Le Cid, published in 1636, is considered Pierre Corneille's first masterpiece, a tragic play that was subsequently used by later playwrights as a model and a standard to follow. With Le Cid, Corneille changed the form of the dramatic play, a transformation that was met with great applause not only from the audience but from the ruling monarch at the time, King Louis XIII of France.
Le Cid is based on the deeds and subsequent legend of a twelfth-century Spanish soldier called El Cid (arabic for the lord), a man who fought against (and, as some believe, also fought with) the Moors who were in the process of taking over much of the land that Spain occupies today. El Cid was a mighty warrior and the first notorious hero of Spain. Much had been written about him in poetry and ballad, as well as in a play by the Spanish author Guillen de Castro (1569–1631). Corneille was inspired by the story of El Cid and, taking liberty from the standard dramatic form of his day, imbued his play with great passion and complex psychological insight. The result was a production the likes of which the Parisian people had never seen before.
The play relates the events of Le Cid coming of age. Le Cid's father asks his son to restore the elder man's honor by challenging Le Cid's future father-in-law to a duel. Le Cid immediately understands that no matter what he does, he is doomed. If he does not make the challenge, both he and his father will be dishonored. If he does make the challenge, he will lose the love of his future bride. The manner in which he solves this dilemma, and the events that unfold as he does so, takes the young man from untried warrior to triumphant hero.
Corneille is one of France's most outstanding playwrights of the seventeenth century. Although he was considered a prolific writer for his time and is best known as a playwright, literature was not his main career.
Born on June 6, 1606, in Rouen, France, to a family that had a tradition of producing lawyers, Corneille was destined to follow in his father's footsteps. He studied law under the training of Jesuit priests and, at the early age of twenty-three, entered parliament. For the next twenty-one years, Corneille practiced law (under King Louis XIII and King Louis XIV) as the king's counselor in the department of waterways and forests. Fortunately for many Parisians, law was not the only thing that interested Corneille. No sooner was he established in parliament than he decided to try his hand at writing and soon discovered he had another fruitful talent. By the time he stopped practicing law, he had written twenty plays. But he was not finished yet. While in retirement, Corneille would go on to write some of his most influential dramatic plays.
Corneille's first six plays were comedies, beginning with Mélite (1625). A year later, this comedy was presented in Paris and from that point on, Corneille's reputation as a playwright took off. In the next seven years, Corneille wrote almost a play a year, eventually catching the attention of Cardinal de Richelieu (prime minister of France, 1585–1642). The cardinal, a very influential figure in the king's court, wanted to use Corneille's gift of writing to promote his own political ideas. So Corneille was sponsored by the cardinal and supplied with concepts about which to write. This did not set well with Corneille for very long. After many disagreements, Corneille and the cardinal parted company. Corneille left Paris and returned to his hometown of Rouen, where he took up a private practice in law.
Immediately following his return to Rouen, Corneille did not write. This fallow period lasted for several years, but the time was not wasted. As a matter of fact, it was during this period that Corneille decided to lay aside the genre of comedy and try his hand at writing tragedy. Today, many scholars believe it was through the writing of tragedies that Corneille reached his full potential as a playwright.
Corneille's first tragic piece was Médée (1634), which met with only mediocre success. Corneille next produced what many critics believe was his first masterpiece, Le Cid (1636). The many performances of this play were cheered by packed audiences in Paris. Even King Louis XIII sent Corneille congratulations. But not everyone was happy with Corneille's play. Cardinal de Richelieu harshly criticized Le Cid because it broke away from the traditional classical rules of drama. Richelieu's harsh commentary against Corneille's work so belittled Corneille's skills that the playwright did not write another play for the next three years.
But this was not the end of Corneille. During those three years he advanced his art. And when he next produced a play, it equaled, if not surpassed, the mastery demonstrated in Le Cid. The year 1641 was a remarkable time for Corneille. First, he married Marie de Lampérière. Next, he enjoyed back-to-back productions of two more well-received tragic plays, Horace (1640) and Cinna (1641). With these plays, there was no doubt of Corneille's talents. He would go on to write many more plays before his death and for his innovations in the writing of dramatic tragedy, he is honored, today, with the title of the Father of French Tragedy.
Corneille died in Paris on October 1, 1684.
In the first scene, Chimene is talking to her lady-in-waiting, Elvire. Chimene is excited because she has heard rumors that her father, Don Gomes, has accepted Don Rodrigue as a suitor for Chimene's hand in marriage. Elvire confirms that the rumors are true. When pressed to answer her, Elvire tells Chimene that she told her father that Chimene has no preference of suitors and will do only as her father commands. Chimene's father is proud to hear such devotion and states that he believes that Don Rodrigue is well suited for her. Elvire then tells Chimene that the king is to choose a tutor for his son today. Elvire is sure he will select Chimene's father. Once Don Gomes is chosen, Elvire believes, Don Rodrigue's father will also propose the match between Chimene and Don Rodrigue. Despite this news, Chimene says that her spirit is perturbed, although she does not know why.
In the next scene, Infanta appears with her lady-in-waiting, Leonor. In this scene, Infanta reveals her love of Don Rodrigue, but through her conversations with Leonor, she also acknowledges that she will never be allowed to marry Rodrigue because he is below her social status in the court. She also confesses that she has purposefully brought Chimene and Rodrigue together and encouraged their love. She has done so because if they are married all hope of her being with Rodrigue will be extinguished.
Count Don Gomes enters with Don Diegue in the next scene. These men are respectively the father of Chimene and the father of Don Rodrigue. They are discussing the fact that Don Diegue has won the title of tutor for the king's son. Don Gomes is stunned by this action of the king's, having expected that he would have been chosen. Don Diegue tries to dismiss Don Gomes haughty statements stating that the king probably chose him based on love not on merit, allowing that Don Gomes may have deserved it more. This does not satisfy Don Gomes, however, and by the end of the scene, Don Gomes slaps Don Diegue in the face out of indignation. Don Diegue draws his sword but Don Gomes easily disarms him.
In the next scene, Don Diegue despairs by himself. He has been insulted by Don Gomes and is humiliated because he is not strong enough any more to defend his honor. He must find someone younger and stronger who can.
Rodrigue, whose courage his father questions, enters the scene. When Rodrigue asserts that he is brave enough to do whatever his father asks, Don Diegue tells him to seek out Don Gomes and avenge his honor. When his father leaves, Rodrigue must weigh this heavy matter alone. If he does as his father has requested, it means he must kill Chimene's father. If he does this, Chimene will hate him. If he does not do as his father has asked him to, his father and therefore he, himself, will remain disgraced. If he is disgraced, then Chimene will not be able to love him. Rodrigue decides that he has no choice. He must challenge Don Gomes.
Act 2 begins with Don Gomes discussing what has just happened between himself and Don Diegue. Don Arias is with him and suggests that Don Gomes should not expose his anger concerning the king's choice of tutor. Unfortunately, Don Gomes, having not been chosen, believes that he has lost his honor among his men. He feels disgraced, and he wants the king to know. In the following scene, Rodrigue enters and challenges Don Gomes, who thinks Rodrigue a fool to do so. Don Gomes is insulted that such a young and inexperienced warrior should dare to even think he might challenge him. But Don Gomes also realizes that Rodrigue must surely be an exceptional young man and he praises himself for having chosen Rodrigue for his daughter. Don Gomes tells Rodrigue to go away. There would be no honor in Gomes's killing of such a young man. But Rodrigue insists and the two men leave to fight.
The next scene involves Chimene and Infanta, who have heard of Don Gomes's and Rodrigue's duel. They are concerned for both men but do not yet know the outcome. Chimene leaves to find them.
Infanta is left with Leonor. Infanta hopes that Rodrigue will win because then he could not gain Chimene's love and might possibly love her instead.
The king—Don Fernand—discusses with Don Arias and Don Sanche the arrogance of Don Gomes. The king is furious that Don Gomes has defied him. Don Sanche, a suitor of Chimene, attempts to defend Don Gomes, asking that the king be lenient with him. The subject is not fully discussed as the king is worried about a navy of Moors that has been seen sailing near the shores of their empire. They discuss which path they should follow to protect themselves. Then Don Alonse enters to bring the news that Don Gomes is dead.
In scene VI, Chimene and Don Diegue beg the king to hear them out. Chimene wants her father's death avenged. Don Diegue wants the king to spare his son's life. After each pleads their case, the king asks that Don Rodrigue be brought to him.
Rodrigue shows up at Chimene's house. He first runs into Elvire who tells him to run away. When she sees Chimene coming, she tells Rodrigue to hide. Chimene then enters with Don Sanche. Don Sanche promises to avenge her father's death. When Sanche leaves, Chimene admits that she is completely torn apart. She must regain her father's honor by seeking Rodrigue's death. But her heart cannot bear the thought of Rodrigue dying. Rodrigue then enters and tells Chimene to kill him. Chimene insists that she must seek his death but she cannot do it. Rodrigue says he knows that he must die and prefers that it is by her hand.
In scene 5, Don Diegue is alone. He is worried for his son. He thanks the heavens when Rodrigue enters. He tells Rodrigue to go fight the Moors and keep them from the kingdom. If Rodrigue does this, all his problems will be solved. He will be a hero, and Chimene will then be able to marry him without dishonor.
Scene 1 opens much as the play began with Chimene and Elvire discussing rumors about Don Rodrigue, who has defeated the Moors and saved his empire. The people are rejoicing for their champion whom they now call Le Cid. Then Infanta enters the scene. Chimene confides in her that even though Rodrigue is now proclaimed a hero, she still cannot forgive him. Infanta reminds Chimene that she should make careful considerations as this is not just a personal decision but a public one. The people need a hero.
The king meets with Le Cid in the next scene, along with Don Diegue, Don Arias, and Don Sanche. Le Cid relates the details of the battle with the Moors. When Chimene shows up, the king asks Le Cid to leave, but only after giving him the highest praises for his bravery. Chimene tells the king that she still cannot forgive Le Cid and pretends not to love him. She still wants revenge, and when Don Sanche says that he will avenge her father, Chimene agrees. Whoever wins, she says, she will marry.
Chimene and Le Cid face one another. He insists that nothing means anything to him but her. He is still willing to give his life if Chimene declares that she wants him dead. She says she does and so Le Cid goes to face Sanche. Sanche returns later with a bloody sword and Chimene believes that Le Cid is dead. At this Chimene openly declares her love for Le Cid upon confronting the king. The king informs her that she has been misled. Le Cid lives. Le Cid is then led onto the stage by Infanta, who tells Chimene to accept him. Chimene repeats her words of love but tells Le Cid that she cannot marry him or shame will fall upon her for accepting the murderer of her father. The king tries to solve this dilemma by sending Le Cid in pursuit of the Moors in an attempt to win back their land. In time, the king believes, Chimene will be able to accept Le Cid.
Don Alonse is a nobleman whose role is minor but who provides a way of filling in information about the activities that are going on behind the scenes.
Don Arias is also described as a nobleman. He is used in this play much as the ladies-in-waiting are used, as a way for the main male characters to expose their interior dialog.
Chimene is Don Gomes daughter, and she is in love with Don Rodrigue. In the beginning of the play she learns that the king has approved her union with Don Rodrigue. But shortly after this, Don Rodrigue slays her father, and Chimene begs the king to punish Don Rodrigue in the name of her father. She insists that Don Rodrigue be killed even though her heart does not agree. She is torn between her love of her father and her love of Don Rodrigue. Even after she hears that Don Rodrigue has returned home a hero and is being called Le Cid, Chimene cannot forget her duty as a daughter. How can she marry the man who has slain her father? She returns to the king and begs him to punish Don Rodrigue. She proposes that Don Sanche represent her in a duel with Don Rodrigue. Whoever is victorious in this battle, she will feel that her father's honor has been avenged and she will marry the victor. When Don Sanche returns with a bloody sword, Chimene believes that Don Rodrigue is dead and she declares her love for him. The king, having seen proof that she still loves him, sends Don Rodrigue away to fight the Moors and tells Chimene to allow time to heal her wounds before she fulfills her promise to marry Don Rodrigue.
See Don Gomes
Don Diegue is the father of Don Rodrigue (Le Cid). He was once a great warrior and served the king well. Because of this, the king, Don Fernand, honors him by appointing him the tutor for his son. This action angers Don Gomes, a younger man who is also a great warrior. Don Gomes insults Don Diegue by slapping him in the face and telling him that he is not worthy of such an appointment. When Don Diegue raises his sword to defend his honor, he is too weak to challenge the younger warrior. Don Diegue therefore tells his son, Don Rodrigue, that he must defend the honor of his father. When Don Rodrigue kills Don Gomes, Don Diegue fears for his son's life. He tells his son that the Moors are planning a surprise attack on Seville and he must go stop them. If he conquers the Moor, Don Diegue believes that his son will then be honored by this feat and threats to his life for having slain Don Gomes will have been dissipated. Later, when Chimene begs the king to punish Don Rodrigue for having taken the life of her father, Don Diegue also pleads, but he begs for Don Rodrigue's life. Don Diegue tries to prove to the king that Chimene really loves his son.
Elvire is lady-in-waiting to Chimene. It is through Elvire's conversations with Chimene that the audience is able to explore how deep Chimene's feelings go for Don Rodrigue and to understand the challenges that Chimene must face.
Don Fernand is the king of Castile. He is a level-headed, compassionate leader who must decide the fate of several characters in this play. In the beginning of the play, Don Fernand selects Don Diegue as tutor for his son. His choice is the catalyst for most of the action in the play. Later he must decide whether Don Rodrigue should be considered a hero to be honored or a criminal to be punished. He also forces the hand of Chimene, as he tries to decide if she truly loves Don Rodrigue. In the end, Don Fernand comes up with a solution that saves Chimene's honor and Don Rodrigue's life.
Count Don Gomes is the father of Chimene and one of the king's best warriors. When the king appoints Don Diegue as tutor of his son, Don Gomes is insulted and infuriated. Don Gomes believes that he outranks Don Diegue who once was a great warrior but now has lost his power. In his frustration, Don Gomes, a very conceited man, slaps Don Diegue across the face, dishonoring him. When Don Diegue takes out his sword to save his honor, Don Gomes quickly dismisses the older man and walks away. In order to preserve his father's honor, Don Rodrigue challenges Don Gomes to a fight. Don Gomes is killed and his last words to his daughter are to seek his revenge.
See Doña Urraque
- The Spanish version of the legend of Le Cid was made into a movie called El Cid (1961) and starred Charleton Heston as the hero and Sophia Loren as Chimene.
- An animated version of El Cid was produced in Spain and called El Cid: La Leyenda (2003).
See Don Fernand
See Don Rodrigue
Leonor is lady-in-waiting to the Infanta. Her character allows the playwright to fill in missing information through her private conversations with Infanta. Through Leonor, the audience learns how much the Infanta loves Don Rodrigue and how she has sacrificed this love.
Don Rodrigue is Le Cid, a legendary hero. He is the son of Don Diegue, and he is in love with Chimene. In the beginning of the play, Don Rodrigue's father tells him that he must challenge Don Gomes in order to save Don Diegue's honor. Don Rodrigue is torn by this request. He knows that if he does as his father has requested, he will lose the love of Chimene. If he does not avenge his father's honor, he himself will be dishonored and therefore would lose Chimene's love also. He decides that he has no choice in this matter and challenges Don Gomes and wins. Upon killing Don Gomes, Don Rodrigue begs Chimene to kill him. Don Rodrigue believes that the only way to solve the dilemma is to die, and he would rather Chimene kill him. Chimene refuses but nonetheless continues to persuade the king to punish Don Rodrigue. His father provides a possible solution for Don Rodrigue and tells him to go save the kingdom by killing the Moors, which Don Rodrigue does. He returns a hero, with the people now calling him by the honorific title of Le Cid. But Don Rodrigue does not feel this is enough to win back the love of Chimene. He accepts her challenge of fighting Don Sanche, a rival suitor, to the death. Whoever wins this battle, wins Chimene is marriage. Don Rodrigue wins although he spares Don Sanche's life, but he still knows that this is not enough to wipe out his deed of having killed Chimene's father. He knows Chimene loves him, but this awful deed keeps the two lovers from coming together. The king suggests that Don Rodrigue rid the country of the Moors. Upon his conquest and with the passage of time, the king assures Don Rodrigue that Chimene will forgive him.
Don Sanche is in love with Chimene, but Chimene does not love him. When Don Sanche realizes that Chimene wants her father's death avenged, he promises her that he will do it. When the time for that challenge arrives, Don Rodrigue dishonors Don Sanche by defeating him but not killing him. Don Sanche returns to Chimene with a bloody sword after the challenge. Chimene believes that Don Sanche has killed Don Rodrigue and declares her love for Don Rodrigue. Don Sanche tries to explain that this is not true but his words do not make sense to Chimene until the king intervenes.
Called Infanta throughout the play, Doña Urraque is a princess who loves Don Rodrigue. She cannot hope to marry him, however, because Don Rodrigue is below her in nobility status. In order to rid herself of any remaining hope, Infanta forces the hand of fate by introducing and promoting the development of love between Don Rodrigue and Chimene. Infanta adds an intriguing element to the play as she is torn between her heart and her social status. She longs for Don Rodrigue and at the same time pushes him closer to Chimene. Toward the end of the play, when Don Rodrigue proves to be a hero in saving the kingdom from an invasion of the Moors, Infanta's hopes rise when she realizes that his heroism exalts Don Rodrigue's station in life. If he is a hero who has brought the Moor kings to their knees, then there is a chance Don Rodrigue might properly ask for Infanta's hand. But her hopes are dashed when she realizes how much Don Rodrigue loves Chimene.
Much of the action of this play is stimulated by honor. It is for his father's honor that Don Rodrigue challenges his future father-in-law to a duel in the very beginning of the play. Before doing so, Rodrigue contemplates honor and how it affects his life. His father was dishonored by a slap in the face and the fact that his arm was too weak to challenge Don Gomes. Rodrigue is left with little choice. Honor dictates that he must fight Don Gomes. If his father is dishonored, then he too is dishonored. And honor, in this play and during this time, was more important than love. For if Rodrigue is dishonored, then it follows that he is unworthy of the love of Chimene.
Chimene also must deal with the concept of honor. She believes that her own father was dishonored by the duel with Rodrigue during which Don Gomes lost his life. In order to protect her father's honor (and thus her own), Chimene insists that the man she loves, Rodrigue, must be killed.
During all this discussion of honor and the reactions in defense of it, it is interesting to note that the only modern act of honor in the play is the one in which Le Cid spares the life of Don Sanche. In modern times, a slap in the face might be humiliating but it is not worthy of a duel. A duel would be considered illegal. And a father might be sentenced to a jail term if he sends his son to kill a man who has merely insulted him. But when Don Sanche agrees to save Chimene's honor by challenging Le Cid to a duel; and Le Cid, in turn, does not take the life of Don Sanche, although he easily could have, then a true sense of honor, at least in reflection of modern mores, is practiced.
There are many different kinds of love displayed in the play. First there is the love of Rodrigue for his father. Rodrigue is willing to sacrifice his own love for Chimene in order to avenge his father. The love between Rodrigue and his father is strong but it is not as deep as Rodrigue's love for Chimene. And yet Rodrigue is willing to lose Chimene in order to protect his father. This is because Rodrigue realizes that he has no choice. He knows he will lose Chimene no matter what he does. If he kills her father, his honor will be restored but Chimene will not be willing to marry him. If he doesn't kill her father, his honor will not be restored and Chimene will not be willing to marry him. Although Rodrigue loves his father, it is for his father's (and his own) honor that he faces Don Gomes. But it is for his love of Chimene that Rodrigue is willing to lose his own life. He feels there is no way out of his quandary and would rather die than live without Chimene. And he would rather die by her hand than any one else's. His love for Chimene is greater than his love of his own life, in other words.
- Research the role of Cardinal de Richelieu, who was chief minister of France during the production of Le Cid. What were Richelieu's objections or criticisms of the play? What did he do to try to stop this play? How did this affect the play and Corneille?
- Read at least two different historical representations of the Spanish hero El Cid. How do they differ in the details of this man's life and his accomplishments? Make sure you find two contrasting sources. One might lean toward a Muslim interpretation whereas the other might be influenced by a Catholic view.
- Give a presentation to your class about the political atmosphere of eleventh-century Spain. How much control of Spain did the Moors have at that time? When and how did their power collapse? How did Spain unite all the separate cultures and divided kingdoms?
- In his introduction to the play, John C. Lapp states that the concept of worthiness represents Corneille's "belief that the great-souled, the noble-hearted … are different from ordinary men. Their passion is more sublime, and makes almost impossible demands upon lovers." Can you think of any other play, movie, or work of fiction in which you might find another set of lovers in a similar situation and with the same "worthiness" that Corneille describes? If so, compare those lovers and the challenges they face and the conclusions they draw with the lovers in Le Cid.
Chimene also loves Rodrigue deeply. But despite her love, she would see Rodrigue dead in order to restore her father's honor. Her love for her father and her love for Rodrigue are closely linked to one another. She cannot chose which man she loves more. These are different kinds of love but both of them run deep.
Infanta also displays a love, one that she keeps all but secret. Only her lady-in-waiting knows that she loves Rodrigue. But Infanta is torn between her love of her role as a noble woman, a woman who cares very much about the welfare and stability of her kingdom, and her love of Rodrigue. If she exposes her love of Rodrigue she would be going against the rules of nobility, which declare that she must marry according to her social stature. She must marry someone who is in line to become a king. So she inspires and encourages the love between Chimene and Rodrigue. In this way, Chimene becomes Infanta's alter ego; and Infanta can love Rodrigue through Chimene.
Chivalry is exemplified by Rodrigue. He displays his great skills as a soldier and a leader in battle in the defense of his land and protection of his king as well as his abilities as a chivalrous gentleman in his relations with Chimene. He has the brute strength and courage of a wartime hero but is equally strong enough within himself to expose his most intimate feelings toward this woman and be willing to sacrifice his life for her. Don Sanche is also chivalrous but in a much more diminutive form. He promises to defend Chimene's honor by challenging Le Cid to a duel, a duel that Don Sanche surely must have seen as one in which the odds were stacked against him.
It is interesting to note that although chivalry is a major theme in this play, there is the undercurrent of a debate going on. Chivalry is matched with the law and order of the court, as represented by the king. In one incident, that of Don Gomes disagreeing with the king about his choice of tutor for his son, the audience of this play watches a very distinct confrontation between chivalry of old with the unfolding new power of the court. Don Gomes is chastised for believing that he is more powerful than the king. Despite his many victories in battle (without which the kingdom may not have survived), Don Gomes is warned not to let the king hear his criticism. Whereas chivalry might have been more powerful in an earlier time, this play insinuates that the court of law is now the supreme authority. This is also demonstrated when Chimene must go to the king and beseech him to use the laws of the court to punish the man who has killed her father. The king, who recognizes the chivalry of Rodrigue in having protected his father's honor by killing Don Gomes, must find some way to reconcile the old customs of chivalry and the new laws of the king's rule.
The Three Unities
The three unities, as they were called, influenced much of seventeenth-century French drama. This concept of the three unities was taken from Aristotle's On the Art of Poetry. But in truth, the way Aristotle's work was interpreted by neo-classic dramatists was faulty. The three unities, as interpreted by Jean Mairet (1604–1686), a dramatist of Corneille's time, stated that a drama should take place in one location only (unity of place); that the plot of events should unfold over the period of one day (unity of time); and that the focus of the play should be narrowed to the main events with no side plots developed (unity of action). Actually Aristotle only presented the unity of action and the unity of time as suggestions. Unity of place, he never mentioned. But the three unities, in Corneille's time, were considered mandatory in the construction of a drama. These unities of Aristotle's made plays rather predictable, and they confined the imaginations of dramatists. Although Corneille used the unities as a foundation, he stretched their boundaries.
Corneille, especially in his play Le Cid, was considered a bit of a renegade in the way he constructed this tragedy. In order to see how Corneille's play adheres to these rules of the Unities, one has to use an expansive imagination. For instance, in reference to place, one could possibly say that all the action took place within the general area around the center of the kingdom. When looked at more closely, which is what Richelieu did when he criticized Corneille for breaking the three Unities, audiences will notice that the play's scenes move from one house to another, one court to another. Corneille also stretched the time factor. He packed as many events into a day and a half as he could; and some critics have stated that there was no way humanly possible that everything could have happened during that time. For instance, poor Rodrigue must fight his intended father-in-law, confront his lover several times, travel to the seacoast, gather his military forces, plan an attack, surprise and defeat the Moors upon their landing, return to the kingdom, fight yet another challenger, console his lover once again, and face the king. If he accomplished all that in a day and a half, it is no wonder Le Cid was regarded as a medieval superhero.
Finally, there is the action. Although the main focus of the play is on Rodrigue and his relationship with Chimene, there is also the unfolding story of Rodrigue and his father; Chimene and her father; the Moors and their threat to the kingdom; as well as Le Cid's heroic efforts to save the kingdom. On top of this there is the character of Infanta and her love of Rodrigue and the self-sacrifice and sense of duty that she must face. There is also the jealousy between old rivals and the demonstration of the power of the courts.
In his stretching of the three unities, Corneille presented his Parisian audiences with a more complex work, adding more depth to his characterizations of the legendary hero's tale. The workings of Corneille's imagination shone through the old form, opening it up to new possibilities. And for his efforts in reducing the confinements of the three unities, Corneille changed the face of dramatic presentation in France and is often credited as being the Father of French Tragedy.
Contrast and Juxtaposition
With the construct of contrast and juxtaposition, a play's action alternates between different elements. At one point the audience is shown a point of view from one character's vision. At another, the opposing, or at least a contrasting, vision is exposed. This emphasizes the tension that creates dramatic effect, which is the reason that the audience wants to continue to be engaged in the play and find out what the final outcome will be or how the tension will be resolved. In Le Cid Corneille provides several different contrasting positions. The play begins in a neutral zone, with characters providing exposition, or narrative that offers the audience a foundation upon which the story of the play will rest. In this particular work, the tension begins to rise when Infanta announces not only her love but also her willingness to sacrifice that love for the sake of her kingdom. Then the contrasts between what characters need and want escalates as Don Diegue and Don Gomes conflict. Their disagreement provides the catalyst for the highest tension of this play, which is the juxtaposition of Chimene's need to honor her father and Rodrigue's need to honor his. More subtle contrasts include the old role of chivalry and battle as opposed to the new role of court rule as represented by the king.
Without conflict, the play would fall flat and the audience would become disinterested. Contrast pulls the audience into the play as they either try to figure out ahead of the action how to solve the problems or sit on the edge of their seats and watch as the characters themselves unfold the answers to all the questions that the play presents. Conflict is often the starting point for many writers as they begin to develop a work. Many writers are stimulated by a particular conflict, and they explore many possible solutions as the story progresses. Corneille, with his experience in Louis XIII's court, might have wondered how the old world of brave soldiers and military heroes would evolve under the new world order of a powerful king. Le Cid may have been the result of that question.
From the eighth until the eleventh century, Muslims (or Moors as they were once called) controlled most of the Iberian Peninsula, which contains the present-day Spain, Portugal, and Andorra. The first Muslim leader, Abd-al-Rahman, settled his forces in Cordoba in southern Spain, and it was from this city that he and his descendents ruled for almost three hundred years. At the turn of the eleventh century, Cordoba had become one of the largest metropolitan areas in the Mediterranean. But as the eleventh century neared, the Iberian Peninsula was in no way united. Allegiance to the rulers in Cordoba deteriorated and then completely fell apart when the last leader in Cordoba died in 1036. At this time, small kingdoms (called taifas) declared their independence. Among the most significant of these taifas were Seville, Cordoba, Granada, Toledo, Lisbon, and Valencia.
In the meantime, Christian communities in northern Spain began to fight back against the Moors. In the eleventh century, as Muslim control of the peninsula began to deteriorate, Christian armies proved more successful than they had been in the past and eventually regained control of northern and central Spain. But when Christians were victorious in the city of Toledo, which marked their largest triumph, Muslims became very concerned and asked for reinforcements. Their requests were honored, and troops from northern Africa soon arrived on Iberian shores. In 1086, Muslims again controlled many of the kingdoms on the peninsula; however, they were not able to keep control. In 1094, El Cid, Spain's first legendary hero, recaptured the prominent kingdom of Valencia. Unfortunately for the Christians, upon El Cid's death in 1099, the Muslims once again took over Valencia.
El Cid (also referred to as El Campeador, "the champion") was born Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar in 1043 in Vivar, Castile. He was of minor noble lineage on his father's side and part of the landed aristocracy on his mother's side. Raised at the court of Ferdinand I, he was a child with many privileges. At the age of twenty-two, under the rule of Sancho II, El Cid was appointed commander of the royal troops. In 1067, he was critically involved in the fall and annexation of the Morish kingdom of Zaragoza, thus signaling both his military and political prowess.
Sancho was not happy with the way the kingdom had been divided in his father's will. He began to wage war against his brother Alfonso, who ruled the other half of the land. El Cid, although he might have done so reluctantly, supported Sancho in these endeavors. When Sancho died in 1072, El Cid lost most of his political power. Some historians believe this caused El Cid to brood. And this brooding may have been the source of El Cid's attack on the Moorish kingdom of Toledo. El Cid was victorious, but since the kingdom of Toledo was under the protection of Alfonso, El Cid was exiled from all of Alfonso's lands.
It was during his exile that El Cid decided to help the Moors; and for ten years he served the leaders of the kingdom of Saragossa. His experiences with the Moors helped him to understand the Muslim world, something that would later assist him in his most victorious battle against the Muslims in Valencia.
- Eleventh century: The Muslim government in Spain is in a state of collapse. Small Christian kingdoms, some won through the efforts of El Cid, divide the land.
Seventeenth century: Spain is united and almost entirely Christian as, over the years, non-Christians and Muslims were either persecuted, converted to Christianity, or forced to leave the country.
Today: After many decades of a Franco dictatorship, Spain has a democratic constitution and is a member of the European Union.
- Eleventh century: The topic of drama, the costumes, and the actors are reflective of the laws of the Roman Catholic Church. Plays are usually performed by priests, and the subject matter is based on religious topics and church law.
Seventeenth century: Neoclassic tragedies (in which nobility is involved and someone dies) and comedies (which revolved around the common person and domestic affairs) are the two most successful types of drama.
Today: Experimentation influences much of contemporary drama, with theatre of the absurd on one end of the spectrum and social realism and dark comedy on the other.
- Eleventh century: The ruling monarchs are relatives of Hugh Capet (therefore the Capetian Dynasty) and include Robert II, Henry I, and Philip I. The French kingdom at this time rarely exceeded jurisdiction beyond Paris and Orleans but through the power of the Capetian kings, the foundation of France's nation-state is laid.
Seventeenth century: The Bourbon Dynasty is in power and includes Henry IV, Louis XIII, and Louis XIV. But one of the real powers is Cardinal de Richelieu who diminishes the authority of the church and increases the authority of the king.
Today: A constitution adopted in 1958 created the Fifth Republic of France. Today France is ruled by an elected president, an appointed senate, and an elected national assembly.
When the wave of Muslim reinforcements from Northern Africa reached the shores of the peninsula and enjoyed a crushing victory over some of Alfonso's territory, the Christian king swallowed his pride and requested that El Cid return to help him defeat the Muslims. After recapturing Valencia in 1094, El Cid made himself the chief magistrate of both the Muslims and the Christians who lived there.
El Cid died in Valencia in 1099; many years later, the epic poem El Cantar de Mio Cid ("The Song of Cid") helped to popularize him as a legendary hero. Because of this, it has sometimes been difficult for historians to separate fact from fiction when it comes time to understanding and relating the events that made up the life of this powerful warrior.
Louis XIII (1601–1643) became King of France at the age of nine, after the assassination of his father, King Henry IV. He was raised and counseled by his mother, Marie de Médicis, and Cardinal de Richelieu. Under Richelieu's influence, Louis XIII enjoyed a very authoritative rule. The king's word was to be followed by one and all. To ensure his own power, the young king had his mother exiled in 1617.
King Louis XIII was married in 1618 at the age of fourteen to an Austrian princess, Anne. One child was born to them twenty years later despite the fact that they rarely lived together. Some suggest that their son, who was to become Louis XIV, was not fathered by the king.
Although a very religious man, King Louis XIII believed in the right to commit murder, which he did. He was also a hypochondriac, almost always claiming to be sick. This did not stop him, however, from leading his army in battle. He was also bald and started the new fashion of wearing wigs.
King Louis XIII's son was only four years old when his father died. So the actual running of the country fell to his mother, Queen Anne.
Cardinal de Richelieu (1585–1642), Armand-Jean du Plessis, was the man who most influenced King Louis XIII and is still considered to be one of France's most notable politicians. Richelieu received his education (he began college at the age of nine) both at a military institution and a college of theology. At the early age of twenty-one, he was appointed bishop to a small, poor French diocese. Because of his outstanding abilities to organize and his devout religious beliefs, he was noticed by King Louis XIII's mother and brought to court. He was soon given the title of secretary of state of war and foreign affairs. In 1617, when Marie de Médicis was exiled from the Royal Court, Richelieu acted as liaison between the king and his mother. Five years later, much owed to the influence of Richelieu, King Louis XIII allowed his mother to return. After that, Marie pushed her son to award Richelieu with more power, which King Louis XIII did, giving Richelieu the title of chief minister of the royal court.
Richelieu lifted France to become a major European power. But this came at the expense of most of France's citizens. Richelieu's view of common citizens was that their role in society was strictly one of obedience to the king. This obedience involved everyone, including French artists. Richelieu believed that the king should control not only the military, financial, and social affairs of state but also the arts. Creative works without the approval of the king suffered public criticism and censorship.
Because of his political success, Richelieu is considered the founder of French Unity. He is credited with having taken France out of medieval times and making the country a powerful leader in the seventeenth-century world.
When Le Cid was first produced in 1936, people in France recognized the name of its author but not his ability to write tragedies. Corneille was better known at that time for his comedies, which were only moderately successful. However, with the production of Le Cid, Corneille's reputation took a dramatic turn. It was, according to John C. Lapp, translator and author of an introduction to this play, "a tremendous popular hit, combining all the elements calculated to please its aristocratic audience: the pangs of youthful love, heroic derring-do, tender lyricism and violent declamation."
Corneille was a writer of "exuberance of invention," writes Lapp. The success of this play, as well as much of criticism, was due in part to Corneille's departure from the accepted form of drama that was considered unbendable at the time—the unities of time, place, and action—classical rules based on what Lapp refers to as "an erroneous interpretation of Aristotle's Art of Poetry." Instead, Corneille emphasized the "feeling of admiratio or wonder he considered an essential element of tragedy," Lapp writes. Corneille wanted to keep the audience "puzzling over what will happen next, or listening to the poetry."
Despite Corneille's later successes, in which he continued his "love of intricate situations, or surprise, of grandiose word and deed," Lapp writes, Corneille never again attained "the high lyricism, the sheer youthful exuberance, the heights of exultation and depths of melancholy," as he did in Le Cid.
Today, Le Cid is still considered Corneille's best play. Although it has not been performed recently, an opera written by Jules Massenet in 1885 based on Le Cid continues to be performed internationally. The most recent production of the opera was held at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in 1999 and starred tenor Placido Domingo in the leading role.
Hart is a freelance writer and author of several books. In this essay, Hart studies the act of sacrifice as portrayed in Corneille's Le Cid.
Pierre Corneille's Le Cid focuses on a legendary hero of eleventh-century Spain and his feats of heroism, chivalry, and honor. But a more pervading element of this play, one that is acted out by not only the protagonist but many other characters is that of sacrifice. A sense of sacrifice lies beneath the surface of many of the events of this play, whether it is portrayed through a deed of love, honor, or respect.
The first sacrifice, which is not the noblest of them all but rather one that sets off the motions of Corneille's play is the willingness of Don Diegue to forfeit the life of his son, Le Cid, in order to restore honor to the family name. Of course, if Don Rodrigue were to lose his duel with Don Gomes, the pain would be great for Don Diegue, but it is one thing to sacrifice another person's life and another to offer up one's own. So although this sacrifice is great, it lacks a noble edge. Don Diegue not only is offering up his son's life, he is doing so without there being a substantial reason behind his efforts. Yes, one's honor was of immense purpose in the past, but the consequences were relative only to a limited number of family members. And cost to that family could be measured maybe in a diminished livelihood but not in serious punishment. Don Diegue might have lost his honor if he had not potentially sacrificed his son, but he still could have gone on living and probably living well. So the significance of this sacrifice was not great in itself except for the fact that because of it, the rest of the actions of the play fall into place.
Don Gomes is the next victim of sacrifice, and his sacrifice was much greater. He lost his life. The reasons for losing his life were not insignificant but they were rather trivial. Could he have refused to fight Don Rodrigue? Probably. One of the main reasons he gave in was because Don Gomes thought the whole thing was a joke. Who was this young man who dared to challenge the great warrior? Don Gomes thought he could wipe Don Rodrigue out as easily as swatting a fly. And the consequences for his actions would not have mattered much. If he killed Don Rodrigue, Don Diegue would have mourned the loss of his son, and Don Gomes's daughter, Chimene, would have mourned the loss of her lover. And that would have been it. The kingdom would have hypothetically gone on as before. But that is not how events unfolded. As it turned out, the duel was very significant because Don Gomes sacrificed (albeit unknowingly) his life and therefore greatly affected the kingdom.
Because of Don Gomes's sacrifice, Don Diegue's honor was restored, the love between Don Rodrigue and Chimene was compromised, and the whole legend of Le Cid was born. If Don Rodrigue had not killed Don Gomes, he would not have gone off and stopped the Moors from coming ashore in the kingdom in an attempt to take over the land. He would not have been renamed Le Cid. Don Rodrigue might not have been ready for such a remarkable feat as that. He was propelled, one could argue, because of Don Gomes's death to prove that he was a fearless warrior even greater than the warrior that he defeated in the duel. As Don Rodrigue outdid the older warrior in a one-on-one fight, so too would he outshine him on the battlefield. And he did.
But in killing Don Gomes, Don Rodrigue sacrifices the chances of winning Chimene as his wife. He relinquishes his deep love for her not in fact but in theory. His love for her remains in his heart, but because of what he has done, his love may never be returned. He goes into the duel with Don Gomes knowing this but also knowing that there was no way to avoid the consequences. Because of his father's and Don Gomes's argument and brief assault, Don Rodrigue stood to lose Chimene no matter what he did. And then to underscore the breadth of the price he must pay, Don Rodrigue offers his life—the ultimate sacrifice. What better way could Corneille have demonstrated how much Don Rodrigue loved Chimene? It is as if Don Rodrigue was saying that if he could not have Chimene there was no reason to go on living. He offered her his life so that she could find peace with her father's death.
When Chimene is not willing to kill him, Don Rodrigue volunteers to go fight the Moors. Against all odds, he is victorious in leading his men against the enemies of the kingdom. When he returns a hero, Le Cid's offer to Chimene to take his life has taken on even greater meaning because he is now not just a young man who has killed one brave soldier, he is a young champion who has saved his country. In some metaphoric way, he is not only sacrificing his life but the lives of all those whom he has saved.
DO I READ
- If you want to read the original text of the poem of the legend of El Cid, The Poem of the Cid (1985), by Ian Michael, Rita Hamilton, and Janet Perry, is a good place to go. This is a bilingual publication in ancient Spanish and easy-to-read English.
- Molière was a playwright contemporary with Corneille. He wrote what was called high comedy through which he criticized the social standards of his time. In his play La Tartuffe (1664), Molière examines the religious hypocrisy of his society. This was a very controversial play in seventeenth-century France.
- Although Molière would later top Corneille's prowess as a writer of comedy, Corneille's comic play Le Menteur (The Liar), produced in 1643, is considered his best in this genre. This comedy also has Spanish roots. It is a comedy of manners about on an eligible bachelor who tries to lie his way out of a match his father has arranged with a woman he does not love.
- In 1640, four years after Le Cid, Corneille wrote what is considered another masterpiece, Horace (1640). This play is also a tragedy. It is about patriotism and the conflict between families during a war between the ancient Romans and their Alban neighbors.
- Jean Racine, another contemporary of Corneille, wrote a very impressive tragedy called Phèdre (1677). The characters of this play are taken from Greek mythology. It is about a woman who falls in love with her stepson. It is considered one of Racine's best works.
Chimene, too, although not quite as chivalrous, offers an enormous sacrifice. She is a dutiful and loving daughter. Her father, a noble knight, has experienced a rather shameful death. He has not died on the battlefield, defending his king. Rather he has been killed in a common field by a young, untried nobody, the outcome of a petty argument. Chimene believes that her father's long years of battles won and the resultant honors that were bestowed on him will all be lost if his death is not avenged. And she is willing, though her heart is breaking, to sacrifice not her love but the life of the man she loves in order to protect her father's name and heritage. Chimene's sacrifice is noble because she does not, or cannot, rid herself of her love for Le Cid. That love is real and cannot be dismissed through a rational decision. She demands Le Cid's life in spite of her love for him. And that is what makes her sacrifice so momentous. She cannot measure her love for Le Cid against her love for her father. Both are weighty. But they come from different parts of her and must be dealt with in different ways. Of course, she does not really want Le Cid's death, but she feels compelled to ask for it because of her love for her father. If she does not respect her love of her father than how can Le Cid respect her love for him?
And then there is Infanta. Here is a woman who has a profound love for a man she cannot have. She cannot have him not because their love would be impossible but because their love would defame the unspoken laws of nobility. Infanta is in love with Le Cid. She was in love with him before his heroism, when he was merely a young and handsome man, the son of a once-brave warrior. But she is a princess, and the love between her and a commoner would show disrespect for her nobility. The kingdom would suffer because of it. So Infanta sacrifices her love for Le Cid by purposefully and actively making Chimene fall in love with him. If Infanta can make Chimene love Le Cid and see that the two of them are married, Infanta will lose all hope of marrying Le Cid herself. With this loss of hope, she believes that she will better be able to endure the loss of her love. Infanta makes this sacrifice of herself for the king as well as for the stability of her kingdom. She will, as all young princesses do, marry a man of high rank.
Even after Le Cid becomes a hero, meriting another look at his eligibility as the husband of a princess, Infanta resists. Not only does she resist, she goes to Chimene and asks Chimene to sacrifice her pride and her filial duty to avenge her father. Chimene must make this sacrifice, Infanta tells her, to save the country from ruin. The people need a hero, Infanta tells her, and Chimene must cease her bid to see Le Cid's death.
There is one more sacrificial act performed in the play. It is a small one but not immeasurable. Don Sanche promises to play out Chimene's wishes of avenging her father's death. Don Sanche is in love with Chimene, and he hopes this will win her hand. He challenges Le Cid to a duel. Don Sanche is no match for Le Cid either in love or in battle. But he is willing to sacrifice his life, or to at least potentially do so, in order to raise his stature in Chimene's eyes. It is in some ways a silly gesture, but one that must be done. Le Cid easily offsets Don Sanche's advances and in doing so, demonstrates his own high status as a righteous young man. He knows he is a far better warrior than Don Sanche, but he does not have to kill him to prove it. The fact that Don Sanche was willing to sacrifice his life is enough. It is as if Le Cid is saying that there have been enough sacrifices for one day. He sends Don Sanche back to Chimene, who mistakes the outcome and declares her everlasting love for Le Cid. So Don Sanche's ordeal produces the required effects without his having to shed his blood.
It is through these various acts of sacrifice that Corneille not only sets up the tension and dramatic impressions of this play but also adds complexities to his characters. The willingness to sacrifice marks a character as a person with a greater understanding of the truly noble qualities of life.
Joyce Hart, Critical Essay on Le Cid, in Drama for Students, Thomson Gale, 2005.
In the following essay, Trethewey examines Corneille's reasons for changing the first scene andChimene's final speech in the post-1660 version of Le Cid.
From Act II, scene 8 of Le Cid (post-1660 version), Chimène plays, to the Court and public of Castile, the role of seeker after justice or would-be avenger of her father's death, a role which ends only in Act V, scene 5 when her true feelings towards her 'enemy' Rodrigue are revealed to all in a manner which makes further attempted concealment or denial of them futile. That role is one which is imposed on her, not only by Spanish manners (as conceived by Corneille), but also, I would suggest, by the conventions of French classical theatre. I would then like to go further and side with those who see this play, in its later versions, as a true tragedy, and not one which ends with the envisaged marriage of Chimène and Rodrigue as a virtual certainty. I would argue that, this role of public enmity finished, the heroine must needs continue, not only as a result of the killing of her father, but also because of the treatment she has received in reaction to her dissembling, to resist to the end, and beyond, the marriage that the King would impose on her.
Let us start with one line, spoken by Chimène, in Act V, scene 1—line 1556 of the 1682 version of Le Cid:
Sors vainqueur d'un combat dont Chimène est le prix.
The immediate context is Chimène's second private interview with her lover-enemy Rodrigue, in which she finds herself obliged to persuade him to defend himself against her chosen champion, Don Sanche, instead of using the projected combat as a way of committing suicide. Her attempts at persuasion in this scene are increasingly both desperate and ingenious, since not only must she oppose his frequently expressed desire for death by her agency, but she must also persuade him by using arguments of a kind that will not shock public opinion, and will not offend the code of honour, or spoil their chances of remaining striking examples to posterity of constancy in both love and conflict.
Failing at first to shake his resolution, Chimène resorts to two linked arguments which she combines in her final speech—arguments which betray, more than anything she has said previously, what could be interpreted as personal preference. First, Rodrigue must fight in order to save her from becoming the prize of Don Sanche, 'l'objet de mon aversion' (l. 1552). Secondly, following logically from this, comes the injunction quoted above to fight to gain her, since the King's decree delivered in Act IV, scene 5 has dictated that, whoever the victor, 'même prix est acquis à sa peine' (l. 1457).
The line which follows in Act V, scene 1—Chimène's last in the act—is her reaction to the line she has just spoken, a confession of her shame at having uttered it:
Adieu: ce mot lâché me fait rougir de honte
There is ambiguity here. Does 'ce mot' refer to the whole of the previous line? Or is it that line's final word prix which is her shame? It was the King's word in Act IV, scene 5 (l. 1457), and in now pronouncing it, she emphasizes it, giving it in effect the value of a quotation, in order to express her disgust. Her injunction is in fact a reminder to Rodrigue of the Kings decree—to which, however, Chimène herself did not acquiesce. And she now distances herself from a possible charge of doing so by referring to that decree, and to herself in the third person, so that there is no suggestion of her having assented to Don Fernand's callous command.
The whole utterance is a matter of shame to her. It conjures up a complex mesh of emotions. Various reasons no doubt occur to the audience as well as to Rodrigue for the shame that she admits to feeling. She is outraged at having been made a prize in a contest. She possibly fears at this moment that she may have promised too much and thus endangered her good reputation. More significantly, she sees herself as having betrayed family honour: the Comte's death will never now be avenged if her words have their intended inspirational effect. And then, finally, it is the shame of a reluctant dissembler who is deceiving her lover with a piece of casuistry, knowing that his desire for her will, at least temporarily, distort his judgment and delude him into thinking that she accepts the royal decision as final and binding on her. She is deceiving him for his own immediate good, certainly, but it is deception, and she has no intention of giving in for the sake of his (let alone her own) ultimate happiness, as her later eight-line speech to Elvire most vigorously confirms, including as it does the promise:
…quoi qu'à sa victoire un monarque ait promis
Mon honneur lui fera mille autres ennemis
(v. 4. 1683–84)
That Rodrigue has indeed been taken in by her deception is clear from his brief soliloquy at the end of Act V, scene 1: the hand of Chimène is to him 'un espoir si doux' (l. 1563) for which he will gladly fight not just Don Sanche, but all the assembled 'vaillants' of Spain. Rodrigue's reaction is virtually a reprise of that which must have followed the speech of encouragement from his father at the end of Act III, scene 6, when the actor playing him, having no words to utter, must demonstrate by gesture and facial expression the passage from despair to hope and resolve.
Admittedly, there are many commentators who would reject the allegation that Chimène is here deliberately deceiving Rodrigue. There are those, for instance, who regard this line as the beginning of the dénouement, leading inevitably to marriage in a year's time as decreed by the King. My view is that she is here using a form of words which she knows will be enough, temporarily, to motivate Rodrigue to live and to win. I propose to demonstrate moreover that, as good classical practice would dictate, the dissembling on her part, which here takes place, has been prepared for in the exposition, and has subsequently been an essential part of her behaviour.
Le Cid, at first a tragi-comedy, became a tragedy with the 1648 edition, but it was only from 1660 that Corneille introduced a modified first scene which, in my view, despite the lightness of its tone, is an improvement—fitting perhaps for the original genre as well as the new one. The opening scene of editions from 1637–56 treated audiences to a conversation between Chimène's father Don Gomès, Comte de Gormas, and Elvire, her suivante. In it the latter reported the girl's dutiful indifference towards her two rival suitors. Mitchell Greenberg has persuasively suggested that the absence of Chimène from the stage in this first scene leaves us with an impression of her as one who 'does not exist as a desiring subject' since Elvire 'presents her as an indifferent object of her suitor's demands'. But there are other problems with this scene. The Comte tells Elvire that he is pleased with Chimène's indifference, and that he himself prefers Rodrigue as his prospective son-in-law. But then (in lines which were eliminated in 1660) he orders her to return to her mistress:
Va l'en entretenir, mais dans cet entretien
Cache mon sentiment et découvre le sien.
Je veux qu'à mon retour nous en parlions ensemble.
(ed. cit., III, p. 107, note 3)
Obviously, Corneille had decided by 1660 that this speech signalled to an audience experienced in classical conventions a plot development in the form of an encounter which was simply not going to take place. It was not clear with whom (Elvire or Chimène) Don Gomès proposed to have his discussion on his return, and in any case he was never again to meet either of them, in this or in any later version of the play. From 1660 onwards, therefore, Elvire, now promoted to gouvernante, opens the exposition, reporting her conversation with the Comte to Chimène but omitting any reference to a planned future meeting.
Elvire has, she tells her charge, deliberately deceived the Comte by painting a picture of an indifferent and submissive Chimène (l. 17). She quotes verbatim the Comte's pleased reaction which he himself spoke directly to us in the first version. To Greenberg, 'this change, it would seem, empties it of much of its dramatic force', and he quotes Corneille himself to support his suggestion: 'ce qu'on expose à la vue touche bien plus que ce qu'on n'apprend que par un récit'. But Elvire's récit, and the rest of her conversation with Chimène, besides converting the girl most decidedly into a 'desiring subject', allow Corneille to add an ingredient to the scene which gives it a new dramatic force.
It was impossible for the 1637 Elvire to convey to the audience the fact that her words to the Comte were a deliberate deception. Now however she can tell Chimène:
j'ai peint votre coeur dans une indifférence…
(l. 17, my italics)
The latter, delighted with developments, has nothing to say against this deception, as if it should be taken for granted—by women at any rate—that fathers have, on occasion, to be treated thus by female members of their household. We also learn that Rodrigue and Don Sanche have both been courting her in secret (13–14). Plainly the mask of indifference (if not the secrecy) must now continue so that the Comte, flattered by Elvire's depiction of a dutiful daughter, will remain without suspicion of any wilfulness or unfeminine independence of thought on her part. Elvire concludes her récit(17–52) with a line from Don Gomès which must now, quoted by her, sound sublimely condescending:
…ma fille, en un mot, peut l'aimer et me plaire.
Reported mockingly by the gouvernante, it must have an almost comic tone which the two women must make evident to the audience, since it helps to justify the gentle deception they are practising. The hint of a possible plot development in the first version of the scene has therefore been replaced in the second by a different suggestion recalling Corneille's early comedies, involving a lighthearted conspiracy which, while it might be regarded as implicit in the earliest version, was not verbally hinted at there. It soon becomes clear, also, that Chimène and Elvire are not alone in this conspiracy, for the Infante's complicity in bringing the two young people together is revealed in the next scene. Without her, and her anguished search for a means to thwart her unworthy passion, the Comte, it would seem, would have had nobody but Don Sanche to consider for the hand of his daughter.
From that slight but necessary preparation in these two scenes the horrors of the quarrel, the insult, the duel, and the death all quickly grow. But from the lighthearted revelation of dissembling in the play's opening lines comes our recognition of Chimène's ability and readiness to deceive, a readiness which women, of whatever rank, must develop in the male-dominated, warrior society depicted in this play. There is a necessity to deceive too, since just as she had been ready to feign dutiful indifference regarding suitors, and unquestioning obedience towards her father, it now logically follows that she must (however reluctantly in her own mind) give the impression of a similar obedience to the dictates of honour and family duty.
Her new deception begins in earnest in Act II, scene 8 when, her father dead, she must conceal her confusion and put on a mask of indignation and intransigence in front of the King and his court. Don Fernand, as a would-be absolute monarch, must also wear a mask—in his case, of infallibility. The problems in relation to Chimène that he creates for himself as a consequence of this policy begin in this scene which involves the plea made by Rodrigue's father Don Diègue, as well as that of the bereaved daughter. Her display of rhetoric is impressive but not faultless, and it is at a moment of temporary breakdown in her speech (669–70) that the King intervenes to offer words of comfort for her loss:
Prends courage, ma fille, et sache qu'aujourd'hui
Ton roi te veut servir de père au lieu de lui.
This protective gesture is to be expected of him as a medieval monarch, but on this occasion there is more to it than feudal custom and courtesy. He sees trouble and difficult decisions ahead of him (he has, as we know, Moorish problems as well as domestic ones), and wishes to control and thereby neutralize Chimène. Nevertheless, a judgment will eventually be expected of him, both by the girl and by Don Diègue, and so, with business elsewhere in mind, he promises his petitioners that he will have the case considered 'en plein conseil' (l. 734), and at the end of the scene makes them the rash pledge: 'Je vous ferai justice' (l. 737), a pledge which circumstances prevent him from fulfilling.
Chimène is driven in her tirades of Act II, scene 8 by an understanding of what society expects of a nobleman's daughter. It colours her rhetoric and leads her to reinforce her plea with appeals to the King's own self-interest. Her real, more complex feelings are as yet unknown to anyone present. Only the theatre audience is aware of the tensions underlying her performance, having heard in Act II, scene 3 her clearsighted résumé, delivered to the Infante, of the situation, and of the dilemma in which she and Rodrigue would find themselves if a duel took place. Chimène is undoubtedly dissembling here before the King, her performance contrasting starkly, despite the logical connection between the two, with the light-hearted game at the Comte's expense that was revealed to us in Act I, scene 1. There, hope and eager anticipation, it was suggested, had to be hidden behind a façade of demure indifference. Here, on the contrary, despair and bitter regret must be masked by a show of passionate commitment. What the two performances have (or will have) in common, however, is the understanding and approval of Rodrigue. He has played two similar roles (suitor and avenger), but in his case they have ended once the Comte is dead, whereas Chimène must go on dissembling, at least in public, almost up to the end of the play.
After the death of the Comte, among those characters who are aware of Chimène's real feelings is, as we know, the Infante who is still (as always) in the girl's confidence in Act IV, scene 2 when news of Rodrigue's victory over the Moors has come through without, for Chimène, one essential detail: the consequent state of his health. It is the Infante who, with a clearsightedness and consideration greater than her father's, points out to Chimène what the consequences of the victory (coming on top of the death of the Comte) are likely to be for her. Her plea for justice, the Infante warns, will no longer carry the same weight as on the previous day:
Ce qui fut juste alors ne l'est plus aujourd'hui.
Rodrigue maintenant est notre unique appui,
L'espérance et l'amour d'un peuple qui l'adore,
Le soutien de Castille, et la terreur du More.
Le Roi même est d'accord de cette vérité
Que ton père en lui seul se voit ressuscité;
Et si tu veux enfin qu'en deux mots je m'explique,
Tu poursuis en sa mort la ruine publique
She then adds a suggestion which, with other hints dropped here and there in the play, has caused certain commentators to see her ironically as still beguiled by secret hopes for her own possible union with Rodrigue:
Ce n'est pas qu'après tout tu doives, épouser
Celui qu'un père mort t'obligeait d'accuser:
Je te voudrais moi-même en arracher l'envie;
Ote-lui ton amour, mais laisse-nous sa vie.
Those secret thoughts could quite possibly be there below the surface, and could be betrayed to an audience while remaining concealed from Chimène. But what is openly present in this speech is a lucid appraisal ('l'objectivité de la jalousie', Jacques Maurens calls it) of the new political situation and of Rodrigue's importance to the state. He is 'notre unique appui'; loss of him would lead to 'la ruine publique'. Therefore, 'laisse-nous sa vie'. As a diplomat, she is more astute than her father who, on learning of the death of the Comte, said 'sa perte m' affaiblit' (l. 646), emphasizing his own personal loss rather than the kingdom's. At the same time, one can also claim that her proposed solution to Chimène's dilemma is one of the possible outcomes of the year's grace conceded by the King in Act V, scene 7. The dénouement may ultimately be that compromise just as plausibly as it may be either the continued complete intransigence of Chimène or the prospect of the (happy?) couple's final union. Chimène's immediate reaction to the Infante's proposal is spirited rejection in favour of implacable pursuit (ll. 1191–96), but her attitude in the play's last scene is somewhat different, as we shall see.
First, however, we must look again at the circumstances inspiring the line quoted at the beginning of this article. The King, on hearing (in Act IV, scene 3) of the victory against the Moors, decides there and then that Rodrigue must be pardoned for killing the Comte:
Crois que dorénavant Chimène a beau parler,
Je ne l'écoute plus que pour la consoler.
One can perhaps, under the circumstances, sympathize with this decision which unites a natural enthusiasm for the impressive new champion with consideration for national security. But one cannot feel the same about his way subsequently of handling the Chimène problem, for when, in Act IV, scene 5, she appears before him once again to demand justice, instead of satisfaction (or even the proposed consolation), she gets cruel deception of the sort other judges (and other dramatists) mete out usually as punishment, when she is told that Rodrigue is dead (l. 1340). This trick, meant to wreck her performance, to reveal her love to all the court and thereby silence her demand, is only a partial success: despite fainting, despite her state of shock and confusion, she makes no verbal confession. Inevitably, her pride is injured by such treatment, and her indignation manifests itself in a renewed, even more energetic intransigence incorporating accusations of 'la justice étouffée' and of 'le mépris des lois' (ll. 1381, 1383), words which are a defiance of this absolute monarch, who (being a character in a performance) must visibly react by showing embarrassment if not displeasure. It leads directly to her demand for vengeance by recourse to a 'combat judiciaire'—perfectly logical under the circumstances as she sees them, where 'justice' is denied her, and given the trick just played on her:
Puisque vous refusez la justice à mes larmes,
Sire, permettez-moi de recourir aux armes.[…]
A tous vos cavaliers je demande sa tête:
Oui, qu'un d'eux me l'apporte, et je suis sa conquête;
Qu'ils le combattent, Sire; et le combat fini,
J'épouse le vainqueur, si Rodrigue est puni.
(ll. 1397–98, 1401–04)
Thus does Chimène try to make Don Fernand pay for his thoughtless, unfatherly trick. But while he is now obliged to bend his absolutist principles to sanction officially this 'abus', as he calls it (l. 1409), he has other tricks up his royal sleeve. As a form of damage-limitation, in order to reassert his authority, and also to protect Rodrigue and further the scheme of uniting the pair, he first reduces the number of her champions to one, and then—after she has chosen the eager Don Sanche—makes her the prize whoever wins. The interests of Rodrigue may seem to be advanced thereby, but hardly in the heart of Chimène, who now suffers from the accumulated effects of what amounts to two clumsy royal insults, which must strengthen even more her determination to resist her feelings in his favour. It is hard therefore to accept that very shortly afterwards (Act V, scene 1) she would, in the line already considered, sincerely and wholeheartedly promise herself to Rodrigue.
At the dénouement, there seems to be general agreement in the court that enough is enough, that these two lovers must now be united. Don Fernand, addressing Chimène, asserts ex cathedra:
Ta gloire est dégagée, et ton devoir est quitte.
and commands her to marry. The Infante, with a ceremonial gesture, the secret significance of which is known only to Léonor and the audience, supports her father by 'giving' Rodrigue to Chimène (ll. 1773–74). Even Don Sanche has bravely taken part in the conspiracy:
J'aime encor ma défaite,
Qui fait le beau succès d'une amour si parfaite.
Only the principals fail to fall into line. It is the first time in the play that they have met in public. One could say that the only real concession they make, under these circumstances which the court regards as changed, is to consent to speak to one another. At the risk of offending the King, a possibility of which Rodrigue is well aware, he tells Chimène that she is in no danger of being claimed by him as his 'prize':
…Mon amour n'emploiera point pour moi
Ni la loi du combat, ni le vouloir du Roi.
And as before, he offers to submit himself to her for summary execution, or to fight the champions recruited by her, no matter how numerous they turn out to be, seemingly to the end of time:
Faut-il combattre encor mille et mille rivaux,
Aux deux bouts de la terre étendre mes travaux,
Des héros fabuleux passer la renommée?
The prospect of posthumous fame, or of a mythological hero's mortality (already envisaged in Act V, scene 1), makes the identity of his imagined foes somewhat vague, since although he sees himself fighting 'rivaux', his speech implies attack more than defence. Are they her champions, or are they just undefined enemies of Castile?
Her direct address to him is brief but significant: 'Relève-toi, Rodrigue' (l. 1801). Those words are a public sign that her pursuit of him is at an end (the Infante's Act IV, scene 2 analysis had something to be said for it). The court and the (Castilian) public may also hope for a marriage and a happy ending from two lines that follow, addressed to Don Fernand:
Rodrigue a des vertus que je ne puis haïr;
Et quand un roi commande, on lui doit obéir
The remainder of her speech, however, offers very little hope indeed. It is a speech meant as much for Rodrigue's ears as for Don Fernand's. To her, the King's decree is a condemnation (l. 1805), it lays her open to a 'reproche éternel' (ll. 1811). And even if she should feel compelled to obey the King and agree to marry, there is no possibility (and she knows it) that Rodrigue, hearing and understanding her objections, will insist on claiming her for his bride.
Of all the myriad commentators, Octave Nadal has been one of the most clearsighted about this play's ending. The love of Rodrigue and Chimène for each other is plain for all to see and will endure all their lives, but nothing, 'ni vaillance, ni ordre royal, ni durée, ni miracle au monde—et pas même celui de l'amour' can take away from this daughter the sense of guilt that would eternally torment her if she married her father's killer. Georges Forestier holds a similar view, and has more recently been at pains to underline that, post-1648, 'Le Cid est aux yeux du poète une tragédie', and he goes on to cite Corneille's view on the proper matter of the genre: 'il y a tragédie pour peu que deux amants soient déchirés par des "passions plus nobles et plus mâles que l'amour" et qui entrent en conflit avec celui-ci'. Both Chimène and Rodrigue understand the impossibility of any foreseeable resolution, even if the King, Don Diègue and the others do not. Chimène's line addressed to Rodrigue at the end of Act V, scene 1 was her last, but undoubtedly supreme, moment of dissembling. Further deception becomes impossible—and superfluous—after fate has intervened to deceive her in Act V, scene 5 and bring about the compromise (and the dénouement) proposed by the Infante. But not for a moment does she ever deceive herself. Her perpetual 'sentiment obscur de culpabilité' is not a feature of the Spanish versions of the legend which are more in keeping with medieval customs and thought processes, and which can make it Rodrigue's duty to marry Chimène for having killed her previous legal protector, her father. In Corneille's final version, neither medieval custom nor royal absolutism will marry off this couple. The King, most decidedly, does not have Chimène in his gift.
That is not to say that Chimène will never marry Rodrigue. It is simply that, at the end of this play, there is no sign of Chimène bowing to the King's diktat of line 1815, or of the young man so betraying his ideals and his love as to accept her as his 'salaire' (Chimène's word, line 1810). A year's grace might possibly change matters, but it would be useless—counterproductive even—for those present to look for the slightest signs of that change after only twenty-four hours.
John Trethewey, "Chimene's Dissembling and Its Consequences," in Romance Studies, Vol. 17, No. 2, December 1999, pp. 105–14.
Helen L. Harrison
In the following essay, Harrison explores the theme of royal gratitude—a king's bestowing of rewards for services rendered—in Le Cid and how this theme culminates in the final scene of the play.
When the Académie Française delivered its judgment on Le Cid, Don Fernand's support for the marriage of Rodrigue and Chimène met with condemnation. The Academicians ruled that a marriage between a woman and her father's killer would have been immoral. At the same time, the Académie criticized the Castillean king as an abusive tyrant who lightly gave away property—namely Chimène herself—which did not belong to him. By questioning the appropriateness of the king's gift to Rodrigue, the Académie directs our attention to the problem of royal gratitude.
For a seventeenth-century audience, a king who has received extraordinary services from a subject is in a delicate position. The monarch's own interests dictate that he reward such services. In so doing, he practices the liberality expected of all nobles. He inspires his subjects to work and to fight for him. On the other hand, service to the crown must remain a duty, not a venture motivated by self-interest alone. A king must never allow those beneath him to view his gifts merely as their due. Should reward and recognition become obvious payment, the bond between a king and his subjects would become a contractual one rather than a divinely ordained relationship. While a noble who has received a favor from a peer finds himself in the uncomfortable and inferior position of being obligé, no subject can gain such an advantage over a monarch. The final scene of Le Cid is the culmination of a series of tests having to do with royal gratitude in this play. Not only the major characters but also the members of Corneille's public reveal their attitude toward monarchy as they assess the king's gifts and his method of bestowing them.
The first discussion of royal gratitude privileges deferred rewards over immediate payment for services. As Don Diègue and the Comte leave the royal council, they disagree as to whether the king has been just in making Don Diègue tutor to the prince:
Cette marque d'honneur qu'il met dans ma famille
Montre à tous qu'il est juste, et fait connaître assez
Qu'il sait récompenser les services passés.
Pour grands que soient les Rois, il sont ce que nous sommes
Ils peuvent se tromper comme les autres hommes,
Et ce choix sert de preuve à tous les Courtisans
Qu'ils savent mal payer les services présents.
The two warriors share the assumption that services to the sovereign should receive compensation. The parallelism of verses 150 and 154 could be read as symptomatic of similar attitudes toward the relations between subject and monarch. On closer examination, however, these verses already reveal different stances toward the king and toward gratitude. The conflict between the two men is not simply a matter of whether or not the king has made a good decision, but a question of how all such decisions should be interpreted and of who has the right to judge the monarch.
For Diègue, the king's decision results from royal justice. Don Fernand has remembered the deeds of his old champion and has decided to reward them. The verb used by Don Diègue for the monarch's action is "récompenser," which means, etymologically, to reestablish a balance, to weigh one thing with another (Wartburg, recompensare). Finding an appropriate recompense thus entails exercising judgment. The giver rather than the receiver decides in this context what the reward should be. In praising his monarch's decision, Don Diègue depicts the king as a unique being who displays his virtue to a global and undifferentiated audience, "tous."
The Comte, in contrast, places the king on the same level with his nobles by destroying this uniqueness. He speaks not of "le roi" but of "les rois." Monarchs become one class of beings who must prove themselves to another, potentially adversarial group, "les Courtisans." Rather than seeing the political structure in terms of king and subjects, the current champion of Castille posits kings who need the goodwill of their vassals. In saying that kings "savent mal payer les services présents," the Comte makes his sovereign little more than the employer of mercenary troops. His complaint hints that Fernand's poor example might discourage other nobles from serving him well. Nothing in his speech glosses over the immediate exchange which Chimène's father expects between the king and those who protect his realm.
The choice between Don Diègue and the Comte has thus served to expose differing views of kings and to make plain the sovereign's determination to place himself outside the bonds of obligation which would govern him were he only the first among equals. The king eschews using the coveted appointment for the purpose of retaining the military support he currently needs. He rewards good servants, but he does so in his own time and his own way. By selecting Diègue rather than Gomès, Don Fernand shows that temporal distance does not diminish the value of works which support the monarchy. The lapse of time between the older man's service and this particular reward obfuscates any resemblance which the appointment has to mercenary payment and also makes the example of royal gratitude more striking than a favor bestowed on Chimène's father would be. If pride and interest did not blind Don Gomès, he could read in the king's decision the message that the sovereign would remember and consider distinguished military service even after a warrior had lost his strength.
The ability to transcend the present and to remain above temporal constraints is a distinguishing feature of royal gratitude, and it is a feature which recalcitrant nobles such as the Comte cannot accept. As Chimène's father rages over the preference accorded past rather than present services, he reveals that his allegiance lies chiefly with the old, feudal order rather than with the absolutist regime which Don Fernand strives to create. Several critics have remarked upon the conflict between Gomès and Diègue as a tension between these two conceptions of society, but it is necessary to emphasize that the transition from feudalism to absolutism is underway before the play begins. Even Don Gomès has a foot in both camps. Hence he accepts, as does Don Diègue, a second defining feature of royal gratitude, namely that the reward for services to the crown should be an opportunity to perform more services. The two men want to teach the prince. Both the past and present champion sense that their prestige and identity depend upon the sovereign's favor.
The two great nobles want the king's reconnaissance in both senses of the word. Gratitude for their services constitutes recognition of their identities. The chance to serve as the prince's tutor can confirm the king's belief in a warrior's valor and merit. Such an expression of gratitude would demonstrate that the king and all his realm see Gomès as he wishes to be seen, as the incomparable champion of Castille. Hence the sharpness of the barb when Don Diègue, after a speech which at first seems conciliatory, adds "Un Monarque entre nous met de la différence" (I.iv.208). Gomès is enough of a modern courtier to feel that his worth has been denied if the king does not recognize him, yet not enough of a courtier to see that he must accept the sovereign's choices without murmuring. The apparent slight to his honor corrodes the Comte's allegiance to the new order, just as it saps his goodwill and admiration toward Diègue and his son.
As the initial dispute over the king's gratitude separates the adherents of a new absolutism from poorly adapted feudal lords, the scene between the fathers lays the groundwork for Don Arias's words on the king's superiority to debt: "Quoiqu'on fasse d'illustre et de considérable / Jamais à son sujet un Roi n'est redevable" (II.i.371–72). Despite his military service, Gomès has neither the right to expect special protection for his offenses, nor the right to demand payment for his acts of valor. No subject ever has such rights. In Don Fernand's first scene with Rodrigue, however, the monarch apparently belies Don Arias's words.
After Rodrigue defeats the invading Moors, the king finds himself in a position which offers him little hope of providing a suitable recompense to his champion. Everyone now knows that Don Fernand owes Rodrigue his kingdom. Monarch or no, Don Fernand appears as redevable. The challenge to him is to turn his indebtedness to his own ends, to make his expressions of gratitude enhance rather than diminish his prestige, despite the inadequacy of any tangible rewards which he can bestow on his champion.
In these circumstances, the king declares the debt openly and acknowledges his inability to repay it:
Pour te récompenser ma force est trop petite,
Et j'ai moins de pouvoir que tu n'as de mérite.
Le pays délivré d'un si rude ennemi,
Mon sceptre dans ma main par la tienne affermi,
Et les Mores défaits avant qu'en ces alarmes
J'eusse pu donner ordre à repousser leurs armes,
Ne sont point des exploits qui laissent à ton Roi
Le moyen ni l'espoir de s'acquitter vers toi.
This speech, while denying that the hero will receive more than words of praise from his king, already constitutes a type of reward for the young courtier. The king himself recognizes Rodrigue's prowess. At the same time, this apparent declaration of royal bankruptcy works to lessen expectations that any further reward will be forthcoming. This heightens the effect of the benefits bestowed in the second part of the king's speech:
Mais deux Rois, tes captifs, feront ta récompense,
Ils t'ont nommé tous deux leur Cid en ma présence,
Sois désormais le Cid, qu'à ce grand nom tout cède,
Qu'il devienne l'effroi de Grenade et Tolède,
Et qu'il marque à tous ceux qui vivent sous mes lois
Et ce que tu me vaux et ce que je te dois.
On the one hand, the king protects himself and his new champion from any accusation of entering into a contractual, mercenary exchange. The king specifically says that he is still Rodrigue's debtor and that the récompense comes from the Moorish kings. Yet, in contrast to the Spanish source, no Moorish king is present to give the hero his new name. The king himself makes it public and thus creates for Rodrigue a new identity. In doing so, the monarch both shows his power to transform an individual and attributes prophetic powers to himself. He promises the Cid a future.
Once again, we see in this passage the ability of the king to transcend time as he displays his gratitude. All of what Rodrigue will do and be henceforth comes to read as the king's gift. Future services to the Crown become the reward bestowed for past services. And, in what is perhaps the most surprising move of all, the king's debt becomes a sign of his generosity.
Rather than negate his debt, the king memorializes it. By coopting the word Cid and making it a mark of the value he attaches to Rodrigue and the debt he owes him, Don Fernand links himself to the young hero, Rodrigue's fame to his. The personal pronouns in line 1238—tu, me, je, te—reinforce this association. Rodrigue's title becomes a monument not only to the young warrior but also to his sovereign.
The king's thanks to Rodrigue serve another strategic purpose. The speech provokes Rodrigue to restate the principle of a subject's endless indebtedness and to recognize his master's freedom from a system of payment:
Que votre Majesté, Sire, épargne ma honte,
D'un si foible service elle fait trop de compte,
Et me force à rougir devant un si grand Roi
De mériter si peu l'honneur que j'en reçois.
Je sais trop que je dois au bien de votre Empire
Et le sang qui m'anime et l'air que je respire,
Et quand je les perdrai pour un si digne objet,
Je ferai seulement le devoir d'un sujet.
While the king's own words had at first seemed to echo the ideas of the Comte, Rodrigue's clearly recall the precepts recited by Don Arias. This exchange thus demonstrates that while Rodrigue replaces Chimène's father as military champion, he will not become Don Gomès. The modesty with which Rodrigue belittles his own heroic actions contrasts favorably with the Comte's overweening pride. Rodrigue will continue to see himself as the king's ever-obligated subject.
This second example of royal gratitude functions, as did the first, as a test. The king's gratitude toward Don Diègue tested Gomès's ability to serve the emerging order, the absolutism which the king envisions but which he cannot yet completely practice. The second example requires Rodrigue to prove his loyalty to the new regime. The scene with Rodrigue cannot disguise that the monarchy of Castille needs heroic defenders and will fall without them. Nonetheless, just as the king designates Rodrigue as a hero who will win lasting glory, Rodrigue affirms his lord's status as indisputable sovereign of the realm. Royal reconnaissance in-cites the subject's reconnaissance. Both men benefit from this mutual recognition, but it establishes a hierarchy in which the military hero, however glorious, remains subordinate to his monarch. In recognizing an insurmountable distance between his deserts and the monarch's generosity, Rodrigue presents an example for the spectators within Fernand's court and within the Paris theater to follow.
The third scene I have chosen presents, as we shall soon see, a test to Corneille's audience as well as to the members of Don Fernand's court. Don Fernand has allowed Chimène's champion to challenge Rodrigue to a duel, but has decreed that Chimène must accept the victor of this combat as her husband. This decree is not explicitly formulated as an expression of gratitude to Rodrigue, yet the king's words suggest that he views Chimène as an additional recompense for his new champion:
Et le combat fini, m'amenez le vainqueur.
Quel qu'il soit, même prix est acquis à sa peine,
Je le veux de ma main présenter à Chimène,
Et que pour récompense il reçoive sa foi.
Once Rodrigue has won the duel, Chimène's usefulness as royal recompense becomes even more apparent, though not unproblematic. Chimène has undergone a series of trials which prove both her love for Rodrigue and her loyalty to her father, and she now balks at a marriage which would place one above the other. The king grants her a delay of one year and enjoins Rodrigue to spend this time fighting the Moors in their own lands. Further service to the king will win Rodrigue additional glory and, according to Don Fernand, Chimène's hand. The king will collaborate with Rodrigue's valor to obtain the desired end: "Pour vaincre un point d'honneur qui combat contre toi, / Laisse faire le temps, ta vaillance, et ton Roi" (V.vii.1865–66).
Whether or not one believes that the marriage between Rodrigue and Chimène will occur depends upon whether one accepts the claims for royal gift-giving which earlier scenes supported. The king makes explicit in this scene the superiority to time which the text has already attributed to him. He has shown that he gives the future as well as the present. His decree is law, whether fulfilled immediately or in a year: "Cet Hymen différé ne rompt pas une loi / Qui sans marquer de temps lui destine ta foi" (V.vii.1845–46). This confidence functions as a sign of the king's power. Rather than make his rewards less real or less valuable, delay can in fact make his gift more palatable to Chimène and will incite Rodrigue to perform more feats for the good of the realm. Don Fernand's past generosity and his determination to establish himself as absolute should lead the audience to conclude that the marriage, which is after all historical, will take place.
Here I seem to be in the uncomfortable position of disagreeing not only with such perspicacious critics as Mitchell Greenberg but also with Corneille himself. The 1660 examen answers the critics of Le Cid who maintained that Chimène shows herself to be impudique in agreeing to marry the man who killed her father by asserting that the heroine never gives her consent to the marriage. Her response to the monarch's decree is silence, and Corneille warns against interpreting silence as consent in this case:
Je sais bien que le silence passe d'ordinaire
pour une marque de consentement; mais quand
les Rois parlent, c'en est une de
contradiction: on ne manque jamais à leur
applaudir quand on entre dans leurs
sentiments; et le seul moyen de leur
contredire avec le respect qui leur est dû,
c'est de se taire. (Corneille, 1: 701)
The remarks on universal eagerness to flatter kings seem more appropriate to the post-Fronde monarchy of 1660 than to either the France of 1637 or the Castille of the play. Louis XIII still faced insubordination from the grands and from his own family. As to Don Fernand, he is a king establishing an absolute monarchy, not yet the unquestioned center of an adoring and submissive court. Chimène's silence indeed protects her from having to give an unequivocal answer to the king's decree, but in the heat of the Querelle du Cid, neither Corneille nor his defenders explained her silence as dissent. As Couton notes, this passage from the examen has more to do with answering old objections to this tragi-comedy than with how Corneille or his contemporaries read the play in 1637.
Greenberg views Chimène as a scandalous figure who clings to the old regressive order represented by her father and indefinitely defers marriage with Rodrigue. I would argue instead that the deferral of the marriage is a royal decision which places this example of royal gratitude in line with the two earlier ones. By demanding that Rodrigue place his hope in time and the king, Don Fernand reminds the audience that the Crown will not forget its servants. Le Cid depicts a world which has undergone radical change, and the king's increased power comes with that change. Yet, the king's insistence on his own memory and foresight makes him the conveyor of continuity. The scenes involving royal gratitude thus contain the reassurance that the new order still respects the virtues of the old one. Those who feel troubled by a world in which absolutism is conquering a feudal past should respond not by rebelling but by turning their faith and service to the monarch.
Royal gratitude does not necessarily exhaust state coffers, for it may, in concrete terms, be cheap. One can argue that Don Fernand gives nothing but promises and demands. Nonetheless, he makes his subjects and the audience believe in the worth of these promises and demands. By rewarding worthy subjects with opportunities for further service and by refusing to privilege the present over the past or the future, Don Fernand transforms his gratitude from a possible sign of weakness to a means of increasing his own glory and power.
As evidence of royal power and prerogatives, Don Fernand's gifts to his subjects and his demands upon them should have won the approval of all who wished the strength of the French crown to continue to grow. The extremely successful play had almost all theater-goers, including the nobles d'épée, admiring a triumph of absolutism over feudalism as they applauded the love and eventual marriage of Rodrigue and Chimène. The play both urged service to the monarchy and reaffirmed that the king, although a unique being, shared the values of his nobility. The two performances of Le Cid at the Palais-Cardinal, the dedication of the published text to Mme. de Combalet, Richelieu's niece, and the gift of nobility to Corneille's father all suggest that Richelieu recognized the merits, and perhaps the usefulness, of this tragicomedy when he first saw it. Yet, the Cardinal and his protégés turned against the Cid soon after its publication. What do the attacks launched against Le Cid tell us about the degree to which Corneille's treatment of gratitude conformed or failed to conform to the ideologies of his time?
First of all, the critical minority agreed that the insolent response to royal gifts exemplified by the Comte deserved censure. Scudéry and the members of the Académie viewed the Comte as a fanfaron. The Académie specifically related "l'insupportable audace avec laquelle il [Gomès] parle du Roy son Maistre" to the Comte's attitude toward payment for services to the Crown. Gomès, according to the Académie, fits the secondary definition of fanfaron: "homme de cœur, mais qui ne fait de bonnes actions que pour en tirer avantage, et qui mesprise chacun, et n'estime que soy-mesme." These words, though not intended as praise of Corneille, suggest that he had succeeded in making the Comte's expectations of immediate royal payment appear to his contemporaries as outmoded and reprehensible.
Parallels between the Comte's ambition and the attitudes of the grands of the 1630s may partly account for Scudéry's disapproval of this character. Georges de Scudéry prided himself on being noble and on being both a poet and a warrior. His Observations are replete with reminders that he knows how the nobles who defend a country speak while Corneille knows only how to "parler de la guerre en bon bourgeois qui va à la garde." Scudéry and his allies in the quarrel repeatedly remind the reader of Corneille's bourgeois origins. Especially if we remember that Scudéry had close ties with the house of Condé, it seems quite credible that he would have resented the extent to which Don Gomès made the power and presumption of the grands and the ostentation of the old nobility look anachronistic. Despite the Cardinal's patronage, Scudéry was not ready for complete acceptance of absolutism, as his loyalty to Condé during the Fronde showed. At least in later years, he believed that the Crown could indeed be "redevable" to its grands.
As for the final scene involving royal gratitude, the criticisms of the Académie suggest that Corneille, in the eyes of his judges and their patron, had gone both too far and not far enough in delineating the powers of the king. On the one hand, the Académie implicitly recognized that time could not diminish the effects of royal gratitude. Instead of reading the one-year delay as introducing the possibility that the marriage would never take place at all, the Academicians rebuked Corneille for letting his king abuse power. Don Fernand allows his gratitude to one subject to make him unjust towards another. Seen in this light, Don Fernand violates the restrictions which even absolutist theoreticians like Bodin place on sovereigns, for he confiscates property without sufficient cause or compensation. His liberality comes to resemble theft. There is so little doubt about the king's ability to keep his word to Rodrigue, whatever Chimène's intentions, that he may be viewed not merely as an absolute monarch but as a tyrant.
The remarks of the Académie also suggest that Corneille has not gone far enough in differentiating royal récompense from contractual exchange. As we have seen, the critique regards Chimène as the king's payment to Rodrigue. Thus, Corneille's efforts to glorify royal gratitude by showing the greatness of the gift—the Cid's future and his bride—and by using remoteness in time to decrease the resemblance between the gift and payment would appear less than wholly successful, at least according to the poet's rivals. Corneille had made his audience assume Don Fernand's power to fulfill his promises, but this success had attenuated the effect of the deferral of the marriage. Time no longer obfuscates the reward's resemblance to payment. An institution whose patron favored clearly didactic drama could still find that Don Fernand acted like Rodrigue's debtor.
The 1660 edition of the play confirms how easily the king's superiority to obligation could be undermined and reminds us how much the ideological function of the play depended on the time of its reception. In this version, Chimène herself echoes the Académie's objections to Don Fernand's use of her: "Si Rodrigue à l'Etat devient si nécessaire, / De ce qu'il fait pour vous dois-je être le salaire?" This verse appears to derive from the Académie's suggestion that the poet could have made Chimène's marriage more acceptable by positing it as necessary for the state. Yet, the change threatens the claims for royal rewards made earlier in the play. The word salaire underscores Chimène's commodification and makes the king's gift into a calculated payment to a powerful subject. Such calculation is at odds both with noble liberality and with the king's superiority to obligation.
The change in the final scene suggests, as do some of Corneille's critical observations in the 1660 Œuvres, that he no longer considered Don Fernand a worthy representative of emerging absolutism. His assumptions concerning the relative power of sovereign and nobles had changed in the course of thirty-three years, in part because the monarchical ideology of Le Cid had gained grounds. Shedding a favorable light on the origins of absolutism had become less pertinent. By 1660, Don Fernand had lost his potential importance as a promising precursor to modern monarchs. The differences between his Castille and modern France had grown far more evident than any similarity between his moves toward absolutism and the progress of the French state. Richelieu and Mazarin had triumphed. From the perspective of 1660, Le Cid could appear as a story from a distant feudal past rather than as an enactment of the demise of feudalism.
Yet, depiction of royal gratitude had not become irrelevant for Corneille. The first version of Le Cid had, after all, offered standards of gratitude which the Crown had never met. Disappointment in royal patronage, the strengthening of central power after the Fronde, and lingering bitterness over the treatment of Le Cid could have decreased the poet's faith in a monarchy that would surpass the liberality of the noblesse and honor past services as well as present ones. The use of royal ingratitude in Nicomède, first performed in 1651, suggests increasing doubt that sovereigns could be both unfettered by debt and generous toward deserving subjects. Such plays as Othon, Agesilas, and Suréna reflect Corneille's continued concern with the vicissitudes of royal gratitude.
The response to Le Cid as well as Corneille's revisions underscore the difficulties of creating a convincing monarch who rewards services not because he must but because he chooses to do so. Any later doubts about the generosity of kings notwithstanding, Corneille bolsters absolutist ideology in the 1637 Cid as he makes his public applaud royal gifts and forces his rivals to denigrate noble bravado. As the text privileges royal récompense over common payment, the play urges allegiance to the new order and challenges those in power to make absolutism's myths of royal gratitude a reality.
Helen L. Harrison, "Payer or Recompenser: Royal Gratitude in Le Cid," in French Review, Vol. 72, No. 2, December 1998, pp. 238–49.
In the following essay, Bornedal introduces the idea of an "imaginary recipient"—a person or group of people a writer has in mind when writing—and how this phenomenon possibly accounts for the clash between a traditional code of honor and the contemporary political situation in Le Cid.
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Clarke, John, Pierre Corneille: Poetics and Political Drama under Louis XIII, Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Lapp, John C., Introduction, in Le Cid, Harlan Davidson, 1955, pp. v–xi.
Lyons, John D., The Tragedy of Origins: Pierre Corneille and Historical Perspective, Stanford University Press, 1996.
Carlin, Claire L., Women Reading Corneille: Feminist Psychocriticisms of "Le Cid," Peter Lang, 2000.
Five different feminist literary critics analyze Corneille's Le Cid to explore why this play retains interest in contemporary times. The critics include Julia Kristeva, Carol Gilligan, Jessica Benjamin, and Jane Gallop.
Clarke, David, Pierre Corneille: Poetics and Political Drama under Louis XIII, Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Clarke provides an in depth study of the political times that surrounded Corneille as he tried to distinguish his own beliefs from the pressures that were put on him to conform to Cardinal de Richelieu's demands.
Fletcher, Richard, The Quest for El Cid, Oxford University Press, 1991.
There are many versions of the legend of El Cid but also many stories that refute the legend. This book by Fletcher is an interesting study of what the author claims to be more reliable historical facts about El Cid. Although claimed as an eleventh-century hero in Spain, Fletcher believes El Cid was not as heroic as some people would believe.
Knight, R. C., Corneille's Tragedies, Rowman and Littlefield, 1991.
Corneille's tragic plays, beginning with Le Cid, changed the course of French drama. Many scholars have studied Corneille's works to extract the model role that they played, but their focus was on the first three or four tragedies that Corneille wrote. In Knight's work, all of Corneille's tragedies are examined, giving a fuller understanding of the playwright.
Menocal, Maria Rosa, The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain, Back Bay Books, 2003.
In this book, Menocal displays medieval Spain as a rich culture of literature and science with an unusual tolerance of differences in cultures. She claims that secular poetry rose from this mixing of cultures and spread throughout Europe. She focuses on the Andalusian kingdoms that thrived before Christian monarchs expelled or killed all non-Catholics in Spain.