Authors: Dion Boucicault

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Irish actor and playwright.

December 27, 1820(?)

Dublin, Ireland

September 18, 1890

New York, New York

Biography

Dion Boucicault was a popular dramatist, director, and actor who originated “sensation dramas,” melodramas featuring abundant comic relief and complex mechanical effects designed to surprise their audiences. He is also remembered for depicting the Irish people and their customs favorably in such plays as The Colleen Bawn (1860), The Shaughraun (1874), Arrah-na-Pogue (1864), and The O’Dowd (1880).

Boucicault was born Dionysius Lardner Boursiquot to Anne Maria Darley and her husband, Samuel Smith Boursiquot, probably in 1820, although some sources say 1822. Many biographers cite evidence that Boursiquot was not his father by birth, naming instead science writer Dionysius Lardner, who rented a room at Darley's house while she and Boursiquot were separated. Lardner financially supported young Boucicault (then still Boursiquot), paying for his schooling and later, after his relationship with Darley ended, briefly taking the boy on as an apprentice in civil engineering. Boucicault soon left his apprenticeship to pursue a career as an actor instead, and in 1838 he joined a touring theatrical company in Cheltenham under the name Lee Moreton. He also began experimenting with different spellings of his name, eventually settling on Boucicault.

Boucicault began writing professionally under his stage name. After selling at least two plays, his first critical acclaim came in 1841 with London Assurance, a comedy of manners set in contemporary England, and the success of the play convinced Boucicault to write and act under his own name. In 1845 he married Anne Guiot, a French widow, and he lived in France until her death soon after, probably in 1848. While in France, Boucicault became familiar with French playwriting and production techniques.

In the early 1850s, Boucicault acted with tragedian Charles Kean. He wrote two popular plays, The Corsican Brothers (1852) and The Vampire (1852), for Kean’s troupe. During this time, Boucicault met and began a relationship with actor Agnes Robertson, Kean’s ward. The couple traveled to the United States in 1853 to escape Kean’s disapproval.

Boucicault established himself in the United States by both managing theaters and touring extensively. He also joined a small group of writers who persuaded the United States Congress to adopt a copyright law in 1856, even though he was often accused of plagiarism, as many of his plots were obviously inspired by other authors’ works.

However he derived his ideas, Boucicault usually pleased the public with his emotional stories and exciting scenes. For instance, shortly before the Civil War, his play The Octoroon (1859), which dealt with slavery, had the potential to be controversial. However, it provided memorable special effects (including an exploding steamboat) and a tragic love story, and therefore played well across the United States. Similarly, most of Boucicault’s Irish dramas offended no one. For instance, in The Shaughraun, the plot tension results from the actions of criminals, while both English soldiers and Irish citizens are depicted favorably. The English are shown to be honorable, while the Irish are portrayed as romantic and courageous, rather than as the insulting stereotypes common in theater at the time. However, in Daddy O’Dowd (1873), Boucicault rewrote the lyrics to “The Wearin’ of the Green” in a way that so angered his first English audience a riot nearly broke out. As a result, Boucicault was ordered by the government to either omit the song or sing only its traditional lyrics.

Boucicault’s final break with the British public came in 1872 over his adaptation of a French extravaganza, Babil and Bijou. In partnership with the earl of Londsborough, Boucicault created a five-hour spectacle featuring intricate stage effects. He hired popular performers, composers, and lyricists, as well as hundreds of extras and dancers. The show drew large crowds every night but could never recover the funds spent on the production. Critics accused Boucicault of wasting Londsborough’s money, so the writer left Britain in disgrace, never to return, except briefly while on tour. Robertson began living in England without him.

Boucicault also toured New Zealand and Australia. In the latter country, on tour without Robertson in 1885, he outraged the public again by marrying a twenty-one-year-old actor named Louise Thorndyke and claiming that he and Robertson were never truly married (thereby disowning their five surviving children). Whether or not this was so, the British government granted Robertson an official divorce from him in 1889.

Boucicault’s sense of drama and reliance on expensive special effects helped create an appetite for such entertainment as would live on into early British and American cinema as well as stage. The influence of his Irish plays also helped shape the plays of younger Irish playwrights, many of whom were inspired not only by his nationalism but also by his combination of comedy and drama.

Author Works Drama: Napoleon’s Old Guard, pr. 1836 A Legend of the Devil’s Dyke, pr. 1838, pb. ca. 1898 Lodgings to Let, pr. 1839 Jack Sheppard, pr. 1839 (adaptation of W. H. Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard) The Old Guard, pr. 1840, pb. ca. 1845 (revision of Napoleon’s Old Guard) London Assurance, pr., pb. 1841 Alma Mater; or, A Curse for Coquettes, pr. 1842, pb. 1843 The Bastille, pr. 1842 Curiosities of Literature, pr., pb. 1842 A Lover by Proxy, pr., pb. 1842 The Irish Heiress, pr., pb. 1842 (also known as West End) Laying a Ghost, pr. 1843 Victor and Hortense; or, The False Bride, pr. 1843 Woman, pr. 1843 Don Caesar de Bazan; or, Love and Honour, pr. 1844 The Fox and the Goose; or, The Widow’s Husband, pr. 1844 (operetta; with Benjamin Webster) Lolah; or, The Wreck-Light, pr. 1844 Love in a Sack, pr. 1844 Mother and Son, pr. 1844 Old Heads and Young Hearts, pr., pb. 1844 Used Up, pr., pb. 1844 (with Charles James Mathews; adaptation of Augustin-Théodore de Lauzanne and Félix Auguste Duvert’s L’homme blasé) Enquire Within, pr. 1845 Peg Woffington; or, The State Secret, pr. 1845, pb. ca. 1907 The Soldier of Fortune; or, The Irish Settler, pr. 1845 Mr. Peter Piper; or, Found Out at Last, pr. 1846 The Old School, pr. 1846 Who Did It? or, What’s in the Wind?, pr. 1846 (with Charles Kenney; also known as Felo de Se and Up the Flue) The Wonderful Water Cure, pr. 1846 (operetta) La Salamandrine, pr. 1847 (ballet) The School for Scheming, pr., pb. 1847 (also known as Love and Money) A Confidence, pr. 1848 The Knight of Arva, pr. 1848, pb. ca. 1868 The Willow Copse, pr. 1849, pb. 1855 (adaptation of Frédéric Soulié’s La closerie des genêts) La Garde Nationale, pr. 1850 (also known as La Garde Mobile) Giralda; or, The Invisible Husband, pr. 1850 Belphegor, pr. 1851 Love in a Maze, pr., pb. 1851 O’Flannigan and the Fairies, pr. 1851 Pauline, pr., pb. 1851 (adaptation of Alexandre Dumas père’s Pauline) The Queen of Spades; or, The Gambler’s Secret, pr., pb. 1851 (also known as The Dame of Spades; adaptation of Prosper Mérimée’s La dame de pique) Sixtus the Fifth; or, The Broken Vow, pr., pb. 1851 (also known as The Pope of Rome; or, Sixtus the Fifth; adaptation of Prosper Goubaux and Gustave Lemoine’s L’abbaye de Castro) The Corsican Brothers; or, The Vendetta, pr., pb. 1852 (adaptation of Alexandre Dumas père’s Les frères Corses) The Prima Donna, pr., pb. 1852 The Vampire: A Phantasm, pr. 1852, pb. 1856 (as The Phantom; adaptation of Alexandre Dumas père’s Le vampire) Genevieve; or, The Reign of Terror, pr. 1853 (adaptation of Alexandre Dumas père’s Le chevalier de maison rouge) The Fox-Hunt; or, Don Quixote the Second, pr. 1853 (also known as The Fox-Chase) The Young Actress, pr. 1853 Andy Blake; or, The Irish Diamond, pr. 1854, pb. 1856 (also called The Dublin Boy and The Irish Boy; adaptation of Jean-François-Alfred Bayard’s Gamin de Paris) Apollo in New York, pr. 1854 The Devil’s in It, pr. 1854 The Fairy Star, pr. 1854 Janet Pride, pr. 1854 (adaptation in part on Adolphe Dennery and Julien de Mallian’s Marie Jeanne) Pierre the Foundling, pr. 1854 (adaptation of George Sand’s François le Champ) Agnes Robertson at Home, pr. 1855 The Cat Changed into a Woman, pr. 1855 (adaptation of Eugène Scribe’s La chatte métamorphosée en femme) The Chameleon, pr. 1855 Eugénie; or, A Sister’s Vow, pr. 1855 (adaptation of Honoré de Balzac’s Eugénie Grandet) Grimaldi; or, Scenes in the Life of an Actress, pr. 1855, pb. 1864 (also known as The Life of an Actress and Violet; based on Théodore Barrièr and Auguste Anicet-Bourgeois’s La vie d’une comédienne) Louis XI, pr., pb. 1855 (adaptation of Casimir Delavigne’s Louis XI) Rachel Is Coming, pr. 1855 There’s Nothing in It, pr. 1855 Azael; or, The Prodigal Son, pr. 1856 Blue Belle, pr. 1856 (adaptation of Joseph Mazilier, Adolphe Adam, and Adolphe de Leuven’s Le diable à quatre) Una, pr. 1856 George Darville, pr. 1857 The Poor of New York, pr., pb. 1857 (also known as The Poor of Liverpool, The Poor of London, and The Streets of London; adaptation of Édouard-Louis-Alexandre Brisebarre and Eugène Nus’s Les pauvres de Paris) Jessie Brown; or, The Relief of Lucknow, pr., pb. 1858 Pauvrette, pr., pb. 1858 (also known as The Snow Flower and The Maid of the Alps; adaptation of Charles-Louis-François Desnoyer and Adolphe d’Ennery’s La bergère des Alpes) Chamooni the Third, pr. 1859 (adaptation of Eugène Scribe’s L’ours et le pacha) Dot, pr. 1859, pb. 1940 (adaptation of Charles Dickens’s The Cricket on the Hearth) Smike; or, Scenes from Nicholas Nickleby, pr. 1859 (adaptation of Charles Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby) The Octoroon; or, Life in Louisiana, pr., pb. 1859 (adaptation of Mayne Reid’s The Quadroon) The Colleen Bawn; or, The Brides of Garryowen, pr., pb. 1860 (adaptation of Gerald Griffin’s The Collegians) Jeanie Deans; or, The Heart of Midlothian, pr. 1860 (adaptation of Walter Scott’s The Heart of Midlothian) Vanity Fair; or, Proud of Their Vices, pr. 1860 (adaptation of a French play) Lady Bird; or, Harlequin Lord Dundreary, pr. 1862 The Lily of Killarney, pr. 1862, pb. 187? (operatic version of The Colleen Bawn; with John Oxenford and Julius Benedict) How She Loves Him!, pr. 1863, pb. 1868 Arrah-na-Pogue; or, The Wicklow Wedding, pr. 1864 (in Irish), 1865 (in English), pb. 1865 Omoo; or, The Sea of Ice, pr. 1864 Rip Van Winkle; or, The Sleep of Twenty Years, pr. 1865, pb. 1866 (with Joseph Jefferson; adaptation of Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle”) The Flying Scud; or, A Four-Legged Fortune, pr. 1866, pb. 1940 The Long Strike, pr., pb. 1866 (also known as The Strike; adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton and Lizzie Leigh) The Parish Clerk, pr. 1866 The Two Lives of Mary Leigh, pr. 1866 (also known as Hunted Down) A Wild Goose Chase, pr. 1867 (also known as Wild Goose; revision of Lester Wallack’s Rosedale; or, The Rifle Ball) After Dark: A Tale of London Life, pr., pb. 1868 (adaptation of Eugène Grangé and Adolphe d’Ennery’s Les bohémiens de Paris) Foul Play, pr. 1868, pb. 187? (adaptation of Boucicault and Charles Reade’s Foul Play) Formosa; or, The Railroad to Ruin, pr., pb. 1869 Lost at Sea: A London Story, pr. 1869, pb. 1974 (with Henry J. Byron) Presumptive Evidence, pr. 1869, pb. 1940 (also known as Mercy Dodd; adaptation of Eugène Moreau, Paul Siraudin, and Alfred Delacour’s Le courrier de Lyon) Seraphine; or, A Devotee, pr., pb. 1869 (adaptation of Victorien Sardou’s Séraphine) A Christmas Story, pr. 1870 A Dark Night’s Work, pr. 1870 (revision of Giralda) Jezebel; or, The Dead Reckoning, pr., pb. 1870 (adaptation of Auguste Anicet-Bourgeois and Michel Masson’s Le pendu) Paul Lafarge, pr. 1870 (revision of Victor and Hortense) The Rapparee; or, The Treaty of Limerick, pr. 1870, pb. 1882 Elfie; or, The Cherry Tree Inn, pr., pb. 1871 Night and Morning, pr., pb. 1871 (also known as Kerry) Babil and Bijou; or, The Lost Regalia, pr., pb. 1872 (with James Robinson Planché) Daddy O’Dowd; or, Turn About Is Fair Play, pr. 1873 (adaptation of Eugène Cormon and ‎Eugène Grangé’s Les crochets du père Martin) Led Astray, pr., pb. 1873 (adaptation of Octave Feuillet’s La tentation) A Man of Honor, pr. 1873 (adaptation of Alexandre Dumas fils’s Le fils naturel) Mimi, pr. 1873 (adaptation of Théodore Barrière and Henri Murger’s La vie de bohème) Mora; or, The Golden Fetters, pr. 1873 A Struggle for Life, copyrighted 1873 (no record of performance) Belle Lamar, pr. 1874, pb. 1932 Boucicault in California, pr. 1874 Drink, copyrighted 1874 (no record of performance) Free Cuba, copyrighted 1874 (with J. J. O’Kelly; no record of performance) The Shaughraun, pr. 1874, pb. 1875 Venice Preserved, pr. 1874 (revision of Thomas Otway’s Venice Preserved) Forbidden Fruit, pr., pb. 1876 Marriage, pr. 1877 (also known as A Bridal Tour) Clarissa Harlowe; or, The History of a Young Lady, pr. 1878 (adaptation of Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa) The Dead Secret, pr. 1878 (adaptation of Wilkie Collins’s The Dead Secret) Norah’s Vows, pr. 1878 Contempt of Court, pr. 1879 Rescued; or, A Girl’s Romance, pr. 1879 Spell-Bound, pr. 1879 The O’Dowd; or, Life in Galway, pr. 1880, pb. 1909 (revision of Daddy O’Dowd; also known as Suil-a-Mor; or, Life in Galway) The Amadãn, pr. 1883 Vice Versa, pr. 1883 (adaptation of Alfred Duru and Henri Chivot’s Le truc d’Arthur) Robert Emmett, pr. 1884 The Jilt, pr. 1885, pb. 1904 The Spae Wife, pr. 1886 (adaptation of Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering) Fin Mac Cool of Skibbereen, pr. 1887 (revision of Belle Lamar; also known as Fin Maccoul) Phryne; or, The Romance of a Young Wife, pr. 1887 Cuishla-ma-Chree, pr. 1888 (revision of The Spae Wife) Ourselves, copyrighted 1888 (no record of performance) Lend Me Your Wife, pr. 1890 (adaptation of Maurice Desvallières’s Prête-moi ta femme) A Tale of a Coat, pr. 1890 (also known as Jimmy Watt) The Luck of Roaring Camp, wr. 1890 (unfinished; adaptation of Bret Harte’s “The Luck of Roaring Camp”) Forbidden Fruit and Other Plays, pb. 1940 (Allardyce Nicoll and F. Theodore Cloak, editors) The Dolmen Boucicault, pb. 1964 (David Krause, editor; contains The Colleen Bawn, Arrah-na-Pogue, and The Shaughraun) Plays, pb. 1984 (Peter Thomson, editor) Selected Plays of Dion Boucicault, pb. 1987 (Andrew Parkin, editor) Long Fiction: Foul Play, 1868 (with Charles Reade) Nonfiction: The Story of Ireland, 1881 The Art of Acting: A Discussion by Constant Coquelin, Henry Irving, and Dion Boucicault, 1926 Bibliography Cullingford, Elizabeth Butler. “National Identities in Performance: The Stage Englishman of Boucicault’s Irish Drama.” Theatre Journal, vol. 49, no. 3, 1997, pp. 287–300. Focuses on Boucicault’s presentation of the stage Englishman and stereotypes. Fawkes, Richard. Dion Boucicault: A Biography. Quartet Books, 1979. A comprehensive life and times of Boucicault that draws in part on a number of unpublished sources. Emphasizes theatrical history and Boucicault’s place in it, rather than the playwright’s character or the wider context of his work. Bibliography. Fischler, Alan. “Guano and Poetry: Payment for Playwriting in Victorian England.” Modern Language Quarterly, vol. 62, no. 1, 2001, pp. 43–52. Boucicault’s remark regarding payment for his works forms the basis of this essay examining compensation issues in Victorian England. Boucicault’s prodigious production of plays and some of his business dealings are discussed. Grene, Nicholas. The Politics of Irish Drama: Plays in Context from Boucicault to Friel. Cambridge UP, 1999. An examination of the political and social views of Boucicault and Brian Friel, among other Irish dramatists. Molin, Sven Eric, and Robin Goodfellowe, editors. Dion Boucicault, the Shaughraun. Proscenium Press, 1979–91. 5 vols. An ambitious attempt to characterize Boucicault’s life and times in terms of the contemporary documentary record. Each part deals with a particular phase of Boucicault’s prolific and protean career and has for its centerpiece a reprint of one or more of the playwright’s texts. Supplemented by memoirs, theatrical histories, and similar documentary sources. Richtarik, Marilynn. “Stewart Parker’s Heavenly Bodies: Dion Boucicault, Show Business, and Ireland.” Modern Drama, vol. 43, no. 3, 2000, pp. 404–20. Academic Search Complete, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=4867133&site=ehost-live. Accessed 15 Aug. 2017. An analysis of Parker’s play Heavenly Bodies, which is a biography of Boucicault.

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