(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Seated across from his wife, Eurydice, in their villa in Thrace, the poet Orpheus concentrates on the tapping of a white horse that is housed in a niche in the center of the room. Orpheus believes that the horse’s tapping will indicate the next letter in an inspired message. Eventually, the horse taps out “hell” and, finally, “hello” (in the original French, mer becomes merci). Orpheus has submitted a previous message, “Orpheus hunts Eurydice’s lost life,” to the Thracian poetry competition. Eurydice’s complaints of neglect, compounded by her doubts regarding these messages, begin to provoke Orpheus. In response to her warnings regarding the jealousy of the Bacchantes, a cult of women to whom Eurydice used to belong, Orpheus accuses her of disloyalty. He goes on to insist that Eurydice break a windowpane each day so that the glazier, Heurtebise, will come to their villa. To deny his jealousy, he breaks a pane himself and summons Heurtebise.

Upon Heurtebise’s entrance, Orpheus departs for town to prepare for the poetry competition. In exchange for some poison-laced sugar from the Bacchante leader, Algaonice, Eurydice hands Heurtebise an incriminating letter she has had in her possession. Heurtebise also gives Eurydice an envelope from Algaonice in which to place the letter to eliminate any trace of Eurydice’s involvement. Shrinking from giving the poison to the horse herself, Eurydice convinces Heurtebise to do the deed. Heurtebise, however, interrupted by Orpheus’s reappearance, stands on a chair at the window, pretending to take measurements. Orpheus has returned because he forgot to take his birth certificate with him for the competition. To retrieve the document from the top of the bookcase, Orpheus grabs the chair on which Heurtebise stands, and after the chair is pulled from beneath him, Heurtebise remains suspended in the air. Orpheus, oblivious to this fact, retrieves the certificate and leaves. Eurydice, however, demands an explanation from Heurtebise, who refuses to acknowledge that anything unusual has happened. Eurydice hastily seals Algaonice’s envelope with her tongue in order to give the letter to Heurtebise before dismissing him. She remarks on its peculiar taste and then, calling Heurtebise back, reveals that she is dying; the envelope had been poisoned. She sends...

(The entire section is 955 words.)