He was born at Limoges. After studying at the lycée Bonaparte in Paris, he became a journalist, achieving great success as dramatic critic to Le Figaro and to the Opinion nationale. He was a newspaper correspondent during the Franco-Prussian War, and during the Paris Commune acted as staff-officer in the National Guard. In 1885 he became director of the Théâtre Français, and from that time devoted his time chiefly to its administration until his death. During the battle for Octave Mirbeau's comedy Les affaires sont les affaires (Business is business), the Comité de Lecture is abolished, in October 1901, and Jules Claretie becomes the only responsible for choosing the modern plays to be performed.
Histoire de la révolution de 1870-1871 (5 vols., 1875-1876)
Cinq ans après: l'Alsace et la Lorraine depuis l'annexion (1876)
some annual volumes of reprints of his articles in the weekly press, entitled La Vie à Paris; La Vie moderne au théâtre (1868-1869)
Molière, sa vie et son œuvre (1871)
Les Prussiens chez eux" (1875)
Histoire de la littérature française (2nd ed. 1905)
Candidat (1887), a novel of contemporary life
Brichanteau, comédien français (1896)
Several plays, some of which are based on novels of his own:
Les muscadins (1874)
Le régiment de Champagne (1877)
Les Mirabeau (1879)
Monsieur le ministre (1883), and others
Claretie also wrote three operas for the music of Jules Massenet; La Navarraise (1894), based on his novel La cigarette and written with Henri Cain, Thérèse (1907), and Amadis (1922), a work begun by Massenet in 1895, but shelved and finished in the last years of his life and premiered posthumously.