El Cid

The Most Difficult Plays n° 20.

Play – Opera

All Paris for Chimène has the eyes of Roderigo.

It is with these words that Boileau recounted the immense success of the Cid, and its even more immense moral scandal.

“En vain contre le Cid un ministre se ligue
Tout Paris pour Chimène a les yeux de Rodrigue

Yes, this play is old, it belongs to the national glories of France and I learned with pleasure that it had an immense success in England as soon as it came out in France. There are several translations, depending on whether the translator wanted to be closer or less close to the original French text, written in verse, please, and in alexandrines – the classical century was not called the Grand Siècle for nothing.

The release of the Cid is a scandal worse than Woodstosk, a complete earthquake: how can a woman, Chimène, be so immoral?
How did the public fall in love with her?

Poor Chimène – victim of the terrible imagination of Monsieur Pierre Corneille.

This piece is about love.
Real love.
Not lust – not love for money, for comfort, for not being alone.
No – real love as it is almost impossible to find.
And probably even more difficult to honor.

It would be easy, love – well, if I can say that – if we only had one love to honor.
Only one being to whom we owe our loyalty.

But there are so many things in our lives that are considered more important than love. The family – the job often – the country, even more often – the fights for the world. Love is afterwards, if we have time, & if not… too bad.

From this, problems of loyalty necessarily arise.

As Monsieur Corneille was – and remains – a genius of literature and of the human soul, he went for the worst case scenario.
The one that opposes the great love, the one that is almost never found – to the love of the family.
Who should be obeyed, when there is an absolute conflict between the two?

Here is the situation: Chimène and Roderigo are madly in love. They are young, they are powerful, they are soon to be married so they can – without saying so – already kiss.
So far, so good.
But Roderigo’s father is an old man, while Chimène’s father is in his prime.
The two men insult each other to death – they will have to fight. The duels of the time are unforgiving.
But the old man is too old. He asks his son to replace him in battle and save his father’s honor.

Roderigo will thus have a choice: either kill Chimène’s father – or let her father kill him – and destroy his family’s honor.
In either case, he loses the love of his beloved.

Since this is a tragedy, you can guess what Roderigo’s choice will be. He is a lover yes – but before that he owes honor and respect to his father.
Chimène’s father is an excellent fighter – Roderigo, too young, has very little chance.
He accepts the fight.

And he kills Chimène’s father in a sword duel.

Chimène must ask for justice.
She thus asks the Prince to see Roderigo’s head rolled.

He does not defend himself – how would he defend himself? – he goes to her – with the sword. He asks her for the honor of being killed by her.

It is exactly this meeting, after the drama, that makes this play one of the most difficult for actors.
Not too much – not too little: everything has to stay in exact measure – too much crying, too much screaming, too much softening, the scene is missed, the play goes to waste and the audience is turned off.

In this scene, Chimène’s heart is both illuminated by her love for Roderigo, and broken by this love.
In this scene, Roderigo’s heart is both illuminated by the love he has for Chimène, and broken by this love.

This is why they are true lovers, who have had the good fortune and bad fortune to know true love. Illuminated and broken at the same time.

This scene that scandalized the good people of Paris.

Because Chimène does not manage to hate her lover. She understands why he acted like that. She knows that he has not been disloyal to her. She knows that he did not betray their love. She knows that he has chosen to be a man of honor – at the cost of his life and their happiness.

So all she tells him is to leave – she does not hate him.

At this point in the story, both are broken.

Justice is put back in the hands of the Prince – and the end finished to scandalize Paris: Rodrigue is sent in exile, in charge for him to make shine the name of the Kingdom.
How is it that he is not dead?
And she does not commit suicide?
Perhaps they will meet again? – Without doubt they did, when time had finished healing the wounds.

Le Cid – Françoise Spira & Gerard Philippe – TNP 1951

This is the play – and the play that speaks of a love so strong, so damaged, so torn, deserves to be put on stage again and again.
There is an opera – for those who don’t like theater.

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Featured Image : Le Cid – Jean Marais as Don Diegue – the old man 1985

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