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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Marie Champmeslé

b. 1642, Rouen, France; d. 1698, Auteuil, France

Marie Desmares Champmeslé, leading tragedienne of the seventeenth-century French stage, married the actor Charles Chevillet Champmeslé and by 1669 both were members of the prestigious Théâtre du Marais in Paris. The next year, she joined the troupe at the Hôtel de Bourgogne to perform as Hermione in Jean Racine’s Andromaque, her first major success. The role led to a personal and professional relationship between the actress and playwright—she became Racine’s mistress and he wrote many tragic-heroic characters expressly for her. Their relationship was later clouded by scandal; in the “Affair of the Poisons” of 1680, it was alleged that Racine had arranged the murder of his mistress to make way for Champmeslé. That same year, Louis XIV ordered the merger of several theater troupes into the Comédie-Française; Champmeslé was a founding member of the company and remained there for the rest of her life.