Sunday, May 31, 2009



Volume Two (2009): Dialogues & Exchanges
ISSN: 1946-1992

In Volume Two of APPOSITIONS: Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature & Culture, you will find:

* 5 Articles
* 1 Interview
* 6 Book Reviews

Two of those articles first appeared as conference papers during our 2009 Appositions e-conference. For the closing remarks and special features from that event, please visit this page:

Presenters at our annual e-conference are invited to submit article-length versions of their papers for our standard peer-review process at the journal while we review manuscripts during our submission period, October through April.

Conference presentation does not guarantee journal publication, but we do hope that our electronic forum may generate useful commentary on works-in-progress.

The rest of the documents gathered and published here were submitted independently of the 2009 e-conference.

APPOSITIONS: Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature & Culture

Volume Two (2009): Dialogues & Exchanges


Micah Donohue, “Reading between the Letters: Utopia as Mirror and Desire”

Tim Gerhard, “Chimène’s Dilemma: the Aesthetic and Political Formation of the French State in Pierre Corneille’s Le Cid

Sharon Hampel, “Memory-Illuminating Fire: Lear, Hegel, and History”

Katherine Heavey, “Pedantry, Paraphrase or Potty Humour? The Art of Translating Ovid’s Heroides in 1680”

Ian MacInnes, “‘Some Gothicq barbarous hand’: Poetry and foreign policy in Samuel Daniel’s ‘Epistle to Prince Henry’”


Anne Greenfield, “Aphra Behn Today, on the Stage and in the Academy: An Interview with Jessica Munns”


Angelica Duran, review of: Is Milton Better than Shakespeare?, by Nigel Smith, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, 2008)

Doug Eskew, review of: Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox, by Peter G. Platt, Ashgate Publishing (Farnham, England, and Burlington, VT, 2009)

Jack Heller, review of: Quoting Death in Early Modern England: The Poetics of Epitaphs Beyond the Tomb, by Scott L. Newstok, Palgrave Macmillan (Basingstoke, Hampshire, and New York, 2009)

John Newton, review of: The Quest for Shakespeare: The Bard of Avon and the Church of Rome, by Joseph Pearce, Ignatius Press (San Francisco, 2008)

Emily Speller, review of: The Complete Works of John Milton: Volume II. The 1671 Poems: Paradise Regain’d and Samson Agonistes, ed. Laura Lunger Knoppers, Oxford University Press (Oxford, 2009)

Timothy Wutrich, review of: Culture and Sacrifice: Ritual Death in Literature and Opera, by Derek Hughes, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 2007)

In our opinion, we have assembled a robust gathering of works that all strike a vital balance between traditional and innovative concerns in the field. The content speaks/reads for itself, but, of course, we also welcome your participation.

Appositions is designed for commentary and open-access. You may post your questions and comments via the “post a comment” link at the bottom of each document page.

We hope you enjoy your visit, and that you’ll share Appositions with your colleagues, friends, and students.

The Editors

22 / 12 [5, 1, 6] = journal submissions / publications [articles, interview, reviews]

APPOSITIONS: Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature & Culture,, ISSN: 1946-1992, Volume Two (2009): Dialogues & Exchanges

* * * ARTICLES * * *

Micah Donohue: “Utopia as Mirror and Desire”

Micah Donohue
New Mexico State University

Reading between the Letters: Utopia as Mirror and Desire

“When you read More’s book about Utopia, you find yourself suddenly transported into another world; so new is everything about you . . .” –Desiderius Erasmus to Antonius Clava, 1517 (The Epistles of Erasmus, vol. 2, 493).


1> Erasmus does not stress the impossible or purely imaginary nature of Utopia in the excerpt from the letter printed above. Instead, he focuses on its novelty and unfamiliarity, likening it, after a fashion, to a new world. However, this “otherness” is immediately problematized by its position in Erasmus’ writing. In this same letter it is wedged between such mundane details as Erasmus’ condolences for the recent death of Clava’s sister, and his gentle reproach to Clava for not writing his letters half in Greek—since he had, by then, “been Hellenizing for more than two years” (493).

2> This link between Utopia and the quotidian is only strengthened in another of Erasmus’ correspondences, this time to physician William Cop. There, he tells Cop that in Utopia one can see “the sources from which almost all the ills of the body politic arise” (503). Although Erasmus doesn’t specify whether he means More’s text reveals or embodies the political faults of early modern Europe, one remark, almost certainly written by Erasmus and contained within the copious marginalia of the 1518 edition of Utopia,
[2] provides a clue to help decipher his meaning. In Book II, this note is written to the side of Hythloday’s report that idleness is neither tolerated nor permitted in Utopia: “O Sanctam Republicam, & uel Christianis imitandam [O Holy Commonwealth—and Worthy of Imitation even by Christians]” (The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, vol. 4, 146-47).[3] If Erasmus holds Utopia up as model worthy to be imitated “even by Christians,” in his letter to Cop he must have meant that Utopia should be seen as somehow revealing the causes of the political “ills” plaguing the European continent in the early 1500’s.

3> Now, by bringing what Erasmus wrote to Cop (informed by the marginalia) together with his letter to Clava, not one image of Utopia emerges but two. The first shows the new world and all of its possibilities, a world that Hythloday stresses is “as from us in customs and way of life as it is removed from us by the distance the equator puts between us” (Utopia 103). The second contrasts the all too familiar problems rampant across Europe with what Hythloday calls “the most prudent and holy institutions of the Utopians” (Utopia 46).

4> Yet if Erasmus attempts to position Utopia within the known world of 16th century Europe, a letter of Thomas More’s will quickly resituate it in as nebulous a location as the name Utopia would seem to warrant. In what is certainly the most intimate, if also the strangest of the handful of letters More wrote to Erasmus about Utopia, he confesses how in his daydreams he has “been marked out by…the Utopians to be their king forever” (St. Thomas More: Selected Letters 85). More indulges his fantasy a little further, describing himself at the head of a regal procession, wearing a monk’s frock, carrying a sheaf of grain, and crowned with a diadem of wheat.
[4] Then, without warning, he interrupts his reverie to say that “the rising Dawn has shattered my dream—poor me!—and shaken me off my throne and summons me back to the drudgery of the courts” (85). Here, More destabilizes Utopia ever further than Erasmus’ doubling of the island-state by transforming the best of all commonwealths into a dream. As in the joke about Plato in Lucian’s satire A True History, the ideal state is nowhere to be found because it only ever existed in its planner’s head.[5] It is perhaps for this reason that ‘More,’ [6] the textual variant of Utopia’s author, can deliver the work’s final lines with a resigned tone that echoes the pessimistic conclusion of the letter to Erasmus. “I readily confess,” ‘More’ says, “that in the Utopian commonwealth are very many features I would wish rather than expect to see” (Utopia 135).

5> By introducing Utopia with epistolary descriptions as opposed as Erasmus’ and More’s, I run the risk of reducing the text into, quoting historian Hanan Yoran, “a kind of jeu d’esprit, devoid of any serious philosophical and political content.”
[7] Nothing could be further from my intent. However, I do not intend to reconcile these different understandings of Utopia immediately. Rather, I want to elaborate them further, increasing the tensions present within the text to the point at which it seemingly must, and yet does not, break.

6> For Utopia to be read as fully as possible, it cannot be reduced simply to an intellectual game. Nor can it resolve those same issues by means of one overarching explanation that interprets what is problematic as part of an elaborate design to keep hidden the text’s “truth.” At issue here is not one interpretation or another, but rather a reading of Utopia which does not seek, to borrow from Michel Foucault’s inimitable language, to “question things said as to what they are hiding, what they were ‘really’ saying” (Archaeology of Knowledge 109). Instead of fixing a meaning to Utopia, in the next section of this essay I will try to chart certain historical influences which contribute to the tensions always at play across the surface of Utopia. That is, as new historicist critic Stephen Greenblatt might put it, I will attempt to situate Utopia in its “cultural context” and reunite it with “the social, ideological, and material matrix in which all art is produced and consumed.”


7>Utopia was first published in Louvain in 1516. Only a quarter of a century had passed since Christopher Columbus stumbled onto the “new world” he at first mistook for part of the old one. While the influence of Columbus’ discovery on Utopia’s composition is well documented and has been for some time,
[9] less attention has been paid to the interpretive problems that event posed for More as he attempted to fashion the part of the new world in which Utopia was to reside. Like Columbus’ language was in his diary entries about the islands he discovered and the natives he encountered there, the descriptive terms at More’s disposal were limited by the historical discourse and context of which he was a part.

8> Greenblatt has noted that anything Columbus observed during his historic voyage which fell outside of his inherited cultural and interpretive paradigms was immediately stripped of its meaningful status as a “sign” and tended to disappear altogether from his diaries.
[10] The most dramatic example of this is when, after several failed attempts to lure a group of idling natives from a canoe onto his ship, Columbus ordered several of his men to play music and begin dancing. His plan horribly backfired, however, as this festivity was mistaken for an act of aggression. The natives quickly strung their bows and began shooting arrows at Columbus and his crew. Columbus was forced to order his men to fire back, and the islanders immediately dispersed. His ultimate remark about this event is telling: “e nunca más los vide ni a otros en esta isla” (Los cuatro viajes del almirante y su testamento 174).[11] Their behavior placed them beyond the pale of Columbus’ understanding; the only way left to him, then, as he tried to render the experience intelligible for European readers (if only for himself), was one in which the inexplicable foreignness of these inhabitants—along with the inhabitants themselves—vanished from sight.

9> Columbus’ erasure, interesting in its own right, is of use to us as a pointer towards a much larger issue beginning to work itself out in Europe toward the end of the 15th and the start of the 16th century: namely, the dawning realization that traditional epistemological models were not sufficient to make sense of, interpret, and organize a rapidly changing political, intellectual, and theological environment both on the continent and beyond the Atlantic. As one Englishman would put it, writing about Europe scarcely ten years after Utopia’s publication, it was a world “turned up and down.”

10> It is Benedict Anderson’s conviction that it was during this time that the tripartite foundation of medieval European culture—the omnipresence of the Catholic Church, dynastic politics, and a sense of time in which the divine and the mundane met—first began to crumble (Imagined Communities 36). While Anderson will quickly move on to show how out of this unrest Nationalism, that “imagined political community” as he calls it (6), would become the dominant model for structuring governments and states, I am interested in the consequences of Utopia’s composition amidst such turbulence. To situate Utopia historically, it seems, is to try to position it within a flux. The traditional points of reference by which Europe took stock of itself were becoming destabilized. Rocked by the discovery of the Americas, More’s world was also experiencing the first shocks of collision between nascent Protestantism and orthodox Catholicism. It was during this time as well that, as Anderson points out, Latin, which had stitched together an intellectual and religious culture for centuries, began rapidly losing ground to the increasing reliance on, and support of, expression in the vernacular (37-38). The creation of the printing press, while opening the door for a previously unimaginable dissemination of knowledge, would also generate more questions about, and interpretations of, that knowledge and lead, in some cases, to its being discredited.

11> Yet in the face of this exponentially increasing and dizzying wealth of questions and interpretations, what Montaigne called an “infinite diversity of opinion” (Essays 346), no small amount of effort was being expended to preserve the same institutions, models, and systems of knowledge whose foundations were shattering beneath them. Isaiah Berlin has argued that, until the 18th century, the utopian dream of men sharing “a certain fixed, unaltering nature, certain universal, common goals” persisted across Europe (Crooked Timber of Humanity 20). Although history would not bear out the hope for a “harmony of objectively true ends, true for all men, at all times and places” (211), when Utopia was written the desire for universal harmony would still have been a powerful force. Indeed, for Utopia to function as Hythloday wishes, as a beneficial revelation for the Europeans—he says he would never have left Utopia “except to reveal the new world to others” (Utopia 48)—certain commonalities among men must be presupposed. Else, if no belief in a common “human nature” existed, what French humanist William Budé wrote to Thomas Lupset about Utopia would have been both impracticable and absurd: “our age and succeeding ages will hold his account as a nursery of correct and useful institutions from which every man may introduce and adapt transplanted customs to his own city.”

12> As with the epistolary references above, our brief historical survey of the context in which Utopia was written has revealed opposing tendencies and a plurality of vantage points from which to view the text.
[15] Although 16th century Europe was a world “turned up and down,” it was not for that reason any less the locus of a desire to avoid precipitating headlong into such an uncertain future. “We ought to blot out all trace of this infinite diversity of opinion,”[16] wrote Montaigne, no doubt aware that such drastic action would be impossible. Nevertheless, the severity and violence of his appeal to preserve the status quo (“we ought to blot out all trace…”) is echoed both by Columbus’ eliding an entire population and, in More’s text, the Utopian colonists’ practice of expelling any native who “refuse[d] to live under their laws” (67).

13> Nor was the yearning for this kind of stasis unique to the authors above or to other utopian works from the early modern and Renaissance periods. Niccoló Machiavelli, who was anything but sympathetic to utopian thought,
[17] admits the ideality of a city freed from linear time. In the Discourses on Livy, a treatise on republicanism composed around the same time as More penned Utopia,[18] Machiavelli writes that if a commonwealth “could be held balanced in this mode,” one free from time and change, “it would be the true political way of life and the true quiet of a city” (23). However, he immediately disqualifies any such commonwealth as possible “since all things of men are in motion and…must either rise or fall” (23). It is largely this acknowledgment of “motion” which prompted scholar Victoria Kahn to describe Machiavelli as “one of the first critics of Renaissance humanism to propose a new politics of Renaissance studies,”[19] one which emphasized the contingency of the real world at the expense of what, in The Prince, Machiavelli ridicules as the “imaginary conceptions” of numerous “republics and principalities that have never been seen or heard of” (59).

14> It is this apparent obliviousness to “motion” on the part of utopian thinkers, of which the best example is Hythloday’s claim that Utopia has remained virtually unchanged for 1,760 years (Utopia 58), that has led to such trenchant criticisms being leveled against them by everyone from Machiavelli to Spinoza and, perhaps most famously, Karl Marx. In the third section of the Manifesto of the Communist Party, for instance, Marx scorns the utopian Owenites and Fourierists for trying to build socio-culturally impossible “castles in the air” (239). In the first paragraph of A Political Treatise, Spinoza complains that philosophers have “never conceived a theory of politics, which could be turned to use, but such as might be taken for chimera, or might have been formed in Utopia” (287). And in De republica anglorum, written by Sir Thomas Smith in 1583, More is criticized in language reminiscent of Machiavelli’s for making a commonwealth “such as never was nor ever shall be” (142).

15> As I will show, however, these criticisms are unfair in their one-sided treatment of Utopia and the numerous imitations and philosophies More’s inaugural text sparked off. Utopia is both what never is nor ever shall be and what already is and always will be. Frederic Jameson, who we will have occasion to return to shortly, better spells this paradox out in his book Archaeologies of the Future. There, he writes that “it is a paradox that a form [the utopian] so absolutely dependent on historical circumstances…should give the appearance of being supremely ahistorical” (37). It is truly paradoxical, however, only if the real “political ills” that troubled Erasmus cannot inhabit the same imaginary space as, or are antithetical to, the fantasy More spun in his daydreams. But if Freud’s theories on dreams still carry any weight, we know that in texts as in the unconscious the “past, present, and future are strung together, as it were, on the thread of the wish that runs through them.”
[21] Thus may Utopia mirror the context in which it was written at the same time as it expresses a wish to be free from what theorist David Harvey has indentified, analyzing a variety of utopian texts and practices, as “the temporality of the social process, the dialectics of social change—real history.”[22]


16> Perhaps the best way to give an additional sense of Utopia’s complexity, beyond further charting the “real history” amidst which it was written, is to consider the book itself. In many ways the text of Utopia is an excellent illustration of Foucault’s claim that “the frontiers of a book are never clear cut: beyond the title, the first lines, and the last full stop, beyond its internal configuration and its autonomous form, it is caught up in a system of references…it is a node within a network” (Archaeologies of Knowledge 23). Consider, for instance, the fact that it may have been Erasmus, not More, who supplied the title Utopia to a work More had been in the habit of referring to simply as Nusquama.
[23] While the Latin term does mean “nowhere,” it possesses none of the intricacy of the Greek neologism Utopia, which can be understood either as no-place (ου-τοπος) or a blessed place (ευ- τοπος). Another curious detail is the work’s composition. Written in two parts, the “first” book, a dialogue between ‘More,’ Giles, and Hythloday, was actually composed chronologically after the “second” book, containing Hythloday’s description of the island.[24] There are also More’s introductory and concluding letters, both to Peter Giles, which frame Utopia (books I and II). Thus the letters, included in the book Utopia, are simultaneously part of what they must also, paradoxically, stand free from in order to define.[25] If, as More claims to Giles in his prefatory letter, the “matter of accuracy is all I ought to, and in fact do, aim for” (Utopia 3), the unclear boundaries of Utopia would seem to make any accurate report of its sprawling contents difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

17> Confronted with such nebulous frontiers, scholars have gone so far as to criticize Utopia for being incomplete, unfinished, and open ended.
[26] I believe the more common academic response, however, to the destabilized and unsettled text, has been to follow a strategy Jacques Derrida outlines—but by no means endorses—in his seminal essay, “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences.” Confronted with “play,” Derrida’s term for the infinite substitution and repetition of signs bound finally to no transcendental signified or “center,” it is the almost inevitable outcome that such uncertainty (in both the epistemological and emotional senses of the word) will be overwritten by a narrative that establishes “a fundamental immobility and a reassuring certitude” (Writing and Difference 279).[27] In other words, the “center” (or the origin, end, arche, telos, essence, God—all words Derrida uses to signify the same idea), which has been momentarily questioned is quickly, even anxiously, reaffirmed. For the purposes of our discussion, this would mean that, instead of indulging Utopia’s “play,” the hard work is done of reducing its expansiveness to the text’s essential (and central) meaning. A particularly good example of this, both for the quality of its analysis (excellent) and the level of reduction employed (quite high), is Eric Nelson’s “Greek Nonsense in More’s Utopia.”

18> Nelson has argued that the true meaning of Utopia can be uncovered through a detailed study of the clever Hellenic puns informing most of the proper nouns in More’s seminal text.
[28] “More’s network of Greek puns,” writes Nelson, “do not simply entertain, they organize” (890). Specifically organized through More's word-play is not just a debate between Hythloday and More, Utopia’s protagonists, but one between entire political models set in opposition via the speakers who represent them. Linguistically, Hythloday is associated at the generic level with the Greek language, and more specifically with Plato and Socrates: “Hythloday is not the first speaker of hythlos [nonsense] in the Western tradition: Socrates receives this epithet in a famous passage in the Republic” (891). The famous passage in question is from Book I, where the puerile Thrasymachus accuses Socrates of talking pure “drivel [hythlos]” (336d).[29] ‘More,’ through the word moria [folly], is linguistically tied to Latin and represents the traditional Roman model of government inherited by the Europeans. Nelson, in what is certainly his essay's pithiest moment, reminds us that all of Utopia's dialogue is thus occurring “between a speaker of nonsense and a fool” (891). It becomes the reader's work “to determine who the true stultus is” (891). In doing so, they will also decode for which of the two political models More was advocating in Utopia.

19> Nelson makes the compelling argument that More himself, as opposed to the character within Utopia who shares his name, firmly meant for Utopia to back a Platonic model of political organization (894). Hythloday's “nonsense” is only such when viewed from a Roman perspective. Looked at with Hellenic eyes it yields “the optimus reipublicae status” (892). Nelson supports this claim mainly by drawing on the historical participation of More in a circle of English “Graecophiles,” who, among other things, preferred Plato to Aristotle, were strong advocates of Greek scholarship, and who, between 1514-1520, supported Erasmus' attempt to correct the Vulgate Bible by returning to original Greek documents (897-99).

20> Having delved as deeply into Utopia as he can, Nelson unearths what he believes is the hidden and true message of the text. It is neither, in the final analysis, a dialogue (Book I), nor a treatise (Book II). It is rather an appeal and a desire for a system of government modeled on a Greek, specifically Platonic pattern opposed to the neo-Romanic tradition adopted by the European countries of More’s time. While not explicitly commented on by Nelson, a published and open voicing of this desire, given that More was embarking on a career in Henry VIII’s court, could have been very dangerous indeed. Hence, one guesses, the camouflaging of Utopia’s true meaning behind the “network of Greek puns” that Nelson diligently unravels and simplifies into an elegant message.

21> Acts of simplification, however, are never simple or innocent.

22> As Foucault has demonstrated in “The Discourse of Language,” a lecture delivered at the Collège de France in 1970, “commentary’s only role is to say finally, what has silently been articulated deep down” (221; italics in the original). In so doing, commentary, such as the kind we have seen Nelson engaging in above, attempts to eliminate the open “hazards of discourse”—one might say the open possibilities of discourse—by imposing an “identity” on the text in question (222). In an essay on a related issue, the Argentinean author and critic Jorge Luis Borges—a favorite of Foucault’s—links this idea of a work’s openness, as opposed to an “identity” imposed upon it, to its being read across time and even canonized: “[c]lásico no es un libro…que necesariamente posee tales o cuales méritos; es un libro que las generaciones de hombres, urgidas por diversas razones, leen con previo fervor y con una misteriosa lealtad” (Nueva antología personal 226).

23> Beyond the theoretical issues just raised, there are several additional ways in which we could question how effectively Nelson’s reading ties together all of Utopia. We might ask, for instance, why More, a man who could be clear regarding where he stood on even the most polemical issues,
[31] was, in his private epistolary references to Utopia, plagued by an inability to adopt a clear stance on his work? In the most famous example, a letter addressed to Erasmus and dated September 3, 1516, More puns off the Latin title of his work, Nusquama, joking that Erasmus will find it “nowhere well written” (St. Thomas More: Selected Letters 73). In a letter from October of that same year, also to Erasmus, More remarks that if men of such distinction as Erasmus and Peter Gilles approve of his book, he “shall begin to like it [himself]” (80). We have already seen how, in the letter to Erasmus discussed above, More (not ‘More’) problematizes any political appeal Utopia might be making by situating it within what he calls—in the space of two paragraphs—a “daydream,” a “fascinating vision,” and, simply, a “dream” (85). In fact, in no one of the letters in which Utopia makes an appearance does More not potentially distance himself from his project. Any kind of false modesty aside, this is unexpected if he was, as Nelson maintains, inspired to write Utopia out of a commitment to classical Greece and to advancing a Platonic theory of government.

24> Curious too is the fact that in his vitriolic and troubling Responsio ad Lutherum, More uses variations of the words “nowhere” and “nonsense” to pejoratively describe Luther and the emerging Reformation church. After giving a one-sided and reductive account of Luther’s views on sin, the flesh, and the church, in which Luther is painted as having hopelessly mired himself in a paradox of saying that no one is without sin at the same time as he stresses that the church—made up of people—is sinless, More dismisses his theological nemesis as merely “absurde diceret [talking nonsense]” (The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, vol. 5, Part 1, 160-61).
[32] Undoubtedly, a link to the hythlos of Socrates and Hythloday is not what More intends, unless More also means to connect these characters to Luther’s “beshitted tongue” (181), but then what is to be made of the fact that ‘More’ will ultimately dismiss many of the institutions he has heard Hythloday describing as “absurde…instituta [absurdly established]” (Complete Works, vol. 4, 244-45)?

25> Also damaging to Nelson’s reading is how More describes Luther’s vision of the Christian church. Given the commitment to Platonism that Nelson makes so much of, a link between Plato and the Reformation is the last thing we might expect More to make—especially since More, in one of the most scatological and graphic passages of the Responsio, advocates that Luther “lick…the very posterior of a pissing she-mule” (Complete Works, vol. 5, Part 1, 181).
[33] Yet, that is precisely the connection More does make. Luther’s church is, More says, “imperceptible and mathematical—like Platonic ideas—[and it] is both in some place and no place [et in loco sit, et in nullo loco sit]” (166-67). Not only is what will come to be known as the Protestant church linked to Platonism, the argument can be made that it is joined, by virtue of the Latin phrase in nullo loco sit, back to Nusquama, the original title of Utopia. This partial conflation of Lutheran theology and Utopia (and hence the exposure of Utopia to More’s own vitriol), would only further complicate an already intricate and labyrinthine text. Additionally, it would make sustaining a reading like Nelson’s that much more difficult.

26> But even granting that Nelson’s article can answer the questions I raise above, the issue remains of Utopia’s inspiration being a specifically Platonic model of the ideal state. At one level, “Greek Nonsense” is undoubtedly correct when it asserts that Utopia supports a “fundamentally Greek ethical framework for political life” (894), but curiously it never pauses over whether such a frame is viable in any context other than a literary one. Author Yves Charbit, in “The Platonic City: History and Utopia,” does linger over just that issue, resituating Plato’s the Republic, Statesman, and Laws within the historical context of his career as a politician—a career, it turns out, characterized by disillusionment and failure.

27> Charbit reminds his readers that all of Plato's works on government, ranging from the Republic, c. 375 B.C., to Laws, c. 349, were written after a string of disastrous political experiences (220). As a member of the Athenian aristocracy, Plato would have been associated with both of Athen's oligarchic revolutions (the first occurred in 411, and the second in 404), neither of which lasted a year before democracy was forcefully reestablished (219-20). But perhaps worst of all, there was Plato's unproductive association with Dionysus, ruler of Syracuse, in 387 B.C., which went so badly that “Plato had to flee and return to Athens” (220). Plato’s Letters VII and VIII recount this doomed attempt to convert the young ruler to philosophy.

28> In light then of Plato’s experiences, Charbit is right to ask how the political dialogues, and especially the Republic, “can…be read without bearing in mind that Plato was a witness of these events, and even a protagonist in them?” (220). If the answer is, as I believe it to be, that they cannot, then the Republic, Statesman, and Laws must be recast into what Frederic Jameson has called “new wish images of the social” (Archaeologies of the Future 16). That is to say, Plato can, but can only, accomplish across an imaginary and textual space what proved impossible for him to do in the real world: organize a republic successfully. At the same time, then, as he “inspires” More in his authorial endeavors to craft the optiumus republicae status, the pattern Plato provides is as ephemeral as it was in the case of his own literary commonwealth.


29> To explain what Jameson means by “new wish images of the social,” it is necessary first to describe how utopias are formed according to Archaeologies of the Future. For Jameson, it is a mistake to approach any utopia with positive expectations. Rather than start with the plans the utopian architect has for her city, Jameson believes our attention should be focused on what necessarily happens prior to any blueprints, drawings, or plans being unfurled: violence—but violence which the text then either ignores or only cursorily addresses. This violence, however, is neither indiscriminate in its target nor haphazard in its implementation: it is aimed at what the utopian has identified as the fundamental problem of her society, what Jameson calls a society’s “root-of-all-evil” (12). In More’s case this was money and private property; in Plato’s, it was private property and an educational system which perverted the development of its citizens from infancy. The degree of change which will result from extirpating this poisoned root is complete re-creation. “The modification of reality must be absolute and totalizing,” writes Jameson, “the Utopian text is at one with a revolutionary and systemic concept of change rather than a reformist one” (39).

30> More provides ample support for this claim of Jameson’s, and the initial violence of Utopia is terrible and profound. The commonwealth Hythloday describes, it turns out, once had a different name. Before its conquest at the hands of the good king Utopus, this kingdom was known as “Abraxa.” Utopus, however, not content at this merely nominal change, had to alter his newly acquired territory physically as well. So much so, that he ordered a fifteen mile wide trench dug across the isthmus connecting Abraxa to the nearby continent, effectively transforming his newly won “Utopia” into an island. This, he felt, was necessary to do in order to bring the “crude and rustic mob” of Abraxa up to “a level of culture and humanity beyond almost all other mortals” (53). Hythloday leaves no question that the “level” to which Utopus elevates his new citizens is one characterized by the absence of private property and money. “It seems to me,” Hythloday says, “that wherever there is private property, where everything is measured in terms of money, it is hardly ever possible for the common good to be served with justice…unless you think justice is served when all the best things go to the worst people” (Utopia 46).

31> Plato’s Republic also adds to Jameson’s argument. Because our attention is immediately stolen by the masterful play of shadows and light in Book VII, several other interesting passages often go relatively unremarked. One such moment, and the one relevant to this discussion, is the section in which Socrates reveals exactly how an existing city may be reorganized to allow philosophers to rule in it. As he casually and more than a little chillingly explains, it will be necessary to banish anyone over the age of ten from the city out into the surrounding fields in order that the remaining children may be reeducated into the “customs and laws” Socrates has been describing (541a). Without this preemptive strike, so to speak, the great republic would never be more than the “daydream” Socrates assures us it is not (540d).

32> Yet for these problems (More’s, Plato’s, or any Utopian’s) to be elevated to the position of being responsible for all of a given society’s other evils, the conditions of that society must be such that their identification is possible in the first place. This implies both a certain level of societal complexity as well as a general consensus among citizens about its problems. Many people other than More, for instance, were worried about the civil and juridical issues Hythloday raises in Book I. The move from these problems to their root, and Jameson insists on this point, is always the result of simplifying a complex and expansive web of factors into an imaginary model which permits (or, as we saw with Derrida, demands) a center around which everything can be organized (Archaeologies 14). Eliminating that “center” would dissolve the existing social constellation, or so the Utopian believes at any rate, and would allow for new configurations, “new wish images of the social,” to be elaborated in its stead.

33> Jameson, however, never ceases to be attentive to the realities of Machiavelli’s “motion.”
[36] The “pocket of stasis” the utopian can shore up against time’s current can only last so long before changing material conditions “sweep it away altogether” (16). Whether the utopian space is temporary or not, Jameson has identified a feature of Utopia that we have been stressing since the beginning of this paper: that at the same time as More’s text is undeniably a wish for change and looks for the new world Erasmus points it toward, it is also the product of the environment in which it was produced. “As with the imaginary construction of a chimera,” Jameson writes, playing off Spinoza’s comment above, “even a no-place must be put together out of already existing representations” (24).


34> Utopias are fantastic and ephemeral wishes; they are fictions. They are detached from reality and are the “castles in the air” Marx accused them of being. At the same time, however, those imaginary palaces were built from the ground up; utopias, as Roland Barthes once said, are marked by “the everyday.”
[37] Desires and daydreams they may be, but ones rooted in real historical conditions. Far from detracting from Utopia’s worth, situating the text within the realm of desire assures its openness. Desire is the nebulous and contorting province of dreams, and as Freud remarked about the interpretation of dreams, they can never be decisively said to have come to a conclusion.[38] By rereading Utopia in this way, the exclusionary commentary Foucault worried about, and Nelson attempted to perform, is overturned in favor of Borges’ misteriosa and Derrida’s “play.” Instead of trying to uncover the “deeper meaning” of Utopia, the meaning that is “supposedly nearer its essential truth,” by opening More’s text to the play of the influences inscribed across its surface we can begin, as Foucault wished, to read Utopia not as the depository of an ultimate truth, synthesis, or aufgehoben, “but as events and functional segments gradually coming together to form a system”—or to form a book, or a commonwealth.[39]


[1] I am indebted to Jeffrey Knapp’s An Empire Nowhere, where I first came across this letter of Erasmus’ (see p. 51 for his modified translation).

[2] The title page of the 1517 edition of Utopia (the Paris edition) attributes the marginalia solely to Erasmus; as Edward Surtz, S.J., notes, however, Peter Giles likely had a hand in composing some of the marginal notes as well (see the Yale Edition of the Complete Works of St. Thomas More, vol. 4, p. clxxxvi, for Surtz’s discussion of the marginalia’s authorship).

[3] Although I have followed The Complete Works here, all further quotations from Utopia, unless otherwise specified, will be from Clarence H. Miller’s 2001 translation of Utopia, published by Yale University Press.

[4] More’s description of himself further develops how the prince is described in Utopia: “the ruler is not singled out by his clothes or a crown but rather by a sheaf of grain he carries” (101).

[5] By the end of A True History, Lucian and his shipmates have visited this world and the next, the depths of the ocean and outer space, but conspicuously absent, despite the fact that they ask after it and want to find it, is Plato’s republic.

[6] To avoid confusion, ‘More’ will always be used to designate the character within Utopia, while More will exclusively refer to the text’s author.

[7] From “More’s Utopia and Erasmus’ No-Place,” p. 11.

[8] From “Shakespeare and the Exorcists,” p. 98.

[9] Since at least as early as 1946 in Arthur Morgan’s Nowhere was Somewhere (Chapel Hill: U North Carolina P, 1946). Morgan’s argument that More’s Utopia bears a relationship with the Incan Empire is taken up by contemporary theorist Frederic Jameson in Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and other Science Fictions, pp. 24-26.

[10] Marvelous Possessions, p. 88.

[11] “I never saw them again nor any others on this island [Trinidad].” (Translation mine). As Columbus continues his voyage, his next encounter with “Indians” will be markedly different. Although the language barrier still represents a “gran pena” for both parties, both the natives and Columbus’ crew can, apparently, communicate through gestures (177). What makes this communication (or Columbus’ belief that it is occurring) possible, it seems, is an all too familiar European desire for gold and other riches. As Columbus says, “procuré mucho de saber dónde cogían aquel oro, y todos me aseñalaban una tierra…al poniente [I put great effort into finding out where they collected their gold, and all signaled to me a land…to the west” (178, translation mine). This sharply contrasts with those men discussed above, who despite Columbus’ showing them things that “lucían [shined]” (174), understood neither his words nor gestures (see Greenblatt’s Marvelous Possessions, p. 91, for his account of the events narrated above).

[12] Robert Thorne writing to King Henry VIII (1527), quoted in An Empire Nowhere, p. 29.

[13] “But soon the potential of the new process [printing] became obvious, as did its rôle as a force for change as it began to make texts accessible on such a scale as to give them an impact which the manuscript book had never achieved,” from The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing 1450-1800 by Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin, p. 248.

[14] The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, vol. 4, p. 15. Budé’s letter is included among the prefatory letters to the text of Utopia.

[15] These tendencies and vantage points include: the discovery of the new world and its assimilation through inherited concepts, the beginnings of nationalism, Catholicism’s waning power and Luther’s revolution, and the impact of printing on knowledge and its dissemination.

[16] Essays, p. 346.

[17] Isaiah Berlin notes that, according to Machiavelli, “men are not as they are described by those who idealize them—Christians or other Utopians—nor by those who want them to be widely different from what in fact they are and always have been and cannot help being” (Against the Current 41).

[18] Dated to between 1513 and 1519 (Discourses on Livy, introduction, xlii).

[19] From “Habermas, Machiavelli, and the Humanist Critique of Ideology,” p. 470.

[20] In De republica anglorum Sir Thomas Smith attempts to “truly” map out a “table of a commonwealth,” i.e. England, which he then compares with other commonwealths “at this day in esse, or [that] doe remain described in true histories” (142). Utopia, like Plato’s Republic and Xenophon’s Persia (described in Anabasis), being fictitious, merits only his contempt.

[21] From “Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming” (in The Freud Reader), p. 439.

[22] From Spaces of Hope, p. 160.

[23] See Peter Ackroyd’s The Life of Thomas More, p. 184, and Richard Marius’ Thomas More, p. 154, for a discussion of the shift from Nusquama to Utopia.

[24] See The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, vol. 4, pp. xvi-xvii.

[25] This becomes even more complex if one also includes, as is done in The Complete Works, letters written not only by More but also ones by Erasmus and William Budé (2-15).

[26] For a more thorough discussion of this point, see Robert Shepherd’s “Utopia, Utopia’s Neighbors, Utopia, and Europe,” especially p. 843.

[27] My juxtaposing the ideas of Derrida and Foucault in no way implies these two writers weren’t critical of each other. As can clearly be seen in “Cogito and the History of the Madness,” an essay crafted in response to Foucault in Writing and Difference, pronounced disagreements existed. That being said, the two at least shared a desire to explore, to quote Nietzsche from the Will to Power, the possibilities of reading “a text as a text without interposing an interpretation” (266).

[28] Thus according to Nelson’s article, the Polylerites, for instance, broken etymologically down to their Greek roots, are a “people of…much nonsense” (890). The Anchorians can be read as a “people without a country” (815). The most famous pun is, of course, the title of Utopia itself.

[29] All quotations from Plato follow Plato: The Collected Dialogues, edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns.

[30] “A classic isn't a book…that necessarily possesses this or that merit; it is a book that generations of men, motivated by diverse reasons, read with anticipated fervor and a mysterious loyalty.” (Translation mine).

[31] Consider both More’s involvement with Luther and the protestant debate and, later, his commitment to Catholicism that would result in his execution.

[32] This is only one of the accusations More levels against Luther. The book abounds in profanities and obscene descriptions. For a good discussion of the work, see Thomas More by Richard Marius, pp. 278-285.

[33] Writing in this style was not necessarily More’s idea, in The Life of Thomas More Peter Ackroyd claims More was commissioned by Henry VIII to respond, “in the same vitriolic terms” (227), to a diatribe Luther had written against a treatise the king had published entitled Assertio septem sacramentorum adversus Martin. Lutherum (this, in its turn, was a response to Luther’s Concerning the Babylonish Captivity of the Church). This may also explain, Ackroyd continues, why the Responsio was published under a pseudonym (227).

[34] The following passages in particular, from Letter VII, give a sense of Plato’s experience: 329b, 335d, and 336b-337e.

[35] And Socrates admits as much to Glaucon in the Republic: “A pattern, then,” says Socrates, “was what we wanted when we were inquiring into the nature of ideal justice and asking what would be the character of the perfectly just man….We wished to fix our eyes upon them as types and models, so that whatever we discerned in them of happiness or the reverse would necessarily apply to ourselves….Our purpose was not to demonstrate the possibility of the realization of these ideals” (Book V, 472c-d, emphasis added).

[36] Although he follows a modern disciple of Machiavelli’s, Niklas Luhmann. See pp. 14-15 of Archaeologies for a discussion of Luhmann’s ideas, especially “differentiation.”

[37] In “SADE I” Barthes stresses that the defining feature of a utopia, in this case the sexually explicit one of the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom, is “measured far less against theoretical statements than against the organization of daily life, for the mark of utopia is the everyday; or even: everything everyday is utopian: timetables, dietary programs, plans for clothing, the installation of furnishings, precepts of conversation or communication…” (17, emphasis added).

[38] See The Interpretation of Dreams, Part II, pp. 153-154.

[39] All quotes from The Birth of the Clinic, preface, pp. xvi-xvii.

Works Cited

Ackroyd, Peter. The Life of Thomas More. New York: Doubleday, 1998.

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 2003.

Barthes, Roland. “SADE I.” Sade, Fourier, Loyola. Trans. Richard Miller. New York: Hill and Wang, 1976. 15-37.

Berlin, Anderson. “The Originality of Machiavelli.” Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas. Ed. Henry Hardy. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2001.

---. The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas. Ed. Henry Hardy. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1990.

Borges, Jorge Luis. “Sobre los clásicos.” Nueva antología personal. Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI Editores, 2004 (2000). 224-26.

Charbit, Yves. “The Platonic City: History and Utopia.” Trans. Arunhati Vermani. Population (English Edition) 57.2 (2002): 207-35.

Colon, Cristobal. “Tercer Viaje.” Los cuatro viajes del almirante y su testamento. Ed. Ignacio B. Anzoátegui. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1946. 169-88.

Derrida, Jacques. “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences.” Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: U Chicago P, 1978. 278-94.

Erasmus, Desiderius. The Epistles of Eramus: Volume 2. Ed. Francis Morgan Nichols. New York: Russell & Russell, 1962. 3 vols.

Febvre, Lucien and Henri-Jean Martin. The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing 1450-1800. Eds. Geoffrey Nowell-Smith and David Wootton. Trans. David Gerard. London: NLB, 1976.

Foucault, Michel. The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception. Trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Vintage, 1994.

---. The Archaeology of Knowledge and The Discourse on Language. Trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1993.

Freud, Sigmund. “Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming.” The Freud Reader. Ed. Peter Gay. New York: W.W. Norton, 1989. 436-43.

---. The Interpretation of Dreams. Trans. James Strachey. New York: Avon Books, 1998.

Greenblatt, Stephen. Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World. Chicago: U Chicago P, 1991.

---. “Shakespeare and the Exorcists.” Modern Critical Interpretations: William Shakespeare’s King Lear. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. 97-120.

Harvey, David. Spaces of Hope. Berkeley: U California P, 2000.

Jameson, Frederic. Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. New York: Verso, 2005.

Kahn, Victoria. “Habermas, Machiavelli, and the Humanist Critique of Ideology.” PMLA 105.3 (1990): 464-76.

Knapp, Jeffrey. An Empire Nowhere: England, America, and Literature from Utopia to The Tempest. Berkeley: U California P, 1992.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. Discourses on Livy. Trans. Harvey C. Mansfield and Nathan Tarcov. Chicago: U Chicago P, 1996.

---. The Prince. The Essential Writings of Machiavelli. Ed. Peter Constantine. New York: The Modern Library, 2007. 3-100.

Marius, Richard. Thomas More. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.

Marx, Karl. Manifesto of the Communist Party. The Portable Karl Marx. Ed. Eugene Kamenka. New York: Penguin Books, 1983. 203-41.

Montaigne, Michel de. Essays. Trans. J.M. Cohen. New York: Penguin Books, 1993.

More, Thomas. Responsio ad lutherum. The Yale Edition of the Complete Works of Thomas More. Vol. 5, Part 1. Ed. John M. Headley. New Haven: Yale UP, 1969. 15 vols.

---. St. Thomas More: Selected Letters. Ed. Elizabeth Francis Rogers. New Haven: Yale UP, 1967.

---. Utopia. Trans. Clarence H. Miller. New Haven: Yale UP, 2001.

---. Utopia. The Yale Edition of the Complete Works of Thomas More. Vol. 4. Eds. Edward Surtz, S.J. and J.H. Hexter. New Haven: Yale UP, 1969. 15 vols.

Nelson, Eric. “Greek Nonsense in More’s Utopia.” The Historical Journal 44.4 (2001): 889-917.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power. Trans. Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale. New York: Vintage Books, 1968.

Plato. Letters. Plato: The Collected Dialogues. Eds. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. Trans. L.A. Post. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1994. 1560-1606.

---. Republic. Plato: The Collected Dialogues. Eds. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. Trans. Paul Shorey. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1994. 575-844.

Shephard, Robert. "Utopia, Utopia's Neighbors, Utopia, and Europe." The Sixteenth Century Journal 26.4 (1995): 843-56.

Smith, Sir Thomas. De republica anglorum. Ed. L. Alston. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1906.

Spinoza, Benedict de. A Political Treatise. A Theologico-Political Treatise and A Political Treatise. Trans. R.H.M. Elwes. New York: Dover, 1951. 267-387.

Yoran, Hanan. “More’s Utopia and Erasmus’ No-place.” English Literary Renaissance (2005): 3-30.

Micah Donohue is a graduate student at New Mexico State University in the final semester of his master’s degree in English Literature. He hopes one day to have worked extensively on the early modern preoccupation with the ideal city or commonwealth, especially as it is represented in the work of Thomas More, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Martin Luther. More immediately, however, he is looking forward to spending next year traipsing about central Mexico with his wife before beginning the arduous task of applying to doctoral programs.

APPOSITIONS: Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature & Culture,, ISSN: 1946-1992, Volume Two (2009): Dialogues & Exchanges

Tim Gerhard: “Aesthetics & Politics in Le Cid”

Tim Gerhard
SUNY Cortland

Chimène’s Dilemma: the Aesthetic & Political Formation of the French State in Pierre Corneille’s Le Cid

1> When Pierre Corneille transformed Guillén de Castro’s Las Mocedades del Cid, of 1621, into Le Cid, of 1636, he performed a balancing act: How to present a play which would be pleasing and provocative to the French audience, but at the same time suitable for the French stage of the 1630s? As a young playwright working at a time when the precepts of French classical theater were being debated and formulated, Corneille sought to integrate the essence of the Spanish play and the Aristotelian rules of tragedy: the unities of time, place and action, verisimilitude, and decorum. In keeping with the general spirit of these rules, Corneille condensed the time frame of the play from eighteen months to twenty-four hours, and he eliminated scenes of battle in distant locations and any swashbuckling action on stage. Similarly, Corneille removed the king’s son and the political conflicts of the Spanish court in order to maintain the unity of action, the central interest being the conflict between love and duty experienced by Rodrigue and Chimène. Decorum demanded that Corneille remove a wide cast of characters (including a shepherd, a leper, and the Moorish kings) whose lack of nobility made them unacceptable characters in a French tragicomedy, or tragedy; unity of action also dictated that many details be sacrificed, thus stripping the play of much of its authentic medieval and Spanish flavor. J.B. Segall captures the essence of Corneille’s refashioning of the Spanish play when he writes, in 1902, that: “[Rather than] knights of the eleventh century (...) Corneille’s personnages are nobles of the seventeenth century, men who dispatch their adversaries politely, with a smile and an apology on their lips” (66-67). Though the plays were separated by a mere fifteen years, significant changes occurred as Las Mocedades del Cid was reincarnated in the French cultural space.

2> Focusing on the character of Chimène in Le Cid reveals the tensions inherent in the notion of belonging to the French state in the early modern period. I insist that the play can only be understood properly by examining how Corneille transforms Ximena of the Spanish original (a contemporary play which was itself based on Spanish legend and was a product of its Spanish cultural milieu) into Chimène, thus creating a new play which both reflects and resists the dictates of its own cultural and political milieu. Chimène’s dilemma is precisely her inability to accept the new order into which she is to be reborn as the wife of the man who was once only Rodrigue but who becomes le Cid, the great and blessed conqueror sanctioned by the king. My reading demands that one consider Chimène in relation to how she is presented (that is, as a woman on the newly legitimated stage to a specific audience and in a tragicomedy) in order to understand how the literary work in question functions as a mediator of national identity.

Stage, Audience and the State

3> It is important to consider how Corneille perceived the genre in which he was writing in order to understand how this influenced the construction of the character of Chimène, who is both tragic and comic in the seventeenth century French connotations of those words. In writing Le Cid, Corneille chose the subgenre of tragicomedy. The origins of the subgenre are found in Antiquity. As Marvin Herrick writes in Tragicomedy: Its Origins and Development in Italy, France and England:

“The Amphytiron of Plautus gave the sixteenth century dramatists the convenient label of tragicocomoedia or ‘tragicomedy’ for plays outside the strict limits of pure tragedy or pure comedy, and it authorized the mingling of kings with clowns, of the dignified with the ridiculous.” (15)

4> The tragicomedy, which mixes the domestic and the glorious, is characterized, according to Antoine Adam, as an irregular play, with “péripéties multiples” (“multiple peripeteia”) which contains rapid and diverse action and romanesque plots and combats; tragicomedies had, as a rule, a happy ending, and they were written with the aim of pleasing an audience which was, for the most part, young and modern (Adam 425-426, 506). The tragicomedy, which was wildly popular in the early seventeenth century, continued to enjoy great success in the decade preceding the production of Le Cid (Herrick 191). In 1634, for example, only two of seventy-one plays performed at the Hôtel de Bourgogne were tragedies (Adam 451). The tragicomedy found itself undergoing modification as classical tragedies gained in popularity. Le Cid itself uniquely blends the fast action of tragicomedy with the depth of character analysis found in tragedies, producing a play which is exciting, romantic, and yet profound in its exploration of character motivation and the conflict of wills (Adam 510). This unique blend is reflective of the attitude of the young Corneille, who preferred pleasing an audience to any strict adherence to aesthetic rules. Marie-Odile Sweetser, for example, quotes Corneille responding to his adversaries in 1639:

« Celui de la poésie dramatique est de plaire, et les règles qu’elle nous prescrit ne sont que des adresses pour en faciliter les moyens du poète, et non pas des raisons qui puissent persuader aux spectateurs qu’une chose soit agréable quand elle leur déplaît. »

“The interest of dramatic poetry is to please, and the rules that it prescribes to us are no more than artful techniques to facilitate the poet’s powers of expression, and not reasons which can persuade the spectators that something is pleasant when it displeases them.” (69)

5> Adam, Herrick and other critics indicate that the tragicomedy reached its culminating point in Le Cid, and that after 1637, the classical rules of tragedy clearly dominated in France. It seems in fact that Le Cid represents a subgenre all its own, a comedy unlike any which had preceded it and a tragedy unlike any which followed it. The subgenre of tragicomedy, born of the popular taste for dramatic action in a society full of drama and change, would find itself reborn with the arrival of Rodrigue and, especially, Chimène.

6> Certainly, Corneille’s audience was interested in the romantic and daring exploits of Rodrigue featured in tragicomedy. “Jamais pièce de théâtre n’eut un si grand success” (“Never did a play have so much success”), wrote Corneille’s nephew Fontenelle in 1702 (O.C. 22). In 1637, when Le Cid was first performed—three times at the court, twice at Richelieu’s theater and also at the Théatre du Marais (Guerdan 46)—audiences were swept up in the politics and passion of the play. They were attracted to a particularly Spanish aspect of these exploits featured in Spanish plays of the time, the code of honor. Corneille’s interest in Las Mocedades del Cid reflects not an interest in the form of the play but rather a fascination—which his audience shared—for Spanish bravado and heroism, dating back to the popularity of the French translation of Amadis de Gaule in the sixteenth century (Forsyth 132,135). The fantastic and gallant Spanish plays were popular with a French noble class who, although they had their reservations about the Spanish, admired the sense of honor the Spanish paraded before the French (Forsyth 133). Corneille, it would seem, after mocking this Spanish bravado in the character of Matamore in L’Illusion comique, was ready, in the following year, to display this sense of honor in a hero who, as Segall’s earlier quotation suggests, was nevertheless transformed from a Spanish knight of the Middle Ages into a noble Frenchman of the seventeenth century.

7> Yet Corneille was also ready to mediate the appreciation of this hero of state through a daring heroine with whom the French audience would relate. In her book, If There are No More Heroes, There are Heroines, Josephine A. Schmidt emphasizes that it was in the 1630s when women in Paris first began having access to theater performances (14). While Corneille did not frequent the salons of the précieux (Stegman 161-65), he was certainly influenced by the feminist ideals of these society women inasmuch as they were spectators of his plays. As Schmidt notes, Corneille, in his Examen from 1660 , speaks of observing, from behind the curtain, the audiences at the first representations of the play and witnessing their reaction when Rodrigue visits Chimène in her private chamber the night after murdering her father: “Alors que ce malheureux amant se présentait devant elle, il s’élevait un certain frémissement dans l’assemblée” (“When this unfortunate lover presented himself before her, a kind of shiver passed through the audience”) (O.C. 219). ). Serge Doubrovsky, in his exhaustive study, relates that the shocking nature of this scene to the first audiences was indeed at the center of the quarrel that broke out over this play (107), and Schmidt argues that the Academy’s criticism of Chimène reveals the startling newness of Corneille’s representation of women (22).

8> Alongside the enthralled audience members there were also Corneille’s future judges—most notably Richelieu and various members of the newly formed Académie Française such as Chapelain and Scudéry—who in the end would judge Corneille as having insufficient aesthetic and moral standards, the two being inextricably linked in their view (Les Sentimens). Criticism on this front focused largely, though certainly not exclusively on the character of Chimène. In the writings of Scudéry, for example, we learn that although the Academy found the above-mentioned scene to be “le principal agrément de la pièce” (“the main attraction of the play”), the scene offended the rules of theater and was therefore not appropriate for the Parisian stage (Les Sentimens). The debate surrounding Le Cid, which Richelieu both launched and ended, served to define the French Classical aesthetic, the development of which must be closely linked to the construction of the newly emerging political state. According to Walter Cohen, in Drama of a Nation, “Richelieu’s direct intervention (…) linked the stage socially to the court and nobility, and aesthetically to the neoclassical rules” (107). Richelieu’s political mission, of course, included the glorification of French language and culture, which he viewed as an indispensable part of the political project (Adam 213-214). The reason of state makes its historical entry in France, and the cultural component of this goal is elaborated by the Académie Française under Richelieu’s coercive guidance: “De tirer du nombre des langues barbares cette langue que nous parlons, et que tous nos voisins parleroient bientost si nos conquestes continuoient encore comme elles avoient commencé” (“To derive from the numerous barbaric languages this language that we speak, and that all of our neighbors would soon speak if our conquests were to continue as they had started”) (cited by Adam, 227, all translations are my own). The theater, as it was established and sponsored by Richelieu, was the material circumstance which allowed the character of Chimène and the concept of belonging to this state to be explored in a public space, and Richelieu certainly hoped that France would inherit Spain’s hegemonic position as the state from which universal values would emanate. Because the rise of theater’s fortunes corresponded to the rapid ascension of the monarchy during Richelieu’s period of governance, however, the character of Chimène turned out to be somewhat problematic, and, as Cohen argues, a truly popular theater was excluded in seventeenth century France, in favor of a classical theater in which tragedy represented the pinnacle of artistic production (106-107).

Chimène and Rodrigue

9> The most dramatic difference between the two plays, as suggested above, concerns the respective roles of Rodrigue and Chimène. In Corneille’s play, attention turns away from Rodrigue, the national hero, in order to focus on Chimène and her ambivalent relationship to the king’s state. Physical action takes a secondary role to the exploration of a character’s motivation, and the chivalric ideal of the earlier play is refashioned in light of the feminist perspective of preciosity. Corneille decidedly shifts the focus of the play from Rodrigue to Chimène. Whereas de Castro’s play begins with the king crowning Rodrigo as knight (a ceremony observed by, among others, Ximena and the Infante), Corneille’s play opens with an anguished Chimène, in her private chamber, begging her servant Elvire to tell her the news: Will Chimène’s father accept Rodrigue as her future husband? One notices immediately the new focus on woman, love and the exploration of private sentiments, rather than on knight, king and public ceremony. In de Castro’s play, Ximena has only a few lines in the first scenes; she speaks in order to admire Rodrigo’s beauty. In Corneille’s play, the first two scenes are devoted entirely to the private sentiments of Chimène and the Infante respectively.

10> Because the king’s daughter, the Infante, also loves Rodrigue, a knight below her rank, she serves as Chimène’s character foil, and her presence at the opening of the play inevitably reinforces the exploration of Chimène’s feelings. The Infante’s dilemma, revealed quickly in Act 1, Scene 2 foreshadows the dilemma Chimène will face: her private passion for Rodrigue is in conflict with her political duties, in this case her responsibilities as a princess (1.2.91-92). Implicitly, the Infante cannot marry and produce children with Rodrigue because he is below her rank as daughter of royalty. By placing the passions of Chimène and the Infante in such close proximity at the very outset of the play, Corneille places the emphasis of the play squarely upon the conflict two females experience between love and honor; only later will Rodrigo ruminate upon the same question—first when his father proposes he duel the father of Chimène to regain the family’s honor, and secondly when he visits Chimène at her private residence the night of his victory over her father.

11> While the Infante sends a page to bring Chimène to her at the end of the first scene, the spectator must wait until Act 3, Scene 3 to witness the meeting which is to take place between Chimène and the Infante. In the meantime, Don Diègue is slapped, Rodrigue decides that he must avenge this insult, and the Count voices his resolve to disobey the king. In the Spanish version, the actual confrontation between Rodrigue and Chimène’s father occurs onstage; Ximena, the Infante and Don Diègue are part of the action; and Rodrigo is dramatically chased by the Count’s men until he is saved by the Infante’s order. In the French play, however, after a brief scene in which Rodrigo and the Count declare their intentions—a scene lacking in spectacle but certainly not in intensity—attention immediately turns back to Chimène and the Infante and their reception of the news; the duel has occurred offstage. The French play returns consistently to focus upon Chimène’s dilemma, and even though the Académie Française criticized the attention given to the Infante’s dilemma (seen as distracting from the unity of action), the Infante’s role as character foil actually intensifies Chimène’s dilemma.

12> Rodrigue’s actions are in fact filtered through their reception by Chimène, and Rodrigue’s most private feelings are shared in conversations with the heroine. In the Spanish play, as Rodrigo departs to fight the Moors, he receives the blessing of the princess, and the audience witnesses, through the viewpoint of a shepherd, his valor in war. In Corneille’s version, however, Rodrigue simply disappears, and the play cuts immediately to Chimène receiving the news: “N’est-ce point un faux bruit?” (“Is this not a false rumor?”) (4.1.1101) and shortly after: “Mais n’est-il point blessé?” (“But is he not hurt?”) (4.1.1123). In Act 5 as well, the drama in the French play focuses on Chimène: She is the principal character in four of the first five scenes, while the Infante is featured in the other; after this, the action moves to the court and to the final resolution of the play. The play’s rhythm is swift, and Chimène’s dilemma is the key: it is played at the beginning, throughout, and resonates strongly at the end of the final act. Claude Abraham (57) and Robert J. Nelson (71), among others, have noted (citing nineteenth century critic Emile Faguet, who proposed to rename the play Chimène) that Rodrigo’s decision to avenge his father occurs at the end of Act I, and that it is Chimène’s struggle which constitutes the central focus of the play. The attitudes of Chimène (and of her character foil, the Infante) thus provide the framework, the context in which the events of the play are situated.

13> The strong presence of Chimène on the newly legitimated French stage, in a political tragedy, indicates that woman has arrived in the public sphere, and her presence there creates a new problematic, as the famous verses of Boileau attest:

« En vain contre le Cid un ministre se ligue:
Tout Paris pour Chimène a les yeux de Rodrigue.
L’Académie en corps a beau le censurer :
Le public révolté s’obstine à l’admirer. »

“In vain a Minister unites against le Cid :
All of Paris for Chimène has the eyes of Rodrigue.
The united Academy, try as it might to restrict:
The public in revolt stubbornly loves it.” (quoted in Brody 142)

14> The Paris audience—and not only the women—would become absorbed in this heroine’s tragic dilemma (acted out on the public space of the stage) and would, perhaps the first time, consider the private dimension of themselves in relation to the state in a new way.

Chimène and the Early Modern Secular State

15> The Chimène who speaks on the French stage of 1637 cannot be properly understood without situating her, first in terms of the Spanish Ximena’s place in the Spanish aesthetic/state, and secondly, in terms of her own place in a newly emerging French secular state in its real and staged versions. In order to understand how Chimène resists the political discourse of the French state, we must first look at the construction of the French state in Le Cid and how it differs from that of the Spanish play. De Castro’s play follows Rodrigo in his transformation from young, untested nobleman into El Cid, master of five Moorish kings and possessor of the king’s esteem and Ximena’s heart. In his final glory, El Cid performs an act of Christian charity and is blessed by a leper who reveals himself as Saint Lazarus and declares that El Cid will be thenceforth an invincible conqueror. Further, the duel which leads to the conclusion of the Spanish play, between El Cid and a giant from neighboring Aragon, echoes the Biblical story of David and Goliath. According to William E. Wilson, Las Mocedades del Cid is “a nativity scene,” representing the birth of a national hero in Spain (136). This national hero exemplifies de Castro’s adherence to the three tenets of the Golden Age Spanish theater: Catholicism, king, and honor.

16> Religious scenes glorifying Rodrigue as the ideal Christian knight are eliminated in the French play, and the religious aspect is so secondary as to be nonexistent; even though the religious paradigm is not challenged as a structuring political principle, it is downplayed, undermined and finally replaced by the focus on Chimène and her private passions. The movement away from religious principles coincides with Richelieu’s political mission, for it was important that Richelieu downplay purely religious passions in order to consolidate the secular state. Liah Greenfeld’s book, Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity, and Etienne Thuau’s book, Raison d’état et pensée politique à l’époque de Richelieu, offer insight into the development of the monarchy in early seventeenth century France, during which time Richelieu grafted the idea of state-as-God upon the already existing principle of king-as-God. Belonging to the state would thus begin to rival a purely religious conception of humanity amongst those participating in the political construction of the state in France. (The absolutely marginalized role of the Third Estate should be kept in mind throughout this entire analysis.) At this time, a series of developments contributed to the establishment of the monarchical, secular state as a structuring principle which frames individual identities. First, upon the principle of the Divine Right of Kings, the sovereignty of the French “most Christian” king had been assured; the king was perceived as appointed directly by God, and also independent from both the Pope and the Spanish “most Catholic” king. God’s approval overlapped with the Salic Law, in essence blessing a man-made constitution concerning the succession of kings—with its origins rooted in the early Middle Ages—with sacred power. In Nations Before Nationalism, John A. Armstrong reveals that as far back as the thirteenth century, papal authority recognized the Franks as a people chosen by God:

“At the end of the thirteenth century, Pope Boniface VIII sanctioned this concept [“that the Franks (or the French) were a chosen people because their kingdom was a terrestrial parallel of the Kingdom of Heaven”] in proclaiming that ‘like the people of Israel…the kingdom of France [is] a peculiar people chosen by the Lord to carry out the orders of Heaven’.” (158)

17> In the early seventeenth century, Richelieu’s anti-Spanish propaganda promoted skepticism as to how the Spanish state used Catholicism to further its political ends, planting ideas in the minds of the populace which would not only strengthen the absolute authority of the sacred French king, but privilege national belonging over religious belonging as a structuring principle in people’s lives (Thuau 204). At the same time, Richelieu, as the minister of a king who allowed him free reign, used the absolute authority of the king to build the French state, thus conflating religion and the state. The state began to receive the respect due to the king and also sought to assume Spain’s hegemonic position in Europe.

18> The respective kings in the Spanish and French versions of this play clearly illustrate these changes. Interestingly, in Corneille’s play, the secularized king emerges as more powerful than the Most Catholic Spanish king. The Spanish king, who is surrounded by the trappings of religion, suffers the Count’s affront in his palace, and seems constantly to be yelling “Enough!” to disobedient vassals. The Spanish king depends more on his council, and seems not to know best how to rule without their advice, as God’s representative on earth certainly should. Further, his kingdom is in peril, not only from the Moors but from within. The king’s oldest son, whose arrogance threatens the stability of the royal family, places in question the future of the Spanish kingdom. The whole rationale for the selection of Don Diego as tutor to the prince is that the king sees fit to teach to his son the moderation which the older Don Diego, rather than the hot-headed count, Chimène’s father, can provide the young man. This character, and this rationale, are absent in Le Cid. The French king, though less surrounded by religious trappings, seems somehow eternal: he does not witness such disobedience in his palace, does not depend upon his advisors to such an extent, and the succession of the state is not threatened. In the French play, the king is both stronger and more secular. It is this strong, secular king who functions as the anchor of the new national identity which Richelieu is trying to formulate, and it is this strong, secular king in the play whose patience will be tried by an unruly and emotive young woman, Chimène.

Chimène’s Dilemma

19> So how does Chimène function within this newly emerging construct of the state? With the murder of her father, she has lost her bearings, her safety net, the point of reference which stabilizes her identity. She has lost, in fact, the world into which she was born, especially since in the universe of Le Cid children seem to be born of fathers alone and mothers are inexistent. When she pleads for justice before the king, he promises to be a replacement father to her, but his hesitancy to grant her immediate justice, as she says, only increases her sorrow. When she is escorted back from the king’s residence to her private residence, she does not know to whom she belongs. She has been displaced from her father’s protection, estranged from Rodrigue, and is skeptical that she can pretend to belong to her new father, the king. What she finds in her apartment—her father’s murderer brandishing a sword still stained with the blood of her father—shocks her to the extent that she doubts whether this is not an apparition before her eyes rather than a real person.

20> Chimène is, throughout, a young woman in love, and when her father’s death thrusts her out of the protection of the family and feudal order, she finds herself unable to understand to whom she belongs. Doubrovsky, in his famous analysis of the moment of Chimène’s perdition in the eyes of the Academy, indicates that the private encounter of Act 3, Scene 4 is the scene which establishes Chimène as a weakened creature who becomes the slave of Rodrigue, and yet a close analysis of the scene proves that the opposite is true. In beginning his commentaries of this scene, Doubrovsky praises Octave Nadal’s appreciation that the scene is less a romantic duo à la Romeo and Juliette and more a duel of lovers (108). While it is crucial to keep in mind this aspect of the encounter, I find that Chimène wins this duel, and that, rather than using her success to seek any mastery over Rodrigue, she unites them as lovers who, together, will resist the code of honor which is the reason of state and of the feudal system which preceded it.

21> Rather than implying Rodrigue’s will to triumph over Chimène, his visit might first suggest his inability to stay away from her in a time of crisis, and overtly, he puts himself entirely at her disposition. Most importantly, we have two lovers sharing a state of shock, both estranged from their fathers and their king. Chimène is consumed by the black obscurity of the night and seeks solace there; Rodrigue is unwilling to wait for any other process to take its course, and he must present himself to Chimène. Again, there is a wide array of possible interpretations of Rodrigue’s behavior, and how an actor were to animate the lines could sway an analysis toward or away from Doubrovsky’s idea that Rodrigue, by brandishing the sword, dominates Chimène and reduces her to the status of slave. A purely textual reading leads in the other direction.

22> At this point in the play, both lovers are outlaws of the state: Chimène does not trust the king’s justice, and Rodrigue, the killer of Chimène’s father, has defended his own “race,” his own blood, and refused to wait for the king’s justice in this matter. In this surprising nocturnal scene between outlaws, two heroes (who are perfectly Aristotelian in the sense that we sympathize with them as they try to resolve a seemingly unsolvable predicament) do not know how to respond to the death of the old orders, represented by the fathers, and are, as we have seen, alienated from the king. Rodrigue and Chimène thus represent a new order in search of itself. Although Corneille felt constrained in trying to respect the unity of time and pack all the events of the play into twenty-four hours, this actually works in his favor as the spectator feels the full impact of Chimène and Rodrigue’s confusion. As witnessed in Boileau’s famous verses, both Rodrigue and the audience are focused upon Chimène and her dilemma; we wait to see if she can use the bloody sword Rodrigue offers her to kill her lover, the murderer of her father.

23> As the scene unfolds, we see that Chimène moves from a state of shock to one of relative steadiness, while Rodrigue remains disoriented. At first, Chimène tells Rodrigue that she cannot take his life, because this would merely be seen as a sacrifice on his part and increase his own glory rather than that of her and her family. “Rigoureux point d’honneur,” (“Strict point of honor”) he responds famously (3.4.957). Finally, when Chimène admits that she cannot hate Rodrigue, it is Rodrigue who is afraid of “bruits,” of rumors which would destroy her reputation (3.4.964). Chimène folds her hand in admitting that her love for Rodrigue is more powerful than her sense of duty to her father, yet this avowal stabilizes Rodrigue and keeps alive the idea of their love which has inspired him from the beginning. The continued expression of her duty to her father, expressed here in a private setting, cannot entirely be discounted, for she distances herself from Rodrigue as surely as she speaks of her love for him. In the very next scene with his father, Rodrigue will echo Chimène when he tells his father that love for a woman is as important as duty to one’s honor, which derives from, as I have suggested, duty to the race, or “nation,” into which one is born. Race and nation, in this seventeenth century context, overlap; one’s “générosité,” one’s willingness to sacrifice oneself for the greater glory of the race of one’s birth is the ultimate virtue. For Chimène and Rodgrigue, however, confusion reigns, as they temporarily do not know to what race, or nation, they belong.

24> Though Chimène does not kill him, Rodrigue does not seek to subjugate her; rather, he pleads with her to save her reputation (3.4.968). It is Chimène who will devise the strategy to love privately and hate publicly, who will tell Rodrigue to hide in the shadows on his way out (3.4.975). On a public stage, then, Chimène declares, at least momentarily, the primacy of her private sentiments over the glory of the race/nation. By admitting momentarily that she loves Rodrigue more than her own honor, Chimène has broken the taboo against this very notion (in the public space of the theater); Rodrigue is thrown off balance by this avowal on her part of a sentiment he shares, that for each lover, the approval of the other lover is ultimately more important than the honor of the family or –in the emerging order—of the state. “Que je meure!” (“May I die!”) Rodrigue exclaims (3.4.978), not just bluffing in an attempt to dominate Chimène but wanting to die at her hands out of love for her. Rodrigue has already avenged his family’s / his race’s honor by winning the duel with Chimène’s father. However, it must be remembered that, until the next scene in which Rodrigue’s father introduces the idea of the battle against the Moors, which will redeem him as a member of the king’s state, here he is still a man without a future in the eyes of the state.

25> Chimène has shown Rodrigue a way out of his dilemma by suggesting that they maintain a simultaneous closeness and distance, a perfect ambivalence to one another. In doing so, she reaches such an ultimate state of exhaustion that she merely directs Rodrigue twice, saying “Va-t-en.” (“Go.”) At first, he does not understand her plan –“à quoi te résous-tu?” (“What have you decided?”) (3.4.980)—but when he understands, he exclaims: “O miracle d’amour!” (“Oh miracle of love!”) (3.4.984). This feeling of love is not specifically coded in the text as a weak female sentiment, though that is how Corneille speaks of it in his later critical writings. Chimène and Rodrigue have shared this passion prior to the beginning of the play in the innocence of youth. It is Chimène, however, because of the dilemma in which she is placed, who realizes the distinct separation of the public and private worlds, who breaks a taboo by offending the cherished code of honor. As a reading of the seventeenth century Sentimens de l’Académie Françoise sur la tragi-comédie du Cid shows, Chimène-the-transgressor is beloved by the Parisian audiences, and scorned by official critics, precisely because of her romantic avowal.

Chimène and Early Modern National Belonging

26> Chimène, because of her position as a woman in a male-dominated state, can only experience recognition by the state through her attachment to Rodrigue, and she has and will experience this attachment to him as a nobleman who serves his family and, eventually, his state well. She recognizes that she is inextricably bound to Rodrigue’s honor, to his ability to commit “generous” acts in the name of the public good. Yet she emerges from the private chamber scene victorious because it is she who has said to Rodrigue (and to the spectators) that the reason of love can triumph over the reason of state (duty to the collective identity). This is the principle, now stated, which will guide Rodrigue in his actions of generosity regarding the state. Chimène, a powerless national subject, finds legitimacy and dignity in the threatening notion that romantic love might be more important than honor, and she teaches this new ethic to Rodrigue. Chimène’s love for Rodrigue thus does not represent a weakness, and her hatred of him does not merely represent a regressive tendency (respect for the sovereign rights of her father). Rather, she is a woman whose strength is tested by her tragic circumstances, and who develops her own unique solution to the problem at hand, her crisis of national identity. In loving Rodrigue, she denies the authority of politics to determine her passions.

27> When Rodrigue goes out to conquer Moors one scene after his private encounter with Chimène, in large measure the audience is still back in the night with the exhausted Chimène, sharing her secret, her pained realization that, despite the strong sense of duty she feels to her father, it is only by distancing herself from political discourse that she will be able to regain her dignity. Rodrigue goes off, for a private love cannot exist without its attachment to the community/nation at large: While Rodrigue will soon be glorified publicly as the hero of state, Corneille is privately glorifying Chimène, whose tragic ambivalence to the new state remains compelling. Although Rodrigue charges off to battle in hopes of making his way out of this dark night, the play continues to focus not upon Rodrigue’s exploits nor his Christian glory but rather his private sentiments—his monologue which concludes the first act, his refusal to accept wholeheartedly his father’s system of values, and in particular his conversations with Chimène.

28> To enter into an exploration of Chimène’s ultimate motivations is to enter into Corneille’s well-constructed labyrinth, and to try to determine one ultimate motivating factor in her actions is to try to resolve what centuries of criticism have not been able to accomplish. That the debate over Chimène’s character continues to the present day testifies to Corneille’s success in capturing the contradictions inherent in both love and national belonging, the intertwining of which represent one of the key aspects of the modern condition. Schmidt cites Corneille’s Discours du Poème Dramatique in order to highlight the contradiction which is at the heart of this matter:

« Sa dignité [la dignité de la pièce] demande quelque grand intérêt d’État, ou quelque passion plus noble et plus mâle que l’amour, telles que sont l’ambition ou la vengeance (...) Il est à propos d’y mêler l’amour, parce qu’il a toujours beaucoup d’agrément, et peut servir de fondement à ces intérêts, et à ces autres passions dont je parle. »

“Its dignity [the dignity of the play] demands some great interest of the state, or some passion more noble and more male than that of love, such as ambition or vengeance (…) It is fitting to mix love into it, because it has a lot of charm, and can serve as a foundation for these interests, and for these other passions of which I speak.” (113)

29> The similarity of this statement with the main thrust of Foundational Fictions, Doris Sommer’s important study of love stories which serve as national allegories, is clear: While the interests of state are founded in a private love story, this private love story must also by necessity be connected to the destiny of the state.

30> Rodrigue, after admonishing his father that the reason of love is as important as the reason of state, disappears offstage and comes back with the astounding news that he has vanquished a handful of Moorish kings in the space of a few hours. He is now no longer simply Rodrigue; his new national identity becomes his identity, he is the hero of the strong, secularized French king (and, implicitly, of Richelieu’s state, which does battle with the real-life religious Spanish king represented in the Spanish play). His dilemma is essentially solved, and it is only up to Chimène to join the nation and accept his love. She cannot do so whole-heartedly.

31> Chimène carries a not entirely revealed contradiction inside herself. It is the very nature of her predicament which renders the tragedy so great. My reading of the final scenes of public humiliation leaves little room for the comic element others have read in these scenes. Chimène quite simply cannot, in the end, submit her erotic/romantic passions to the interest of the state. To the Infante, she says of Rodrigue:

« Quoiqu’un peuple l’adore et qu’un roi le caresse,
Qu’il soit environné des plus vaillants guerriers,
J’irai sous mes cyprès accabler ses lauriers. »

“Although a people adore him and a king caresses him, / Although he might be surrounded by the most valiant warriors, / I will go underneath my cypress trees to crush his laurels.” (4.2.1194-96)

32> She concludes this speech by saying definitively that even if the king opposes her, “Je ne puis me taire” (“I cannot be quiet”) (4.2.1205).

33> That it is impossible to make definitive conclusions concerning Chimène’s dilemma is a matter of record. To give one example, toward the end of the play, when Chimène begs Rodrigue not to sacrifice himself in the duel with Don Sanche, we can attribute equally plausible motives for this act: 1) Chimène loves Rodrigue altruistically, and does not want him to sacrifice his honor by losing a battle; 2) Chimène is fulfilling her duty to her father; if Rodrigue sacrifices himself, it will dishonor her father; 3) Chimène is driven by love, but selfishly, since Rodrigue’s sacrifice would make him appear more glorious than her; 4) Chimène is fulfilling her duty to her father by not allowing her father’s slayer to sacrifice himself gloriously, but only because she loves Rodrigue and wants to prove herself worthy of him by continuing to do her duty. The cleverly symmetrical structure of the play permits an endless debate concerning these equally plausible motives. And yet does not the evidence available in Les Sentimens de l’Académie Françoise sur la tragi-comédie du Cid and in later discussions of La Querelle du Cid such as Doubrovsky’s and Schmidt’s testify that it was primarily the erotically charged Act 4, Scene 3 which kept audiences enraptured, spellbound? And isn’t this erotic attraction/repulsion obviated and intensified in the last scene of the play, when Chimène says she is shocked that the king would have her sleep in the same bed with the murderer of her father while the blood was still fresh on his sword?

34> Sommer suggests, in her introduction, that “eroticism and patriotism pull each other along” (47). She states as well that it is precisely the existing state’s (in Chimène’s case, her “race’s”) prohibition of romantic transgressions which charges them with such intensity:

“Erotic interest in these novels owes its intensity to the very prohibitions against the lovers’ union across racial or regional lines. And political conciliations, or deals, are transparently urgent because the lovers ‘naturally’ desire the kind of state that would unite them.” (47)

35> The play, in this sense, would seem to use erotic/romantic passion in the interest of the state, were it not for Chimène’s refusal to marry Rodrigue. When Chimène breaks the prohibition against loving Rodrigue, which is dictated by her family’s honor, this erotically charged scene serves both to resist the capacity of politics/the state to encroach upon her private passions and also as a means of revealing her as one whose love for Rodrigue is stronger than her love of honor. The state, for its part, desires the “socially productive love” (Sommer 6) which Chimène has to offer; the secularized king wants and needs to bless this union.

36> We see in the early modern period the seeds that will sprout in the nineteenth century with the elaboration of national identities: As Sommer argues, individual lovers need and desire the attachment to the nation and its destiny in order to give their love meaning, and the state desires lovers because they give concrete affective power to what would otherwise be an abstract, empty notion. Yet, as Chimène demonstrates, the state cannot “possess” the lovers.

37> The final confrontation between the Infante and Chimène is important because it reveals Chimène’s intense awareness of the difference between private and public discourse. Chimène has presumably spent the night meditating upon her dilemma. Just prior to the encounter, she is alone, surrounded by objects of her deceased father, speaking to them, asking them to revive for her the commitment to honor which seems to be slipping from her grasp: “Et lorsque mon amour aura trop de pouvoir / Parlez à mon esprit de mon triste devoir” (“And when my love becomes too powerful / Tell to my heart my melancholy duty”) (4.1.1139-1140). When she meets the Infante, however, Chimène displays a more resolved temperament. She is aware, first of all, that this is a public, and not a private conversation, as the Infante would pretend. The Infante, although she does leave the choice to Chimène, turns the reason of state to her own advantage, saying that Chimène should denounce loving Rodrigue, first since he is now a hero of state and secondly because this will be the most effective way to punish him for his crime against her father and her honor. Chimène, however, announces that she will continue both to love and pursue the death of Rodrigue. Both privately and publicly, she is still in the throes of her dilemma, yet it is evident from the juxtaposition of the two conversations (with the household objects and with the Infante) that in public, her resolve to kill Rodrigue is decidedly stronger. What is fascinating about all this is that Chimène’s most private conversations –the conversations of this unique product of a tragicomedy which creates a tragic heroine who is noble yet “irregular” in her thoughts and deeds—are experienced as such by an audience gathered collectively in a public space.

38> In examining Chimène’s dilemma, we thus witness the early modern version of this “dialectic between love and the state” (Sommer 46). The true question at the end of the play is complicated by the modified versions of the ending. In the original Spanish play, Ximena, in the end, happily casts off the unwelcome obligation of duty, and the lovers exclaim joyfully that they will marry one another. Ximena admits clearly in the end that her public duty has been nothing but a burden and that she will marry Rodrigo because heaven, in the form of a duel and the king’s declaration, has ordained it (3. 2996). In the end, it is not a question of her love for Rodrigue; rather, her acceptance of him makes her but an extension of and reinforcement of the medieval chivalric ideal.

39> A comparison of the ending of de Castro’s play with the ending of Corneille’s play can only be accomplished by tracing the evolution of the ending as it was modified by Corneille over the years; such an examination (undertaken by, among others, Couton, who references the relevant editions) reveals the evolution of the playwright’s aesthetic principles. The attitude of Corneille—himself an outsider of non-noble birth (Le Gall 129) who experienced an ambivalent relationship with the emerging state and would suffer official condemnation of Le Cid—changed as he grew older and more in tune with the rules of French classical theater. Georges Couton has written: “Corneille a conçu autrement sa pièce vingt ans plus tard: sa Chimène lui a fait peur” (“Twenty years later, Corneille saw his play in a different light: his Chimène scared him”) (111). Despite the ambiguity of the original ending, the Corneille of 1636 expresses his belief that the marriage occurs at the end of the play, and the Corneille of 1648 even supports this belief with the original Spanish ballads from which de Castro derived his play (while still defending Chimène’s nobleness of spirit against her critics). The Corneille of 1660, however, changes two lines in the final speech of Chimène in order to support the possibility that the marriage does not occur (Couton 91-111). Couton judiciously concludes that the play is definitively open-ended. Corneille himself, in his Examen of 1660, says that while the marriage ending suited the French society of 1636, the non-marriage ending better suited the French society of 1660, which was more austere and in which the rules of classical theater were more firmly entrenched (O.C. 220). The Corneille of 1660 would not have permitted Rodrigue to waver as much as he does in his famous soliloquy; also, he would not have created the Chimène whom we know from 1637. Over the course of his career, Corneille continued to have a lively interest in this one heroine, who played such a key role at a pivotal moment in his career, which was in fact a pivotal moment for the French state as well.


40> Highlighting the way in which Corneille transformed de Castro’s Ximena to suit his own sensibilities and those of his audience, we see how Corneille created a radically new Chimène, who is defiant and whose tragic dilemma is felt by—if not understood by—those around her. In studying critics’ opinions of Chimène’s final speech in the play (Segall 87; Nelson 79; Knight 21; Couprie 79; Abraham 82, to name just a very selected sample from the past century), one must wonder first why such intense critical attention has been paid to the ending of this single play and secondly why critics to this day have not been able to decide the issue; recent criticism has even brought in a whole new array of critical tools such as psychoanalysis and feminist theory (see especially Carlin, Women Reading Corneille: Feminist Psychocriticisms of Le Cid). Le Cid’s popularity has not waned, having been presented 1,457 times by the Comédie Française between 1680 and 1964, representing an average of five times per year. Romantic devotion and devotion to the state are certainly intertwined in the modern condition, and like Chimène, the modern subject finds his or her life in some way caught up in a perfect, lingering tension between the two forces. In the end of the play, the king passes judgment upon this strong female presence, Chimène, just as afterward agents of the prime minister will pass judgment upon the strong artistic presence of her creator, Pierre Corneille. But at least her voice is heard, an early modern voice which over the centuries has permitted audiences and artists to think about and feel their own necessary and problematic attachment to the state or nation in which they live.

Works Cited

Abraham, Claude. Pierre Corneille. New York: Twayne, 1972.

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Armstrong, John A. Nations Before Nationalism. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1982.

Brody, Jules. Lectures classiques. Charlottesville: Rookwood Press, 1996.

Carlin, Claire L. Women Reading Corneille: Feminist Psychocriticisms of Le Cid. New York: Peter Lang, 2000.

Cohen, Walter. Drama of a Nation: Public Theater in Renaissance England and Spain. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985.

Corneille, Pierre. Oeuvres complètes. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1963.

Couprie, Alain. Pierre Corneille: Le Cid. Etudes Littéraires 22. Paris: PUF, 1989.

Couton, Georges. Réalisme de Corneille. Paris: Société d’édition “Les Belles Lettres,” 1953.

de Castro, Guillén. Las Mocedades del Cid. Ed. Christiane Faliu-Lacourt. Madrid: Ediciones Taurus, 1988.

Doubrovsky, Serge. Corneille et la dialectique du héros. Paris: Gallimard, 1963.

Forsyth, Elliott. La Tragédie française de Jodelle à Corneille (1553-1640): Le thème de la vengeance. Paris: Honoré Champion Editeur, 1994.

Greenfeld, Liah. Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992.

Guerdan, René. Corneille, ou, la vie méconnue du Shakespeare français. Lausanne : Éditions P.-M. Favre, 1984.

Herrick, Marvin T. Tragicomedy: Its Origin and Development in Italy, France, and England. Urbana: The University of Illinois Press, 1955.

Knight, R.C. Corneille’s Tragedies: The Role of the Unexpected. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1991.

Le Gall, André. Corneille en son temps et en son œuvre: Enquête sur un poète de théâtre au XVIIe siècle. Paris: Flammarion, 1997.

Nelson, Robert J. Corneille: His Heroes and Their Worlds. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1963.

Schmidt, Josephine A. If There Are No More Heroes, There Are Heroines: A Feminist Critique of Corneille’s Heroines: 1637-1643. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1987.

Segall, J.B. Corneille and the Spanish Drama. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1902.

Les Sentimens de l’Académie Françoise sur la tragi-comédie du Cid. Ed. George Collas. Genève: Slatkine Reprints, 1968.

Sommer, Doris. Foundational Fictions: The National Romances of Latin America. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1993.

Stegmann, André. L’Héroïsme cornélien, genèse et signification. Paris : A. Colin, 1968.

Sweetser, Marie Odile. La dramaturgie de Corneille. Genève: Droze, 1977.

Thuau, Etienne. Raison d’état et pensée politique à l’époque de Richelieu. Paris : A. Colin, 1966.

Wilson, William E. Guillén de Castro. New York: Twayne, 1973.

Tim Gerhard is an Assistant Professor of French and Spanish at SUNY Cortland. He has published articles relating to transnational identity in France at various historical moments. Three of his articles on this theme are: “Unsettling Experiences: Transnational Dialogues of Necessity in Journal, Nationalité: immigré(e) and Paletitas de Guayaba,” published in Wagadu: A journal of transnational women’s and gender studies, Volume 2, Summer 2005 (available online); “At the Edge of the Abyss: A Case for Teaching Race and National Identity in Victor Hugo’s Bug-Jargal” in EAPSU Online: A Journal of Critical and Creative Work, Volume 5, Fall 2008 and “Wild Dreams of a New Beginning: The Ethnographic Surrealism of Octavio Paz and Benjamin Péret.” (forthcoming In Brújula, Vol. 7, No. 1, Spring 2009).

APPOSITIONS: Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature & Culture,, ISSN: 1946-1992, Volume Two (2009): Dialogues & Exchanges