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"TROIS PETITS DRAMES POUR MARIONNETTES"
FROM "Pelléas et Mélisande" Maeterlinck returned to plays of the earlier kind. "Alladine et Palomides" is indeed much like "Pelléas et Mélisande," but it is also much more thoroughly Maeterlinckian. Any one might have used the story of "Pelléas and Mélisande," and would probably have made the outline of it much like Maeterlinck's; it is an obvious problem romantically solved. But "Alladine et Palomides" is far, very far, less external, and has no movement or outline worth mentioning; nor is it conceivable that any character in it could be interested in foreign policy, as Golaud was supposed to have been, instead of marrying the little girl of the forest. It has not, I believe, been acted. "Intérieur" is like "L'Intruse"; "La Mort de Tintagiles" is as clear a picture as "Les Sept Princesses," and is not only mysterious, but intelligible and impressive. Both these plays, "Intérieur" and "La Mort de Tintagiles," have been acted. All three appeared as "three little plays for marionettes" in 1894.
At the beginning of "Alladine et Palomides" Ablamore is leaning over the sleeping Alladine, a beautiful little Greek slave from the heart of Arcadia. Ablamore says she always falls asleep under those trees; when she is awake she looks at him like a slave ordered to do the impossible. It is sad for him to love too late; but no adventures ever came to him. Holding back his "poor white beard," he embraces her, and she awakes. She has had a bad dream --some one is coming. There! Palomides enters without his betrothed, Astolaine, daughter of Ablamore. Palomides and Alladine look at one another, and his horse frightens her lamb --a lamb which understands all that happens. Ablamore bids them enter the castle, noticing how much the silent Alladine talks this evening; she is always restless in the great palace.
Alladine is looking at the park with her brow pressed against the window, and Ablamore can only get monosyllables from her. She will not talk of Palomides, nor go out, and she falls weeping on Ablamore's breast. Going to seek help, he finds Palomides sitting staring at the door. Alladine and Palomides meet on either side of the drawbridge --she with her lamb. She dares not venture over towards the forest side where he is, but her lamb goes to his call and falls into the moat; and she tells Palomides she will not see him again. At this Ablamore, who has been spying on them, enters and drags her away. He finds them kissing, but tells Alladine that she is obeying laws she does not know. She denies the kiss. He thinks she fears him as an old man, and cruelly seizes and threatens her, but suddenly falls on his knees and asks pity; she weeps in silence. Palomides tells Astolaine that he loves her, "even more than her whom I love " --that is Alladine, in whom he has found something more incomprehensible and powerful than the beauty of the most beautiful soul or face. Astolaine says that she knows we do not do what we will.
Astolaine now tells Ablamore she cannot love Palomides, whereupon Ablamore bids her come and show him the truth without words; she cannot deceive him. Palomides tells Alladine that he has seen Ablamore ominously rattling his keys. They are prepared to fly, with Astolaine's help. But Astolaine has to tell the sisters of Palomides that he will not fly, and that her father goes about with his big gold keys singing, "Go wherever your eyes may bid you," and has shut up Alladine. While Ablamore is asleep Palomides takes the keys and opens Alladine's room, where her hands are manacled by her hair. There Ablamore locks them both in, after saying that he bears them no ill-will, and that they have done what they must, and so must he also.
The lovers awaken bound in the deep grottos of Ablamore. They set themselves free, and care not so long as they are together. But Ablamore's soul must have told them they were happy; they hear iron blows, and stones are dislodged and light let in upon the cave. The two recoil from the incomers and fall. It is not Ablamore, but Astolaine and the sisters of Palomides who enter and can see them embracing in the dark water without trying to save themselves. In the water the decomposed body of the lamb is found.
Outside one door, in a long corridor of innumerable doors, are the sisters of Palomides; Astolaine and the doctor talk by another and she tells him how Ablamore had called around him these events, and was now their first victim --for he had fled on the day when he made the lovers enter the grotto. They must forget one another. But presently the voice of Alladine from the one room calls to Palomides in the other, and he replies; nor can those outside the door prevent the feeble voices from reaching one another's ears. The voice of Palomides whispers he does not suffer, but wishes he could see her; and she replies that they will never see one another again --the doors are shut. Her voice seems to him as if she were going away, and the play ends:
Palomides. Alla --dine!
The characters in this play have Arthurian and similar names: they have such names, but they are not kings and queens, nor kings' sons and daughters, like the people of "Pelléas et Mélisande." Perhaps it was that royal persons, invested by traditional opinion with some grandeur or strength, could not be made sufficiently small and frail to the imagination. The pet lamb of Alladine, although wise, is feebler than Mélisande. Not only are the characters more frail and miniature, but the scene is mightier and more terrible, and Alladine is aware of the contrast, and tells it to Palomides when they first meet:
"I cannot tell why it is that uneasiness comes to me, each time I go into the palace. It is so vast, and I am so little; I am lost in it .... And all those windows that look on the sea .... You cannot count them .... And the corridors that wind, and wind, for no reason; and others that do not turn, but that lose themselves in the walls .... And the rooms I dare not go into --"
("We will go into every one," says Palomides.)
"I feel that I was not meant to live there, or that it was not built for me .... Once I lost my way .... I had to open thirty doors before the daylight returned to me. And I could not escape; the last door led to a lake. And there are vaults that are cold even in summer; and galleries that twist, and twist, back on to themselves. And stairs that lead no whither, and terraces whence nothing can be seen."
Through these vaults the lovers were carried to the caverns under the palace. Palomides had heard of them:
"No one ever went into them; and only the king had the keys. I knew that the sea flooded those that lay deepest; and the light we behold is doubtless thrown up by the sea ....
And very much more both Palomides and Alladine are able
to say about the cave and its majesty magnificence, even in the first moments
of their awakening in imprisonment. The cave was beautiful until the rescuers
broke open an entrance for the sunlight. But this probably is not a parable,
but only one of those symbols of something or nothing which help to preserve
our attention. The same may be said of Ablamore's metaphor of truth hiding
itself among the rocks --a phrase which is remembered when Alladine's lamb
is picked up in the grotto; and of Ablamore's six fountains in the park which
sprang up, one after the other, at the death of his daughters. Some day there
may be a key, not by Maeterlinck, to all these things, even to Ablamore's
song, as he jingles his keys:
Unhappiness had three keys of gold --
But they are probably only attempts to give the same effects as traditional tales where mysterious numbers and the like point through the mist to some ancient meaning now lost.
Like "Pelléas et Mélisande," "Alladine and Palomides" has a framework upon which a very different kind of play might have been built. The story of an old man and of a young girl who loves a young man better is not an unfamiliar one; but here there is no motive and no character. A story was necessary, and so one of the monumental simple stories was used. Maeterlinck gets no farther than the impression that Ablamore is old and Alladine and Palomides both are young. They do what they do because they must. They explain themselves to one another. Like Arkël, they know that they do what they must. When Palomides has fallen in love with Alladine he tells Astolaine, his betrothed, in this way: "Fate has stepped out towards me; or I, it may be, have beckoned to Fate." And she replies by bidding him not to weep; she too is aware that we cannot always do what we will. All, therefore, that is necessary for them all the time is for them to describe what has happened to them. They alt see themselves as if they were reading about themselves in a book, and what they see they speak of in low tones of even sadness that exclude particularity of passion. When Alladine and Palomides lie a-dying, or losing the desire to live, they seem to be reciting a litany far older than themselves:
The voice of Alladine. I had pity on you! . . .
The voice of Palomides. They have parted us, but I always shall love you ....
All. I had pity on you . . . are you suffering still?
Pal. I suffer no more, but I want to see you...
All. Never again shall we see one another, for the doors are all closed ....
Pal. There is that in your voice that tells me you love me no longer ....
All. Yes, yes, I love you still, but now all is sorrow ....
Pal. You are turning away .... I scarcely can hear you ....
All. We seem to be hundreds of miles from each other ....
Yet how like this is to "Serres Chaudes" in its sick sense of remoteness, while the neverness, the lostness, of "We shall never come back" in "Les Sept Princesses," Mélisande's "They have closed the doors," and Pelléas's "It is too late," are repeated and concentrated in a perfect phrase of Alladine's: "Nous ne nous verrons plus, les portes sont ferrules." (Never again shall we see one another, the doors are all closed.) It is not the separation of Alladine from Palomides and Palomides from Alladine that we feel as this scene passes. It is the idea of separation audibly presented. Were Alladine a woman, and not a little Greek slave from the heart of Arcadia, and Palomides a man instead of an Arthurian wraith, the scene would be almost intolerable if indeed it were not incredible. But, on the other hand, suppose such a dying conversation between as good a man as Mercutio or Richard Feverel and a woman his equal, not separation alone would fill the mind. They would give our sorrow something of their own opulence and nobility. But here a perhaps entirely inhuman sense of separation afflicts us, even less than what may be brought into the heart through the dying last note of a horn at evening, a door shutting when there is no other sound for a long time before and after, or the last of anything. It has a rhetorical effect equal to De Quincey's elaborate description of his last hours at school before running away, or that dream in the "Opium Eater" which ends: "And at last, with the sense that all was lost, female forms, and the features that were worth all the world to me; and but a moment allowed --and clasped hands, with heart-breaking partings, and then --everlasting farewells! and, with a sigh such as the caves of hell sighed when the incestuous mother uttered the abhorred name of Death, the sound was reverberated --everlasting farewells! and again, and yet again reverberated --everlasting farewells!" It is equal, but very different. De Quincey is purple, Maeterlinck is grey; De Quincey ends with a full orchestra, Maeterlinck with only a solitary voice singing unseen.
The effect of the play is simpler and more concentrated than that of "Pelléas et Mélisande." The story is much less a story, and could not be read as one. There is no sanguinary Golaud with a sword, but white-bearded Ablamore, who gives the lovers an appropriate end, since life, as the doctor says, had "ebbed very low in their hearts." When Ablamore's reason was shaken after shutting up the lovers and before running away, he climbed to a tower and stretched his arms out towards mountain and sea, "summoning the events that too long had remained concealed in the horizon," as if he were a kind of Maeterlinckian Solness at the topmost of his tower calling upon the Mighty One to hear him vowing that from this day forward he will be a free builder. As Mélisande, coming from afar, is saddened by the dark, huge castle, so is the Arcadian slave by the many-chambered palace of Ablamore. The life of both Alladine and Palomides, like Mélisande's, flickers out slowly, even more slowly and without disturbance. Well did Maeterlinck know his power when he gave the vigorous name of Palomides to his ghostly hero; he knew that his treatment would destroy everything belonging to the name except a splendour. For an apathetic symphony nothing could be more admirable. If there is one place in the whole where a discord is risked it is at the end of the second act. Palomides has told Astolaine his love for Alladine, has wept and been kissed for it, and has asked if she also is crying: "These," she says:
"These are little tears.... let them not sadden you .... My tears fall because I am a woman; but woman's tears, they say, are not painful .... See, my eyes are already dry."
It is natural for a woman in one of Maeterlinck's early plays to refer to her tears as little and to describe herself to her companion; but in this scene Astolaine assumes a womanly height though still pale and slender, and the pathos of her "See, my eyes are already dry" becomes a little too real for the play --the author comes near to asking too much from his marionettes.
Unlike all of its predecessors, "Intérieur" depends on nothing conventionally impressive in scenery and starts with no prestige of any kind. Except two children the characters have no names, but are the old man, the stranger, the peasant, the father, the mother, the two daughters, the child. The scene is a house standing in an old garden planted with willows. Three of the ground-floor windows are lit by a lamp, round which the family is visible: the father in the chimney corner, the mother resting one elbow on the table and gazing into vacancy, and the young child asleep resting on the other arm, the two daughters in white sitting over their embroidery and smiling at ease. The old man and the stranger come cautiously into the garden. They have to announce that a daughter of the house has been drowned, and they are undecided what to do; meantime they talk of the finding of the body and watch the unsuspecting inmates of the room. The old man's grandchild, Mary, arrives and says that the bearers of the dead girl are now quite near. The sisters within come to the window and gaze unseeing into the darkness. Mary thinks that they are "praying without knowing what they do"; she says, "Tell them to-morrow, grandfather," and the two men are losing time. Martha arrives, and, seeing that the people in the house are not crying, knows that they have not been told. The murmur of the crowd is heard; some enter the garden. The old man goes to knock at the door and Martha and the stranger watch for the effect among those within. Now they see the old man in the room; the crowd press up to the window. They see the mother beginning to understand-they know that he has told them; he tries to prevent the mother from going out. Then, as they see that the inmates are coming out, the Crowd hurries away, all but the stranger, who waits a little longer, and having said, "The child has not awakened !" goes out.
However handled, the idea of this play is perhaps quite original. There is a hint of something like it in De Quincey's "Suspiria de Profundis," in the passage beginning," Who is this distinguished-looking young woman, with her eyes drooping, and the shadow of a dreadful shock yet fresh upon every feature?" As the crowd looks in unobserved upon the still ignorant, bereaved family so De Quincey seems to stand outside and watch. In "The English Mail-coach" also he does a similar thing when he paints the unsuspecting lovers driving through the silence and solitude of an English road in summer twilight, and the mail-coach, with" Death, the crowned phantom, with all the equipage of his terrors, and the tiger roar of his voice," bearing down upon them. And many before and since, standing out in the dark, must have been fascinated by the seeming charmed life of a family group in a lighted room. But now the mere choice of the subject --the too confident people separated from the enemy only by a window --seems peculiarly Maeterlinck's. "Serres Chaudes," with its vision of things seen isolated under a bell-glass or through the pane of a diving-bell, foretells "Intérieur," and the concluding sentence in the description of the scene recalls "Serres Chaudes." The people are gathered round the lamp:
"When one of them rises, walks, or makes a gesture, the movements appear grave, slow, apart, and as though spiritualized by the distance, the light, and the transparent film of the window-panes."
The old man says definitely that he seems see them "from the altitude of another world."
The whole piece is evidently elaborated from an impression of a lighted interior seen thus detached, and its effect is to sum up and intensify the feeling of a fascinated spectator. In spite of the crowd, the movement, and the talk it remains purely dream-like and lacking in the breath of life. It is a vision of the unconsciousness of life, of its ignorance of what is before and round about it. The old man reflects that the drowned girl was living in the morning and "did not know that I should see her again," and he continues: "You live for months by the side of one who is no longer of this world, and whose soul cannot stoop to it; you answer her unthinkingly .... They do not themselves know what they are! Yesterday evening she was there, sitting in the lamplight, like her sisters." They do not know that they are watched: "We, too," he sees, "are watched." As he stands and sees them, thinking themselves beyond the reach of danger, he does not know what to do. The stranger, on the other hand, thinks there is something about them-he does not know what --as if they were not wholly unaware. One looks out into the dark, smiling "at what she does not see." The little girl, Mary, seeing them so peaceful, feels as if she were seeing them in dreams; she begs her grandfather to have pity on them: Martha says, "How patient they are!" When he goes inside he faces towards the window, but feels the eyes of the crowd and turns away. He speaks, and the bereaved understand; they rush to the door. All is dissolved, the little undesigned play in the room is over and the enchantment at an end; the crowd breaks up. The child still sleeps in the arm-chair, as unconscious as the dead girl.
But Maeterlinck is not quite exclusively the spectator, bent upon reproducing his vision. He makes the old man say that he acknowledged something unusual when he last saw the dead girl alive. She was on the point of asking him something, but perhaps did not dare, and, now that he thinks of it, "she smiled as people smile who want to be silent, or who fear that they will not be understood." In the manner of Arkël he says: "What a strange little soul she must have had !what a poor little, artless, unfathomable soul she must have had !" --not because she was she, but because she was human. The stranger, seeing the two sisters look out, thinks the eyes of one are full of fear, and the old man bids him "take care; who knows how far the soul may extend around the body?" This is the thought of Maeterlinck the philosopher hovering unobtrusive but unneeded about a scene which his feeling alone makes effective.
"La Mort de Tintagiles" is simpler than "Alladine et Palomides," as simple, in fact, as "Les Aveugles." A child, a black castle and a hidden queen, and death --that is all. Tintagiles has come from over the sea to an island where dwell his sisters, Ygraine and Bellangère, and a wise old man, Aglovale. He has been forced to come, he does not know why, nor can they tell, except that "the queen wished it." They are leading him to a house near the castle at nightfall, and it looks very black, but the windows are red, and "it is there that the queen has her throne." She is never seen, and she never leaves the castle, but her orders are carried out. Suddenly one day Bellangère, sitting with Aglovale in the castle, bursts into tears; for she had penetrated to a forbidden part of the castle and heard voices of people who were speaking "of a child who had arrived to-day and of a crown of gold." And Ygraine says: "She shall not take him without a struggle." Aglovale says that their only defence is to enfold Tintagiles in their "little arms." Tintagiles has pain, and when Ygraine bids him trust in her and no evil can come, he says: "It has come, sister Ygraine." He notices that Aglovale is sitting on the threshold with his sword on his knees and that he is wounded. He hears his sister's heart beat as if bursting, and he cries. "I have heard," he says; "they... they are coming." Aglovale also can hear, and takes his sword. A key turns in the lock. The door slowly opens wider and wider in spite of their leaning against it with all their strength, until Tintagiles, who has fainted, regains consciousness and gives a cry of deliverance; then the door shuts again. "He is saved," says Ygraine. He is asleep between his sisters when the servants of the queen go into the room and take him away. He awakes with "a cry of supreme distress," and only when his crying is almost inaudible do his sisters awake and rush out. Bellangère has fallen and Ygraine is alone "before a great iron door in a gloomy vault," holding a lamp in her hand. She shrieks out, she beats upon the door. The voice of Tintagiles is heard on the other side, asking her to open. But she cannot, although the child tells her that "She" is coming. Now "It is too late," he says; "her hand is at my throat." His body is heard falling. But she continues to cry out for him until, after a long silence, she calls: "Monster!... Monster! . ... curse you! curse you! . . . I spit on you!" and she "continues to sob softly, her arms outspread against the gate, in the gloom."
In this play the persons are the feeblest and the scene is the most gloomy and terrible. Ygraine recalls how once she felt almost happy, and "very soon after, our old father died, and our two brothers disappeared." She has lived long on the island, "not daring to understand the things that happened.'' She has wished to escape, but in vain. She has "no confidence in the future," and they have always to be on their guard. Tintagiles has come because the queen wished it, and from the first he is evidently a sacrifice. He has come from far away, to die like Mélisande and Alladine. On the other hand, the castle is enormous and dark, and its shadow always upon their house. It is ruinous, and it is deep down in the valley and out of the air. It has many corridors and galleries, and innumerable stairs. There lives the queen "the mother of our mother " --suspicious, jealous, mad, and having such great power that the sisters live there "with a terrible weight on their souls." She lies on their souls like a tombstone, and no one dares oppose her. If she were to send for Aglovale he would go unlingering, though he knows that none returns, with eyes unclosed. Tintagiles is soon crying in the dark castle, he knows not why; he sleeps "very gravely, with one hand on his brow, like a little sorrowful king." At his arrival the sea has roared and the trees moaned. It is undoubtedly of him that the hidden voices are speaking when Bellangère strays in the castle. The sisters bar a great door, but sitting on their knee he knows of evil, he hears long before the others the sound of the enemy coming. All the sisters can do is to push vainly against the door. Aglovale's old sword is broken. The child is taken away in sleep though his hands are plunged deep down into his sisters' hair, and they are clutching at one. another as if drowning. The stealers see that one of the sisters wishes to scream but cannot. Everywhere is a stealthy quiet and the helplessness nightmare. These people are powerless, and yet it is only slowly that they are overcome. The great door, with Ygraine on one side trying to open it, and the small Tintagiles on the other begging to be saved --this is a scene from the torture-chambers of sleep. At first she can hear no sound of Tintagiles, and calls in vain. Then she remembers: "I have climbed steps without number, between great pitiless walls, and my heart bids me live no longer." The door is of iron and very cold, and she sees some of Tintagiles's golden hair between the panels, which makes her shriek and beat frantically against the door and cry out: "Listen! I blaspheme! I blaspheme and spit on you!" The rest is suspense. She is trying to open the door, breaking her nails and numbing her fingers against the iron. On the other side Tintagiles hears the queen coming --is caught by her at the throat --and falls. Ygraine speaks in silence:
"Tintagiles! . . . Tintagiles! . . . What have you done? . . . Give him back, give him back! . . . for the love of God, give him back to me! . . . I can hear nothing .... What are you going to do with him? . . . You will not hurt him .... He is only a little child, . . . He cannot resist .... Look, look! . . . I mean no harm ... I am on my knees .... Give him back to us, I beg of you. . . . Not for my sake only, you know it well .... I will do anything .... I bear no ill-will, you see .... I implore you, with clasped hands .... I was wrong .... I am quite resigned, you see .... I have lost all I had .... You should punish me some other way .... There are so many things which would hurt me more . .. if you want to hurt me . . . you shall see .... But this poor child has done no harm .... What I said was not true. . . but I did not know .... I know that you are very good . . . surely the time for forgiveness has come!... He is so young and beautiful, and he is so small!... You must see that it cannot be! . . . He puts his little arms around your neck; his little mouth on your mouth; and God Himself could not say him nay .... You will open the door, will you not? . . . I am asking so little .... I want him for an instant, just for an instant . . . I cannot remember . . . you will understand . . . I did not have time .... He can get through the tiniest opening .... It is not difficult .... (A long, inexorable silence) .... Monster! ... Monster! .... Curse you! . . . Curse you! . . . I spit on you!"
This is something like realism, and the conclusion is unfit for a marionette. This violent impotence of a being who has hitherto offered no resistance to fate would be unendurable unless nature defended herself with laughter. It is an attempt to dramatize a lyric scene like that summed up in the lines:
|There were two kingly children
That loved each other dearly --
They could not come together,
The water was so deep.
But it produces only a lyrical effect, if the effect is not altogether ruined by Ygraine's sudden curses. For here nature seems to interrupt art, as if Shelley had appended to the "Lines written in dejection near Naples" such an expression as, "Good God, what a life it is !" They have been threatened by a physical evil from the unseen queen, but have taken no care to meet it with physical defence. They have fallen asleep with the child instead of watching, and he is carried away from them. Very well, then; this is a fitting languor for one of these obsessed, pale women to show in her dream of life; to wake her up and afflict us with real and common horror after the muffled and far-off horror of the earlier acts is perhaps ill-mannered and unfair. "L'Intruse" ends with the baby's crying, "Pelléas et Mélisande" with old Arkël's turning from the dead woman to her child (" It must live now"), "Intérieur" with the stir of the crowd, and the breaking down of the magic wall round the lighted room; and these are unquestionable ends, like "Go, bid the soldiers shoot." But "Monster! . . . I spit on you," is not such a casting off of the spell of the play; it does not appear, for instance, to be a pledge that Ygraine will never again honour death with terror. Nevertheless, as Mr. Sutro has told us, this is Maeterlinck's favourite play.
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