedy and illusion become means to render the 'unknown forces' ridiculous, and thereby make them less frightening.


Includes bibliographical references.


3, 70 pages




Northern Illinois University

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