A tale of 11th century Spain furnishes the main characters and plot of this drama, although a 17th century French psychology dominates it. Three main elements influence the course of events: romantic love, family honor, and feudal duty.
A pair of young lovers, Rodrigue and Chimène are at the point of betrothal when their fathers quarrel over a royal honor; Chimène’s father insults and slaps Rodrigue’s father in a fit of wounded pride. Only Rodrigue can avenge this affront. Doing so, he kills Chimène’s father in a duel. Now Chimène in her turn must uphold family honor by seeking justice for her dead father. What power can mediate this seemingly irreconcilable conflict?
The answer lies in the hands of Don Fernand, the incarnation of kingly wisdom and dignity. He can judge Chimène’s father in his failings of arrogance and insubordination while regretting his courage and military skill. He alone can offer her a new filial allegiance to the crown. When a sudden attack by the Moors places the kingdom in danger, Don Fernand can offer Rodrigue a chance at redemption as replacement for the dead count in battle.
Rodrigue rides out with a small force, seeking death in the king’s service and returns covered with glory to claim the new name of “le Cid.” Chimène’s assumption of hatred comes with ill grace against such a hero. She is able to admit her love when she mistakenly believes Rodrigue dead in a trial by combat; this admission allows the king to reconcile the lovers. As the curtain falls, love can once again hope for fulfillment; the king sends Rodrigue on a year’s quest for glory, with Chimène his promised reward.
Abraham, Claude. Pierre Corneille. New York: Twayne, 1972. Geared for the general reader; all quotations are in English. Gives a short biographical sketch and discusses the structure, themes, and style in Corneille’s plays. Shows the significance of The Cid in Corneille’s works.
Bénichou, Paul. Man and Ethics: Studies in French Classicism. Translated by Elizabeth Hughes. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971. Treats the social and moral conditions of life during the seventeenth century. Brilliantly considers the relation between aesthetic and moral values in literature.
Cook, Albert Spaulding. French Tragedy: The Power of Enactment. Chicago: Swallow Press, 1981. Presents an interesting discussion concerning the style of the neoclassical play. The quotations are in both French and English.
Moore, Will Grayburn. The Classical Drama of France. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1971. Provides information about the form of the French neoclassical play. Explains the background of The Cid.
Yarrow, P. J. Corneille. New York: Macmillan, 1963. A general study of Corneille’s plays that presents their structure and relates them to their epoch. An excellent treatment of The Cid’s importance in the developing of seventeenth century French neoclassicism.