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as Cyrano nor Mrs. Patrick Campbell as Percinet achieved a popular success.
It has been stated-we do not know with how much authority--that the Samaritaine' is an earlier work than its gay, delicate, Watteau-like predecessor. It is in any case a striking, occasionally a very beautiful, example of that re-awakened cult for the beautiful, the mystic, and the suggestive which found its chief expression among ourselves in Burne-Jones, in William Morris, and in Rossetti; which inspired Maeterlinck and Verlaine, and has influenced Huysmans and all the younger littérateurs in France. All sincere reactions from the irreligious attitude of mind are interesting. But what makes M. Rostand's work of far greater value than any of the attempts to revive the old miracle play—any of the biblical paraphrases and parables of M. Antoine's theatre—is the mastery of effect and technique, the scenic sense, the theatrical intelligence, with which he handles his material. The story is the story of the Woman of Samaria. But what, in other hands, could so easily have degenerated into a series of rhetorical declamations and piously panoramic scenes, is here moulded with an extraordinary tact and delicacy into the vague and yet convincing outlines of a genuine drama. Any representation of Christ upon the stage is inherently objectionable to the average Anglo-Saxon mind, unless, as at Oberammergau, the physical conditions are such as to do away with all the ordinary associations of the playhouse. perhaps, to be regretted, in our own interest, that this absence of the friendly German-peasant environment, and of the German-peasant method of acting, should make such a difference in our sense of the decorous and the becoming. Photine, the Samaritan courtesan, impassioned and detached as a prayer or a flame, wandering down the grey hillside among the olives to find the unknown Master waiting by the well ; or in the market-place, drawing the indifferent jeering town about her by the single intensity of her purpose, is an extraordinarily interesting example of the working of the dramatic instinct about an old and worn theme. There is, perhaps, some far-off echo of Russian mysticism, some reminiscence of the humble, ardent, illuminated heroines of Tolstoy and of Dostoëvsky, in M. Rostand's conception of Photine; at moments in her impassioned and pathetic faith we seem to hear speaking the mystical sister of the Sonia of Crime and Punishment, but with what a distinguishing sense of beauty has he not
marked as his own, and rescued even the most hazardous passages of his work! That a few-a very few-of his verses should seem to our ears to border perilously upon the irreverently grotesque and the ridiculous was inevitable, considering his theme. Humour is as local as patriotism. When Lamartine, writing the history of his own time in his old age, describes a fierce political meeting which he addressed from the balcony of the Hôtel de Ville, and sighs,
Mon Dieu, alors, comme j'étais beau !' he gives an example of detached observation and unselfconsciousness which not one Anglo-Saxon in a million ever reaches. But, apart from these slight incongruities, how admirable is the handling of 'La Samaritaine'! With what precision is the situation put before us! Done with how few words, and yet bow definitely, is the characterisation of the individual disciples; the arch-priest; the merchants; how swiftly and unconsciously we find ourselves informed of the political situation, the warring interests, all the complicated policy of the little inconspicuous mountain town!
It is chiefly the difference in the quality - la facture-of the verse which inclines us to consider · Les Romanesques' as later work. 'I do not tell you that the subject of this
comedy is new at all points,' says M. Jules Lemaitre, ' but • its execution appears to me remarkable. This is brilliant
stuff ; all sparkling with wit, and, in places, glowing with • a large and easy sense of gaiety. It is not to be con' founded with the pretty little play, the elaborate little
stage jewel of slender value. . There is already the ' large grasp of craft-mastery in“ Les Romanesques.” And further on the wittiest and most authoritative of dramatic critics comments on the analogy in lovely lightness of treatment between M. Rostand's little piece and the classic ' A quoi rêvent les jeunes filles ?' of Alfred de Musset. But
Rostand,' he goes on to say, 'conveys an impression of ' frank lightheartedness and plastic grace-a thing become
rare among us where Beauty seems more and more the * inseparable companion of Sadness.' And it is, indeed, this very deliverance from all modern morbidity, this return to a clearer atmosphere and an antique joyousness, which gives Rostand's work an indisputable distinction of its own. Emotion without regret ;-a gallant acceptance of life with all its possibilities and without many of its more harassing questions—that is the keynote of his work. But the refusal to investigate these questions comes from choice and not from insensibility. It is this spirit of delight in
exquisite and precise form, this happy play with charming words and images, and gay, and fleeting, and delicate sensation, which differentiates 'Les Romanesques' from the thousand and one poudré plays of the French repertory.
The time of the play is immaterial,' says the author in his stage directions, provided the costumes be pretty;' and the little lovers, delighted and absorbed in their own fantastic elusive likeness to Romeo and Juliet, live through one endless summer day—under the old trees of an old park, where an old wall symbolises the old obstacles old fathers place before young love—with the spontaneous grace and Heeting troubles of the Golden Age. This is the land of pure romance; the land bordered by the green and rustling Forest of Arden, and stretching to the seaports of Bohemia. The story we are asked to follow dates from the first careless pair of lovers, and was acted by the first careful parent. But if you would have an example of how ingeniously M. Rostand can weave and complicate the simple threads of the simplest situation, consider for one moment his joyous invention of Straforel—that swaggering and full-blown predecessor of the picturesque Cyrano. Resourceful ; unscrupulous ; largely conversant with men, women, and things ; at home in the world which he reverences and exploits ; extravagant, magnificent, and at his wit's end for his day's earnings; vain ; gross; indulgent; vital;Straforel, by the cunning of his author's art, is set upon his feet and stalks about fairyland with as assured a tread as Poins or bully Bardolph among the Kentish lanes. Indeed, in breadth and ease of treatment Straforel is, perhaps, the most Shakespearian of M. Rostand's figures; while, as an acting part, the rôle is well-nigh actor-proof.
And the student interested in our author's methods should not fail to note how, in this early work, we find all the leading characteristics of his later and more ambitious writings. The construction, the peculiar breaking-up of his verse, are already here. The long scenes during which a single word is repeated and reiterated with ever-increasing effect have already been invented. The varying Monsieur . * Mais, Monsieur . . . of Sylvette when Straforel makes reckless and alarming love to her* is but a foreshadowing of the tender, tragic, pathetic revelation to Bergerac of Roxane's unattainable love. This deliberate insistence upon the culminative value of a single word
* Les Romanesques, scene ii. act iii.
exclamation-struck upon again and again, as upon a bell, by the same actor, and under circumstances which change before the spectator's eyes, is a very striking example of M. Rostand's admirable stage-craft. It is worth noticing, too, how Straforel's big tirade is led up to precisely as, later on, we shall approach Cyrano's. From the first, it would seem that M. Rostand had found his personal form of expression without having to fumble for it. His verse is of a consistent and really amazing flexibility. We know of nothing like it. In his hands the old, classic, buckrammed alexandrine of Corneille or Racine has become fluent, epigrammatic, and supple as the most fluid prose. It is not too much to say that he delights in difficulty; he plays with technical problems, and invents complications only to solve them with a light heart. For scene after scene he limits his actors' lines' to speeches of two, three, half a dozen, words. He breaks his verse into fragments, which he polishes until they scintillate like diamond dust; until it requires an effort of the hearer's memory to realise that this flashing, hurrying sword-play of dialogue is yet submitted to all the stringent rules and conditions of poetic composition. Never since Victor Hugo wrote “Les Misérables' has the French language given us such an example of astonishing abundance of words, of wit, of dexterity, and of richness of epithet. It is well-nigh a debauch of epithet. the French say, 'Ça coule de source.' It would be almost impossible to conceive anything more apparently easy and untrammelled, or to find anything which, on examination, showed more evidence of a scrupulous art. Compare, for instance, the living torrents, the waterfalls, the singing brooks, and swirling millraces of Rostand's agile and clearcut verse to the large, lazy wash of the ‘Earthly Paradise'! And yet—as we shall endeavour to point out later on-it is precisely in this exuberant mastery of his material, in this richness of invention, in the extraordinary vision that he has of the remotest dramatic possibilities of any incident, that Rostand's danger lies.
This is not the case in ‘La Princesse Lointaine'--that latest version of the story of Rudel and the Lady of Tripoli—which is, to us, the most daring, as it is the most perfect, of M. Rostand's experiments. It is the author, indeed, who shows himself le partisan des aventures hautes:'-
• Oui, je suis partisan des aventures hautes.
Elle est lyriquement épique cette nef,
L'enthousiasme!' It is worth stopping to reflect upon what burning, disinterested enthusiasm for Letters, what passion for pure Beauty and the haunting magic of the past, was required to inspire a modern Parisian with the desire to place such a legend upon the modern stage.
Geffroy Rudel, the Prince of Blaye in Aquitaine, hearing, from the divers pilgrims who had visited Tripoli, of the exceeding fairness of Melissinde, the princess of that state, loved the lady with an exceeding fervour. And, setting sail for Tripoli some time in 1160 or 1161, he fell ill by the way of an illness which caused his death, so that when his ship came to port he was too weak to reach the shore. Therefore was the lady acquainted with his piteous state, and coming to the ship to greet him, presently he died, but first had seen her face. That is the subject of M. Rostand's play.
Robert Browning had already written of it; and Heine, in those magical verses of the Romancero (which may well have suggested to Matthew Arnold the background for his “Tristram and Isolde '), tells us how the dim tapestries of the ancient castle of Blaye stir on the windy moonlight nights remembering the story wrought upon them at the hands of Melissinde. Browning sings of the distant lady :
O Angel of the East, one one gold look
The far, sad waters, Angel, to this nook!... it was left to M. Rostand to reveal to us the full dramatic capabilities of the immortal legend.
For, to Melissinde, in her lily-strewn room of state, receiving the French pilgrims in all her weary gentleness, there comes, not Rudel indeed, of whose great love she is aware, and for whose love her life is spent in waiting, but Bertrand, the troubadour, Rudel's messenger and closest friend.
And Melissinde loves Bertrand because of his