Jean Louis Laya - Encyclopedia




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JEAN LOUIS LAYA (1761-1833), French dramatist, was born in Paris on the 4th of December 1761 and died in August 1833. He wrote his first comedy in collaboration with Gabriel M. J. B. Legouve in 1785, but the piece, though accepted by the Comedic Frangaise, was never represented. In 1789 he produced a plea for religious toleration in the form of a five-act tragedy in verse, Jean Calas; the injustice of the disgrace cast on a family by the crime of one of its members formed the theme of Les Dangers de l'opinion (1790); but it is by his Ami des lois (1793) that Laya is remembered. This energetic protest against mob-rule, with its scarcely veiled characterizations of Robespierre as Nomophage and of Marat as Duricrane, was an act of the highest courage, for the play was;produced at the Theatre Frangais (temporarily Theatre de la Nation) only 1 The verb "to lie," to speak falsely, to tell a falsehood, is in O. Eng. Mogan; it appears in most Teutonic languages, e.g. Dutch legen, Ger. liigen. nineteen days before the execution of Louis XVI. Ten days after its first production the piece was prohibited by the commune, but the public demanded its representation; the mayor of Paris was compelled to appeal to the convention, and the piece was played while some 30,000 Parisians guarded the hall. Laya went into hiding, and several persons convicted of having a copy of the obnoxious play in their possession were guillotined. At the end of the Terror Laya returned to Paris. In 1813 he replaced Delille in the Paris chair of literary history and French poetry; he was admitted to the Academy in 1817. Laya produced in 1797 Les Deux Stuarts, and in 1799 Falkland, the titlerole of which provided Talma with one of his finest, opportunities. Laya's works, which chiefly owe their interest to the circumstances attending their production, were collected in 1836-1837.

See Notice biographique sur J. L. Laya (1833); Ch. Nodier, Discours de reception, 26th December 1833); Welschinger, Theatre de la revolution (1880).

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