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Caligula (play): Wikis


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Caligula is a play written by Albert Camus, begun in 1938 (the date of the first manuscript 1939) and published for the first time in May 1944 by Éditions Gallimard. The play was later the subject of numerous revisions. It was part of what the author called the "Cycle of the Absurd", with the novel The Stranger (1942) and the essay The Myth of Sisyphus (1942). Some critics see the piece as existentialist; however, Camus always denied belonging to this philosophy. Its plot revolves around the historical figure of Caligula, a Roman Emperor famed for his cruelty and seemingly insane behavior.


About the Play

The play shows Caligula, Roman Emperor, torn by the death of Drusilla, his sister and lover. In Camus's version of events, Caligula eventually deliberately manipulates his own assassination. (Historically, this event took place January 24, AD 41.)

Here is the theme of the play presented by the author himself (in the U.S. edition of Theater in 1957):

"Caligula, a relatively kind prince so far, realizes on the death of Drusilla, his sister and his mistress, that "men die and they are not happy." Therefore, obsessed by the quest for the Absolute and poisoned by contempt and horror, he tries to exercise, through murder and systematic perversion of all values, a freedom which he discovers in the end is no good. He rejects friendship and love, simple human solidarity, good and evil. He takes the word of those around him, he forces them to logic, he levels all around him by force of his refusal and by the rage of destruction which drives his passion for life.

But if his truth is to rebel against fate, his error is to deny men. One cannot destroy without destroying oneself. This is why Caligula depopulates the world around him and, true to his logic, makes arrangements to arm himself against those who will eventually kill him. Caligula is the story of a superior suicide. It is the story of the most human and the most tragic of errors. Unfaithful to man, loyal to himself, Caligula consents to die for having understood that no one can save himself all alone and that one cannot be free in opposition to other men."

Versions of Caligula

The final version is the four-act version of 1944, first published jointly with The Misunderstanding then published alone in the same year. There is a three-act version of 1941, re-published in 1984, in the compilation Cahiers Albert Camus. The changes between the versions show the effect of World War II on Camus.


Often staged in France and abroad, Caligula is one of Camus's most successful stage works.

The premiere of Caligula in 1945 introduced Gérard Philipe. On 26 March 1955, Camus himself read the play at the theater Noctambules. The 1941 version was also staged, for example by the author at the Festival d'Angers in June 1984.

Some major worldwide productions of Caligula:

London - A new translation by David Greig, directed by Michael Grandage, was performed to great acclaim at the Donmar Warehouse in London, starring Michael Sheen, and won several Olivier Awards.

Dublin, Ireland - The same translation was later performed at the Project Cube Theatre in Dublin, Ireland, directed by Conor Hanratty, where it was also nominated for several awards. This latter production was revived in October 2008 as part of Dublin's International Theatre Festival.

India - Caligula was translated into Hindi by Dr. Sharad Chandra and directed by Arvind Gaur (1993, 21 shows) for Asmita theatre with Jaimini kr. Srivastava and Deepak Ochani. Arun Kukreja also performed it with well-known actor V.M. Badola.

France - In early 2006, Charles Berling directed and interpreted Caligula at the Workshop Theater in Paris.

Hungary - The play has recently been performed by the Radnóti Színház in Budapest.

Greece - By the National Theatre of Greece in Athens.

Japan - Directed by Yukio Ninagawa, starring Shun Oguri, at the Bunkamura Theatre Cocoon in Tokyo.

Additionally, the play has begun to attract the attention of collegiate and community theaters, being produced at prestigious universities such as The College of William & Mary and New York University.

The play Caligula (Albert Camus) has been directed in Brazil by Rui Xavier, with Daniel Sommerfeld in the main role (2009 - The Year of France in Brazil).

Reference epilogue

Camus's notebooks reveal a draft epilogue to Caligula that sheds light on the scope of this work to its author:

"No, Caligula is not dead. He is here, he is there. He is each of you. If the power were given to you, if you had a heart, if you loved life, you would see unleashed this monster or this angel that you carry within you. Our time of believing that things could be beautiful and stop being absurd is dying. Goodbye, I return to history where I feel trapped for so long those who fear to love too much."



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