One of Victor Hugo’s early plays written in 1830, which caused much controversy between the older Neoclassicism, and the young Romanticism movement.
Six hours before the first curtain went up, Hugo had assembled many of his friends in the theatre, where they became very drunk and prepared themselves for the fight they knew was coming. When the doors opened and the rest of the audience entered, insults were flung back and forth between the neoclassic savants, and the romantic enthusiasts. Neoclassicism had very strict guidelines, or unities, for performing art, but Romanticism disregarded all of these save the unity of action. The Neoclassics were appalled to find when the first line was spoken that Hernani did not follow Alexandrian verse, and it mixed colloquial dialogue in with it. It also violated decorum in the first act by having the king hide in a cabinet making him look like a fool. Each of the five acts began in a new location violating the unity of place. And though it is never mentioned how much time has passed, it would have taken more than twenty-four hours for the events to occur, which violated the unity of time. Comedic and tragic scenes mixed, violating the unity of genre. And on top of this there are three onstage suicides, including that of the heroine, which violated verisimilitude. For most of the play the main character, Hernani, stood with his back to the audience, a theatre no-no even by today’s standards.
Through its run, fights broke out at every performance. The actors knew the reactions that they would get for it, and tried to sway Hugo, but to no avail. The actors started to mumble the more offensive parts but it didn’t matter because it was impossible to hear over the brawling anyway.
Now that’s good theatre.