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THREE PLAYS: "SUR BÉATRICE," "ARDIANE ET BARBE BLEUE," AND "JOYZELLE"
"SUR BÉATRICE" and "Ardiane et Barbe Bleue" followed "Aglavaine et Sélysette" after an interval of five years. "Sur Béatrice" is founded upon an old story which John Davidson used in his "Ballad of a Nun," and it might have been written as a parable of pardon to illustrate the "mystic morality" of "Le Trésor des Humbles."
Sister Beatrice is about to elope from the convent with Bellidor, and is praying before the Virgin's image. She hears the horses of her lover -- he comes in with costly garments and jewels, and while she has swooned, protesting against his wild embraces, he takes off her veil and mantle. She revives, but he dresses her in the costly dress while she still prays to the Virgin. She would have sounded the matin-bell, only the nuns are heard approaching; then she throws her nun's things before the image, calling for pity; but when Bellidor again embraces her she returns his kiss for the first time, and they go out. As the sun shines into the corridor, the Virgin stirs and comes to life and puts on the dress of Beatrice. Impersonating Beatrice, she makes miraculous gifts to the poor who come to the convent, but the nuns, all save one, think that she has robbed the image, so that she is condemned to be scourged. Instead of the scourging there is another miracle of "flames and strange splendours" and "living garlands." Abbess and priest kneel and confess that they. have sinned, "For sister Beatrice is holy." The Virgin assumes the likeness and duties of Beatrice. Twenty-five years later, while the last strokes of the matin-bell are heard, the aged Sister Beatrice enters, worn out and in rags, and falls at the feet of the statue, though she has forgotten how to pray. Her mantle and veil, lying where she left them, she puts on. The nuns enter and see nun Beatrice and the restored image. They fall on their knees. She talks, as if in dream, of her children and their death in want. She sees that the nuns do not look angry. Presently the Abbess kisses her hands, and she snatches them J away; and another kisses her feet, that "used to run to sin." She wanders again, telling how Bellidor ceased to love her after three months, and how she became a prostitute, and how she killed her last child. The Abbess tries to stop her mouth in vain, and tells her she is most holy. They believe that Beatrice has never left them, and that this is only part of the terrible strife about "great saints'' She cannot understand, but supposes that an angel has taught them to know to pardon all. She sinks back exhausted, and the nuns fall on their knees around the bed.
"Sur Béatrice" is a graceful dramatic entertainment which could probably hold many different audiences. It has three or four scenes of a significance so large and distinct that words are almost unnecessary, and nothing too mysterious or too surprising mars the brilliance of the melodrama. It has, in fact, an outline very much like that which any play upon this subject by a modern writer would have, and it might be performed without revealing its authorship. But while it proves that Maeterlinck can rival men of alien talents on their own ground, it is also saturated with his own doctrine. In "La Morale Mystique" he had written:
"Il semble que notre morale se transforme et qu'elle s'avance à petits pas vers des contreés plus hautes qu'on ne voit pas encore. Et c'est pourquoi le moment est peut-étre venu de se poser quelques questions nouvelles. Qu'arriverait-il, par exemple, si notre âme devenait visible tout à coup et qu'elle dût s'avancer au milieu de ses surs assemblées, dépouillée de ses voiles, mais chargée des ses pensées les plus secretes et traînant à sa suite les actes les plus mystérieux de sa vie que rien ne pouvait exprimer? De quoi rougirait-elle? Que voudrait-elle cacher? Irait-elle, comme une femme pudique, jeter le long manteau de ses cheveux sur les péchés sans nombre de la chair? Elle les a ignorés, et ces péchés ne l'ont jamais atteinte. Ils ont été commis à mille lieues de son trône; et l'âme du Sodomite même passerait au milieu de la foule sans se douter de rien, et portant dans ses yeux le sourire transparent de l'enfant. Elle n'est pas intervenue, elle poursuivait sa vie du côté des lumières, et c'est de cette vie seule qu'elle se souviendra .... Elle n'aura point honte de ce qu'elle n'a pas fait; et elle peut rester pure au centre d'un grand meurtre. Souvent, elle transforme en clartés intérieures tout le mal auquel il faut bien qu'elle assiste. Tout dépend d'un principe invisible et de là naît sans doute l'inexplicable indulgence des dieux."
What Maeterlinck writes in "Le Trésor des Humbles" the Virgin sings in " Sur Béatrice." She sings this song, to be found also in "Quinze Chansons":
|A toute âme qua pleure,
A tout péché qui passe,
J'ouvre au sein des étoiles
Mes mains pleines de grâces.
Il n'est péché qui vive
Et si l'amour s'égare
This is the core and essence of the play. Love pardons all. In the first act, when Beatrice is tempted to go away, she appeals to the Virgin to hear her as "Only a girl who does not understand," as one who knows nothing, while Our Lady knows all. When the peasant girl reports that Beatrice is said to have been seen riding on the prince's horse, the Virgin says
Only God saw her not, and nothing heard,
and again to the crowd of poor:
does not see the ill
Done without hatred.
The Virgin impersonates the lost nun, and gathers credit for her name under the disguise. But Bellidor boldly anticipated this. While Beatrice was kneeling to the Virgin he asked: "Is it not she that asks, and you that pardon?" and he sees the Virgin and Beatrice as two sisters.
Hating the gross code by which men and women are appraised for actions and their obvious consequences, Maeterlinck is inclined to say that actions are not to be considered for or against, or if they are it must be contrariwise. He cannot leave the beautiful mediaeval tale to preach its own gospel, but seems almost to raise it from a tremendous and warning exception into a controvertible moral and a barren law. He discards mere pity for the sinner, and gives glory. She is sainted by her sister nuns, though it is impossible not to dwell on the fact that they praise her in ignorance of her life, and also under the belief that the Virgin's acts have really been hers. She has been a prostitute, and she has neglected or killed her children, but she has suffered, and the Virgin protects her against the customary judgments of her fellow creatures. Unless the Virgin again intervenes, the next sufferer will meet with these judgments exactly as if nothing had happened. It is a miracle, isolated and unavailing.
"Ardiane et Barbe Bleue" is a version of the story of Blue Beard. The scene is a hall in the castle of Blue Beard, and a crowd outside is shouting out because a sixth wife has come to the tyrant. Ardiane and a nurse enter, and the nurse tells her that Blue Beard has killed five women,. but she thinks that they are not dead. She has six silver keys and one of gold, and this alone, being forbidden, she keeps. But the nurse picks up the six, and one by one they open the six lesser doors of the hall. Out of the first pour amethysts, from the second sapphires, from the third pearls, from the fourth emeralds, from the fifth rubies, from the sixth diamonds, and with these Ardiane decks herself. She opens the great door with the golden key, and hears the song of -- -
|Orlamonde's five daughters,
When the faery died,
Orlamonde's five daughters
Sought to win outside,
and Blue Beard emerges and accuses her at once of opening the forbidden doors, like her sisters. He tries to drag her away, and at her cry the crowd bursts in to save her, but she puts them back, saying that he has done her no harm. In the next act Ardiane, with her nurse, is descending the steps of a dark, subterranean hall. She finds five captive women in rags, dazzled by her light. They have never sought for escape. Ardiane's lamp goes out, and, as she feels along to the bolts and bars, the others are terrified because they think that the sea is without and will burst in. She breaks a pane in an old window, and then other panes, flooding the hall thus with intolerable light, in which gradually they can see the sky, the green world, the village, the people. Ardiane goes out, and they follow into the light and wind. Again in the third act the women are in the hall of jewels, and Ardiane helps them to adorn themselves. Blue Beard is away, but no escape has been found. At last the crying of the crowd announces his return. The uproar grows; he is deserted by his negroes and struck down, and the women are in terror lest he should be killed. The peasants bring him in bound and wish to kill him, but Ardiane sends them away. The women kneel about him. Ardiane cuts his bonds and then bids him good-bye, going away, but leaving the others behind with Blue Beard.
Here again the spectacles are noble and distinct, and, the play is a series of tableaux with optional words. The scenery may recall the halls and vaults of the early plays, but it has only a superficial resemblance, except when Ardiane is breaking an entrance for the light like the sisters of Palomides. Four of the characters bear the old names -- Ygraine, Mélisande, Sélysette, Alladine; but the atmosphere is purely that of the theatre. The magic is stage magic; the mystery is contrived. The vaults and the hall with the many doors really seem to emphasize the difference between this play and the early ones. In them there was a natural mystery of darkness, space, and obscurity, the mystery of a yet dim and half-understood dawn world. In "Ardiane et Barbe Bleue" all is theatrical: it begins and ends in a theatre, and has no existence save as a number of picturesque and uncertainly symbolic scenes. It provides opportunities for impressive and subtle. staging, and its words are worthy. Ardiane's speech when she sees the cataract of diamonds is a brilliant piece of the eloquence of Maeterlinck, the descriptive essayist:
"O mes clairs diamants! Je ne vous cherchais pas, mais je vous salue sur ma route! Immortelle rosée de lumière! Ruisselez sur mes mains, illuminez mes bras, éblouissez ma chair! Vous êtes purs, infatigables et ne mourrez jamais, et ce qui S'agite en vows feux, comme un peuple d'esprit qui sème des étoiles, c'est la passion de la clarté qui a tout pénétré, ne se repose pas, et n'a plus rien à vaincre qu'elle-même! . . . Pleuvez, pleuvez encore, entrailles de l'été, exploits de la lumière et conscience innombrable des flammes! Vous blesserez mes yeux sans lasser mes regards."
As the pictures, so some of the words, are symbolic. Such is Ardiane's reply to Blue Beard when he has told her that, by opening the door, she has lost the happiness he had willed for her:
The happiness I would lives not in darkness.
But it no more depends upon its value as an allegory than "Pilgrim's Progress." It is an old tale reconstructed in Maeterlinck's manner, which is to multiply symbols. It is more material and plainly sensuous than any of the works which preceded it. It says all that it means and suggests nothing. It has something of the air of a piece of bravado, and in its kind -- its hard, gorgeous, pictorial kind -- it is triumphant. It is only fair to recall here that, in the Introduction to his three volumes of plays, Maeterlinck spoke of both "Sur Béatrice" and "Ardiane et Barbe Bleue" with genial disparagement. He said that they belonged to a class of composition that was useful because it gave musicians a theme for lyric development. They aimed at nothing more than this, and moral or philosophic second intentions were not to be looked for in them.
The later "Joyzelle," acted and published in 1903, is a play of the same class, except that the story is unfamiliar. The characters are Merlin, Lancéor his son, Joyzelle, and Arielle, who is Merlin's invisible genius. The scene is Merlin's island. Merlin and Lancéor are strangers to one another, according to some compact, and Merlin is not permitted to save his son, though the old man knows already that if the youth's love -- which he can foresee rapidly approaching -- is perfect, he must die soon. The father and Arielle believe that Joyzelle will bring him this perfect love; but, except by difficult proofs, they cannot certainly know. Then they see the two lovers meet for the first time. They are strangers on the island; Joyzelle betrothed to one whom she does not love, and Lancéor promised to one whom he cannot refuse, because -- as he believes -- of his father's dying wishes. Joyzelle scorns in both cases the bonds not of love's making. She fears that the king of the island, who saved her life, is in love with her -- a strange old man who is always thinking of a lost son. He enters -- it is Merlin. He asks Joyzelle if she knows Lancéor, and she answers "Yes," and that, though they have but just met, it is enough. He tells her that her happiness is his own, but he condemns Lancéor to keep within certain limits upon the island; if he meets Joyzelle, he is lost. Lancéor promises to fly from her "if her life is at stake"; but Joyzelle will make no promise. In a neglected garden they meet again. Joyzelle cannot persuade Lancéor to go away and avoid the doom. They embrace, and Joyzelle says that she used to embrace him in her dreams, and together they enjoy the present and recall the enjoyment of the past dreams. When they look round they see the garden transfigured by flowers and birds' songs, which will betray their meeting to Merlin. At the coming of Merlin Lancéor hides in a thicket and is mortally wounded. His father alone can restore him, and he does so: left alone with him, he embraces him, and bids him have no fear, because all this is for his happiness. Still, Lancéor knows nothing of their relationship. Merlin is powerless to forbid Arielle's plan to transform herself into a fair woman to tempt Lancéor, which she successfully performs. The two are found embracing by Joyzelle. Lancéor begins by denying all, and ends by driving away Joyzelle. In the third act Lancéor appears worn, like Beatrice. He confesses to Joyzelle that he did kiss Arielle, but that his soul was not a prey to the hostile power which overcame him. But Joyzelle had seen his soul, and, having her great gift of love, she knew that it was not Lancéor that was lying. In another scene Arielle kisses the sleeping Joyzelle, and finds her constant even in dreams. She advises Merlin to find his happiness in Joyzelle, because otherwise he must fall under the fatal enchantments of Viviane. Merlin tries to corrupt Joyzelle by telling her that her lover is again in another woman's arms, but she does not even turn her eyes to deny this; she denies because "he is herself." In the fourth act Lancéor is lying lifeless, and Joyzelle is trying to restore him. She will say that she no longer loves him if only Merlin will save his life. She even promises to give herself to Merlin, which is the condition he lays down. Merlin, restoring Lancéor, begs to be forgiven for the torture he has been compelled by "destiny" to inflict. She does not reveal the condition to her awakened lover. In the last act Lancéor has learnt that Merlin is his father. Merlin has explained himself as an instrument of fate. Lancéor is happy until he learns that Joyzelle's most dangerous proof is yet to come. Arielle tries to persuade Merlin against this proof, but in vain. Joyzelle comes to his bed, and, finding him asleep, raises her dagger. The blow is turned aside by Arielle, and Merlin rises and embraces her, saying that she has triumphed. Lancéor enters, and both embrace their tormentor, who himself goes to meet less kindly evils.
This play is made entirely out of the philosophy of the essays, and, unlike "Béatrice" or "Barbe Bleue" has nothing in it which is common property. It is even like the early plays in so far as destiny is a prominent character, but much unlike because destiny is not a hidden, dark, and inhuman power, but personified in the form of a fatherly and in the end benign old man. As in "Barbe Bleue," the characters seem to be actors and actresses, and the play is altogether theatrical. Compared with the early plays, it has great warmth of feeling and brightness of colouring, but it is even less real. Mélisande and Alladine were the creations of a poet who was turning philosopher; Joyzelle is the creation of a philosopher who is a dazzling rhetorician. Like the early plays, this one has a deserted palace, with marble staircases, a prison tower, etc.; but they are cheerful and sunny (if with a theatrical sunlight) instead of gloomy and astonishing. Not so easily as "Barbe Bleue," it might be played without words, so large and obviously significant are the combinations of the characters into scenes. Nine-tenths of it would thus, however, be lost, for nine-tenths of it are given to the questions of the power of love and man's control over the future. As in "Béatrice," it is a woman's love that is glorified; but here love helps her to endure the suffering which leads to the perfection of her love, and love, not suffering, triumphs. All is forgiven to Béatrice because she has once loved; Joyzelle forgives everything because she has loved. Joyzelle is willing to suffer anything, and to say anything, extreme truth or extreme falsehood, and her love never wavers or changes or knows fear. Even in her sleep she is not to be tempted, while Lancéor gives way at once to Arielle. Nevertheless, Merlin calls it a "noble and beautiful" love which is thus "reduced to nothing in the arms of a phantom." So great is Joyzelle's love that Merlin admits she has something in her which he has not known before, and it can change the future. She begs Lancéor to tell the truth because she thinks that, when confessed with a kiss, a fault is a truth "more beautiful than innocence"; if he confess, "all will again become pure as it was." She knows the truth about her lover when he kissed another, and she knows because she loves. Sorrows matter nothing when they lead to love, says Merlin. Nothing matters; yet she refuses to say anything but, No" in answer to Merlin's persuasions that she should look and catch Lancéor at his infidelity. When Lancéor lies lifeless she feels that "it must be possible to give life to those whom we love better than ourselves." Fate itself, in the person of Merlin, blushes to have to tempt such a one, and when she has consented to surrender her body to Merlin to save her lover she wishes at once to tell him. And when she has raised the dagger to strike the sleeping seducer -- even though she strikes a vain blow -- Merlin pronounces that "she has conquered fate by listening to love." There is but one qualification. When Joyzelle asks whether it is ordained that love should strike and kill what is in its way, Merlin admits ignorance and diffidence: "Let us not make laws with a few scraps picked up in the darkness that surrounds our thoughts."
Lancéor is nothing but a creature that sins, is wretched, and is pardoned. The reason of his pardon is that, in sinning, he was obeying he knows not what; but it was not his soul that sinned; in fact, while he was sinning "he himself" tries hard to resist, but he heard his own voice and saw his own body betraying him, all but his soul being in the hands of a mysterious "hostile force." This is an illustration of "Mystic Morality," but the doctrine is not strengthened by a figure so unlike a human being.
Merlin, like Shelley's Jupiter, is the helpless tool
of some higher power which he does not understand, and not only helpless
but regretful. Lancéor sins, but explains that it was not really himself.
Merlin tortures the lovers, but in the name of their destiny which demands
it, and he asks to be forgiven, and even says, like his son, "It is not I
that speak." He resembles the ragged philosopher who chalks up on his
barrel-organ: "Out of work through no fault of my own." He has thought about
this superior power of which he is the instrument and it seems to him that
it demands that happiness should be accompanied by tears. Whatever it is,
he earns the pity of the lovers: "He was," says Lancéor, "obliged
to make us suffer." It may strike us as an excess of fancy and humanitarianism
to be sorry for the fate which afflicts us because there is a power governing
that fate as it governs us; but it is no more than the logic of the fatalism
coupled with tenderness that are so characteristic of Maeterlinck. And
furthermore, the natures of these persons, all bodiless and invisible as
Arielle -- the Prospero, Ferdinand, Miranda and Ariel of an island off the
moon -- should ensure a toleration in the reader as sublime as Joyzelle's.
We should not be less astonished had Blake written a play to illustrate the
|A tear is an intellectual thing,
And a sigh is the sword of an angel king,
And the bitter groan of a martyr's woe
Is an arrow from the Almighty's bow.
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