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A TRANSLATION of Maeterlinck's latest play, "Mary Magdalene," was published in 1910. The original has not yet appeared. Its chief characters are Mary Magdalene and her lover, Lucius Verus, a Roman military tribune. At the beginning of the play he is telling his friend, a master in philosophy, Annæus Silanus, that he has lost trace of her. She had not appeared to accept his love, though she was, as a courtesan, "not at all inexorable to the Roman knights." He still desires her, as he had never desired any other woman. Silanus tells him that she is now living not far away, in the retirement of a marble villa. She is to be his guest this day, and, as they are speaking, the sound of a double flute betokens her arrival. She has just lost some rubies and pearls, a Babylonian peacock and her murænæ, and she puts down the robbery to the wandering band of the Nazarene, whom she calls "a sort of unwashed brigand, who entices the crowds with a rude kind of sorcery, and, on the pretence of preaching some new law or doctrine, lives by plunder and surrounds himself with fellows capable of everything." But Silanus argues against this opinion, for the band has been gathered for some time near his house and seems "incapable of stealing more than a cup of water or an ear of wheat." Their leader has a voice "of a penetrating and peculiar sweetness." When Silanus leaves Verus and Mary for a moment alone together, she will only say that now she sells herself "more skilfully, and dearer than before"; which Verus at first chivalrously disbelieves and then accepts by saying, "If it is a question only of rating you more highly, know, Magdalene, that from this moment you are mine." Now other Romans, Appius and Cælius, enter and relate how they have been delayed by a multitude gathered about a blind man newly healed by the Nazarene. He is now staying with Silanus's neighbour, Simon, lately cured by him of leprosy, and while they are speaking together they hear the sound of a crowd gathering. A silence follows and a voice saying, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven! . . ." Mary, as if drawn by the voice, goes down towards the speaker and will not be stopped. But the crowd presently discovers her and chases her back with cries of "The adulteress! . . . stone her!" until the voice is heard saying, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." The crowd retreats. Mary rejects the support of Verus "with a harsh and fierce gesture, and, staring in front of her, alone among the others, who look at her without understanding, slowly she climbs the steps of the terrace."
In the second act Verus visits her in her own villa. She seems to accept him, reminding him how she received many others in the old days, but him, "the comeliest, the purest," she tried to forget, and was shy with him. Verus is a little incredulous of his happiness, especially as he had lately been refused the house by her slaves. That was because she was still "tired and worn out" since the struggle with the crowd in Simon's garden. She asks if Verus knows where the Nazarene is. "His hours are numbered," says Verus. But Mary asks, "What has he done? . . . He brings a happiness that was not known before; and all those who come next to him are happy, it seems, like children at their awaking .... He fixed his eyes for but a moment on mine .... He seemed to choose me gravely, absolutely, for ever." Verus does not understand this, but is reassured by her sobs upon his breast and her saying that she will never see the Nazarene again. Nevertheless, she asks after him from Appius and Silanus, who between them tell the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Appius is convinced that "this man, who has conquered death, which hitherto had conquered the world, is greater than we and our gods." While Silanus is questioning Appius's opinion that they ought to conform their lives to the teaching of the Nazarene, Mary hears a sound which she interprets: "He is coming." But it is Lazarus, not Jesus, who comes unopposed into their presence. Then Verus bids him go, but he says only: "Come. The Master calls you," to Mary, She at once steps towards him, willing to go "wherever he wishes." But Verus holds her back by force until he believes that she loves the Nazarene. She protests that she loves Verus, who bids her go with her "guide from the tombs." She goes out after Lazarus in silence.
In the third act Jesus has been arrested. The scene is the room in Joseph of Arimathæa's house, where the Last Supper took place. It is crowded with men and women miraculously healed by Jesus and others waiting to be healed, and Nicodemus, Cleophas, Levi the publican, Mary Cleophas, Martha the sister of Lazarus, and others. Martha has seen Jesus going into Caiaphas's palace, and she tells them they are going to persecute all Galileans; at which Cleophas says, "We are all Galileans"; but many deny it, and one says, "It is not well that we should be found together." They gossip miserably of what has happened to them, asking "Why does he not protect us?" and the like. Martha tells what she saw: how the Roman soldiers struck Jesus to make him walk faster. Mary Magdalene, she has heard, is mad with grief, and was "dashing her head against the walls in Annas' palace." Presently she enters with Joseph of Arimathæa, James, Andrew, and Simon Zelotes. Mary has to say that she has seen Verus and that he thought it possible to save him -- "I do not know how .... He will explain to us... But, if he does not save him, we must." She is thinking of armed deliverance, and asks which of the men in the town have arms Joseph of Arimathæa thinks Jesus "determined to be destroyed" because he has confessed to being Son of God and King of the Jews. Mary replies that he has renounced his defence "to try your faith, your strength, your love." She addresses the men about her, telling them "even those whom he raised from the dead are afraid." Nicodemus and Joseph counsel moderation. And now Verus arrives. She runs to him with outstretched arms for help; he ironically says: "I have not come to command this . .. foreign . . . troop." The two are left alone. His attitude escapes Mary; she thinks him willing to help Jesus. Verus has the fate of the Nazarene in his hands, as the guardian responsible for the Roman peace; but he is not willing to save one whom he thinks a rival except for a price, and it will mean exile, if not death. The price is her body. Perplexed and speaking what her lover does not merely fail to understand but misunderstands, she refuses, until at length he calls in the people and tells them that she has refused to save Jesus. Joseph cannot believe it, nor Mary, nor Martha, but the rest cry out:" She has sold him .... Where is the money? . . . Strumpet!" Joseph tries to get her to speak, to consent to save Jesus. She remains silent. Then a sound of tumult is heard and all go to the windows, putting out the lamps to avoid being seen. Outside are heard the cries: "Crucify him! . . . Crucify him!" The onlookers comment. The blind man of Jericho says, "It is he!"; another, "He cannot walk any farther! . . . He staggers!"; and the blind man again, "He has fallen! ... He is looking at the house." Once more Verus says, "I still promise you," and Mary, without looking at him, "without anger, simply in a voice from another life, full of peace, full of divine clarity and certainty, says, "Go!"
The whole play must have been written for the sake of this last act. The rest is either spectacles or eloquent speeches. Annæus Silanus has been a teacher of philosophy, and it is natural that he should speak like one. It is less natural that he should actually teach philosophy and occupy our ears with fair copies, presumably, of wise and elegant letters to be sent to his friends in Rome. As such a letter his opening speech would be charming, and Cicero would certainly have admired it had it been in Latin equal to Maeterlinck's French:
"'Here is the terrace, the glory of my little domain: it reminds me of my terrace at Præneste, which was the crown of my desires. Here are my orange-trees, my cypresses, my oleanders. Here is the fish-pond, the portico with the images of the gods: one of them is a statue of Minerva, discovered at Antioch. (Pointing to the landscape on the left.) And here you have the incomparable view over the valley, where spring already reigns. We hang midway in space. Admire the anemones streaming down the slopes of Bethany. It is as though the earth were ablaze beneath the olive-trees. Here I relish in peace the advantages of old age, which knows how to take pleasure in the past; for youth narrows the enjoyment of good things, by considering only those which are present'"
Once, in fact, and speaking to Mary, he quotes the letter which Longinus sent him to console him for the death of his little child. The letter is given at length, with one brief interruption by Appius, and Mary's comment: "That would not have consoled me." This man begins a conversation in a manner which should have ended it:
"'It was said and it was written that, on this most propitious day, I should behold two marvels, not the lesser of which is to see thus promptly reunited two lovers who, according to love's ancient custom, should have fled from each other the more obstinately the more they yearned to meet.'"
Only too well had his pupil, Verus, learnt his lessons, and, when Mary is sobbing on his breast, telling him she still loves him in spite of the Nazarene, he says to her:
"'Come, I know these tears that well at the same moment from our two hearts in our one joy .... But here, between the columns of the vestibule, come the greatest ornaments of that beautiful Rome which we shall soon astonish with our love. ... I am right: it is our good Silanus, accompanied by the faithful Appius; led by the immortal gods, they descend the marble steps to hallow with their fraternal presence the first smiles of a happiness born under their eyes.'"
Whenever Mary appears these Romans at once begin to compose elegant orations, beginning: "Venus has left Cyprus and soars above Jerusalem," and so on; and, in one place, three of them vie in phrases. This may be archaeologically correct, and, if the aim of these two acts be to depict the ceremonious side of Roman life, they do so very effectively, though narrative and description, without pretension of drama, would have done it still more effectively. Some of the stage directions combine with these statuesque speeches to give, in reading the play, the effect of narrative. For example:
"An incomparable silence, in which it seems as though the birds and the leaves of the trees and the very air that is breathed take part, falls with all its supernatural weight upon the country-side; and in this silence, which weighs upon the people on the terrace above, there rises, absolute sovereign of space and the hour, a wonderful voice, soft and all-powerful, intoxicated with ardour, light, and love -- distant and yet near to every heart and present in every soul."
In the second scene of the second act the story of the raising of Lazarus is told in a manner which would be even more admirable if it were frankly Maeterlinck's and not put into the mouths of Appius and Silanus alternately -- a method explained but hardly justified by the different effects of the miracle on the two different temperaments. Appius begins to speak; Mary asks a question; Silanus answers it, and continues the narrative. Mary again interrupts, and now Appius takes up the story, only to surrender it to Silanus after the next interruption. Sometimes not even this device is used, and Silanus says:
"'He has not left Simon's house. The swaying multitude is waiting for him in the orchard and along the roads; for, after the first long minutes of stupor, reaction set in and a general alacrity followed.'"
And Appius continues the sentence:
"'Which was as extraordinary as the miracle itself!'"
Nor is this more transparent than the fact that Silanus, as Marco does in "Monna Vanna" and Merlin in "Joyzelle," talks like Maeterlinck, or, in one place, makes Longinus talk like him, in the words:
"'I assure you that, of those whom we have loved, much remains to us after death has removed them. The time that is past is ours; and I see nothing of which we are more certain than of that which has been.'"
The resemblance is closer and unquestionable when Silanus says, while Mary is going into the orchard to hear Jesus: "Women sometimes have thoughts which wise men do not understand"; and when Verus tells Mary that in their separation: "While you were calling me, I called you also with all the deep and wonderful voices of my heart."
If in the first two acts these Romans explain themselves too much and too professionally, Mary Magdalene explains herself too little. At first she talks much like the Romans, thus:
"'I at first suspected some Tyrian workmen who are fitting up one of the rooms in my villa with those movable panels which are changed at every course, so that the walls may harmonize with the dishes covering the table.'"
But when she is first "irresistibly drawn" by the voice of Jesus, Maeterlinck leaves everything to the actress who plays the part. Silence is a more profound form of speech than words, but it must use words to express itself upon the stage, or at least in the printed book. Between the moment when she goes down towards the voice and the sound of the voice that saved her with the words, "He that is without sin . . ." she says nothing at all. We have to explain to ourselves how this supercilious prostitute should leave her powerful Roman friends and go down to listen to the man whom she had thought a noisome and thieving vagabond. Certainly a prose sketch like the "Portrait of a Lady" would have done all that these words do, the short speeches and the lengthy stage directions, i.e. to produce a picture of a beautiful and luxurious woman, languidly proud but still young, silenced and solemnized by the voice of a wandering religious Jew saying, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." There is, however, one important indication near the beginning of the play: Verus tells Silanus that Mary had repulsed him with "a harsh gentleness" mingled with "a certain incomprehensible dread," and that "she seemed to have suffered a great sorrow, for which she has already, I hear, consoled herself more than once." But in the second act the emotion of the first seems to have turned all to love of Verus: she now realizes that Verus was her destined lover long before. She is at once "glad and light-hearted and yet more shattered than if all the misfortunes that hover in the skies were about to burst over me." She feels a danger, she knows not what it is. The name of the Nazarene comes up again, but still she wants to fly from this danger, from this land where she suffocates. She begins to fear that the life of the Nazarene is in danger, and tells Verus that he owes him her life and their happiness. Verus suspects at once, but she quiets him with a sobbing "I love you." The story of Lazarus compels her soon afterwards to think again of the Nazarene, and she hardly speaks during the long narration except in brief questions, one of them, when Mary Cleophas is mentioned as one who never leaves the master, being "Is she young?" As a short story, this might have ranked with Flaubert's "Hérodias." But only at the end of it does the drama begin, to be seriously retarded by the apparent necessity of making perfectly pictorial the scene where Lazarus comes to call Mary. Things are seen to happen, but how remains a mystery. Surely the method of the short story may be said to prevail in the third scene, where, for example, the slaves of Mary Magdalene form up to block the way of Lazarus; "but," says the stage direction, "at the approach of the man risen from the dead, who seems unaware of their presence, they fall back silently, one after the other." Here, as in the scene where Mary first hears Jesus, she hardly speaks. Maeterlinck's object has been to produce a living picture for the stage, a tableau, where as few words as possible are used and the condition of silence is approached. In many places the characters show themselves fond of clear visual images, like Maeterlinck, and willing to express them in words, as when Verus asks Silanus if he means "The villa with the wide white steps leading to a semicircular colonnade adorned with statues." Verus introduces the medium of speech where Mary is giving way; as he says himself, "Roman reason does not waver, like the rest, at the first foul breath that issues from a tomb." He commands Lazarus to let his master know that "his life, which will not be a long one, after what he has done, lies wholly in this hand which drives you hence." Mary still struggles to go, until Verus bids her "Go, since you love him." "No, No!... I love you, but he... it is a different thing," she tries to explain. Instead of this silence, so different from the "gracious silence" of Virgilia, an earlier dramatist would have let the words as nearly as possible tell the audience what in real life the woman could hardly have told her lover: such is the ancient convention of dramatic poetry. But here Mary remains inarticulate. In the greater part of the play she represents the silence of the spirit's profundity in contrast with the Roman eloquence of the intellect. She goes out after Lazarus; and Appius, after a long pause, exclaims, "We have this day seen more than one thing that we had not seen before"; and Silanus: "It is true, Appius, and this is as surprising as the resurrection of the dead." In this scene, as in the next act, Verus is much like Guido Colonna and Mary like Monna Vanna. Both men are honourable men, dignified, high-minded men of rigid and customary views. They are protective, and still more possessive, towards their women, and begin by assuming that the women will not think or question or be troubled in their benignant shade. The women try to convince them that their proposed independence in one matter does not imply severance and indifference. The men protest that they must have all or nothing, and at once. The women sadly and decidedly go their way under the anger and contumely of the men.
The first scene of the third act is a less stately but still finer picture, and it is not a tableau with accessory words, but drawn, like "Les Aveugles," in simplicity, yet intense without monotony, and restlessly alive instead of lulled in a sleepy submission of numb despair. They are crowded muttering and whispering together in the candle-lit room after the news of Jesus' arrest:
A Man cured by a miracle. It is not well that we should be found together ....
Nicodemus. Where will you go?
A Man cured by a miracle. No matter where .... We shall be safer than here ....
Another. They do not know us .... I have never been seen with him ....
A Woman. Nor I either: he just simply healed me .... I was bowed together, and he made me straight ....
A Man. I saw him only once: it was when he said to me, "Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house." I am he whom they let down through the roof upon a bed .... Now I walk like other men .... (He turns to the door and goes out, followed by those cured by miracles who spoke before him.)
A Sick Man. They are right .... We are not known either .... I came to be healed of a dysentery.... I have not had time to touch him. (he also makes for the door.)
Martha. Are you not ashamed? . . .
The Sick Man (stopping on the threshold). Of what? . . . It serves no purpose that those whom he has healed should perish because of him. (He goes out.)
Another Man cured by a miracle. He can do nothing for us, because he can do nothing for himself: and we can do nothing for him.
Now at length Mary -- she has been "mad with grief," says Martha, and they fear that she will bring misfortune -- is thoroughly alive. She comes in upon the crowd of the skulking and the timid, an imperious, distracted woman, barefooted and in torn garments. She can think only of an armed attempt at deliverance, "if Verus does not deliver him." If only she had had five or six more when they took him to Caiaphas -- only two soldiers and two sergeants from the Temple! "We save those whom we love," she tells Joseph of Arimathæa; "we listen to them afterwards." She speaks easily now, dominating the room with her boldness and her scorn. Joseph tries to silence her by bidding her reflect that if he heard her .... "Well," she says:
"'Well, if he heard me, it would be as on the day when that one among you whom you all resemble reproached me with anointing his feet with too costly an ointment! . . . Have you forgotten what he said? . . . Whom did he declare to be right?... You have understood nothing!... For months and years you have lived in his light; and not one of you has the least idea of what I said, because I loved him -- I who did not come until the eleventh hour, I whom he drew from lower than the lowest slave of the lowest among you all!'"
She runs to Verus as trustfully as Monna Vanna returning to Guido. She thinks that he is going to lead her and the timid to rescue their master. When he is alone with her he sarcastically refers to her company of "cripples, vagrants, and evil-smelling sick people." However, " that no longer concerns me," he adds. He knew what was happening, and was biding his time. "How good and generous you are!" says Mary. It seems to her as if Rome herself were protecting them, and "that your arms, which can do all things, cannot abandon him." But if Verus is "good and generous," it is "in his own manner," he says. She continues to misunderstand him, and when she begins a sentence with, "There is no excuse for a moment's hesitation; it would be monstrous .... "he has to pervert it by repeating it and adding, "Shall I, to snatch a favoured rival from a well merited death, for the second time lose the only woman whom I love or can love?" He thinks that if he saves Jesus that man will drag her down to the depths of "folly and wretchedness." If Jesus perishes, then she may "return to the light," and "many roads, as you well know, lead to Rome." She cannot believe that he will destroy Jesus in revenge for supposed injury. There must be something else. Verus is perfectly articulate:
"'Have you not understood that it is you I want, you alone, and all of you; that I have wanted you for years; and that this is my hour? . . . It is not beautiful, I know, and it is not as I dreamt it! . . . But it is all I have, and a man takes what he can to make his life! . . . We stand here face to face with our two madnesses, which are more powerful than ourselves, and cannot recede; we must come to an understanding!... The more you love him, the more I love you; the more you wish to save him, the more I wish to destroy him! We must come to an understanding! . . . You want his life, I want mine; and you shall have his life; but I shall have you, before he escape his death... Is it understood? . . . Are we agreed? . . . Say No, if you dare, and let his blood be upon her who has brought him to this pass, and who is destroying him twice over!'"
Her awakening is like Monna Vanna's when she understands her husband and lies for Prinzivalle, and unlies it again with at first hesitating speech, then calm and resolved: the meanness and brutality of Verus must have had something to do with her refusal. Verus's "madness" does not prevent him from reminding her that "a few days ago" she "would not have needed so much urging." Also what he wants, or what he is willing to accept with a measure of content, is not her love, not any kind of life with her, but her body simply. He says:" Since you love him so well, is his life not worth a slight displeasure, which but lately would not have inspired you with such a horror?" He is not too "mad" for a bargain: the thought of a bargain that would gain anything is impossible to her ecstasy. Even Verus is impressed by her "mad and terrified eyes" as he is saying these things. Yet he can still claim to be making a great sacrifice to love -- a claim which awakens a sudden outburst from Mary. As Vanna bids Guido look in her eyes to see her truth, so Mary bids Verus "Look at me with clearer eyes, and you shall perhaps see all that I perceive without being able to tell you! .... If I bought his life," she says, "at the price which you offer, all that he wished, all that he loved, would be dead."
She says that what Jesus has given to them is much more than his life, and lives more in their hearts than in him. It is not a question of defiling herself, but of defiling his "salvation," and the source whence all purity and happiness and all life will spring. And thinking that she does not even yet love him as he should be loved, she passes into an ecstasy and says: "Verus, Verus, have pity; I cannot bear it .... I am falling! . . . Do with me what you will!" The man catches her in his arms, saying, "I knew." "No," she says, regaining strength at his touch and springing back, "you did not know." Still again she implores him, and she will be his slave all her life. Then he summons the crowd to make them hate her, and she tries to stop him, saying, "This is not worthy of you!" And so, furiously and vilely, he betrays her to them. When at last he goes out after her final silence and her final "Go!" when Christ, who had fallen before that "Go!" was spoken and looked up at the window, rises to his feet, Verus goes out with his eyes fixed on Magdalene, "who remains motionless, as though in ecstasy, and all illumined with the light of the departing torches."
Another sublime tableau! Nor are the words unworthy: they do not merely help the picture; they are heard rising out of silence at the call of events developing before our eyes. The awakening of Mary, her wavering but never doubtful struggle to see the truth and to express it convincingly to Verus, is suggested with the subtlest fidelity to feeling. But, though Mary speaks freely and at some length, her language is not always quite satisfying. It is too abstract, it is too much like what Maeterlinck would use if he were writing about her instead of putting words into her mouth. Her words are not those of religious passion so much as of a metaphysician describing religious passion. And even so they are inadequate, and I do not understand her when she says: "My God!... Is it not Thou alone whom I defile to-day in defiling Thy salvation, Thou, the very source whence the source of all purity and of every happiness and of every life will spring?" Such phrasing comes rather from the defiled stream of common religion than from the high sources; it is at most a second best, and not pure imaginative speech, though it cannot prevent Mary Magdalene from appearing in these last scenes a very moving figure of a woman of pleasure burning and flaming unquenchably with religion. In the earlier scenes, also, such is the prestige of her tradition, she cannot fail to be impressive when the right actress plays her part. The other characters are little more than background, and are treated with an exterior care and even polish. Verus is a Roman, and he is a gentleman; so much is certain: yet Maeterlinck does him perhaps less than justice in making him confuse his last desperate attempt to gain something with the "madness" of love itself. Silanus, who is not carried so far, is in this same exterior manner; in another play, or, better still, an imaginary portrait, his character would have earned the applause of the elegant, especially where he refuses to be disturbed, like Appius, by the raising of Lazarus:
"'By awaking a dead man, in the depth of his grave, he shows us that he possesses a power greater than that of our masters, but not a greater wisdom. Let us await everything with an even mind. It is not difficult, even for a child, to discern that which, in men's words, augments or increases the love of virtue. If he can convince me that I have acted wrong until to-day, I will amend, for I seek only the truth. But, if all the dead who people these valleys were to rise from their graves to bear witness, in his name, to a truth less high than that which I know, I would not believe them. Whether the dead sleep or wake, I will not give them a thought unless they teach me to make a better use of my life.'"
He in his kind is nearer perfection than Mary in hers. But it is a different method, and the two together, though so often admirable, make a play worthy of deep respect, yet an exercise, a study, in the legend of Mary Magdalene, not a full and sufficient creation; and it is a little disconcerting to see the hard classic grace more surely handled than the romance of a woman who might have summed alt that Maeterlinck has divined of the soul's beauty.
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