The Balcony Jean Genet
The Balcony Jean Genet. ‘The Balcony’ is a play by French dramatist Jean Genet. There are three distinct versions of the play. The three versions differ from each other in terms of length as well as content. For instance, the second version is the longest and includes lots of political elements. The third version resulted from the reduction of the political elements from the play and, thus, is much shorter. The English translations have come from the different versions.
The plot of the play is based on incidents taking place mostly inside a brothel. The setting of the play is an upmarket brothel and the actions taking place inside it represent the conditions prevailing in the city due to revolutionary uprising. The incidents taking place inside the brothel also interfere with the happenings outside.
The traditional name of the brothel is ‘house of illusion’ and the madam of the brothel is Irma. The name has symbolic as well as literal significance for the brothel. It offers a chance to people to live out their fantasies. There is a house of infinite mirrors where Irma manages some performances. These performances are based on role play of some ranks of power in the society. The play, for instance, depicts such scenes enacted as showing a bishop who forgives a penitent, a judge who passes on a sentence for a thief and a general riding his horse. The people of lower status are given a chance to behave like people of higher status.
The connection of the brothel with the rest of the city gets established due to the revolution the city is facing. The brothel relies on the chief of police for its protection against the revolutionaries. Chantal, one of the prostitutes, has left the brothel to represent the spirit of the revolution. A messenger from the Queen informs that the people holding ranks of power in the society have got killed in the uprising. This is how the ‘house of illusion’ becomes even more seriously concerned to the revolution and the city. The patrons who played the role of such rank holders, like the Chief Justice, the General, the Judge, etc. at the brothel play the same roles in public to keep up order in the city.
The fantasy for power is a very important theme in the play. The fantasy is what brought people to the ‘house of illusion’, including the revolutionary leader. The way the people try to please themselves with artificial enactment of their fantasies may also be symbolic of escapism, on the one hand, and the artificiality of the contemporary life, on the other hand. A brothel and the people working there are generally seen with contempt in most of the societies. However, in the society this play deals with, the brothel plays a very significant role for the society in the normal routine as well as during the critical situation when the law and order of the society is at stake.