The Tragedy of King Christophe begins with a prologue. This prologue takes place at a cockfight, in which earthy peasants bet on two cocks named Christophe and Pétion, the names of the two major protagonists of the play. A commentator apprises the audience of the historical events explaining the conflict between the leader of the northern forces, Christophe, and the leader of the southern French sympathizers, Pétion.
Scene 2 further develops the geographical conflict as Christophe and Pétion come into irresolvable conflict over the necessity of either establishing a republic (Pétion) or creating a kingdom (Christophe). Vastey, Christophe’s secretary, urges the crowd to proclaim Christophe king; Christophe, after accepting the call to the throne, immediately warns the Haitians that he will not tolerate their habitual self-indulgence and indolence. Scene 3 supplies some comic relief by showing how the emerging black kingdom is unable to break away from the conventions of the French court which it is trying so desperately to escape. King Christophe is renaming members of his court with titles such as the duke of Pleasance, the duke of Lemonade, and the dukes of Candytown and Marmalade. Vastey explains, quite ironically, how these empty new names define the boundaries of civilization. Christophe then enters to further define the renaming process. He asserts that the French colonizers had stolen their rightful names and that he was obligated to give them new names based on their actual culture.
The next scene shows the actual coronation of King Christophe by archbishop Brelle; however, Christophe snatches the crown out of the archbishop’s hands and crowns himself in imitation of Napoleon’s action at his coronation, where he snatched the crown from the pope and declared himself the emperor. In the soliloquy concluding the scene, Christophe verbally crowns his people, thus identifying himself with their cause. By scene 5, though, the debilitating effects of the fighting between the north and the south, Christophe and Pétion, are demonstrated in the dying speech of Metellus, whom King Christophe has ordered shot along with the remaining wounded. Metellus delineates the crisis of Haiti: King Christophe is driven by a dream of the “dancing woman” but has come not to build a country but to “stake out” political boundaries instead. The mythic dream has fallen into the political reality of power struggles.
The remaining scenes show King Christophe assuming all the various functions of a reigning monarch as he falls prey to the lures of power and its corrupting potential. He insists that sestets be composed to the national beverage, rum, and that they be taught in every school. He receives letters from such luminaries as Wilberforce, who advises him to be careful with his power; the queen also warns him that his power is threatening to blind him and that he is driving his people beyond reason. She compares him, in keeping with the prevailing botanical metaphors used throughout the play, with the fig tree which grabs hold of the surrounding vegetation and stifles it rather than enabling it to prosper.
The act concludes with King Christophe, the former slave and cook, bitterly denouncing his people for their indolence and perpetual need to do nothing but drink and dance. He calls in his...
(The entire section is 1367 words.)