The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Devils opens in the town center of Loudun, France, with the principal characters commenting on a corpse that dangles from the municipal gallows. D’Armagnac, the town’s governor, and de Cerisay, its chief magistrate, emerge from the cathedral admiring the priest, Urbain Grandier. Grandier appears and converses with Sewerman, who declares that humankind is driven by bodily pleasures. Grandier demurs, noting that at his trial the executed thief had said that his stolen gold had looked cheap on the woman he wanted to please. Following scenes reveal Grandier to be a man of the world, proud, sensitive and caring, yet fundamentally a manipulative man, driven by sensual desire. Among his sexual conquests is Phillipe, the adolescent daughter of the public prosecutor. Tormented by guilt, Grandier cries out to God to release him from his hedonistic life.

Other scenes reveal what are to be the sources of Grandier’s downfall. Mannoury, a surgeon, and Adam, a chemist, envy Grandier’s sophistication and highly placed friendships and decide to gather evidence of his fornications. The ascetic Bishop of Poitiers is offended by Grandier’s elegance. When Grandier supports D’Armagnac’s refusal of King Louis XIII’s request to tear down the town walls, the king’s representative, de Laubardemont, meets with Mannoury and Adam and asks for their evidence against Grandier. Meanwhile, Father Barré, an exorcist, is constantly looking out for devilish possessions.

Grandier’s enemies focus their efforts on a nearby convent where Sister Jeanne, shamed by her humped back and obsessively desiring to be loved, has fixed her attention on Grandier, whom she invites to become the convent’s confessor. When he refuses, her desire and guilt cause her to accuse him of sexual “filth.” Then, before all Grandier’s enemies, a devilish voice declares that it has possessed her—with the help of Grandier.

Act 2 opens in the cathedral, where Grandier attempts to purify his relationship with Phillipe by performing a marriage ceremony between them. Outside, Sewerman charges that the...

(The entire section is 861 words.)