Le jeu de l'amour et de la mort dans le théâtre français du dix-neuvième siècle : étude d'Hernani, de Lorenzaccio et de La Dame aux camélias

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1981
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Abstract

Charles Baudelaire says in one of his poems in Les Fleurs du mal that Debauchery and Death are like two loving sisters. It stands to reason that any dissipation affects man's health and leads him, more often than not, to death, which like a poisonous spider seems to lure the scatter-brain with enjoyment to entangle him better in its web to his death. At all times and in the artistic, religious and cultural fields, love and death have been closely associated. The French language draws the association closer since the words "l'amour" and "la mort" sound nearly the same. Early in the nineteenth century, the Romantic youth's heart was shocked by the spectre of the guillotine and by the Terror and was therefore fluttering to each scenic effect that showed death meddling in the feast. Each one's heart was stirred at the time and would still be nowadays in this period of uncertainty, to see poison being poured into glasses during a feast and the pallor rushing to a young girl's face, dying in her lover's arms while making love. It is while reading L'Elixir de longue vie - where Balzac, in a superb final scene, depicts richly dressed women, the very embodiment of beauty, youth, love and fortune, prostrating themselves in face of death, symbolized by Don Juan's father lying on his bed - that we hit upon the idea of studying the connection between pleasure and death in the nineteenth century French Literature. In order to ensure the homogeneity of such a thesis, we restrict ed ourselves to one of the aspects of pleasure - love - and to one literary genre - theatre. We then selected three plays: Hernani, Lorenzaccio and La Dame aux camélias. We proposed to explain why in such plays love and death were so closely associated, by trying to establish that: - Hernani's marriage to Dona Sol could not but be consummated in death as the hero was not able, psychologically speaking, to face up to bis impotency. - Death was for Lorenzaccio the only way to free himself psychologically from his equivocal love for Alexandre de Médicis or, maybe, to satisfy it secretly. - Love between Armand Duval and Marguerite Gautier was doomed to die, as was the heroine on account of her bent towards self-sacrifice and her desire for atonement originated in guilt complexes which the middle-class society has impressed upon this demi-mondaine's soul. Dona Sol and Hernani, Lorenzaccio, Marguerite and Armand are faced with a love that they cannot fulfil in this world. The three deadlocks are due sometimes to the place, sometimes to a certain fatality, or to a psychological problem of either of the protagonists, or, at last, to the interference of an external factor such as money as in the third play considered. At the end of each play, unfulfilled love leads the lovers to their death. Death however assumes several functions: - in Hernani, it turns out to be a wedding night, - in Lorenzaccio, a deliverance, - in La Dame aux camélias, it separates the couple for ever, almost making a saint of the onetime courtesan. Death, ironically, becomes for each of them the antidote to their love problems. The night of eternity happens to be the wedding night for Hernani and Dona Sol. Lorenzaccio, tracked down by Corne de Médicis's police and, most of ail, bewildered by the disappearance of Alexandre, goes deliberately to his death. Marguerite's last breath gives her the hope of reaching that complete metamorphosis which has always haunted her. Death is thus seen as a lull after the raging love feast. It means deliverance for Lorenzaccio, sleep for Dona Sol, who wants to make Don Ruy Gomez - and herself - believe that her dying lover is only asleep, as well as for Marguerite, thought to be asleep by her friend Gaston whereas she has closed her eyes for ever. It would thus appear as an eternal truth that one might and sometimes has to die for love.

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Keywords
French drama--19th century--History and criticism, Love in literature, Death in literature
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