By summer 1732, Voltaire was feeling somewhat disenchanted. His previous work, Eriphyle, had not set the world of French theatre alight and audiences and critics asked why Voltaire did not feature love stories more prominently in his plays, as they all fancied a little romantic drama to pass the time. In response, Voltaire worked feverishly on Zaïre completing the five act tragedy in verse in under a month and offering it as his answer to the critics.
A story of religious intolerance and doomed love, Zaire was to receive its premiere on 13th August 1732 by the Comédie Française at the Théâtre de la Rue des Fossés Saint-Germain. The case consisted of actors well-known in French theatre and tickets were in high demand as the audiences of Paris waited to see how Voltaire would respond to the relative failure of Eriphyle.
In fact, as the crowds filed out onto the Rue des Fossés Saint-Germain, the responses were somewhat muted. There were some criticisms of thematic elements and one or two of the cast but Voltaire would not be defeated and revised the work until it was agreed by all concerned that the play was a triumph. Due to demand it ran for 31 performances and Voltaire took the company to Versailles, where Zaïre was performed for the court.
Following its European success, Zaïre was translated into English and performed in London in 1737; to this day it remains a popular piece and has inspired multiple operas and other dramatic works.