Ring around the Moon

by Jean Anouilh

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Critical Overview

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Jean Anouilh’s Ring Around the Moon first appeared in France in 1947 where it was and still is entitled, L’Invitation au Chateau. The play is especially important because it marked a transition between Anouilh’s pièces roses, plays in which characters escape dark conditions through fantasy, illusion, and change of personality, to Anouilh’s pièces brillantes, a more mixed group of four plays with brilliantes referring to polished and sophisticated gemlike pieces. The first two plays of the pièces brillantes, which include Ring Around the Moon, were lighter plays closer to their ‘‘pink’’ precursors. The latter two plays were more ponderous, weighed down by gritty reality.

In Jean Anouilh, Alba della Fazia called Ring Around the Moon a ‘‘pleasantly jumbled fairy tale’’ and selects Isabelle as the play’s heroine, primarily for her rejection of money and her understanding of when to end her part in the charade. In Jean Anouilh, Marguerite Archer echoes della Fazia’s description of the play as a fairy tale: ‘‘Here, the ending is a happy one, achieved by Anouilh when he combines the themes previously exploited in the pièces noires [earlier, darker pieces in Anouilh’s career], so that money and love can exist side by side in harmony.’’ Lewis Falb in his Jean Anouilh, sees a darker center to Ring Around the Moon: ‘‘Though the action resembles a lighthearted charade, beneath the surface there are disturbing undercurrents.’’ Falb’s comment is developed at length in Leonard Pronko’s The World Of Jean Anouilh. Pronko says that Hugo is without feelings because, since he plans to pay Isabelle to act her part, and does not think she deserves consideration. Pronko goes on to say that in Anouilh’s work, ‘‘men are so selfish that they seldom take their fellows into consideration. The primary social unit—the family—has broken down, and acts not as a group but as a heterogeneous mixture of individuals. With little regard for conventional morality, each goes his own way.’’ For Pronko, then, Falb’s ‘‘disturbing undercurrents’’ in Ring Around the Moon revolve primarily around selfishness issuing from monetary concern. Anouilh thereby becomes a critic of the intersection where society meets money. A more recent analysis of Ring Around the Moon reconciles the play’s lighter and darker elements. H. G. McIntyre in The Theatre of Jean Anouilh sees this reconciliation in the marriage of form with content: ‘‘The vision of life may be bleak but an antidote to it lies in the comic form of the play . . . Implicit in all this is an ethic of endurance not of rejection and self-sacrifice . . .’’ McIntyre goes further: not only does comedy help us endure, but so does the practice of theater.

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Essays and Criticism