The Tidings Brought to Mary is a play about salvation, which can be achieved only by the way of the Cross. Those who will walk in this way must learn compassion, forgiveness, and self-abnegation. In their sufferings, they must find joy; in death itself, they must rejoice. The aim of life, Paul Claudel believed, is spiritual growth; finally, one must attain perfect subjection to the will of God.
At the beginning of the story, Violaine has simple ambitions: to marry the man she loves and to have his children. Even in the first scene of the play, however, her spiritual qualities are evident. Violaine forgives Pierre for his attack upon her. She denies her own desires by giving up Jacques’s ring for the church. Finally, instead of being repelled by Pierre’s leprosy, she feels compassion for him and kisses him without a thought of her own danger. It is not surprising that she can accept her own leprosy without anger and that she can forgive Jacques for turning upon her and Mara for causing her death, as she has already forgiven Pierre for a far lesser wrong.
Mara, Jacques, and Pierre illustrate various defects of the soul. Mara’s jealousy of her sister causes her to desire Jacques; even when Violaine is leprous and blind, Mara is still in the grips of that old hatred, which drives her to kill Violaine. As Violaine points out, however, Jacques has his own imperfections, which—like Mara’s—are the result of a preoccupation with...
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