The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Tidings Brought to Mary begins with a prologue, set late at night in the large barn at Combernon, the home of the Vercors family. At the back of the barn is a large, heavily bolted door, on which are painted figures of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Pierre de Craon enters on horseback. Then Violaine Vercors steps out from behind a pillar. Citing the unseemliness of their being alone together at that hour, Pierre urges her to leave, but she refuses, reminding him tauntingly of an earlier occasion when he attacked her with a knife but failed in his attempt on her virtue. Asking her forgiveness, Pierre insists that it was the only time he had ever acted in such a way, and it is clear that Violaine believes him, for she assures him that she has not betrayed his secret.

In the dialogue that follows, Pierre reveals the reason for his year-long absence from Combernon. The day after his attack on Violaine, he had discovered a sign of leprosy. Because his work building churches is so important, he has been permitted to continue, keeping his disease a secret but remaining distant from his workmen. He has come to Combernon to open the door which leads to Monsanvierge, the holy mountain above, where lives an order of nuns. It is Violaine who goes to the heavy door and turns the key for him. She tells Pierre that she will soon be married to the man she loves, Jacques Hury. Pierre admits his own love for her and his bitterness about his affliction, which makes him an outcast. In pity, Violaine kisses him; in the background, her sister, Mara Vercors, watches.

The first act is set in the Vercors kitchen. Anne Vercors is discussing his plans with his wife, Elisabeth Vercors. He wishes to give his daughter Violaine in marriage to Jacques Hury, the poor boy whom he has reared and whom he thinks of as a son. He also intends to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Even though Mara Vercors tells her mother that she loves Jacques desperately and threatens to kill herself if she cannot have...

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The Tidings Brought to Mary Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Tidings Brought to Mary is a play in which the action is psychological, not physical. Pierre’s attack on Violaine took place before the play, and both Mara’s attack on her and Violaine’s death are described, rather than enacted for the audience. From a visual standpoint, only the scenes in which Violaine reveals the marks of leprosy and in which she revives the baby are truly dramatic. However, even the miracle involving the baby takes place under the shelter of Violaine’s cloak.

It is the ebb and flow of emotions, portrayed in poetic dialogue, that give this play its dramatic impact. From the beginning, the dichotomies are established: good and evil, love and hate, compassion and hardness of heart, spirit and flesh, life and death. Instead of good characters in opposition to evil characters, the battle between good and evil is fought in every heart. Thus while in most plays characters such as Mara and Jacques would be punished for their selfishness, in Paul Claudel’s drama the Christian substitute for poetic justice is the redemption of those who have been dominated by evil, the penetration of the world by good.

The theme of redemption is reflected dramatically in the intricate exchange of roles between Violaine and Mara. Mara became the wife of Jacques and the mother of his child in Violaine’s place. In the miracle scene, however, Violaine seems to have borne the child again and, as the change in eye color suggests,...

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The Tidings Brought to Mary Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Brockett, Oscar G. “Anti-Realist Alternatives.” In Century of Innovation: A History of European and American Theatre and Drama Since 1870. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1973.

Chiari, Joseph. The Poetic Drama of Paul Claudel. 1954. Reprint. New York: Gordian Press, 1969.

Fowlie, Wallace. Paul Claudel. London: Bowes and Bowes, 1957.

Gassner, John. “Paul Claudel.” In Masters of the Drama. 3d ed. New York: Dover, 1954.

Heppenstall, Rayner. “The Playground of Paul Claudel.” In The Double Image: Mutations of Christian Mythology in the Work of Four French Catholic Writers of Today and Yesterday. London: Secker & Warburg, 1947.

Paliyenko, Adrianna M. Mis-Reading the Creative Impulse: The Poetic Subject in Rimbaud and Claudel, Restaged. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1997.

“Paul Claudel.” In Guide to French Literature. Detroit: St. James, 1992.