The early works of Paul Claudel, produced under the influence of the French Symbolists but already reflecting his religious convictions, were published anonymously during the 1890’s but not staged. In 1892, he wrote a play about a character named Violaine, which he later expanded to The Tidings Brought to Mary. When it was produced in 1912, it was the first of his plays to be staged, and in its poetic quality and religious theme it set the pattern for his later works.
With L’Otage (pb. 1911; The Hostage, 1917), Claudel moved to another period of history, the Napoleonic era. As in his previous play, the historical setting is merely the background for a fictional situation. In this play, the heroine protects Pope Pius VII by marrying a villain, thus, like Violaine, sacrificing herself for others.
While this play established Claudel’s reputation, his real recognition came in the 1940’s, perhaps because his theme spoke to an age which was well aware of the conflict between good and evil and the need for God, and certainly because the directors of the decade felt that his works were worth staging—however difficult the process might be. When Le Soulier de satin (pr. 1943; The Satin Slipper: Or, The Worst Is Not the Surest, 1931) was produced in 1943, French audiences were enthusiastic about the spectacular staging, as well as about Claudel’s poetic power. The complexity of this play is...
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