Critical Essay on <i>Le Cid</i>
Pierre Corneille’s Le Cid focuses on a legendary hero of eleventh-century Spain and his feats of heroism, chivalry, and honor. But a more pervading element of this play, one that is acted out by not only the protagonist but many other characters is that of sacrifice. A sense of sacrifice lies beneath the surface of many of the events of this play, whether it is portrayed through a deed of love, honor, or respect.
The first sacrifice, which is not the noblest of them all but rather one that sets off the motions of Corneille’s play is the willingness of Don Diegue to forfeit the life of his son, Le Cid, in order to restore honor to the family name. Of course, if Don Rodrigue were to lose his duel with Don Gomes, the pain would be great for Don Diegue, but it is one thing to sacrifice another person’s life and another to offer up one’s own. So although this sacrifice is great, it lacks a noble edge. Don Diegue not only is offering up his son’s life, he is doing so without there being a substantial reason behind his efforts. Yes, one’s honor was of immense purpose in the past, but the consequences were relative only to a limited number of family members. And cost to that family could be measured maybe in a diminished livelihood but not in serious punishment. Don Diegue might have lost his honor if he had not potentially sacrificed his son, but he still could have gone on living and probably living well. So the significance of this sacrifice was not great in itself except for the fact that because of it, the rest of the actions of the play fall into place.
Don Gomes is the next victim of sacrifice, and his sacrifice was much greater. He lost his life. The reasons for losing his life were not insignificant but they were rather trivial. Could he have refused to fight Don Rodrigue? Probably. One of the main reasons he gave in was because Don Gomes thought the whole thing was a joke. Who was this young man who dared to challenge the great warrior? Don Gomes thought he could wipe Don Rodrigue out as easily as swatting a fly. And the consequences for his actions would not have mattered much. If he killed Don Rodrigue, Don Diegue would have mourned the loss of his son, and Don Gomes’s daughter, Chimene, would have mourned the loss of her lover. And that would have been it. The kingdom would have hypothetically gone on as before. But that is not how events unfolded. As it turned out, the duel was very significant because Don Gomes sacrificed (albeit unknowingly) his life and therefore greatly affected the kingdom.
Because of Don Gomes’s sacrifice, Don Diegue’s honor was restored, the love between Don Rodrigue and Chimene was compromised, and the whole legend of Le Cid was born. If Don Rodrigue had not killed Don Gomes, he would not have gone off and stopped the Moors from coming ashore in the kingdom in an attempt to take over the land. He would not have been renamed Le Cid. Don Rodrigue might not have been ready for such a remarkable feat as that. He was propelled, one could argue, because of Don Gomes’s death to prove that he was a fearless warrior even greater than the warrior that he defeated in the duel. As Don Rodrigue outdid the older warrior in a one-on-one fight, so too would he outshine him on the battlefield. And he did.
But in killing Don Gomes, Don Rodrigue sacrifices the chances of winning Chimene as his wife. He relinquishes his deep love for her not in fact but in theory. His love for her remains in his heart, but because of what he has done, his love may never be returned. He goes into the duel with Don Gomes knowing this but also knowing that there was no way to avoid the consequences. Because of his father’s and Don Gomes’s argument and brief assault, Don Rodrigue stood to lose Chimene no matter what he did. And then to underscore the breadth of the price he must pay, Don Rodrigue offers his life—the ultimate sacrifice. What better way could Corneille have demonstrated how much Don Rodrigue loved Chimene? It is as if Don Rodrigue was saying that if he could not have Chimene there was no reason to go on living. He offered her his life so...
(The entire section is 1682 words.)