GRANDVILLE, Jean-Jacques
(b. 1803, Nancy, d. 1847, Vanves)

Frenzied Romans at the First Performance of Hernani

Lithograph, 250 x 180 mm
Musée Victor Hugo, Paris

It was this group of people that Hugo turned to for the battle of Hernani. The censors of France had prohibited one of his plays, the Marion de Lorme, from being performed. To ensure that this did not happen to Hernani, Hugo assembled a Romantic Army. They ensured that there was enough of a crowd upon opening night that the play could not be shut down.

Eight hours before the premiere, 25 February 1830, Hugo arrived at the Théâtre Français to position his troops. Théophile Gautier wore his famous red waistcoat and lime green pants - everything to annoy the Classicists who were filling the boxes. Loyal groups were seated next to anyone that might be tempted to try to hiss the cast off the stage. The auditorium turned into a spectacular field of battle; Liberals versus Royalists, Romantics versus Classicists, free expression versus aesthetical conformism and the young versus the old.

Upon the premiere night, these proto-bohemians were locked within the auditorium for three hours, and in that time managed to make quite a mess of it, mostly due to the lack of facilities provided for them. When the bourgeois audience members arrived for the show, they were appalled at the damage, and at the absurd looking people who were already there. Hernani stayed on the stage for one hundred performances, but never went on without a scuffle or argument.