History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/French Pre-WWII
At the beginning of the new century, the 19th century realist tradition continued with Eugène Brieux (1858-1932), of particular note "Les avariés" (Damaged lives, more precisely Spoiled goods, 1901) about lives destroyed by syphilis. Though sometimes influenced by surrealism, dramatists in the realist vein with important work prior to the end of World War II (1945) include Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), Jean Giraudoux (1882-1944), Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1982), Paul Claudel (1868-1955), and Henry de Montherlant (1895-1972). The most important plays for Giraudoux are "La guerre de Troie n'aura pas lieu" (The Trojan war will not take place, 1935) and "La folle de Chaillot" (The madwoman of Chaillot, 1945). The most important play for Sartre is "Huis-Clos" (No exit, 1942), for Cocteau "La voix humaine" (The human voice, 1930), for Claudel "L'annonce faite à Marie" (The tidings brought to Mary, 1912), for Montherlant "La reine morte" (The dead queen, 1942).
Surrealist plays of the 20s bridge the gap between Alfred Jarry's plays and the French Theatre of the Absurd. One of the main exponents of surrealism is Roger Vitrac (1899-1952), who wrote "Victor, ou les enfants au pouvoir" (Victor, or the children come to power, 1928). Derived from surrealism are the theories of Antonin Artaud (1896-1948), expressed in "Heliogabale" (Heliogabalus, 1934), a story on the 3rd century Roman emperor of Syrian origin, as well as in the tract "Le théâtre et son double" (The theatre and its double, 1938). By "double" is meant the power between the word and gesture whereby myths are formed.
"Spoiled goods". Time: 1900s. Place: France.
"Spoiled goods" text at
A doctor informs George that he has caught syphilis and writes him a prescription. George has no need of it, because he intends to commit suicide. The doctor dissuades him of that, but, to reduce the chances of propagating the infection while the treatment lasts, advises him to wait four years before marrying. When the patient cannot promise to annul his proposed marriage, he reads from a textbook the ravages caused by the disease. Despite this appeal, George marries Henrietta after only a six-month delay, explaining to her he is undergoing medical examinations for possible consumption. Their three-month-old baby girl becomes sick and, after consulting the doctor, George's mother brings her back with the nanny. The doctor arrives for a house-visit and is indignant on discovering George as the father. To prevent infection of the nanny, he advises the parents to bottle-feed the baby, but George's mother would rather risk the nanny's health than the baby's. Partially informed about the consequences of the baby's infection and her risk, the nanny agrees to keep breast-feeding for an extra one thousand francs. Knowing that the law does not allow him to be silent, the doctor intervenes. A servant overhears the doctor's comments and fully informs the nanny about her halth risks. She requests 500 francs before returning to her village, a dialogue overheard by Henrietta, who falls, cries out, and pushes her husband away. Incensed, Henrietta's father, a member of the legislative assembly, asks the doctor for a certificate stating the nature of George's disease for his daughter's divorce proceedings, but the latter refuses on the grounds he is not allowed to divulge such information. Besides, he recommends both to forgive him. He specifies that the only difference between George and other men is that he has worse luck than most. The main culprit is the lack of public information on the disease, which must be countered without delay.
"The human voice"
"The human voice". Time: 1930s. Place: France.
"The human voice" text at ?
After an amorous relation lasting over five years, a woman calls up her lover on the telephone. She is grateful that he has at least let her know gradually his intention of ending their relation. Nevertheless, she informs him that she has been for some time walking around like a sleepwalker. She is offended that he thinks she is playing a role, in making light of the situation when it is not so. She appears grateful for his consideration nof her, although her words also seem an accusation. "You took care to soothe me, to anesthetize me," she points out. "I wanted to be mad and wanted a mad sort of happiness." When asked whether she found some gloves he left behind, she pretends not to have found them while putting one of them against her cheek. She asks that he burn her letters, but yet would like to receive the ashes. Her state of mind is wavering. "We think we are dead" she says. "We hear and are unable to be heard." Much still depends on his attitude. "If you didn't love me and were clever, the telephone would become a formidable weapon," she tells him. She then confesses she lied at the start of their conversation: she is not at a friend's house but all alone, not with her pink dress but with a shabbier one. A few days ago, she consumed twelve pills, but a doctor came and now she is all right. She slept with the phone in bed. Their conversation is interrupted by technical difficulties. "We aren't trying to be interesting," she cries out in frustration to the telephone operator. He begins to worry about her state of mind. She assures him that "one doesn't commit suicide twice", with the phone line hanging around her neck.
"The Trojan war will not take place"
"The Trojan war will not take place". Time: Antiquity. Place: Troy, Asia Minor.
"The Trojan war will not take place" text at ?
Paris, a Trojan, has taken away Helen, a Greek, from her husband, Menelaus, and there is a rumor brewing whereby the Greeks are ready to declare war on the city of Troy to take her back. The noble Trojan warrior, Hector, is willing to go to war at once, but King Priam, his father, disagrees. In Hector's view, Helen, the very emblem of beauty, should be defended at all costs, an opinion approved by priests and poets. Although Helen does not love Paris, she loves her husband even less, and so prefers to remain in Troy. Hector asks the advice of a jurist. "I want a truth which may save us," he says. Constrained to consider his interest, the jurist suggests various options so that the Trojans may save face in the matter. The Greeks arrive to negotiate. Angered by one of Hector's comments, the powerful Grecian warrior, Ajax, hits him in the face, but Hector refuses to be goaded. Ajax then strikes the Domokos, a poet, who is also hit by the frustrated Hector, so that a war seems imminent. Ulysses arrives to settle the matter. He says it is not enough that Helen is taken back, it must also be proven that Paris never copulated with her. The Trojans swear that she was left untouched, but this view is contradicted by sailors present in the vessel carrying her away, one of whom revealing that the two were indeed lovers, like "baking bread that rises". Iris, messenger of the gods, arrives to express their views. Aphrodite, goddess of love, wishes the Trojans to keep Helen, but Pallas, goddess of reason, wants them to let her go. Ulysses seizes Helen. With the event of war still uncertain, Hector, still frustrated at these events, knocks down Demokos. The deed is blamed on Ajax, so that war now seems inevitable.
"The madwoman of Chaillot"
"The madwoman of Chaillot". Time: 1940s. Place: France.
"The madwoman of Chaillot" text at ?
Blackmailed by a prospector, Peter is assigned to place a bomb at a house of a man working against his projects, but then refuses to do so. In despair, Peter is about to throw himself into the Seine river, but Aurelia, the madwoman of Chaillot, prevents that in time by knocking him over the head. After hearing of her strange life and habits, such as reading over repeatedly the same newspaper clippings of 7 October 1896, the day her lover, Armand Bertaut, left her, he is convinced he should continue to live. Although the prospector tries to pull Peter over towards him, the madwoman refuses to let go of his hand. The prospector leaves him with an ominous threat. To counter such men, Aurelia has an idea: to convince business executives that there is oil beneath the district of Chaillot and then bury them alive in an underground chamber. Before her plan is to put into action, she consults madwomen of other districts, namely Constance, in the habit of speaking to an invisible dog, and the girlishly aged Gabrielle, whose sight and hearing depends on the day of the week and who hears voices whenever her boiler is on. These women are unsure whether Aurelia has the right to murder businessmen. Constance suggests asking her father confessor. Being short on means, she is especially afraid that they would be liable to pay some type of fine for it. Another madwoman, Josephine, joins in and rather favors the idea. "When one destroys, one should do it in large masses," she declares. A ragpicker as their lawyer defends very badly the interests of the rich in this case, so that a large crew of chairmen of the board, prospectors, and representatives of oil companies, along with the public press, attracted by the false rumor and all the more excited by drinking water mixed with oil given to them as proof, huddle inside Aurelia's apartment. Thinking her mad indeed, the president of multiple companies gives her a piece of paper to sign whereby she is to leave all her fortune to him and to his colleagues, which she promptly accepts. She also promptly signs a paper handed over by the prospector, certifying that as a madwoman she should enter an asylum. One by one, the corrupt go down to investigate and the door is locked behind them. While these are sent below, others emerge, notably a large group of Adolphe Artauds, but, for Aurelia, her lover arrives too late in life.
"No exit". Time: 1940s. Place: Hell.
"No exit" text at http://archive.org/details/NoExit
Joseph Garcin is lead into a room without a bed, indicating he is never to sleep, a painful thought, he considers in living "a life with no interruption". There are no mirrors either. Admitted in the same room, Ines Serrano immediately asks: "Where is Florence?" Joseph has no idea. She assumes incorrectly that Joseph is her assigned torturer. A second woman, Estelle Rigault, is introduced, at which time they compare their life-histories. Estelle died as a result of pneumonia, Ines of gas, Joseph of "twelve bullets in the flesh". Feeling warm in this unknozn place, Joseph begins to take his coat off, but is prevented by Estelle, who detests to see men in their shirts. In his life-time, Joseph ran a pacifist journal, and was gunned down as a result of his political views after seeking to escape. He is tormented about the circumstances of his death, wondering whether he did not act as a coward in the end. Moreover, he fears his adulteries are responsible for his wife's death. Ines died when her girl-friend, Florence, turned on the gas while both were sleeping together, in the aftermath of the accidental death of Florence's boy-friend. Estelle was at least partially responsible for the death of her lover, Roger, who committed suicide when she drowned their baby girl. While conversing together, Ines becomes attracted by Estelle, who, uninterested in the love of women, rejects her in favor of Joseph, indifferent to both. In Ines' view, the trio seem like "wooden horses on a merry-go-round". Estelle does not care whether Joseph is a coward or not, the important thing is whether he kisses well. "You think too much," she specifies. "What else is there to do?" he asks despondently. All three gaze on the doings of their life-companions still alive, only to find their existence on earth at last forgotten. Ines concludes there is no need of torturers in this place, since each for the other is one, at which Joseph agrees. "Hell is other people," he declares. Pushed by Ines to an extreme breaking-point, Estelle raises a knife to her. After realizing where she is, she laughs. "Well, let us go on," Joseph resolutely says.
"The tidings brought to Mary"
"The tidings brought to Mary". Time: 13th century. Place: France.
"The tidings brought to Mary" text at http://archive.org/details/tidingsbroughtto00claurich
Anne Vercors decides to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and leave his possessions to Jacques, about to marry his eldest daughter, Violaine. In his view, Jacques is "like a piece of earth accepting any type of grain". The younger daughter, Mara, warns her mother that if Jacques does so, she will commit suicide. The mother is not sympathetic to her endeavors. "Whenever you speak of your Violaine," Mara complains, "you are all sugar." Jacques accepts Anne's offer. "I take you thanks to God and will not let you go," he promises Violaine. She is equally willing to marry him and feels at one with nature and that all nature comprises God. "It is not June's sun that lightens us but His very face," she states. Yet she reveals a secret he knew nothing of: marks of leprosy showing on her body. Jacques immediately backs off from any thought of marriage. He hears from Mara that she probably caught the disease by deliberately kissing a leper, which Violaine acknowledges. After her husband's departure, the mother learns that Violaine is also leaving. "Why are you treating us like lepers?" Mara asks Violaine. In spite of their protests, she goes away. On Christmas eve, Mara visits the isolated Violaine to tell her that their mother is dead. Otherwise, the farm is prospering. But the main reason of her visit is that her baby died and she was told she will never have another. Since Violaine is considered by many as a sort of saint, Mara insists on her attempting to bring her baby-boy back to life. Violaine is unwilling to do so, advising instead submission, but Mara forces the corpse into her arms. While bells ring at midnight, the baby-boy begins to move. Mara is overjoyed to find him alive, noticing that his eyes have changed to Violaine's and that his lips have milk on them. When Anne returns from Palestine, he carries a woman found at the bottom of a sand-bank, his dying daughter Violaine. Jacques approaches her, to Mara's disgust. When she attempts to ineterfere, he pushes his wife away. "He is kneeling! That Violaine who cheated him with a leper!" Mara sputters. But Jacques is convinced she never did, but only kissed him, still gazing on Violaine. "O my intended between flowering branches, hail!" he exclaims, ignoring his wife.
"The dead queen"
"The dead queen". Time: 14th century. Place: Portugal.
"The dead queen" text at ?
Ferrante, king of Portugal, has invited Bianca, infanta of Navarre, to marry his son, Pedro. However, unknown to him, Pedro is already married to Ines of Castro, a Spanish noblewoman. The king confronts the prince on learning that he refused Bianca's hand. The prince reiterates his refusal to submit. However, he admits to Ines that in weakness before his father he did not reveal their marriage and her pregnancy. Ferrante enters abruptly to speak to Ines alone. She also refuses to submit and, moreover, reveals she is married to his son. However, like her husband, she dared not reveal her pregnancy, so that the king still cherishes hopes of changing his son's mind and obtaining a dispensation from the pope annulling the marriage. For this purpose, he orders Pedro's arrest. When the king meets his counselors, they propose to execute the bishop who married the recalcitrant couple and Ines. The king agrees with the first proposal but not the second. He meets Ines a second time, asking her to convince her husband of the need to annul the marriage, without revealing his counselors' advice concerning her. Before the castle of Santarem where he is held, Pedro encounters Ines, both still firm in wishing to maintain their relation. They are interrupted by Bianca, who discloses to Ines the counselors' fatal intentions, information obtained from one of the king's pages, and proposes to take her safely away to Navarre. But Ines declines the offer, preferring to remain near her husband. Ferrante meets Ines a third time. He feels he is near death. At night, his heart seems to stop beating. "When it starts to beat again, I am very surprised to be alive, and a little disappointed," he confides. They are interrupted by a note from one of his counsellors, Alvaro Gonçalves, "a man," reveals the king, "who wants you assassinated." The king learns that the pope would consider the bishop's death an outrage and now would no doubt refuse the annulment of the marriage. Ines at last admits she is pregnant. "Another spring to start over, and to start over less well," he cynically comments. No longer believing in the good of the state but yet pretending to, he thereby orders Ines' condemnation to death. At her imminent execution, he falters, near death himself, to the extreme fear of the counselors, one of whom begging him to write a countermand, but, before that can be done, the king dies.
"Victor, or the children come to power"
"Victor, or the children come to power". Time: 1920s. Place: France.
"Victor, or the children come to power" text at ?
Victor, a 9-year-old boy but big for his age, indulges on his birthday in sexual innuendos with a house servant, who slaps his face. He breaks a precious vase, accusing his 6-year-old friend, Estelle, of the deed. On hearing of the broken vase, Theresa, Estelle's mother, slaps her with two hands. Teresa's husband, Antony, insinuates he knows of the adulterous relation existing between his wife and Charles, Victor's father. When the families contemplate a possible marriage between Victor and Estelle, they are considerably upset by Victor playing out with Estelle the adulterous relation between Charles and Theresa, their being a suspicion of incest should that marriage occur. Later, Victor surprises Charles and Theresa during a suspicious rendez-vous and becomes insolent, at which Charles slaps his face. Charles and his wife, Emily, quarrel about Victor's future, during which Charles, exasperated, breaks a vase. An old friend of Emily's, Ida, sudenly appears. She lenghtily explains how at last she was able to find her long-lost friend. As she does so, she farts, explaining it is a recurrent trouble of hers. When Victor is alone with her, he kisses her on the neck and asks her to fart for him. Worried, Ida abruptly leaves him. More worries accrue when Estelle is found with torn clothes, bloody, and frothing. That evening, Emily weeps about the state of her marriage while Charles calmly reads the paper. Without warning, Charles takes out a gun but then throws it out the window. Meanwhile, Victor reports having an upset stomach. Exasperated, Charles takes him out and spanks him till the blood runs. At last, Charles talks to his wife about his adulterous relation. Though calm at first, Emily suddenly slaps him. Theresa enters to announce that Estelle has disappeared, but they find her in the company of Victor. Then they receive news that Antony has hanged himself. When Emily tries to soothe Victor, still in bed with a stomach-ache, she becomes exasperated by his constant moaning and slaps the boy hard. Victor suddenly dies. In grief over this event, his parents shoot themselves to death.