Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
of Work and Publication Year
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.
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.)
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).
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
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
Cid (French, Le Cid; Spanish, El Cid). Cid is
derived from the Arabic word for lord, sayyid (transliteration).
of Don Gomès. She is Don Rodrigue's beloved but becomes estranged
from him after he kills her father in a duel.
Father of Don Rodrigue.
Don Gomès, the
Count of Gormas: Father of Chimène.
Don Fernand: King
of Castile (historically, from 1035 to 1065).
L'Infante: Daughter of the king. L'infante is French for the
Spanish term la infanta (princess).
Don Sanche: Gentleman
of Seville who loves Chimène.
Don Arias, Don
Alonse: Gentlemen of Seville.
Page of Doña Urraque
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.
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
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
Chimène makes known to
her governess her love for Don Rodrigue, choosing him over another suitor,
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
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.
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.
time, a consensus formed that Le Cid was one the greatest plays
of the seventeenth century. By defying established rules, Corneille created
Gassner, John, and Edward
Quinn, eds. The Reader's Encyclopedia of World Drama. Mineola, N.Y.:
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.
Theme and Conflict
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
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.
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.
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 firm.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
wrote Le Cid in rhyming couplets,
as the opening lines of the play demonstrate.
Some English translations of
the play imitate this rhyme scheme, as in the following translation
of this passage by A.
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 l'aimez,
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 choix:
Apprends-moi de nouveau
quel espoir j'en dois prendre;
Un si charmant discours
ne se peut trop entendre;
Tu ne peux trop promettre
aux feux de notre amour
La douce liberté
de se montrer au jour.
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 &
Is the report you bring
me now sincere?
Are you editing my father’s
All my thoughts are still
enchanted by them:
He esteems Rodrigue, as
you love him,
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
Promise our love’s flame,
that flares so right,
The freedom to display itself
What did he say regarding
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
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?
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 format.
the following couplet, a red vertical line represents the caesura in each
par un prompt renfort
Nous nous vîmes trois
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.
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.
Was a Moor?
All I merited, you have
He conquered who proved
better on the day.
He who might train the prince
And yet to be denied seems
You won it by intrigue,
an old ‘king’s man’.
The noise of my great deeds
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 me.
He who could not obtain
it is not worthy.
Not merit it! I?
Rash old man, shall find
(He strikes Don Diegue)
Translation by A.
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 seul partisan.
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!
vieillard, aura sa récompense.
Il lui donne un soufflet.
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.
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
Write an essay explaining the
concepts of honor and duty in eleventh-century France.
Did the historical Cid eventually
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).