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The Balcony

3.83  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,741 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
Book jacket/back: The setting of Jean Genet's celebrated play is a brothel that caters to refined sensibilities and peculiar tastes. Here men from all walks of life don the garb of their fantasies and act them out: a man from the gas company wears the robe and mitre of a bishop; another customer becomes a flagellant judge, and still another a victorious general, while a ba ...more
Paperback, 96 pages
Published January 21st 1994 by Grove Press (first published 1956)
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Hamlet by William ShakespeareMacbeth by William ShakespeareThe Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar WildeWaiting for Godot by Samuel BeckettRomeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Goodreads Top 100 Stage Plays of All Time
113th out of 318 books — 298 voters
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExupéryThe Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre DumasMadame Bovary by Gustave FlaubertLes Misérables by Victor HugoThe Stranger by Albert Camus
Classic French Literature
153rd out of 338 books — 188 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Feb 12, 2012 Greg rated it it was amazing
This book is a work of dramatic genius. Genet poses for us the question, "What is the nature of virtue and its relationship with power?" In his setting, he chooses a brothel, with the actors in the brothel trapped in a never-ending cycle of violent fiction that mirrors the events of the revolution happening outside the brothel walls.

The are great, witty lines such as "The pimp has a grin, never a smile." There are great, beautiful lines such as "It's the hour when night breaks away from the day,
Mar 08, 2016 Ben rated it liked it
Hmm . . . I really like what Genet was trying to do here, but I'm not sure that it is pulled off as well as it could have been. This play is very much postmodern, and in that sense it reminded me a lot of Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow in terms of style and themes. Like Genet (and also like the Frankfurt School sociologists, with their emphasis on Freud's death instinct/Eros v. Thanatos and the Marquis de Sade, with whom Genet is often compared), Pynchon also equated the appetite for power with sad ...more
David Stephens
Jan 13, 2014 David Stephens rated it really liked it
Shelves: drama
Jean Genet's controversial play The Balcony takes place within a "house of illusions" where men dress up as bishops, generals, judges, and even the indigent to play out bizarre sexual fantasies while a revolution takes place throughout the surrounding city. It retains the nonspecific time and location of other absurdist plays but adds a meta-theatrical flamboyance. It's as if Genet tossed sex, religion, Marxism, psychoanalysis, reality, and illusion in a blender together and this is the concocti ...more
Jul 12, 2016 Feliks rated it really liked it
Shelves: film-related
Mind-blowing. Everyone should at least be aware of what Genet accomplished here. He was way ahead of his time.
Jeffrey Round
The Balcony by Jean Genet (revised edition, trans. by Bernard Frechtman) (Grove Press 1966)

Considered by many to be Genet's dramatic masterwork, the play features his trademark sleight-of-hand, where characters transform into other characters: a “house of pleasure” caters to the theatrically-inspired whims of its customers while the city is under siege by rebel forces. When rumours surface that the real leaders are dead, the brothel's clients embody their acquired roles to become a judge, a bish
This play has much in common with the Artaudian "Theatre of Cruelty" concepts, with its ritualistic, highly staged portrayals of violent sexuality serving to illuminate the larger struggles of the world as a whole. This heightened awareness of the lies of theatricality - the prostitutes of the play are trapped in a life of performance, and their clients are sexually and emotionally satisfied with this; the war is fought with the aid of the Madam, Irma's performance skills; and, of course, the wa ...more
Karen Loder
May 11, 2016 Karen Loder rated it really liked it
This was far out man. I really liked the beginning and the ending had its moments but for much of the ending I was just like, eh? But this kind of worked in the play's favor since it's about the dissolution of reality and falsehood. Which is which? What is more true: the illusion or the reality? In the case of this play, illusion is more powerful than the people who play into them. The judge, the general, and the bishop, the men who inhabit these costumes must act as a judge, general, or bishop ...more
Jun 08, 2016 Roland rated it really liked it
I loved reading this and now I'm itching to see it performed. What I like best about Genet is that he has a sense of humor that reminds me of John Waters while also being a literary talent of the highest order. One of my favorite things about Our Lady of the Flowers was how people spoke to each other, and the bitterness that seemed through their words, and that's very much in evidence here. The Brothel setting is perfect for his style, and there are many scenes that made me cringe, while others ...more
Justine Hince
Jan 12, 2014 Justine Hince rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2014, plays
Jean Genet's "The Balcony" addresses the desire and lust for power, fame, and celebrity through the guise of a brothel. High power figures can see their likenesses as characters in the whorehouse, realizing just how famous they have become. Madame Irma runs her brothel in order to let her clients live out their fantasies while she herself feels trapped in the reality she's created. And while the common folk put the people on pedestals, they forget who is really runnjng the show. Those who wish t ...more
Mar 07, 2016 Mathildewind rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
j'aime quand une œuvre questionne son propre genre. un bordel/théâtre, des personnages/ acteurs qui jouent un rôle, ces femmes (des prostituées) qui mettent en scène des scénarios érotiques, fantasmes masculins pervers et/ou loufoques, pour permettre aux hommes de se réaliser sur un mode de toute-puissance, d'être quelqu'un d'autre, comme un exutoire. la fin d'un monde. la création de millier d'autres. un théâtre coloré, délicieux de petites trouvailles, exubérant, désinvolte, excentrique. viole ...more
Exquisite stuff! Genet's masterwork of myth and perversion is among the very best of the theatre of the Absurd. So entertaining and thought-provoking, intellectually stimulating and still quite shocking, The Balcony kicks some major existential butt. A character in it, Irma, is now the matriarch of my Absurdity. She was a masterfully crafted character and belongs with her male counterpart, Harold Pinter's Lenny from The Homecoming, as my philosophical King and Queen.
Czarny Pies
Aug 30, 2014 Czarny Pies rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of Jean Genet
Recommended to Czarny by: Mr. Lavoie, the lit teacher
Shelves: french-lit
The action of this play takes place inside a brothel while a revolution goes on outside. The brothel caters to fancies. The johns can choose to dress as whatever power figure they choose to be. The police chief in the course of the play watches clients dress as a judge, a bishop and a general. Finally, the insurrection is crushed and the leader of the rebels enters the brothel asking to dress up as a police chief. "At last" says the police chief, "they have seen the truth."

I think Genet has writ
Jun 24, 2007 علی rated it liked it
Together with The Maids, The Balcony is one of Gene's masterpieces
محل وقوع واقعه، شهری ست نامعلوم، که در آتش انقلاب می سوزد و انقلابیون خشمگین خیابان ها را انباشته اند. واقعه اما درون صومعه ای (دیری، کلیسایی) نمادی از قدرت در جهانی بزرگ تر، اتفاق می افتد، فضایی بسته و مقدس، در قلب شهری انقلاب زده و آلوده. محور اصلی نمایش نامه، حکایت دو ستیز است؛ میان انقلاب و ضد انقلاب، جنگی فلسفی میان توهم و واقعیت. با وارد شدن رییس پلیس، شانتال، یکی از فاحشه ها صومعه را ترک می کند تا به روح انقلاب بپیوندد. خبر
Jun 26, 2014 Muzzy rated it it was ok
I'd rather see it performed. Very hard to read. Maybe it's the translation. Maybe one of Genet's other two versions is better. Too many long speeches about nothing. Every line drifts away with ellipsis . . . Starts off funny, then descends into speechifying. I would prefer the action to happen on, not off stage.
Alessia Savi
Sep 14, 2013 Alessia Savi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Genet credo sia un autore che difficilmente può essere colto nella totalità delle sue mille sfumature ad una prima lettura. Come spesso accade per i testi teatrali, è una rilettura costante quello che permette di cogliere mille aspetti di una vicenda che non si limita a restare letteratura ma che è destinata ad essere vista su di un palcoscenico. Genet ha una visività violentissima, con tagli di scene molto forti e personaggi-archetipi che sfidano la morale. Il suo "Il balcone" è una riflessione ...more
A look at the true emptiness of societal roles. Such roles (the General, the Bishop, the Chief of Police etc.) are really powerless; they achieve power status only when populations place trust in them, sometimes blindly.
Feb 09, 2008 tENTATIVELY, cONVENIENCE rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: plays
Genet, ever the expert observor of social relations as determined by power roles, takes a look at them here in the context of a brothel where people can enact their sexual fantasies by donning the garb of a bishop or a general, etc. Meanwhile, outside the brothel, a rebellion rages. Genet manages to concentrate many levels of reality here & many levels of disatisfaction. Like everything Genet ever wrote, this is great. Maybe I hold back from giving it a 5 star rating just so I can contrast i ...more
Danny Campbell
Apr 06, 2013 Danny Campbell rated it liked it
Though long winded, this play is infamous for a reason. Provocative and thought provoking, Jean Genet makes you sit back and wonder where appearances and "parts we play" in life come to fruition. ITs not just "The balcony" where these characters live and breathe but in our own lives as we also put on appearances. We are just as guilty of creating "characters" as we interact with different people.

Though the subject matter is provoking I still couldn't catch a vision for it. A great play is marke
Jul 10, 2016 Heidi rated it really liked it
Kuvaelmia vallasta. Ei sievistelijöille.
Scenes about power. Not for the prudes.
Manon Laroche
Littéralement conquise par ce texte.
Naeem Nedaee
Jul 06, 2013 Naeem Nedaee rated it really liked it
The play is structured in a specular way - the world within and the world without the brothel. The vulgarity which is naturally associated with the place finds its parallel in the outside world of power. The two worlds, which are one another's reflection, meet when three men from the brothel enter the world of politics as fake heads of the society - after the so-called 'real' ones are killed by the rebels - and see their acted-out fantasies realized. This work is a mockery of dictatorial power r ...more
Apr 08, 2014 Nick rated it liked it
Strange quite good
I read this while I was studying in paris, for a course on Genet and Heinrich Muller. my final paper was an examination of the theoretical commonalities between this play and foucault's "surveiller et punir." also saw a brilliant performance of it at the Athenée theater. just brilliant. there's so much here -- I think there is a good translation available. if not, let's get to work on that shit!
May 10, 2009 Alex rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: plays
This is a weird, weird play. In a funny sort of way it reminded me of an anti- version of Lysistrata in its treatment of gender, sexuality and power. I'm afraid I couldn't really engage with it though, and to be honest I found the whole brothel acting/reality metaphor a bit obvious. But I'm no drama critic, so it's probable many of the work's subtleties passed me by...
Corinne Wahlberg
Mar 12, 2007 Corinne Wahlberg rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who love french literature
Shelves: plays
I read "The Maids" a while back and was more impressed by this lesser-known work from Genet. I adore Genet. Maybe because he's French. Maybe because his plays are about sex and power and violence ("these are a few of my favorite things"). In any case, it's worth my time to finish off both my degrees with this fabulous little play and it's worth your time to read it.
Mar 07, 2014 Sarah rated it it was ok
Shelves: drama
I would like to say I understood this play and its ambitions when dissecting it in graduate school. Sadly, I cannot. It's a curious read, likely better onstage than on the page. Its twisted pageantry would certainly clue me in to the proceedings; on the page, everything seems either too obvious or too vague for my comprehension.
Jul 22, 2008 Susan rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who like mirrors, disguises, plays, lies, brothels, and revolutions
Shelves: 2008read, theater
I found this play by accident, but strangely it is perfect for me, and uses most of the themes that I gravitate toward in art. I wish I could see this performed live (or even the movie) though because I always find it very hard to read plays and judge them. The ending monologue by Irma is now one of my favorites.
Leif Erik
May 29, 2009 Leif Erik rated it it was amazing
Shelves: french-lit
This was one of my favorite things about my very brief journey into the CSUS English department. An Absurdist view of political morality and simultaneously a meditation on the possibility of authority co-existing with virtue (spoiler alert: they can't)
Sep 15, 2012 Thatsnarkychick rated it it was ok
Another one where I wanted to like it, as I like the concept, but he's just an incredibly turgid writer. I don't think it's a question of translation, either.
Chris Campanioni
Jan 25, 2014 Chris Campanioni rated it it was amazing
Genet's many wonderful plays can all be summed up into one play: The Balcony. You'll want to re-read this just as soon as you've finished the final page.
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Jean Genet was a prominent, controversial French writer and later political activist. Early in his life he was a vagabond and petty criminal, but later took to writing novels, plays, poems, and essays, including Querelle de Brest, The Thief's Journal, Our Lady of the Flowers, The Balcony, The Blacks and The Maids.
More about Jean Genet...

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“If we behave like those on the other side, then we are the other side. Instead of changing the world, all we'll achieve is a reflection of the one we want to destroy.” 29 likes
“The pimp has a grin, never a smile.” 18 likes
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