Alexandre-Louis-Bertrand Robineau a.k.a. M. de Beaunoir

The Toothache (1800)

The Toothache (1800)

Alexandre-Louis-Bertrand Robineau, known as M. de Beaunoir (1746-1823), was an 18th century playwright from France who became director at the Grand Theatre de Bordeaux. Among his many popular plays, one is currently in our Rare-book Library. “The Prince and the Chimney-Sweeper”, also known as “Toothache”, is an American translation by John Bray of M. de Beaunoir’s 1786 French play “Le Ramoneur Prince, et Le Prince Ramoneur”. The play is a short, one act comedy that follows the escapades of a chimney sweeper named Barago. Barago is mistaken for the Prince of Oresca for a day and has to navigate the daily tasks of the Prince without being discovered. Barago feigns a toothache, a malady so painful that he is almost unable to speak in any capacity. As various workers around the palace interact with him, Barago uncovers secrets that the prince would never have discovered on his own.

On the surface, “Toothache” presents itself as a comedy exploring the adventures of a mischievous chimneysweeper. The play presents important social commentary on the lives of the rich and privileged in contrast to those who serve them. In the play and in 18th century France, resentment for the monarchy is growing. King Louis XVI has just been ousted from the throne and the Enlightenment and the French Revolution have just begun. The play takes a lighter approach to this serious clash of the classes, teasing at the lavish lifestyles of the rich.

The key excuse that helps Barago masquerade as the Prince is the horrendous toothache that plagues him throughout most of the day. A dentist, Doctor Petitequeue, is called in to resolve the issue. M. de Beaunoir’s portrayal of the dentist is meant to serve as comedic relief in the last few scenes of the play. Though not the most flattering portrayal of the dentist, M. de Beaunoir presents an interesting perspective on the qualities that make dental visits so nerve-wracking (even for dental patients today).  “Toothache”, though lighthearted and fun, it provides deeper social commentary on both class struggle and the public’s general attitude towards dentists.

Based on research done by Helen Chen, class of 2025 as part of her assignment in Elective in History of Medicine and Dentistry, 2021-2022. Edited by Andrew I Spielman.

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