Cultural depictions of Napoleon
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Napoleon I, Emperor of the French, has become a worldwide cultural icon generally associated with tactical brilliance, ambition and political power. His distinctive features and costume have made him a very recognizable figure in popular culture.
He has been portrayed in many works of fiction, his depiction varying greatly with the author's perception of the historical character. In the 1927 film Napoleon, young general Bonaparte is portrayed as a heroic visionary. On the other hand, he has been occasionally reduced to a stock character, depicted as short and bossy, sometimes comically so. Confusion about his height also results from the difference between the French pouce and British inch—2.71 and 2.54 cm respectively; he was about 1.7 metres (5 ft 7 in) tall, average height for the period.[note 1]
- Napoleon is an important character in Tolstoy's classic novel, War and Peace, where considerable space is devoted to Tolstoy's interpretation of his historical role. He consequently also appears in the adaptations and films of this novel, listed in the following section.
- Bernard Cornwell's novel Sharpe's Devil features a meeting between Napoleon, and the fictional Richard Sharpe.
- Napoleon features prominently in the BBC Doctor Who Past Doctor Adventure World Game, where the Second Doctor must avert a plot to change history so that Napoleon is victorious. In an alternate timeline created by the assassination of the Duke of Wellington prior to Waterloo, Napoleon is persuaded to march on to Russia after the victory of Waterloo, but he dies shortly afterwards, his empire having become so overextended that the various countries collapse back into the separate nations they were before, thus degenerating into a state of perpetual warfare. (This situation is made worse due to the intervention of the Doctor's old enemies the Players).
- Napoleon plays an indirect yet important part in Alexandre Dumas's novel The Count of Monte Cristo the novel starts in 1815 with Napoleon exiled on the island of Elba, here we learn he hands a letter to the protagonist Edmond Dantes to give to one of his chief (fictional) supporters in Paris - Nortier De Villefort the president of a Bonapartist club. Dantes is unaware that Villefort is an agent of the exiled Emperor and that the letter Napoleon handed him contained instructions and plans about Napoleon's planned return to Paris: however Dante's rivals including Geared De Villefort, the opportunistic son of Nortier (who is a royalist) use the letter to frame Dantes and have him imprisoned in the Chateau d'If until he escapes after 14 years and seeks vengeance upon those who wronged him.
- C. S. Forester's Hornblower series of novels are mostly set during the Napoleonic Wars, in particular book 9 of the series, Commodore Hornblower focusing on the French invasion of Russia and the subsequent defence of Riga from the period of 1812 onwards, and book 10 Lord Hornblower dealing with events in France up to the defeat of Napoleon by Wellington at Waterloo.
- Napoleon is one of the two main characters in Simon Scarrow's The Revolution Quartet, which details Napoleon's life from his birth to his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo alongside that of Arthur Wellesley's.
- In an Archie comic story featuring Jughead Jones, he is inadvertently transported by ambulance to a mental hospital. At first he protests, but relents upon hearing how well the patients are fed. When a nurse asks for his name, he replies "Napoleon Bonaparte." A later update changed this to him saying "You know who I am, Sonic! I am the genius, Dr. Robotnik!"
- H. Beam Piper's short story He Walked Around the Horses features a parallel universe in which both the American Revolution and the French Revolution were suppressed. Consequently, Napoleon does not rise to power and the Napoleonic Wars never take place. In 1809, he is described by a British general named Sir Arthur Wellesley as being a Colonel of Artillery in the French Army and a brilliant tactician whose loyalty to the French monarchy has never been questioned.
- Napoleon is a character in Treason's Tide by Robert Wilton, published in February 2013 by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books; it is set during the summer of 1805. This novel was originally issued in June 2011 as The Emperor's Gold.
Film and television
Note: the name immediately following the title of the film is the name of the actor portraying Napoleon
- Napoleon (1918), Louis Feuillade — France/black & white/silent
- Napoleon (1920), Bud Fisher — USA/animation/short
- Napoleon (1927), Albert Dieudonné — France/black & white/epic silent, directed by Abel Gance
- Conquest (1938), Charles Boyer
- A Royal Divorce (1938), Pierre Blanchar
- Kolberg features him in a brief role
- Désirée (1954), Marlon Brando — USA/color, directed by Henry Koster
- Napoleon (1955) — France/color, with Daniel Gélin as young general Bonaparte and Raymond Pellegrin as the older emperor, directed by Sacha Guitry
- War and Peace (1956), Herbert Lom — USA/Italian, produced by Dino De Laurentiis, directed by King Vidor
- Napoleon Bonaparte (1956), voiced by Mel Blanc — A Merrie Melodies short directed by Friz Freleng where Napoleon matches wits (unsuccessfully) with Bugs Bunny
- Austerlitz (1960), Pierre Mondy — France/colour, directed by Abel Gance
- War and Peace (1968), Vladislav Strzhelchik — USSR, Sergei Bondarchuk
- Amoureuse Joséphine (1974), Pierre Arditi — French TV movie
- Napoleon and Love, a 1974 television series depicting the romantic relationships of Napoleon
- "In the TV film Fairy OddBaby, Jorgen Von Extrangle proposes the name Napoleon to name Poof The Baby.
- Waterloo (1970), Rod Steiger — A Soviet-Italian production produced by Dino De Laurentiis and Sergei Bondarchuk. The film attempts to even-handedly depict the Battle of Waterloo and the events that led to it, abstaining from either wholly endorsing or condemning Napoleon or the English commander, Wellington.
- A Soldier's Farewell, Arthur Lowe, comedy where a soldier dreams that he is Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo
- Joséphine ou la comédie des ambitions (1979), Daniel Mesguich — French TV mini-series depicting the life of Joséphine de Beauharnais
- Napoleon & Josephine. A love story (1987), Armand Assante — USA miniseries on ABC
- Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989), Terry Camilleri — In this time travel comedy film, Napoleon is one of several historical figures transported to late-1980s Southern California, where he discovers a fondness for ice cream and waterslides, and a hatred for bowling.
- Napóleon (1989), Péter Rudolf — Hungarian TV movie
- Napoléon et l'Europe (1991), Jean-François Stévenin — French TV series
- Napoleon (2002), Christian Clavier — A&E miniseries based on series of books by Max Gallo, directed by Yves Simoneau
- Monsieur N (2003), Philippe Torreton
- Napoleon and Me (2006), Daniel Auteuil
- Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009), Alain Chabat — Napoleon is featured here as one of a group of villains alongside Kahmunrah, Al Capone, and Ivan the Terrible.
- Stanley Kubrick worked on a film project about Napoleon; he never made it and put all his research efforts into the Academy Award-winning film Barry Lyndon.
- In Time Bandits (1981), Ian Holm plays a height-obsessed Napoleon.
- Napoleon is a recurring character, played by Verne Troyer, in the 2000 syndicated television series Jack of All Trades.
- The Yu-Gi-Oh! GX character Vice-Chancellor Bonaparte is based on the cliché Napoleon: he is short (see the debate on Napoleon's height below), pudgy, French, has a short temper, and dresses similarly to Napoleon. He also utilizes a deck with a military theme.
- An animated caricature of Napoleon appeared as a semi-regular on the Warner Bros. series Histeria! Here, he spoke like Hervé Villechaize, who also was French and short in stature. Napoleon hates to be reminded of his short stature (in the episode "When Time Collides!", Miss Information mistakes him for a leprechaun), and he also likes to play the tambourine, which he keeps behind his coat (hence why he keeps his hand in it, as he states in "Great Heroes of France").
- A clone of Napoleon is an occasional minor character in the MTV series Clone High. He is extremely diminutive, somewhat disliked, and has a management position at T.G.I. Chili's. Abe Lincoln claims he has some kind of complex.
- Napoleon appeared in an episode of Robot Chicken as Napoleon Bonamite, a cross between Bonaparte and Napoleon Dynamite.
- In Time Squad, Napoleon is trapped at home to take care of the house after his wife Josephine (who is portrayed as short-tempered and prone to fits of violence) takes up fine arts. Larry, Otto, and Tudrussell help Napoleon sneak out and help with his conquest. His wife finally gives up arts and due to her explosive temper decides to fight alongside him.
- Napoleon is the subject of a fictional film of the same name, with movie star Martin Weir (Danny DeVito) portraying the title role in Get Shorty. A billboard appears of Weir in character as movie producer Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman) and Chili Palmer (John Travolta) see as they drive through the city. Weir purposely dines alfresco to look at the billboard.
- Napoleon appears in Blackadder: Back & Forth, portrayed by Simon Russell Beale, as the main antagonist, who takes over the world after Blackadder inadvertently kills Wellington.
Music and songs
- Ludwig van Beethoven had originally conceived of dedicating his Third Symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte. Beethoven admired the ideals of the French Revolution, and Napoleon as their embodiment. According to Beethoven's pupil, F. Ries, when Napoleon proclaimed himself Emperor in May 1804, Beethoven became disgusted and went to the table where the completed score lay. He took hold of the title-page and tore it up in rage.
- The Tori Amos song "Josephine" from her 1999 album To Venus and Back is sung from the viewpoint of Napoleon during his unsuccessful invasion of Russia.
- The Mark Knopfler song "Done with Bonaparte" from his 1996 album Golden Heart is sung from the viewpoint of a soldier in Napoleon's army. The song recalls the soldier's many battles serving in Napoleon's Grande Armée.
- The Ani DiFranco song "Napoleon" satirizes the desire to continuously "conquer"; more specifically musicians who sign with big labels, thus employing "an army of suits" in order to "make a killing" rather than just "make a living".
- The Al Stewart song "The Palace of Versailles", from his 1978 album Time Passages, is filled with references and allusions to the French Revolution. One line specifically references Napoleon: "Bonaparte is coming/With his army from the south".
- Swedish Pop group ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest 1974 with the song "Waterloo", which uses the battle as a metaphor for a person surrendering to love similar to how Napoleon surrendered at Waterloo.
- The song "Viva la Vida" by Coldplay is loosely based on Napoleon's reign.
- During the Napoleonic Wars, a nursery rhyme warned children that Bonaparte ravenously ate naughty people.
- Bright Eyes recorded a song called "Napoleon's Hat" for Lagniappe, an album released by Saddle Creek Records to raise funds for the Red Cross' Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
- The Charlie Sexton song "Impressed" references Napoleon and Josephine (from Pictures for Pleasure)
- Napoleon was the topic of many Sea Shanties following his death, most notably the song Boney was a Warrior
- Napoleon figures in one episode of Pinky and the Brain entitled "Napoleon Brainaparte." While France awaits Napoleon's triumphant return from Austria, Brain develops a recipe for exploding crepe-suzettes in an effort to conquer France. He uses the recipe in a cooking class and when the crepes explode, he is arrested. When he is taken to prison, however, his luck begins to change when people mistake him for Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon eventually returns and is, typically, very short and temperamental. His sounds like Marlin Brando, who played Napoleon in the movie Desiree.
- Iced Earth released the song "Waterloo" on their album The Glorious Burden, which details Napoleon's defeat at the Battle Of Waterloo.
- An episode of Epic Rap Battles of History is a rap battle between Napoleon Bonaparte and Napoleon Dynamite.
Computer and video games
- The campaigns of Napoleon have been depicted in the sixth installment of the Total War series, Napoleon: Total War. Player have a chance to follow Napoleon's Italian, Egyptian or Russian campaigns.
- Napoleon is a frequently used leader representing the French civilization in the Civilization series.
- The first expansion pack to Europa Universalis III, Napoleon's Ambition, bears his name and expands the game to cover whole reign.
Other references in popular culture
British propaganda of the time depicted Napoleon as of smaller than average height and the image of him as a small man persists in modern Britain. His actual height was about 1.7m (5 feet 7 inches), average height for the time or slightly taller. Confusion has sometimes arisen because of different values for the French inch (pouce) of the time (2.7 cm) and for the Imperial inch (2.54 cm).
Napoleon's nickname of le petit caporal has added to the confusion, as some non-Francophones have mistakenly interpreted petit by its literal meaning of "small". In fact, it is an affectionate term reflecting on his camaraderie with ordinary soldiers.
Napoleon also surrounded himself with the soldiers of his elite guard, required to be 1.83 m (6 ft) or taller, making him look smaller in comparison.
Despite his normal height, Napoleon's name has been lent to the Napoleon complex, a colloquial term describing an alleged type of inferiority complex which is said to affect some people who are physically short. The term is used more generally to describe people who are driven by a perceived handicap to overcompensate in other aspects of their lives.
Napoleonic delusions of grandeur
Napoleon Bonaparte is one of the most famous humans in the Western world. As delusional patients sometimes believe themselves to be an important or grandiose figure (see delusion), he was a notable object of such delusions.
This idea has often been used in popular culture:
- In the 1922 film Mixed Nuts, Stan Laurel plays a book salesman whose only volume for sale is a biography of Napoleon. When the character receives a blow to the head, he comes to believe that he is Napoleon and is subsequently admitted to a mental institution.
This cliché has itself been parodied:
- The award-winning video game Psychonauts features a mental patient locked in an obsessive mind-game with Napoleon, who is fighting for his mind.
- In the Bugs Bunny film Napoleon Bunny-Part, the actual Napoleon is dragged away by psychiatric attendants, who believe he is delusional.
- In The Emperor's New Clothes, Ian Holm plays Napoleon who stumbles into the grounds of an asylum and finds himself surrounded by other "Napoleons" - he cannot reveal his identity for fear of being grouped with the deluded. Holm also played a less-than-serious Napoleon in the 1981 film Time Bandits.
- The Discworld novel Making Money features a character who believes himself to be Lord Vetinari, imitating Vetinari's mannerisms and entertaining delusions of grandeur. It is later revealed that the local hospital has an entire ward for people with the same delusion, where they engage in competitions to determine who is the "real" Vetinari.
- In an episode of cult 1960s British TV sci-fi show The Prisoner called "The Girl Who Was Death", which unusually for the series was a light-hearted comedy tale parodying the spy thriller genre, the villain Dr. Schnipps (Kenneth Griffith) believed that he was Napoleon and acted accordingly, at one point asking the protagonist Number Six (Patrick McGoohan), "You're not the Duke of Wellington, are you?"
- In the first episode of season 2 of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" titled "Return of the Shredder" (1988), Scientist and Inventor, Baxter Stockman is seen in a jail cell with a man in Napoleonic garb spouting off dialogue in a French accent.
- In an episode of Night Court, Judge Harry Stone (Harry Anderson) is placed in a jail cell along with a number of 'mentally disturbed' inmates all dressed as Napoleon. His court defense attorney (played by (Markie Post) sees him and exclaims "Oh sir. They put you in with the little generals".
- In an episode of Futurama, Bender pretends to be a banjo playing Napoleon in order to stay in a robot asylum.
- Napoleon's height was 5 ft 2 French inches according to Antommarchi at Napoleon's autopsy and British sources put his height at 5 foot and 7 British inches: both equivalent to 1.7 m. Napoleon surrounded himself with tall bodyguards and had a nickname of le petit caporal which was an affectionate term that reflected his reported camaraderie with his soldiers rather than his height.
- Dunan 1963
- "Sarkozy height row grips France". BBC. 8 September 2009. Retrieved 13 September 2009.
- Gladir, George (w), Ruiz, Fernando (p), Lapick, Rudy (i), Grossman, Barry (col), Yoshida, Bill (let), Goldwater, Richard (ed). "Hungry Hurried and Harried" Jughead 338 (Feb 1985), Archie Comics Group
- Gladir, George (w), Ruiz, Fernando (p), Lapick, Rudy (i), Grossman, Barry (col), Yoshida, Bill (let), Goldwater, Richard (ed). "Hungry Hurried and Harried" Jughead's Double Digest Magazine 90: 37-42/6 (Jan 2003), Archie Comic Publications, ISSN 10615482
- "Bogeyman", "Period glossary", Napoleon.org. Retrieved 07-03-2007.
- Napoleon's height was put at just over 5 pieds 2 pouces by three French sources (his valet Constant, General Gourgaud, and Francesco Antommarchi at Napoleon's autopsy) which, using the French measurements of the time, equals around 1.69m. ("La taille de Napoléon Bonaparte (Napoleon Bonaparte's height)". www.1789-1815.com. 2002-11-25. Retrieved 2008-05-28.) Two English sources (Andrew Darling and John Foster) put his height at around 5 ft 7 ins, equivalent, on the Imperial scale, to 1.70m. This would have made him around average height for a Frenchman of the time. ("La taille de Napoléon (Napoleon's height)". La Fondation Napoléon. Retrieved 2008-05-30. "How tall was Napoleon?". La Fondation Napoléon. Retrieved 2005-12-18.) Nonetheless, some historians have claimed Napoleon would have been measured with a British measure at his autopsy, since he was under British control at St Helena, implying the 5 ft 2 ins is an Imperial measure, equal to about 1.58 meters. On the other hand, Francesco Antommarchi, Napoleon's personal physician, despised the English, considered their touch "polluting", and may never have used their yardstick to measure his emperor. (Antommarchi, F. G (1826). The Last Days of Napoleon: Memoirs of the Last Two Years of Napoleon's Exile. London: H.Colburn. pp. p157. Retrieved 2007-11-01.)
- "Weights and Measures". historydata.com. Retrieved 2008-05-30.
- Garza, Janiss, Allmovie. "Mixed Nuts (1925)", Review Summary, The New York Times. Retrieved 09-25-2006.
- "Napoleon Bunny-part", Scripts, Delenea's Bugs Bunny Page. Retrieved 07-18-2007.
- French, Philip (The Observer). "The Emperor's New Clothes", The Guardian, 02-04-2004. Retrieved 07-19-2006.