Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Le Cid - Corneille (91)

Reading 'Le Cid' is somewhat like seeing a version of 'Romeo and Juliet' with a different focus.  Oh, the style is more straight poetry and the events are certainly different, but the overall focus of a conflict between love and family and honor is the same.  The major plot points in 'Le Cid' are:

  • We start with our heroine, Chimene, waiting for the arrival of her true love, Rodrigue, also known as le Cid, or 'the lord'.  He gained this nickname on the battlefield.  While waiting, her father and his father get into a fight.  Rodrigue's father is struck and he calls on his son to avenge him.  
  • Le Cid is stuck between honor and his love for Chimene.  He chooses the honorable avenue and challenges Chimene's father to a duel.  Le Cid is victorious and the father dies.  
  • Now Chimene is in a bind.  Does she side with her love or does she ask the king for help to avenge her father?  She also chooses honor and asks the king for Le Cid's death.
  • Chimene and Rodrigue meet.  They both love each other but they feel compelled to go forward.  Rodrigue offers to kill himself but Chimene won't let him.  She must still pursue honorable justice though and press on with the king.
  • The Moors attack the city.  Le Cid goes to defend the city and covers himself with glory. 
  • Chimene realizes that the king can't order him to be executed so she asks that he be tried by single combat and offers to marry anyone that can kill him.  (And you thought your love life was complicated!)  
  • The king can see that the two love each other.  He changes the conditions of the fight so that she must marry the victor.  
  • Chimene and Rodrigue meet again.  He tells her that he won't defend himself in this duel and she urges him to do so.  She wants him to win, but, for the sake of honor, he must go through with the fight.
  • Le Cid wins the fight but spares the other fighter, Don Sanche.  Don Sanche goes to Chimene and she believes that he has killed Rodrigue.  This is straightened out.
  • The lovers aren't sure that they should wed but the king gives them his blessing.  They acted as nobly as they could and they should be married.
  • Finis.
I mentioned 'Romeo and Juliet' up top, but what kept coming to my mind was 'West Side Story'.  Maria has lost her brother to Tony but she still loves him.  Can't stop loving him.  (In fairness, if she had more time to come to grips with what had happened, the story might have been different.)  Here we see a similar dynamic, but with a father instead of a brother.  And, in much the same way as Maria, Chimene has almost no time to absorb any of this.  (Did I mention that all of the above plot points happen over the course of a single day?)

I liked 'Le Cid' and it's worthy enough to be on a list like this on its own merit.  I think though, that it was given further historical weight because it brought about a large argument in France when it came out in 1637.  Enemies of Corneille argued that the play was improper for a number of reasons.  Corneille had based all of the action in one single day so that he could satisfy the dramatic rules laid down by Aristotle.  His critics argues that this day was overloaded.  (They have a point.)  They also said that it was highly improper for a daughter to happily wed the man who killed her father.  Corneille pointed out that his story was rooted in historical fact but they answered that 'There are monstrous truths that must be repressed for the good of society'.  
I don't remember reading that in Aristotle.  

Next up is #90, 'The Weavers' by Gerhart Hauptmann.  The play was published in 1897, so not quite 20th century but close to it.

No comments:

Post a Comment