Cummings Guides Home..|..Contact This Site.
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2011
Type of Work and Publication Year
.......Pierre Corneille's The Cid (French, Le Cid) is a French play written in verse as a tragicomedy. Corneille first staged the drama at the Théâtre du Marais in Paris in December 1636. Augustin Courbé published the work in Paris on March 23, 1637.
.......Audiences loved the play, and it became one of the most popular productions of the age. However, several playwrights criticized it on technical grounds. (See Presentation and Structure, below.)
.......Corneille based the play on legends centering on the heroic Spanish warrior, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (1043–1099), whom his admiring Moorish combatants dubbed the Cid (the Lord). Corneille also drew upon Las Mocedades del Cid, a
play about the Cid by Guillén de Castro y Bellvis (1569-1631).
.......The action takes place in the Castile (French, Castille) region of Spain in the city of Seville. The time is in the second half of the eleventh century.
Don Rodrigue (The Cid): Young cavalier in love with Chimène, the daughter of one of the king of Castile's most accomplished warriors. After Rodrigue distinguishes himself in battle as the scourge of Moorish enemies, the Moors dub him the Cid (French, Le Cid; Spanish, El Cid). Cid is derived from the Arabic word for
lord, sayyid (transliteration).
Chimène: Daughter of Don Gomès. She is Don Rodrigue's beloved but becomes estranged from him after he kills her father in a duel.
Diègue: Father of Don Rodrigue.
Don Gomès, the Count of Gormas: Father of Chimène.
Don Fernand: King of Castile (historically, from 1035 to 1065).
Doña Urraque,L'Infante: Daughter of the king. L'infante is French for the Spanish term la infanta (princess).
Don Sanche: Gentleman of Seville who loves
Don Arias, Don Alonse: Gentlemen of Seville.
Léonor: Doña Urraque's governess.
Elvire: Chimène's governess.
Page of Doña Urraque
Presentation and Structure
.......Corneille presented the play as a tragicomedy that adhered to the three unities of dramatic structure: time, place, and action. These unities, formulated in part by Aristotle in his commentary on Greek drama and in part by the Italian Renaissance humanist Lodovico Castelvetro,
suggested that a play should have one setting with a single plot thread that unfolds in one short time period, about a day. Le Cid meets these criteria.
.......However, rival playwrights criticized the drama
for lack of vraisemblance (verisimilitude). In particular, Georges de Scudéry wrote in Observations sur Le Cid (1637) that Corneille packed too many plot developments into a single day. Among these developments are the following
.......All of these events take place within twenty-four hours. The result, de Scudéry said, was that the action became implausible. He also ridiculed the quality of the poetry in the play and condemned it as immoral because the main female character, Chimène, affirms her love at the end of the play for the man who
killed her father in a duel. But Guez de Balzac, an essayist, wrote in August 1637: "Having satisfied a whole kingdom is greater than having written a play according to the rules" (qtd. in Gassner and Quinn 289).
- Chimène makes known to her governess her love for Don Rodrigue, choosing him over another suitor, Don Sanche.
- The king's daughter tells her governess that she also loves Don Rodrigue. But realizes that she cannot marry him because it would be improper for a princess to marry a man of low social status.
- The king appoints Don Rodrigue's elderly father as tutor to the king's son.
- Chimène's father, who covets the tutor position, insults Don Rodrigue's father.
- To restore his father's honor, Rodrigue challenges Chimène's father to a duel and kills him.
- Chimène seeks the death of Rodrigue.
- Rodrigue visits Chimène and asks her to kill him. She cannot, for she still loves him.
- Rodrigue goes to war against the Moors and returns as a triumphant conqueror.
- Don Sanche duels Rodrigue on behalf of Chimène, but Rodrigue disarms and spares him.
- Chimène, mistakenly believing Sanche killed Rodrigue, confesses to the king her love for Rodrigue.
.......The French Academy (L'Académie
Française), formed in 1634 to maintain high literary standards, also criticized the play while at the same time acknowledging its literary merits.
.......Over time, a consensus formed that Le Cid was one the greatest plays of the seventeenth
century. By defying established rules, Corneille created a masterpiece.
Gassner, John, and Edward Quinn, eds. The Reader's Encyclopedia of World Drama. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover, 2002.
.......Two young men are vying for the hand of the beautiful Chimène, Don Sanche and Don Rodrigue. But Chimène loves Rodrigue. Her governess, Elvire, brings her news that Chimène's father regards Rodrigue as the better choice. Chimène, however, does not yet rejoice, for she worries that fate will somehow overturn
her father's decision. So she decides to await further developments. Main Theme and Conflict
.......Meanwhile, Doña Urraque, l'infante of Castile (l'infante: princess, daughter of the King of Castile), tells her page to fetch Chimène, for the latter is overdue for her daily visit.
The princess so looks forward to Chimène's company. When Leonor asks the princess why she always questions Chimène about her progress with Rodrigue, the princess reveals that she herself loves Rodrigue. However, as the daughter of a king, she cannot marry Rodrigue because of his lower social standing. He is a mere cavalier. Therefore, she says, she has taken steps to bring together Chimène and
Rodrigue in order to extinguish the flame of love in her heart.
.......Elsewhere, Chimène's father—Don Gomès, Count de Gormas—learns that the king has appointed Rodrigue's elderly father, Don Diègue, to the position of tutor to the Prince of Castille, the
king's son, as a reward for Diègue's past services to the king. Diègue once was a great warrior admired throughout Spain for heroic deeds. The count, also renowned for battlefied prowess, believes he was more deserving of the appointment. Angry, he tells the old man so. Diègue attempts to pacify him and says they should become friends. After all, it appears that Diègue's son (Rodrigue) and the
count's daughter (Chimène) wish to marry. Diègue asks the count to accept Rodrigue as his son-in-law. But the count remains hostile. They exchange insults, and the count slaps the old man. Diègue draws his sword, but he lacks the strength to wield it. The count—considerably younger and still vigorous—disarms him, insults the old man one more time, and leaves.
.......The incident deeply humiliates Diègue and tarnishes his reputation. He must live in shame unless he can gain vengeance. He calls upon his son to perform the task. Rodrigue realizes immediately that he faces a terrible choice. If he kills the count in a duel, he loses
Chimène. If he refuses to fight, his and his father's name will live in infamy. Rodrigue chooses to fight for the honor of the family name.
Don Arias, a gentleman of King Fernand's court, informs Don Gomès that the king frowns on his treatment of Diègue and forbids a duel between him
and the old man's son. But the count arrogantly refuses to obey the king. Calling himself the king's greatest warrior, he says he has earned in battle the right to pursue his own will.
.......Before the duel, the count taunts Rogdrigue, saying his youth and
inexperience will be no match for a veteran warrior. But when Rodrigue stands firm, the count says he admires him for his spirit. It was this spirit that persuaded him to approve of a marriage between him and Chimène, he says. He asks Rodrigue to walk away from the fight; it would be too easy for him to slay such an unworthy opponent. There would be no honor in it, he says. Again, Rodrigue stands
.......Meanwhile, Chimène expresses to the princess her horror that the two men she loves, Rodrigue and her father, plan to draw swords against each other. She wishes she could stop the duel. When her page enters, the princess tells him to bring Rodrigue to her and Chimène. But the page informs him that he saw Chimène's father leaving the palace with Rodrigue. Chimène, concluding
that they have gone to duel, leaves hastily. The princess thinks that if Rodrigue wins the duel and Chimène rejects him, she might win Rodrigue after all.
.......Elsewhere in the palace, King Don Fernando tells Don Arias and Don Sancho of his outrage over the
count's treatment of Diègue and his agreement to duel Rodrigue. The king also expresses deep concern over movements of the Moorish navy toward his kingdom. It may that an attack is imminent.
.......Don Alonse then enters and informs the king that Rodrigue
has slain the count. In so doing, Rodrigue has not only killed one of the king's greatest warriors—the kind of man needed with the Moors on the prowl—but he has also violated the king's degree against dueling. Worst of all, he has alienated Chimène.
.......Rodrigue goes to Chimène's house. When Elvire greets him, she asks him why he has come to a home that he has filled with grief. He tells her that he has come to submit himself to Chimène's justice. He wants to die by her hand. Elvire tells him to flee, for Chimène will soon arrive from the palace. If a tongue-wagger learns that Rodrigue is at Chimène's house, Elvire says,
he will spread news that Chimène harbors her father's killer. Her pleas persuade Rodrigue to hide when Chimène approaches the house. With her is Don Sanche. When they enter, Don Sanche is asking Chimène to allow him to become her avenger. She says she will hold that option open as a last resort. Don Sanche leaves.
.......Chimène then pours her heart out to Elvire. She loves Rodrigue, she says, but she also loved her father. Now, regardless of her feelings for Rodrigue, she must seek his death. When she completes this mission, she says, she will follow him to the grave.
.......Rodrigue comes out of hiding, offers her his sword, and asks her to kill him. But she cannot. Rodrigue then explains why he had to take up the challenge of facing her father. She says she understands his motives; he had to do what he thought was right. But now she must
stand against him as a matter of honor, she says; she has no choice but to seek his destruction.
.......When Rodrigue returns home, his father tells him the Moors are preparing to attack Seville. Therefore, he says, Rodrigue should go to war on the king's
behalf to vanquish the Moors. Five hundred friends of Don Diègue stand ready to wield swords under Rodrigue's leadership. If he dies with honor in battle, so be it. But if he returns victorious, the king will esteem him as a hero. Moreover, he will regain Chimène.
.......Rodrigue goes to war. He leads his forces to stunning victories and even gains the esteem of captive Moors, who call him the Cid (derived from the Arabic sayyid, meaning Lord). When he returns, he receives the acclaim of the people and the high praise of the king. But Chimène remains to determined to gain revenge. When Don Sanche offers himself as her
instrument of revenge, she accepts the offer. Moreover, she says, she will marry the winner.
.......After the duel, she sees Sanche with a bloody sword and concludes that he killed Rodrigue. She turns on Don Sanche, saying he must have crept up on Rodrigo
and killed him when he was not prepared for the fight. Before Don Sanche can give any explanation, King Fernand, Diègue, and others enter. Chimène tells the king she has always loved Rodrigue and begs to be released from her vow to marry the victor. Instead, she says, she will enter a cloistered convent, there to weep without end for her father and Rodrigue. To compensate Don Sanche, she will
leave him all her possessions. But the king tells her that Rodrigue lives. Don Sanche explains. During the duel, Rodrigue disarmed him, then spared his life. Sanche graciously waives his right to marry Chimène, saying he cannot stand in the way of the perfect love that exists between Chimène and Rodrigue.
.......The king tells Chimène that she has performed her duty to her father's memory; justice no longer binds her to pursue vengeance. In fact, he says, heaven has made it clear that she and Rodrigue should be together. However, he realizes that it will take time for her to heal. Therefore, he tells her to take a year to dry her
tears. Turning to Rodrigue, he tells him to command an army against the Moors and win further victories. Afterward, he can return to Chimène even more worthy of her love and take her as his bride.
Love vs Duty
.......The main theme of the play is the conflict between love and duty. Chimène and Rodrigue love each other. However, Rodrigue believes he has a duty to uphold the honor of his father by dueling Chimène's father. After Rodrigue slays him, Chimène believes she has a duty to uphold her father's honor and her
family name by seeking the death of Rodrigue. The conflict appears to resolve itself after Rodrigue disarms and spares the life of Don Sanche, who dueled Rodrigue on Chimène's behalf.
Jealousy: Don Gomès exhibits strong jealousy when Don Diègue receives the appointment as tutor to the king. It is his jealousy—and the duel it causes—that sets the rest of the plot in motion. .
Heroism: Both Don Gomès and Don
Diègue performed heroically in past battles. Their deeds earned them esteem of the king. Rodrigue's heroism against the Moors earns him the title The Cid and enables him to win back Chimène.
Unrequited Love: The princess loves Rodrigue, but resigns herself to the fact that she
can never have him. So she does what she can to bring Chimène and Rodrigue together.
.......The climax occurs when Chimène, mistakenly believing that Don Sanche has killed Rodrigue in a duel, tells the king that she has always loved Rodrigue. Don Sanche then informs her that Rodrigue is alive. In fact, he says, Rodrigue won the duel but spared his life.
.......Corneille wrote Le Cid in rhyming couplets, as the opening lines of the play demonstrate.
Chimène Some English translations of the play imitate this rhyme scheme, as in the following translation of this passage by A. S. Kline.
Elvire, m'as-tu fait un rapport bien sincère?
Ne déguises-tu rien de ce qu'a
dit mon père?
Tous mes sens à moi-même en sont encor charmés:
Il estime Rodrigue autant que vous
Et si je ne m'abuse à lire dans son âme,
Il vous commandera de répondre à sa flamme.
Dis-moi donc, je te prie, une seconde fois
Ce qui te fait juger qu'il approuve mon
Apprends-moi de nouveau quel espoir j'en dois prendre;
Un si charmant discours ne se peut trop
Tu ne peux trop promettre aux feux de notre amour
La douce liberté de se montrer au jour.
Chimène Other English translations ignore the rhyme scheme and other characteristics of Corneille's verse, as in the following prose translation by Roscoe Mongan (New York: Hinds & Noble, 1896).
Is the report you bring me now sincere?
Are you editing my father’s words,
All my thoughts are still enchanted by them:
He esteems Rodrigue, as you love
Reading his soul, if I am free from error,
He’ll wish you to take him as your lover.
I beg you then, tell me a second time
Why he must approve this choice of mine;
Tell me once more what hopes I may enjoy;
Ever such sweet speech may you employ;
Promise our love’s flame, that flares so right,
The freedom to display itself outright.
What did he say regarding the intrigue,
Involving you, Don Sanche, and Don Rodrigue?
Did you reveal that inequality
Between the two lovers, that so sways me?
Elvira, have you given me a really true report? Do you conceal nothing that my father has said?
All my feelings within me are still delighted with it. He esteems Rodrigo as much as you love him; and if I do not misread his mind, he will command you to respond to his passion.
Tell me then, I beseech you, a second time, what makes you believe that he approves of my choice; tell me anew what hope I ought to entertain from it. A discourse so charming cannot be too often heard; you cannot too forcibly
promise to the fervor of our love the sweet liberty of manifesting itself to the light of day. What answer has he given regarding the secret suit which Don Sancho and Don Rodrigo are paying to you? Have you not too clearly shown the disparity between the two lovers which inclines me to the one side?
.......The meter of the play is alexandrine (vers alexandrin), a verse form popularized in France in which each line contains twelve syllables (and sometimes thirteen). Major accents occur on the sixth and twelfth syllables; two minor accents occur, one before the sixth syllable and one before the twelfth
syllable. A pause (caesura) occurs immediately after the sixth syllable. Generally, there is no enjambment in the French Alexandrine line. However, enjambment does occur in English translations of Alexandrine verse. The name Alexandrine derives from a twelfth-century work about Alexander the Great that was written in this verse
.......In the following couplet, a red vertical line represents the caesura in each line.
Nous partîmes cinq cents;..|..mais par un prompt renfort Stichomythia
Nous nous vîmes trois mille..|..en arrivant au port. (4.3.52-53)
We were five hundred, but with swift support
Grew to three thousand as we reached the port.
Translation by A. S. Kline
.......Corneille occasionally uses stichomythia (stik uh MITH e uh), in which two characters alternately speak brief lines containing accusations, insults, or expressions of strong emotion. Following is an example of stichomythia in the third scene of the first act.
What Was a Moor?
All I merited, you have snatched away.
He conquered who proved better on the day.
He who might train the prince is worthiest.
And yet to be denied seems scarcely best.
You won it by intrigue, an old ‘king’s man’.
The noise of my great deeds proved
Be clear, the king shows honour to your age.
The king, if so, measures it by my courage.
Therefore the honour should have come to
He who could not obtain it is not worthy.
Not merit it! I?
Rash old man, shall find its recompense.
(He strikes Don Diegue)
Translation by A. S. Kline
Ce que je méritais, vous l'avez emporté.
Qui l'a gagné sur vous l'avait mieux mérité.
Qui peut mieux l'exercer en est bien le plus digne.
En être refusé n'en est pas un bon signe.
Vous l'avez eu par brigue, étant vieux courtisan.
L'éclat de mes hauts faits fut mon
Parlons-en mieux, le Roi fait honneur à votre âge.
Le Roi, quand il en fait, le mesure au courage.
Et par là cet
honneur n'était dû qu'à mon bras.
Qui n'a pu l'obtenir ne le méritait pas.
Ne le méritait pas! moi?
Téméraire vieillard, aura sa récompense.
Il lui donne un soufflet.
.......A Moor was a Muslim of mixed Arab and Berber descent. Berbers were North African natives who eventually accepted Arab customs and Islam after Arabs invaded North Africa in the seventh century AD. The term has been used to refer in general to Muslims of North Africa and to Muslim warriors in
Spain. The word Moor derives from a Latin word, Mauri, used to name the residents of the ancient Roman province of Mauritania in North Africa. There were white Moors as well as black Moors, the latter mostly of Sudanese origin.
Study Questions and Writing Topics
- Which character in the play do you most admire? Which character do you least admire?
- Was it right for Don Diègue to ask his son, Rodrigue, to challenge Chimène's father to a duel? After all, he was asking Rodrigue to risk his life. Explain your answer.
- Write an essay explaining the concepts of honor and duty in eleventh-century France.
- Did the historical Cid eventually marry Chimène?
- Write an essay comparing and contrasting Corneille's Le Cid with Las Mocedades del Cid, a play about the Cid by Guillén de Castro y Bellvis (1569-1631).