History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/French Romantic
French Romantic tragedy is capably represented by Victor Hugo (1802-1885) with "Hernani" (1830) and "Ruy Blas" (1838). Together with many other 19th century dramatists, Hugo was heavily influenced by Shakespeare, including the tendency to mix comic with tragic elements, unlike classical 17th century tragedy.
Time: 16th century. Place: Spain and France.
Out on a personal escapade, King Carlos V of Spain forces his way into the apartment of Dona Sol de Silva, soon to be married to her uncle, Ruy de Silva, duke of Pastrana. The king pays the servant for the chance of hiding inside Sol's wardrobe and spying on her meeting with her lover, Hernani. The lovers meet joyfully, though Hernani bemoans her upcoming marriage with an "icy specter". She agrees to follow Hernani, though an outlaw, the next day at midnight. Hearing this, the king, also in love with Sol, rushes out and dares Hernani to fight. They cross swords until the servant announces the duke's surprise return. The duke rails on finding two young men in Sol's apartment at night when to the astonishment of all, the king reveals himself. He comes to announce to the duke the death of the emperor of Germany, a title he would like to claim for himself. Hernani has two reasons for hating the king: his love of Sol and revenge for a father killed by Carlos' father. The following night, Carlos imitates Hernani's signal and seizes Sol, but she takes away his dagger till Hernani's arrival, his men having secured the king's followers. The king refuses to duel with a bandit, so that Hernani is forced to let him go, but now has second thoughts concerning Sol, having to offer her but "half the gallows". "I'll follow you; I wish for my part of your shroud," Sol assures him. But he must leave her on hearing general alarms, as officers of the law hunt for him and his troops. On their wedding day, Ruy assures Sol that though an old man's forehead has wrinkles, yet "in our heart there is none," he says. There is a rumor that Hernani is dead, but yet he enters the duke's palace disguised as a pilgrim. After seeing Sol re-enter with her wedding dress, he removes his disguise. None of the duke's servant dares claim the bounty on his head. The duke retires, expecting to marry within an hour. Hernani considers that after all she would be better off rich with the duke than dead like his companions, but despite the dangers, she desires still to follow him. "You are my lion, superb and generous," she assures him. When the duke overhears his expected bride say she loves Hernani, he stares and advises him to tremble, but, on hearing of the king's arrival, lets Hernani go through a secret passage. The king knows Hernani is hiding in the duke's castle, which the duke admits. The king threatens to take Sol hostage unless his subject delivers the outlaw, but, since he is Hernani's host, whose duty is to protect any guest, he refuses. Yet Sol decides to follow the king, though with a hidden dagger on her person. After the two leave, Rey challenges Hernani to a duel for having affronted his hospitality, but lets him go when the latter reveals his majesty loves Sol and after he swears to yield up his life whenever desired. He need only blow his horn. At Aix-La-Chapelle, among a troop of revolting noblemen, Hernani draws the winning lot to kill the king, which Ruy pleads to take away from him in exchange for his life. "Do you render her?" Hernani asks. Ruy declines. Three cannon shots announce Carlos is the new emperor as he emerges out of Charlemagne's tomb. He and his followers disarm the rebels. He orders the execution of dukes and counts and spares the rest. Hernani reveals himself as Juan of Aragon and a duke. Sol reveals herself married to him, begging Carlos for her husband's life, which he grants as well as to all the rebels. Amid fanfare in Saragossa, Hernani and Sol celebrate as newlyweds till the bridegroom hears the fatal sound of the horn. Sol leaves for a moment as Rey, disguised as death, hands Hernani poison. She returns to beg once again for her husband's life, but this time she is refused. In despair, she grabs the poisoned vial, drinks half of it, and hands Hernani the rest, but, after a while, asks him to desist: "That poison is alive..." she cries in pain. Nevertheless, Hernani drinks his fill. After witnessing his loved one's death, Ruy follows the married couple in death.
Time: 1690s. Place: Spain.
Don Sallusto, a marquis, has been exiled by the queen for refusing to marry one of her servants he seduced. Sallusto asks his cousin, Cesare, a count, to help him take revenge on her, but he refuses. Angry, Sallusto commands alguazils to seize Cesare and then arranges to have corsairs take him away to slavery. Still for purposes of revenge, he engages the faith of his servant, Ruy Blas, an old boon companion of Cesare. Since Ruy Blas’ face is unknown at court, Ruy takes over Cesare’s identity. Struck by the queen's demeanor, Ruy sends love-letters to her anonymously. Her husband, King Charles II, is often absent, loving above all to hunt. Being most often neglected, she enjoys reading these letters. When Ruy in the shape of Cesare presents himself before her, Don Guritan, a courtier, notices his infatuation and, out of jealousy, challenges him to a duel. On learning about this, the queen sends Guritan away. When several nobles meet to exchange mutual favors at the expense of Spain's interest, Ruy interrupts their conversation by commenting sarcastically: "A pleasant appetite, gentlemen," as if they were carving up their own country. He goes on to enumerate a long list of abuses they have been guilty of, for which her majesty, emerging from hiding, thanks him. Ruy is so moved by her compliments that he at last declares openly his love for her. The queen is pleased but fearful. "To all I am the queen, to you only a woman," she confesses. As she leaves, Sallusto suddenly appears in the form of a servant. Knowing Ruy's love for the queen, he hopes to compromise her. Ruy begins to fear for her safety at the hands of Sallusto, who threatens to reveal Ruy's true identity to the queen. Ruy is thus forced to say nothing. Unexpectedly, Cesare returns, having gained his freedom from the pirates. He is surprised to receive a sum of money from Sallusto, meant for Ruy. He also receives the visit of Guritan, returned from the queen's mission, looking to renew his purposed duel with Cesare. They quarrel and, in the ensuing duel, Cesare kills him. On seeing the unexpected return of Cesare, Sallusto becomes petrified. He commands alguazils to lead him away again, this time pretending he is a well-known thief. Meanwhile, Ruy begins to have qualms about his deceiving the queen for so long. Still fearing for her safety, he sends her a note to warn her not to leave the palace, but she does not receive it in time. The two are surprised by Sallusto, who proposes that she relinquish her title as queen and leave the kingdom in company of Ruy. But, tired of deceiving her, Ruy reveals at last his true identity and kills Sallusto. When he asks her pardon for deceiving her so long, she retorts: "never" . In despair, Ruy drinks a vial of poison. Taken unawares, the queen cries out her true feelings of deep love: "Ruy Blas!" For only crying out his name he thanks her as he dies.
Alfred de Musset
Alfred de Musset (1810-1857) also reached heights of Romantic tragedy with "Lorenzaccio" (1833), based on the life of Lorenzo De Medici (1449-1492), and "On ne badine pas avec l'amour" (No trifling with love, 1834). Like Hugo, Musset mixed comic with tragic elements, especially in the latter play.
Lorenzaccio appeared remarkable in the view of romantics, less so in the view of realists. An example in the latter category is Archer (1897), in which the character of Lorenzaccio appears as a "vicious stripling... hollow-eyed and hectic with debauchery, his lip curled with a perpetual sneer at the world and himself, fanatical idealism and sick self-contempt seething like a hell-brew in his brain, and spurting forth in vitriolic jibes at all that in his heart he holds sacred. Hamlet may or may not be mad, Lorenzaccio certainly is. He has worked himself up into a delirium of cynicism. He revels morbidly in dissimulation for its own sake, and almost loses sight of the end with which he first entered upon it. His machinations are absurdly disproportionate to their object...At the last moment, he wantonly endangers the success of his designs out of sheer defiant cynicism. The thing would be childishly easy if he were capable of acting with sane resolution; as a matter of fact, he conducts himself so insanely that his success seems a miracle." (pp 188-189)
Time: 16th century. Place: Florence, Italy.
Alessandro de Medici, duke of Florence, with the help of Lorenzo de Medeci, his cousin, is waiting for a girl he paid for. Lorenzaccio suggests she is worth the waiting. "What a violent flow of a magnificent river underneath this layer of fragile ice, cracking at each step!" he exclaims. They head towards her garden pavilion. Seeing his sister on her away, Maffio wants to prevent it, but is stopped by one of the duke's men. He wishes to complain to the duke, but discovers that it is the duke who is taking her away. In the duke's palace, Lorenzaccio quarrels with Maurizio, a gentleman, but when the duke offers his cousin a sword, he is seized with anxiety, feels ill, and faints, to the duke's amusement. In Soderini's palace, his uncle, Bindo Altoviti, and Venturi, a gentleman, wish to know from Lorenzaccio whether he will join their conspiracy against the duke. Suddenly, the duke enters in their midst. Lorenzaccio invents good excuses for their presence, to their profit, a promotion as ambassador of Rome for the first and privileges for his cloth business for the other. They accept. Alessandro announces he has obtained the favors of the marquise of Cibo. Now he has an eye on Lorenzaccio's aunt, Catherine. In his palace, Alessandro serves as a model for a portrait while Lorenzaccio takes his coat of mail and wonders off to throw it in a well. One of the duke's men, Salviati, covered in blood, appears under his window, revealing that Pietro Strozzi and his brother, Tomaso, attacked him after he said their sister loved the duke. The duke orders their arrest. After seeing her poisoned to death by one of Salviati's men, the Strozzi family rise to liberate them. To favor Catherine's seduction, Lorenzaccio proposes his own bedroom. Freed from prison, Pietri and Tomaso return to their house only to learn of their sister's death by poison. In hope of wordly advantages, the cardinal of Cibo scolds his sister-in-law for being unable to hold her lover for more than three days. "Have you not read Aretino?" he asks sarcastically. The marquise counters by charging him of debauchery and sycophancy. "To govern Florence by governing the duke, you would soon turn yourself into a woman for him, if you could," she asserts. Unheeding the cardinal's appeal to return to her husband, she reveals her adultery with the duke to her husband and then, overcome by her emotion, faints. On the night proposed for the duke's murder, Lorenzaccio warns three noblemen to prepare for a change in government, but none of them believe he is capable of it. Having heard Lorenzaccio has horses prepared and that he intends killing his cousin, a report supported by Maurizio, the cardinal warns the duke about him, but he dismisses their warnings and follows his cousin to his bedroom, where Lorenzaccio takes his sword and scabbard and tangles them up behind his back. As the duke stretches out in bed, Lorenzaccio kills him. On learning the news in the duke's palace, noblemen worry that the people will seize this opportunity to revolt, so that Cosimo de Medici is hurriedly elected as the new duke. By the duke's death, the Strozzi conspiracy peters out, as do republican sentiments throughout the duchy, except for a small rising of students, when a hundred of them are massacred. In the continuing tumult, Lorenzaccio is assassinated and his carcass dragged into a lagoon. The cardinal gives the ducal crown to Cosimo de Medici on behalf of Pope Paul III and Emperor Charles V.
"No trifling with love"
Time: 1830s. Place: France.
The baron wishes to marry his son, Perdican, returning from Paris with a doctor's degree, to his niece, Camille, "out of the best convent in France", so that both may live with him in his castle, but in their first meeting since childhood, the baron is disappointed by the coolness of her replies and her refusal to kiss him. After dinner, Blazius, his steward, reports that Bridaine, the curate, is a drunkard, which the baron considers impossible, but Blazius' own breath "smells horribly of wine", he notices. For his part, Bridaine reports he saw Perdican skip stones over the water with village children, another thing the baron finds it impossible to believe till seeing it with his own eyes. When Camille meets her cousin, she says: "I came to recover my mother's possessions; I will return tomorrow to the convent." But before going, she asks Pluche, her governess, to carry a letter to him. Bridaine is sorrowful that Blazius has taken his place next to the baron, so that when it is his turn to eat "there will remain around the partridges neither cabbage nor carrots". Perdican becomes friendly with Camille's foster sister, Rosette, kissing her often and, on one occasion, leaving a tear on her hand. Blazius furnishes a second report for the baron, whereby Pluche is said to refuse conveying a love-letter, which the baron finds incomprehensible and impossible to believe. And to whom? One who flirts with a keeper of turkeys. Meanwhile, Camille assigns a second meeting with her cousin. She offers him her hand and kisses him, only to reveal she intends to become a nun. "How long did you love the one you loved the most?" she queries. He does not remember. She asks his opinion about whether she should stay in the convent, to which he first answers no then yes. By her convent anecdotes, he wonders whether she believes in anything. She wants eternal love, at the moment the one on the crucifix she wears. Does he believe in love? "Here you are, bent near me, knees used up with kneeling on your mistresses' rugs, and you no longer know their names," she accuses. He counters that, having loved, he can at least say he lived. Soon after, Blazius is chased away from the baron's house for stealing a bottle of wine and for his suspicious accusations. He complains to Bridaine, overjoyed at this piece of news. When Blazius meets Pluche, he threatens to murder her unless she yields him a letter from Camille. Perdican prevents their dispute and seizes the letter, addressed to a nun in her convent, in which she writes that, despite her attempts at disgusting him, Perdican will never be consoled by her loss. He is so offended by this suggestion that he decides to flirt with Rosette in the same place where he usually meets Camille. With Camille hiding behind a tree, he confesses his love to Rosette, gives her a golden chain, throws Camille's ring into a fountain, and asks her to marry him. As a result, Camille tells Pluche she will not enter the convent after all. Bridaine announces to the baron that Perdican has given his golden chain to a peasant-girl, an absurd story which yet upsets the baron. Camille guesses that Perdican intercepted her letter. To prove Perdican lied to Rosette, she suggests that the girl hide while speaking to him. "I would like to be courted-" Camille tells Perdican, and gives him the ring she recovered. Perdican is surprised. She then asks him: "Are you sure that everything in a woman lies when her tongue is lying?" Perdican says he never lies and that he loves her, at which point Camilla lifts the tapistry, revealing Rosette who unexpectedly has fainted. Camille next discloses Perdican's supposed love of Rosette to the baron. Affronted at the misalliance, he asks her to tell his son the following: "I have abandoned myself to grief, to see him marry a girl without a name." Camille is also convinced that the marriage is wrong for him and tells him so, calling it "a joke". For her part, Rosette requests Perdican on her knees to desist from any further marriage talk, because, in the village, she has become a laughing-stock, everyone being convinced that he and Camille love each other and are amusing themselves at her expense, which he denies. While at church, Camille finds herself unable to pray. "Pride, most fatal of human counselors, why did you come between this girl and me?" Perdican wonders. Indeed, the two turned love, that "inestimable jewel", into "a toy", but now recognize their mistake and kiss, after which a loud scream is heard behind the altar. Camillo goes to find out what it is, Perdican praying it is not what he thinks it is. She returns to say in two sentences that Rosette is dead and that she bids him farewell.
Alfred de Vigny
Alfred de Vigny (1797-1863) reached tragic heights with "Chatterton" (1835), based on the life of the poet, Thomas Chatterton (1752-1770).
Time: 1770s. Place: England.
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A medical doctor and quaker living in the house of the manufacturer, John Bell, complains of his cruelty and indifference towards the condition of the workers. John retorts that the workers are lazy. The quaker mentions one who lost his arm while working on one of his machines. "Yes," answers he, "and he even broke it." John asks his wife, Kitty, to let him verify the house accounts and finds six guineas unaccounted for. She pretends not to why but it concerns a secret gift to another lodger, the poet Thomas Chatterton. The quaker also complains of him: "In you, continuous daydreaming has killed action." "What does it matter," Thomas retorts, "if one hour of this daydreaming produces more works than twenty days of action by others?" He himself with his poetry "wishes to add one pearl more to the English crown". He considers poetry "a harmful fairy, found no doubt in my rocker, the distraction". The quaker also worries that Thomas has turned away from religion, but Thomas assures him he is as harmless as a child. One day, Thomas' Oxford companion, Lord Talbot, accompanied by other lords, greets him volubly. But Kitty dislikes the way Talbot addresses her. Yet Talbot being a lord, John encourages her to make much of him. After mentioning to Thomas that these lords must be surprised to see him in so simple a house, he seems hurt. "Had one asked me to know my fortune, my name, and my life's history, I would never have entered," Thomas comments. He appears progressively more despairing. One day, the quaker finds him with a vial filled with opium. "You do well to follow your project," the quaker sarcastically affirms, "because that will rejoice your rivals...You do well to leave them your part of the empty bone of glory you all gnaw on." Thomas answers he has written to a friend of Talbot, the lord-mayor of London, about his wretched condition, which the quaker approves of, later declaring to the Bells and Talbot: "The only resource still left to Chatterton is his protection." But the mayor's proposal displeases Thomas, neither does his person, and he no longer wishes to continue writing. He drinks the contents of the vial and begins tearing up his papers as Kitty enters. Thomas reveals his love of her, at which she fearfully comments: "Ah, sir, if you say so, it is because you wish to die." She sees him reel upstairs towards his room. The quaker rapidly discovers what is wrong and climbs the stairs after him, followed by Kitty. What she beholds up there shakes her so much that she falls downstairs and so the quaker is left bemoaning two deaths in the house.
Casimir Delavigne (1793-1843) approached Racine's manner with "Le paria" (The pariah, 1821), a play with fewer Romantic elements than those of Hugo and Musset.
Time: 1820s. Place: The woods near Benares, India.
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Idamore, leader of a band of warriors successful in their defense of followers of Brahma, the Hindu God of creation, reveals to his friend, Alvar, a Portuguese Christian arrived for the purpose of conversion, but now almost a prisoner, that he is a pariah, an avoided and detested group in India. But he does not reveal this to his intended, Neala, priestess of Brahma, expected to be married by her father, Akebar. To Idamore's astonishment, Akebar wants to marry his daughter to him. Neala is elated at these news. "His power changes guilty ardor into pious duty," he says of Akebar. Unable to deceive her further, Idamore discloses he is a pariah. She runs to Brahma's statue and clings to it. "Their name is fatal, odious," she declares, "it would sully the pure air we breathe in this place." She first asks him to go away, but then changes her mind. "Everything is pain to me," Idamore states, "even hope." Idamore's father, Zares, arrives and asks his son to leave with him. Idamore accepts, but wants to see Neala one more time. Zares threatens to tell all should he fail him. Idamore asks Neala to leave immediately after the wedding. She is surprised but willing to do so. Zares is soon discovered as a pariah condemned by Akebar to death. Idamore can no longer remain silent, revealing himself as the pariah's son. A jury convened by Akebar condemns Idamore to be stoned to death and Zares to be exiled and cared for by Alvar. In distress as to Idamore's fate, Alvar asks Idamore concerning his father: "You leave him with a son: who will give me back a brother?" As Zares is set to go, he learns from Alvar of his son's imminent death. Witnessing to their horror Alvar's loyalty to the pariah, the people kill both Idamore and Alvar. Neala is exiled. She decides to follow Idamore's father. A weeping Akebar curses his daughter for being disloyal to him and religion.
Etienne de Jouy
In a similar style to Delavigne, Etienne de Jouy (1764-1846) wrote "Bélisaire" (Belisarius, 1818) concerning the life of Belisarius (502-565 AD) a Roman soldier who defended the Byzantine emperor, Justinian (482-565, reign: 527-565), from his enemies.
Time: 6th century AD. Place: Thrace.
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Based on false information, the Byzantine emperor, Justinian, orders the arrests of Belisarius despite his many services in the past. The latter's friend, Marcius, protects Antonina and Eudoxia, wife and daughter, respectively, of the maligned soldier. To redress their fortunes, Antonina's hope rests on her daughter's marriage to Thelesis, king of Bulgaria. She is gratified after hearing Eudoxia loves Thelesis. She hears more good news from Marcius, who reveals that Belisarius has been set free by Justinian's wife, Theodora, fearful of the people's rage at his arrest while Justinian joins his army in Thrace. But before releasing him, she orders him to be blinded. When Antonina rejoins her husband, she is dismayed on learning he refuses the proposed marriage, loyal to the emperor despite being blinded by his wife. To win Belisarius to his side, Thelesis proposes to overthrow Justinian and place the emperor's crown on Belisarius' head, but the soldier refuses such an honour, preferring yet again to remain loyal to the emperor. Despite her love of the king, Eudoxia immediately accepts her father's decision. In addition, two chiefs of Roman legions, Valerius and Phocas, long working under his orders, agree to fight on Belisarius' side against Thelesis' army. In the confusion of the battle, Justinian becomes separated from his troops when he is discovered by Eudoxia and Belisarius. Justinian is abashed on learning of Belisarius' loyalty despite his wrongs. "You conserve still the light of the soul," he declares, "and just your presence, arbiter of hazards, will yield victory to the eagle of Caesars." To join her father's side, Eudoxia prepares to leave Thelesis, but the king refuses to release her. After fierce fighting, Phocas announces to Antonina and Eudoxia that the king is defeated by the emperor. However, Belisarius was wounded by an arrow. Now that the emperor is safe, he accepts his daughter's marriage to Thelesis who is freed. In great pain, he removes the arrow and immediately dies.
Among the few comedies of note in this period, Jules Sandeau's (1811-1883) "Mademoiselle de La Seiglière" (1851) stands out.
"Mademoiselle de La Seiglière"
Time: 1817. Place: France.
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After twenty years of exile in Germany to avoid being murdered during the French Revolution, the marquis de La Seiglière has settled down comfortably in his domains, formerly kept by his steward, Thomas Stamply, who died and gave him back the entire property after hearing news that Thomas' son, Bernard, died during Napoleon’s Russian campaign. The marquis particularly enjoys hunting and mocks the interest in botany of Raoul, son of his neighbor, baroness de Vaubert, a man destined to marry his daughter, Helen. One day, the baroness receives a letter confirming the position she sought for a lawyer, Destournelles, is accepted. It concerns the prestigious post of counsellor at the royal court for services Destournelles rendered while she was reclaiming her property on her return from exile. She omits to mention these good news to him because he may still be of service to her son as Helen’s suitor. The ill-used Destournelles asks to marry the baroness, but is rejected. His thoughts of vengeance are satisfied after discovering that Bernard is alive and can reclaim his father’s property. Indeed, Bernard informs the amazed and disbelieving marquis that he intends to oust him from his domains. To counter this attack, the baroness informs Destournelles of his nomination, thus depriving Bernard of legal advice. Bernard’s ardent pursuit of his legal rights diminishes after meeting Helen, who had acted as the kindest of mistresses during his father’s final moments. Six weeks later, Destournelles still has not obtained his position as the result of the baroness’ manipulations with a powerful friend on whom this position depends. In the meantime, Bernard and Helen have become very friendly. When the marquis refers to Napoleon’s campaigns as “escapades”, Bernard withholds an aggressive reply through her influence. Tired of the delay regarding his post, Destournelles returns to ask Bernard what are his instructions for him. “Nothing,” Bernard answers. Instead of discussing his claim, he prefers to follow Helen, who charitably carries clothes to a miller’s widow. Eventually, he even considers abandoning his legal rights. “I still possess a sword,” he avers. Destournelles guesses that Helen and Bernard love each other without having informed each other of their state of mind. To keep his client from leaving, Destournelles tells him that Helen loves him but may marry Raoul. Although shaken, Bernard thinks his love can lead to nothing. “Son of a peasant, I’m only a soldier,” he says disconsolately. He nevertheless declares his love for her. To his surprise, she declares her love for him but speedily withdraws her hand while he kisses it as the baroness enters the room. Meanwhile, Destournelles informs the marquis that he has begun legal proceedings against him, but all may yet be well provided Helen accept to marry his client. The marquis is aghast at the misalliance but yet reflects that Bernard’s behaviors, particularly his hunting habits, is more congenial to him than Raoul’s. When the baroness learns of the legal proceedings, she thinks her friend has no chance of winning and so offers him her castle as a retreat. Despite this generous offer, the marquis announces that he wants Bernard as a son-in-law instead of her son. When he tells this to Helen, she yet hesitates to reveal her love fully because of her promise to Raoul. Hurt in her pride as if the price of a market deal, she backs off all the more on learning from Raoul of Bernard’s rights on her father’s property. Nevertheless, Raoul, recognizing that she loves Bernard more than she loves him, joins their hands together and retreats. The baroness at last informs Destournelles that his nomination is assured.