The dramatic work of Jules Verne is generally unknown. However, the number of dramatic texts he wrote is quite extensive: 5 historical dramas, 18 comedies and vaudevilles, 8 libretti for opera-comics and operettas, 7 plays written from his “Extraordinary Voyages”. In short, 38 plays.
“Monsieur de Chimpanzé” is an operetta in one act with libretto from Jules Verne and music from Aristide Hignard. It was first presented in the Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens on February the 17th, 1858, and was a perfect example of the form and spirit of the opera-comics which gave life to that venue in Paris at the time.
The characters are Dr. Van Carcass, responsible for the Museum of Rotterdam, his young daughter Etamine, the daughter’s suitor Isidore, and the servant Baptiste. The story is simple and amusing, as usual in this kind of work: Van Carcass won’t allow his daughter to date Isidore. The boy, to be able to meet her, gets into a chimp outfit to deceive her father. Once inside the garment and the museum, this unusual situation triggers amusing misunderstandings one after the other.
Seen at this distance from the moment it was written, the play is open to a new range of interpretations like for instance concerning the relationship between man and the chimp or the monkey, or concerning the relation between master and servant, which in the play suggests a social speciation amusingly exacerbated by the constant references of Baptiste to his aristocrat background.
Despite having been written only two years before “The Origin of the Species” by Charles Darwin was published, it’s unlikely that Jules Verne had known at the time about Darwin’s ideas on the evolution of the species. This doesn’t prevent us, however, – in fact, we are almost impelled – from appreciating Verne’s play with Darwin’s ideas in our heads.
The choices of Carlos Fiolhais – review for the Portuguese translation of Mr. de Chimpanzee | 03/2011 [content in Portuguese]