Hiring people to applaud dramatic performances was common in classical times. For example, when the Emperor Nero acted, he had his performance greeted by an encomium chanted by five thousand of his soldiers.
This inspired the 16th-century French poet Jean Daurat to develop the modern claque. Buying a number of tickets for a performance of one of his plays, he gave them away in return for a promise of applause. In 1820 claques underwent serious systematization when an agency in Paris opened to manage and supply claqueurs.
By 1830 the claque had become an institution. The manager of a theatre or opera house was able to send an order for any number of claqueurs. These were usually under a chef de claque (leader of applause), who judged where the efforts of the claqueurs were needed and to initiate the demonstration of approval. This could take several forms. There would be commissaires ("officers/commissioner") who learned the piece by heart and called the attention of their neighbors to its good points between the acts. Rieurs (laughers) laughed loudly at the jokes. Pleureurs (criers), generally women, feigned tears, by holding their handkerchiefs to their eyes. Chatouilleurs (ticklers) kept the audience in a good humor, while bisseurs (encore-ers) simply clapped and cried "Bis! Bis!" to request encores.
The practice spread to Italy (famously at La Scala, Milan), Vienna, London (Covent Garden) and New York (the Metropolitan Opera). Claques were also used as a form of extortion, as singers were commonly contacted by the chef de claque before their debut and forced to pay a fee, in order not to get booed.
The staging of the opera Tannhäuser was withdrawn by its composer, Richard Wagner, from the Parisian operatic repertory after the claque of the Jockey Club derisively interrupted its initial performances.
- The Oxford Dictionary of Opera, by John Warrack and Ewan West (1992), 782 pages, ISBN 0-19-869164-5
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Claque". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press