Charles MathurinVillet

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(c.1778-1856). Also known as Ch. M. Villet. A French botanist, zoologist, teacher, theatre director and leading figure in the nascent Cape theatre-scene during the Batavian Republic (1803-1806). Considered by F.C.L. Bosman (1928) to be the founding-father of French- and Dutch-language amateur theatre in South Africa. He settled in Cape Town at the beginning of the 19th century as a young man of twenty-five. In 1803 he formed a group of French and Dutch actors to present selections of both classical and Boulevard fare over the course of the next two years, under the French motto "Consacre a la beinfaisance, Honi Soit qui Mal y Pense". Villet also acted as ticket agent for the French/Dutch plays of the time. By enabling this combination to flourish, he laid the foundations of what was to become a vibrant Dutch (later Afrikaans) theatre. Although no professional, Villet certainly received remuneration for his efforts, and the French company he ran was unique for its time in not playing in aid of charity. Raising money throught theatre, Villet opened a school for language and mathematics in 1804, but continued with his theatrical activities. In 23 December 1805 a benefit performance was held for him (Le Soldat Magicien by Anseaume and a comic opera by Sedaine) who was leaving the theatre. Competition by Charles Boniface made Villet close his school in 1809, and open a shop in Long street selling seeds and stuffed animals. He became a world renowned zoologist and collector, and vendor, of natural specimens. He was ultimately one of the richest men at the Cape and by the time of his death he had converted to protestantism and become a fully-fledged member of the Dutch-speaking community.


See Fletcher, 19**; Bosman, 1928; Du Toit, 1988 [TH, JH]

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