the early nineteenth century Paris, German Romanticism gradually managed
to obtain some space in the theatrical field too.
A fact changed the public
and Paris' young intellectuals way of thinking: the arrival of a company
of Anglo-Saxon actors who played Shakespeare in his original language in
Paris in 1827.
Among the young poets who
became involved in Romanticism was Victor Hugo who was 25 in that period.
He was born at Besançon in 1802. His father was a professional soldier
and his mother the person who spurred him to cultivate his literary bent
and be the “enfant prodige” of the Bourbon's court.
He drastically broke with
tradition in his poetic collection “Odes et ballades” (1826) - in which
Napoleon's figure was recalled for the first time - and mainly in the theatrical
field with the dramatic play “Cromwell” (1827), a work by then already
In “Cromwell”'s preface
Hugo proposed to eliminate the unities of time and space and vehemently
claimed that scenes should be set within a historic context. This preface
became some sort of literary manifesto for the author's contemporary fellow-countrymen
as well as his statement of an utter Romantic faith.
The leading character of
the five-act drama “Cromwell” is the homonymous famous politician who wanted
to achieve absolute power. When he understood that someone was plotting
against him and that killers were waiting for him to become king to murder
him, he decided to renounce the crown although never stopped coveting it.
Three years later (1830)
Victor Hugo - the well-known author of famous novels such as “Notre-Dame
de Paris” (1831) and “Les Misérables” (1862) - staged the dramatic
The drama introduces the
young exiled Hernani who loves and his loved by Dona Sol. His rivals are
Don Carlos, who will become Charles V, and the girl's old uncle, Ruy Gomez.
When the piece of news claiming that Hernani is dead spreads, Dona Sol
unwillingly accepts to marry her old uncle. A few moments before the wedding
is celebrated, Hernani appears again hunted by his chasers. Don Ruy saves
him on the sole condition that he may take his life back at any time by
playing a horn. The young accepts and promises to submit to his rule. Don
Carlos, now Charles V, bestows both on Hernani and on Ruy Gomez who, meanwhile,
had been plotting against him. Charles also allows Hernani, who has resumed
his rank, to marry the beautiful Dona Sol. However, while the couple is
waiting to get married and to fulfil their greatly desired love, the old
Ruy inexorably plays the horn and the poor Hernani, mindful of the promise
he made, kills himself.
The young Dona Sol can do
nothing but take her life with poison. The play ends with Don Ruy's inevitable
The work “Marion de Lorme”
(1829), censured at first and then performed in 1831, deals with the famous
court gentlewoman of the Parisian aristocracy Marion (1611-1650) who tried
to redeem herself through true love.
“Le Roi s'amuse” (1832)
was staged only once because censorship once again considered this dramatic
play as disrespectful towards François I's memory. The work, in
fact, tells of, and strongly highlights, the king's wicked nature who,
out of pleasure and fun, broke the court jester Triboulet's pure heart
by seducing his young daughter. Verdi used this story in his “Rigoletto”.
Hugo also wrote “Lucrèce
Borgia” (1833), “Angelo tyran de Padoue” (1835) and “Ruy Blas” (1838),
all historical prose plays. “Ruy Blas”, set at the court of Spain in the
seventeenth century, tells of a practical joke played by Don Sallustio
for a love revenge. When he knows that one of his slaves called Ruy Blas
has secretly fallen in love with the queen, he disguises him as a nobleman
and takes him to court. Intelligent and generous, Ruy is esteemed by everybody,
becomes prime minister and conquers the queen's heart. Don Sallustio discloses
the cheat but Ruy kills him and then decides to commit suicide with poison.
Ruy, on the point of death, is forgiven by the queen who openly declares
him all her love.
Hugo's last play, entitled
“The Burgraves” (1840) was not much appreciated by the public who was already
rather tired and had lost the enthusiasm for historical plays and for passions'
extreme tones that subsequently and ultimately pushed the author to stop
writing other plays.