Beginning with the production of his first play, Siegfried, in 1928, Jean Giraudoux dominated the French stage for the next three decades. Tiger at the Gates, with its witty, sparkling debate, illustrates the reason for his prominence. It presents a subject long of great importance to Giraudoux, not only as a writer but also as a career diplomat: the relationship between France and Germany. In an early novel, later made into his first play, Siegfried, he dramatized the necessity to reconcile the German and French peoples after World War I.
Unfortunately by 1935, when Giraudoux wrote Tiger at the Gates, such a reconciliation seemed increasingly impossible. As does Hector, he felt that it was vital to make every effort toward peace to avoid the devastation and destruction of another war. This play, like most of his dramas, centers on one main issue: in this case, war versus peace. Despite its single-mindedness in theme, the play operates on many different levels. As he frequently did, Giraudoux turned to the classics for his plot. It is first a retelling of the Iliad (c. 750 b.c.e.; English translation, 1611). It is also a comment on the political situation in Europe in 1935. Finally, it is an abstract philosophical discussion about the nature of war and peace and about those qualities in human nature that direct persons and nations to choose one or the other.
Unlike the Iliad, which opens in the tenth year of the Trojan War, Tiger at the Gates is set immediately before the war begins. The conflict in the play is not the war but the issues that cause war. The prowar and antiwar positions are clearly and quickly drawn. On one side is Andromache and most of the female characters in the play. The women are antiwar. They would not lose their husbands and sons for the sake of Helen. Hecuba vividly describes her vision of war: “When the baboon is up in a tree with its hind end facing us, there is the face of war exactly: scarlet, scaley, glazed, framed in a clotted, filthy wig.” Hector, just returned from war, joins their side. He experienced the bloodshed of war. The opposing view is presented by the poet, Demokos. He finds war an inspiration. King Priam adds that only by fighting death are men truly...
(The entire section is 945 words.)