Claque (French for "clapping") is, in its origin, a term which refers to an organized body of professional applauders in French theatres. Members of a claque are called claqueurs.
Hiring people to applaud dramatic performances was common in classical times. For example, when the emperor Nero acted, he had his performance greeted by an encomium chanted by five thousand of his soldiers.
This inspired the 16th-century French poet Jean Daurat to develop the modern claque. Buying a number of tickets for a performance of one of his plays, he gave them away in return for a promise of applause. In 1820 claques underwent serious systematization when an office in Paris opened to manage and supply claqueurs.
By 1830 the claque had become an institution. The manager of a theatre was able to send an order for any number of claqueurs. These were usually under a chef de claque (leader of applause), who judged where the efforts of the claqueurs were needed and to initiate the demonstration of approval. This could take several forms. There would be commissaires (police officers), those who learned the piece by heart, and called the attention of their neighbors to its good points between the acts. The rieurs (laughers) laughed loudly at the jokes. The pleureurs (criers), generally women, feigned tears, by holding their handkerchiefs to their eyes. The chatouilleurs (ticklers) kept the audience in a good humor, while the bisseurs (encore-ers) simply clapped their hands and cried "Bis! Bis!" to secure encores.
Claques were also used as a form of extortion, as singers were commonly contacted by the chef de claque before their debut and forced to pay a fee, in order not to get booed.