The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Satin Slipper contains fifty-two scenes, divided into four separate days. As the first day begins, a dying Jesuit priest prays that his brother Rodrigo will someday accept God. In the next scene, Pelagio asks his friend Balthazar to accompany Prouheze to the African city of Mogador, where Pelagio and Prouheze will represent the interests of the king of Spain. Pelagio plans to leave for Mogador after his wife’s departure from Spain. His arranged marriage with the younger Prouheze has made neither of them truly happy. Camillo, a disreputable character who also loves Prouheze, will direct the Spanish soldiers in Mogador. Although she wishes to be faithful to her marriage vows, Prouheze clearly loves Rodrigo and not Pelagio or Camillo. As she prepares to leave for Africa, she takes off her satin slipper and places it on a statue of the Virgin Mary, whose protection she seeks. The king of Spain appoints Rodrigo his Viceroy for the West Indies and Panama. Rodrigo, however, does not wish to accept this position. In a vain attempt to escape from Spain, he is badly wounded; Prouheze herself barely escapes abduction and death at the hands of brigands. Paul Claudel then introduces the first of many supernatural elements in this play: Prouheze’s Guardian Angel assures her that Rodrigo still lives and will someday see her again.

As the second day begins, Doña Honoria fears for the life of her son Rodrigo. Both she and Pelagio realize that Rodrigo and Prouheze love each other deeply. Honoria convinces Pelagio, however, that he should not travel to Africa with his wife. Honoria argues that the harsh life in Mogador will contribute to Prouheze’s spiritual growth, and she affirms that it will be necessary to separate Prouheze from Rodrigo in order to save the souls of these two lovers. Prouheze leaves for Mogador, whence she will never return. After his physical recovery, Rodrigo travels to Mogador...

(The entire section is 781 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Although the original version of The Satin Slipper is generally considered to be Paul Claudel’s most profound play, this very lengthy version has never been staged, for a very practical reason: A complete performance of the 1928-1929 version of The Satin Slipper would require two very long evenings. Only Claudel himself believed that its full dramatic power could be effectively communicated to theatergoers under such conditions. Fortunately, the eminent French actor Jean-Louis Barrault proposed in 1942 a solution that satisfied both Claudel and the directors of the Comédie-Française. Barrault assisted Claudel in revising The Satin Slipper. The stage version is approximately half as long as the original version. The most significant change proposed by Barrault was to reduce the eleven scenes in the fourth day into a two-scene epilogue. Music by the eminent French composer Arthur Honegger added to the solemnity of this religious drama. Since its initial run of more than fifty performances during the 1943-1944 theatrical season at the Comédie-Française, the Barrault-Claudel version of The Satin Slipper has been performed frequently both in France and in many other countries.

The stage version of The Satin Slipper downplays the epic and historical sweep of the original version and transforms Claudel’s play into a fairly intimate drama that conveys to spectators the growing influence of spiritual and moral values on Rodrigo and Prouheze. Through creative uses of recurring musical themes for each key character, muted lighting for the appearances onstage of Saint James, Prouheze’s Guardian Angel, and the Moon, and set designs that draw attention to the eternal flow of the oceans during Rodrigo’s and Prouheze’s voyages of self-discovery, the 1943 version of The Satin Slipper suggests quite subtly but effectively how spiritual values become meaningful to the lovers. The artificiality and social injustices in both Spain and its many colonies serve only to alienate Rodrigo and Prouheze from their compatriots who accept the existing unjust social order. When one recalls that The Satin Slipper was revised and first performed in occupied Paris, the moral and political implications of this powerful spiritual play become rather clear to sensitive spectators and readers. One can readily imagine why Parisian theatergoers responded so favorably to the early performances of The Satin Slipper.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Caranfi, Angelo. Claudel: Beauty and Grace. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1989.

Chiari, Joseph. The Poetic Drama of Paul Claudel. New York: P. J. Kenedy and Sons, 1954.

Fowlie, Wallace. Claudel. London: Bowes and Bowes, 1957.

Freilich, Joan. Paul Claudel’s “Le Soulier de satin”: A Stylistic, Structuralist, and Psychoanalytic Interpretation. Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, 1973.

Ince, W. N. “The Unity of Claudel’s Le Soulier de satin.” Symposium 22 (1968): 35-53.

Killiam, Marie-Therese. The Art Criticism of Paul Claudel. New York: Lang, 1990.

Paliyenko, Adrianna M. Mis-Reading the Creative Impulse: The Poetic Subject in Rimbaud and Claudel, Restaged. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1997.

Waters, Harold A. Paul Claudel. New York: Twayne, 1970.

Wood, Michael. “The Theme of the Prison in Le Soulier de satin.” French Studies 22 (1968): 225-238.