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 Post subject: Le Cid vs El Cid: Stage vs. Screen
PostPosted: Fri Sep 02, 2011 4:04 pm 
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Prince Judah
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(Apologies before-handed, again it would be lengthy. )

'Le Cid' is a Neoclassical French tragicomedy written by Pierre Corneille , published in 1636. An enormous popular success, Corneille's Le Cid was the subject of a heated polemic over the norms of dramatic practice known as the 'Querelle du Cid'. Cardinal Richelieu's Académie française criticised the play as 'improper', in a sense 'violating' the rules of cultural ethics. The marriage between Chimène and Rodrigue was seen as improbable(even if it was a historical fact!), because, as the critics said, the marriage between an honourable lady and the murderer of her father is 'ethically repulsive'..

While making a big-budget movie, in the 1960s ,on the same legend , the director and the producer could not possibly be unaware of the debate over the play. The way our all-time favourite movie stresses this problem, centuries after the neoclassical debate, shows the range of historical study and imagination lavished on it. The movie followed the play as far as it wanted to reconcile ethics with passion, virtue with love ,the public and the private. But it also goes beyond the play's spatial and temporal compus.

In the play Rodrigue's father, Don Diègue, is the old upstart general of medieval Spain and past his prime, whereas Chimène's father is the successful current general, Comte de Gormas. Rodrigue and Chimène love each other, but any chance of marriage is brutally disturbed when Chimène's father insults Rodrigue's father. Torn between his love for Chimène and his duty to avenge his father's honour, Rodrigue chooses the latter and faces the general in a duel in which Don Gormas is killed. Without denying her love, Chimène asks the King for Rodrigue's head.
When the Moors attack Spain, Rodrigue gets the chance to redeem himself in the eye of the nation, and, more importantly, gets a chance to win back Chimène with honour still satisfied. His victories on the battlefield win him the renown of the people, the title of "the Cid," and the gratitude of the King.

Now we can easily recognise how and why 'El Cid' reverses, changes and modifies the sequence or the situation.At the very beginning the hero is seen involved in a battle against the local Moors, to save a buffer-zone village from their plunder, unfortunately on the day of his wedding .Rodrigo(spellings are different in English and in French)thus, from the start, emerges as a saviour , almost a Christ figure(who carries the cross out of the burning church and saves the priest and who can show mercy to the captured Moors, exacting their grateful promise of help during times of foreign war). His compassion and humanistic attempt at peace-making is misunderstood by the other Spanish noblemen, including his would-be father-in-law.Chimene's father breaks the marriage because he took Rodrigo's act of mercy as treachery against the kingdom.The 'insult' he inflicts on Rodgrigo's father(in front of the king, in a 'trial-scene') comes out of that false accusation of treachery--when the old man sought to defend his son's action. Rodrigo at first humbly persuades Chimene's father to clear the charge against his own father, but in vain. The situation is made convincing enough to show that Rodrigo was not a hot-headed young man who killed Chimene's father only for some stubborn sense of personal or parental honour, and later got a 'chance' , by fighting the Moors, to restore his guilty image (as it appears from the play). On the contrary, the character Charlton Heston so grandly portrays, is basically too extraodinary in his idealism to be misunderstood by the 'common' character of his time, society and body-politic, which also entraps him on a personal level. It is a fact both in the play and the movie that he had to challenge Chimene's father to save his own honour, but the movie also shows that he was not bent on 'revenge', he says after injuring his opponent, "Now I am satisfied". Probably he wanted to disarm him and then force him to release his father. He was fighting defensively after wounding Chimene's father, who himself got desperate and received the fatal blow all on a sudden. This is a clear departure from the play.

In the play, Chimène then approaches the King to request that one of his knights duel with Rodrigue for her honor's sake, to avenge her father's murder. She , supressing her love for Rodrigue, promises to marry whoever is the victor of the duel to the death. The King agrees to the duel unhappily (he does not want to risk losing Rodrigue).Rodrigue speaks to Chimène privately, saying that he will not defend himself against what is symbolically "her" hand. She finally persuades him to do his best, because if he wins, they will marry. ( She is keen to maintain her dignity and filial loyalty, but she is not as stubborn as she is shown in the film)After the duel, Chimène's champion, carrying a bloody sword, comes to where she is waiting. Chimène assumes the worst ...The champion then explains that Rodrigue disarmed him (the champion) and granted him mercy. After the duel, Rodrigue returns straight to the king, leaving the champion to bring Rodrigue's sword to Chimène.

This conflict between the hero's and the heroine's private 'honour' gets a larger, public and political significance in the filmmakers' treatment. Rodrigo's honour was already at stake, after his merciful conduct to the Moors, and his image is even more darkened now, after the fateful 'murder'. Chimene has 'learnt' to hate him. At this point, he volunteers to fight another Spanish champion, whose king has challenged Rodrigo's king (of Castille), on the authority of Calahora. The case is too complicated: Chimene 'supports' this enemy-champion Don Martin, but it is not seen as an act of 'treachery', because the man who defends the right of Castille is her father's murderer, and who must prove his innocence by victory or by martyrdom.(Chimene here makes no such promise of marrying whoever-is-the-winner) In such a situation, even a kind- hearted honest man cannot but be desperate-- and that is reflected in Don Martin's death at the hand of Rodrigo. The victor's intonation, "To whom the City of Calahora belongs?" is followed by a direct address to Chimene, "Your colour is no longer black"., to which she replies, "Until my father is avenged, my colour will be black!" A wonderful cinematic moment, which was not possible to achieve on the 17th century stage, where the battle occurs offstage. The movie captures altogether the epic-duel as well as all the divergent and confliting passions reflected on the faces of the whole audience of the duel-- the rival-kings, the princes, the princess Uracca(infatuated about poor Rodrigo) and above all, Chimene, battling her divided loyalties. The play was a tragicomedy, but the movie makes it an epic.

The play projects the king as a father-figure reuniting the two protagonists. He says that circumstances have proven that they were meant to be together. Still, they realise thatthey need time to adapt. Chimène will set the date for the wedding, up to a year in advance. Meanwhile, Rodrigue, known as the Cid, will conduct a war against the Moors in their own territory. The play ends here, indicating the marriage, after so much pain, conflict and turmoil. This is the proper end for Corneille's kind of play. But the giant-screen for epic demands that the movie should go back to the original Spanish source, tracing the upsurging passions of these two great characters in relation to the greater backdrop of time, history, culture and national ethos. The Valour of Spain and the Love/Beauty of Spain must be united ultimately, but it cannot be so easy. Another epic-turn is required for that-- that is the moment when Chimene realises the greatness of Rodrigo, forcing the new king to swear, and ready to accept banishment for his noble cause. Public and private are intertwined under the epic sway of circumstances. The climax of that comes the morning-scene when the volunteer- soldiers come to claim the hero as their leader, and Chimene won't let him go away, since she has so lately regained her long-lost love. She tries to cover Rodrigo's breast in a passionate embrace, and he, firmly yet tenderly drags her to one side of his breast, intoning, "Spain! Spain!" Charlton Heston's physical gesture and facial expression are wonderful in that scene. One half of the Cid's great heart is for the Beauty of Spain, the other half is for the suffering land itself.

Thanks to whoever takes pain to read this tedious stuff, and I hope here will be an active discussion. I would stop here, because the second part of the movie is an extension dragged so far beyond the frame of the play, that a discussion of it will not be appropriate to the topic.

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 Post subject: Re: Le Cid vs El Cid: Stage vs. Screen
PostPosted: Sun Oct 16, 2011 4:10 am 
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I am too late to post the first reply here, but I was waiting for others' opinions.

Interesting analysis. When I read Corneille's play for the first time, I hadn't watched 'El Cid' yet. But I thought a cinematic representation of such a tension-ridden moral/ethical action would be a justice to this great Neo-Classical masterpiece.

What Corneille wrote to defend his play against the critics almost uncannily foreshadow what the film makes its main point of strength-- surely, when Chimene is waiting for the news of the duel,(Corneille , beset with the rigid requirements of the 'Unity of Place', could not show more on stage, and the fighting, if shown too boldly on stage, would trouble the critics' sense of 'decorum'!) her tension and self-conflicting expressions, without a strong background( like that presented by the huge audience in the film) demand too much from a stage-actress. But It is easily convincing in the spectacular presentation in the film, thanks to the medium specificity of cinema, which Satyajit Ray called an 'Omnibus Art'.

Besides, as you mentioned the 'Valour of Spain' and the 'Beauty of Spain', it reminds me of the allegorical perspective of the original Spanish legend. This also draws attention to why the Cid looks aged in the second half(valour has to pay a lot in a long-enduring struggle in life), but Chimene remains ever-youthful(she is more of the Idea of Beauty and Love, than being a beautiful and lovable lady herself. As a concrete human being she is too stern at times, and too hard to embrace and love, but the 'Ideal ' aspect is above the real woman). The director and the actors seemed to have gone through some intertextual research, indeed.

I feel that the 17th c. French critics, in their over-enthusiastic spirit of their kind of nationalism, did not pay much respect to the spiritual significance of a Spanish epic-saga and its deep cultural worth,-- that might have been one reason for misrepresenting Corneille's reconciling and liberal effort . However, it's only my personal opinion.

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 Post subject: Re: Le Cid vs El Cid: Stage vs. Screen
PostPosted: Sun Oct 23, 2011 2:26 pm 
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Prince Judah
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Thank you so much. I am sorry for my late response.

Your emphasis on the allegorical aspect of the Spanish legend is illuminating. It makes me think of a general tendency which we often find in 'secondary' epics, and sometimes in primary epics, too-- the tendency of projecting the hero as an embodiment of the nation, the culture, or the spirit of the age at large. In the age of primary epics, the idea of a 'nation' was not consciously evoked, there might have been something like that impression, though. Now we may see the original Spanish saga as the 'primary' source. In the film-version of 'El Cid', which we may consider as the third level, modern representation of an epic(the neo-classical play we may consider as 'secondary' in some ways, though its 'epic'ness is debatable. On stage you can see a tragic or comic or tragicomic masterpiece, but epic...?) that epic-moment is achieved when the Spanish army, at the end, places the Cid's body decked in full armour and helmet(whereas the king does not wear the crown, he has humbled himself at last -- to the level of an ordinary general, as it appears) in front of their army. With the war-cry, "Hail Cid and Spain!", the epic-identification of the hero with the national spirit, is complete.

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 Post subject: Re: Le Cid vs El Cid: Stage vs. Screen
PostPosted: Sun Dec 11, 2011 1:53 am 
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Just reading the first three posts here, made me think I was back in college, struggling to take notes and keep up during class! :o lol! Seriously, all three posts are tremendously interesting and informative. I have watched "El Cid" many times, but have never heard of "Le Cid". How enlightening it would be to see the play and then watch the epic?

One point that you two mentioned above, was the fact that Chimene (aka: Sophia) never "ages" in the movie. I had always wondered about that. Not having read or seen the play, I don't know if Corneille had her stay "young" in the play, as Le Cid aged. I do know that over the years, I have read that Sophia Loren was rather vain and did not want to "age", as she thought it would make her look ugly and detract from her being "one of the most beautiful women in the world". I know that on several dvd special features (El Cid, Ben-Hur), someone repeated states that Chuck and Sophia did not get along. Maybe her character stayed "young" in order to show eternal love, hope and beauty during such a violent time. I think Sophia was just vain and didn't want to look "old" on film. It really doesn't matter. She is lovely in the movie and even though in real life Chuck and Sophia couldn't stand one another, they were magical on film.

Sorry if I tended to ramble on a little off topic here. And thanks for the info about "Le Cid". That's very interesting.


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 Post subject: Re: Le Cid vs El Cid: Stage vs. Screen
PostPosted: Sun Dec 11, 2011 3:22 am 
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Dear Ladyhawke, thank you for your comments. I am also getting a bit off-topic here, since you mentioned the rumor about the 'hostility' between Heston and Madame Loren,--- I would request you to watch my video tribute posted on Heston's birthday-- it has some rare pictures that may interest you--http://www.megavideo.com/?v=8ZGVDCV2 ;)

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 Post subject: Re: Le Cid vs El Cid: Stage vs. Screen
PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2011 4:05 am 
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Prince Judah
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Thanks to both, Ladyhawke and Tizzy, for reviving the thread.

In response to Ladyhawke's question, I would like to repeat -- perhaps I was not clear enough in my starting post-- that the play ends with the possibility that the marriage would take place. As a Neo-classical playwright, Corneille could not strech the plot beyond 'the unity of time and place'. So there is no question of whether Chimene would look aged or ever-youthful. The film follow the original Spanish legend more closely which cover The Cid's life from his early reputation upto his martyrdom. (I am no expert in these theories, Tizzy may be a better person to discuss that, in fact she persuaded me to start the thread. I simply read the play, and expressed what I felt).

If anybody is interested, he/she may read the text of the play at projectgutenberg. It's there in translation.

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 Post subject: Re: Le Cid vs El Cid: Stage vs. Screen
PostPosted: Wed Nov 07, 2012 3:09 pm 
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A fascinating analysis. I wish I could add to it, but alas, I have no great insights to offer.


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