Monday, August 07, 2006


Claques were the laugh tracks of earlier centuries.

A claque was an organized body of hired applauders in a theater. The word comes from the French claquer, to clap.

There is evidence that the playwright Philemon, among others, used them in 4th century B.C. Athens. The Roman Emperor Nero fancied himself an actor, but to be on the safe side, he had thousands of his soldiers on hand to give a standing ovation.

The world of opera has always had a place for claques. In fact, when a singer gave his or her debut at La Scala, the first order of business was to pay off professional claques to guard against booing.

But the whole business reached a zenith in 19th century France. While Jean Daurat bought up tickets to his plays to give away to enthusiasts a few hundred years earlier, it was one Monsieur Sauton who, in 1820, opened a Parisian office to supply claqueurs to performers who needed them.

Claquers developed specialties: there was the raucous clapper, the guffawer, the sobber, the encore manipulator, the man who ran around during intermission ranting about how great the performance was, and so on.

In time, the meaning transferred to any body of subservient followers always ready to be enthusiastic yes-men.

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