Sunday, April 6, 2014

La reine morte par Henry de Montherlant

This is one of those many French artistic works that came out of the Comédie-Française during the Vichy regime, so it's hard to tell exactly how much of it is meant, or rather, how much more is meant than what is written. De Montherlant actually wrote this play as a bit of an amalgam of several other, older Spanish plays, an assignment he was given by the head of the Comédie-Française at the time. It sounds like it was, to an extent, a fairly innocuous assignment, which is perhaps why the subject was chosen.

The play is a debate over succession and marriage in a once-upon-a-time Portugal. The king, who feels tired of pushing his son to greatness only to have him disappoint, wants the prince, Don Pedro, to marry the Infanta of Navarre. This probably wouldn't be a problem, except that she hears that Don Pedro has a lover, Inez.

The king approaches Inez and pressures her to encourage Don Pedro to marry the Infanta and keep her on the side as a lover. No one really likes this idea, as you can imagine, and we learn that on top of their elicit love affair, Inez and Don Pedro are also secretly married and are expecting a child.

What follows is a everyone's last-ditch efforts to salvage an unsalvageable situation. Of course, as you can tell by the title, someone dies, and that death pretty much puts the rubber seal on this being a tragedy.

This really is a good play, but I can't help but wonder more about the subtext. The playwright did write a short essay on why and how he crafted the play, but unfortunately it tells us little about the motives behind it or the themes on which he focused. I don't know enough about the author or his part in Vichy-run France to know where he stood Nazi-wise, and how this play got through their censorship. I suspect, due to the ties to Portuguese history and folk tales, it was not a boundary-pusher and provided no threat to them.

Anyway, worth reading, I think; although perhaps more moving if enacted.


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