Ring around the Moon

by Jean Anouilh

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Historical Context

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During the course of World War II (1939–1945) the Germans invaded Paris and occupied the northern and western parts of France from 1940–44. The rest of the country was under the authority of the puppet government of Vichy led by Marshal Pétain and supported by much of the traditional French right. Simultaneously, General Charles de Gaulle was organizing the resistance movement of the Free French from London. Soon after the American, British, and Canadian military invasion on the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944, de Gaulle entered Paris to head the new government.

France’s defeat by the Germans unexpectedly prodded modernization forward after the end of Nazi occupation and the Vichy regime. The resistance movement that emerged, though existing in frictional coexistence, contained most of France’s forward-looking elements. With the right discredited and the resistance elements committed to significant change, the two-year life of the post-WWII liberation coalition after November, 1944 allowed a wide range of reforms. Extensive nationalization of industry endowed the central government with new power over the direction of France’s economy and France’s welfare state greatly expanded. Modernizing technocrats, represented by Jean Monnet and his planning commission, were eager to use the new state levers for rejuvenated control. Strong state influence pushed France’s postwar development in a different direction from many other European countries whose industries were not nationalized.

Post-Liberation French governments did not fare so well at building new political institutions. Disputes between General Charles de Gaulle and the left over the role of the head of state led to de Gaulle’s angry resignation and denunciation of the emerging ‘‘regime of the parties.’’ In the Fourth Republic Constitution (1946–1958)—barely approved by the electorate—the National Assembly became the seat of all power. Its majority coalitions, made volatile with a new system of proportional representation, became even more unpredictable when the Cold War began in 1947. France’s political alignment on the side of the United States forced the Communists, who represented twenty-five percent of the electorate, into quasi-permanent sectarian isolation. Governments thenceforth were constructed from among center-left and center-right groups that rarely agreed. The Fourth Republic drifted to the right and progressively fell under the sway of forces determined to preserve colonialism. Thus from 1946 to 1958 there was costly and divisive warfare, first in Indochina (1946–1954) and then in Algeria (1954–1962). The postwar years deeply changed French society: consumerism was born, the service sector rapidly expanded, and high-tech national projects were successfully launched. Modernization of the economy led to continuing attrition of aristocratic elements—represented in Ring Around the Moon by Madame Desmermortes—and their gradual replacement by the newer and more influential money of industrialists like Messerschmann.

Literary Style

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SettingRing Around the Moon takes place at a French country estate in spring. Why spring? Probably because it is when romance is thought to ‘‘bloom.’’ The additional setting of a glassed-in rococo winter garden looking out on a ‘‘wide expanse of park’’ contributes to this fertile atmosphere. The home belongs to Madame Desmermortes and is occupied by her nephews, Hugo and Frederic, and her niece, Lady India, all of them attended by the butler, Joshua. All other characters are guests at the chateau.

The dialogue in Ring Around the Moon is entirely social: it contains no soliloquies. Dialogue, as the word indicates, is always directed at someone, most often taking the form of persuasion, coercion, or attack. Recall the dialogue about money between Messerschmann and Isabelle, Hugo’s numerous coercions of Romainville, Patrice, and Isab elle, and Diane’s toying with Frederic. This is dialogue as manipulation.

Music occurs primarily in Act II at the evening ball, where it...

(This entire section contains 341 words.)

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may reinforce the idea that precise and numerous entrances and exits of a multitude of characters are a kind of comedic dance. When Hugo blackmails Patrice into acting as Isabelle’s jealous lover, a kind of battle of wits results, and so Anouilh calls for a ‘‘heroic, warlike tune.’’

The movement of Ring Around the Moon consists of a multitude of precisely timed entrances and exits, especially of the identical twins, Hugo and Frederic, played by the same actor. In the final act of the play, Hugo must send in—‘‘for reasons which you all know’’—a note from offstage in which Hugo confesses his love for Diana Messerschmann. The reason? Frederic is already onstage. In Act I, Scene 1, just before Diana and Frederic exit, Diana states that Hugo is ‘‘capable of absolutely anything.’’ Patrice and Lady India immediately walk on, Patrice speaking these same words, producing a neat transition between different situations and characters with Hugo’s interference in common. Finally, it is fitting that in this play full of movement, the heroine, Isabelle, is a dancer.

Compare and Contrast

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1947: Extensive nationalization of French industry becomes well established.

Today: The French government retains considerable influence over key segments of each economic sector, with majority ownership of railway, electricity, aircraft, and telecommunication firms, but since the early 1990s has been gradually relaxing its control over these sectors.

1947: With the Truman Doctrine of March 12, a policy of world communist containment by the United States is formally announced, an early landmark of the Cold War.

Today: The Cold War is officially ended but is threatened again with the conflict in Yugoslavia— Russia aligned with Serbia, Europe and the United States aligned with elements against Serbia. The Cold War is heated up further when U.S. bombs hit the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.

1947: The American Marshall Plan, named for secretary of state, George C. Marshall, channels huge quantities of money into rebuilding Europe and strengthening anticommunist European governments.

Today: A united, noncommunist Europe launches its first common currency, the Euro.

1947: France greatly expands its welfare state.

Today: France continues to refrain from cutting social welfare benefits and the state bureaucracy, preferring to trim defense spending and raise taxes to keep its deficit down.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Anouilh, Jean, Ring Around the Moon, translated by Christopher Fry, Oxford University Press, 1950.

Archer, Marguerite, Jean Anouilh, Columbia University Press, 1971.

Della Fazia, Alba, Jean Anouilh, Twayne, 1969.

Falb, Lewis W., Jean Anouilh, Frederick Ungar, 1977.

McIntyre, H. G., The Theatre of Jean Anouilh, Barnes and Noble, 1981.

Pronko, Leonard Cabell, The World of Jean Anouilh, University of California Press, 1961.

Further Reading
Chiari, Joseph, The Contemporary French Theatre: The Flight from Naturalism, Macmillan, 1959. Chiari’s text charts the course of French theater from Naturalism to Realism to Theater of the Absurd.

Curtis, Anthony, New Developments in the French Theatre, Curtain Press, 1948. Curtis’s subject, like Chiari’s, charts varied approaches toward achieving realistic theater.

Grossvogel, David I., The Self-Conscious Stage in Modern French Drama, Columbia University Press, 1958. Grossvogel concentrates on psychological aspects of late nineteenth and early twentieth century French theater.

Kuritz, Paul, The Making of Theatre History, Prentice Hall, 1988. Kuritz’s ambitious study encompasses Asian and Occidental theater. The book is organized according to time period beginning with ancient Greek Theater and proceeding to the present.


Critical Essays


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