By Kostes Palamas.
Translated from the Greek by Aristides E. Phoutrides.
New Haven: Yale University Press, 1923 Penguin Group, Plume Books, 1994
Comments by Bob Corbett
Royal Blossom is a strong free spirit unwilling even unable to constrain herself to the social customs of her village. This is not a comment or critique of life in the village -- her spirit of rebellion and liberty would be equally at sea with any culture or any time and place in history. Royal Blossom is a free spirit pure and simple, one not well cut our for living within the confines of community.
In rebelling against her strong and controlling father she falls in love with Petros Flores and marries him. The rebellious act turns out to be much more than simply breaking free of parental oppression, though it certainly is that, but her father and Petros' father were bitter enemies and the old Flores had trained his son to fulfill his father's hatred and get his revenge against Dendrogales, Royal Blossom's father.
No sooner is Royal Blossom married and her sea-captain husband off on a journey, than Royal Blossom is running to village festivals dancing with other men -- seemingly in rather innocent fashion, but certainly in absolute violation of local customs. Flores is called home by his best friend; there is a scene and Royal Blossom takes poison and dies.
At one level this play is a simple tragedy, yet it is filled with much ambiguity and incomplete data that it opens itself to rich speculation:
The village people are in disagreement and conflict. They all gather at Flores house as Royal Blossom lays dying. Flores himself is not there, having stalked off in disgust at her behavior. The follow exchange sums up much of their disagreement:
Foolish and cursed with her father; foolish and cursed with her husband. Before her marriage she was the tempter of her neighborhood and her town; after her marriage a scandal for her town and her neighborhood, she was bound to come to such an end.
She was the source of grace and power. She could plant in this town greatness and progress. But to stand in her grace and power -- it might seem strange to you -- she had to lack certain marks -- call them virtues, burdens, conventions, duties, whatever you will, the marks of other people, common folks like us, who need to have them. She had to scorn some sacred idols that we worship and fear just as we have been taught to worship and fear them without knowing why. She was a fairy who showed us the favor of living among us. Now she leaves us and we cry for her.
The fairy's wings should not be clipped. Her ways should not be measured by the ways of other people. We had no right to bind her with chains. Neither her father nor her husband had that right; neither the world nor anyone. We should allow her to weave with her magic hands from end to end her own matchless life as her own will. She should have been left free. Then she would have been a daughter more precious than all daughters and a woman without a peer among women.
Ostensibly this is a play. Yet author Kostes Palamas seems rather unconcerned with stage directions and the dialogue-laden text lends itself to little action. When acts are told of, they are often in the past and are remembered rather than shown. These are characters who are classic talking heads, not actors bringing and creating life on the stage in their acts.
This is not unconscious on Palamas' part, nor are the ambiguities and incompleteness he leaves of the themes he treats. he says:
One more thing I should like to say here. This drama, as it has been written, does not aim especially at presenting roles and costumes and stage-setting nor at portraying social manners and popular customs of a certain period; its main object -- unless I am mistaken -- is to show through all these things something deeper, something beyond such casualties, a conscience that bursts out now and then and a soul that manifests itself in lightning flashes. Likewise the men who struggle in this play may not be so much the symbols of a will that offers resolute resistance as they are the playthings of an unreasoning impulse that bursts suddenly into flames to go out the moment afterwards. This does not mean that such creatures are not for the stage. Drama can exist even in the most tranquil and silent of lives. For even such lives may be stirred by a strife that is all the more tragic because it takes place in the innermost depths of the soul and is hidden from the eyes of the world. In order to create dramatic characters, it is not always necessary to create them as rocks that never yield to the currents of opposition.
I did find it especially fascinating that Palamas found it useful or necessary to make Royal Blossom both strikingly beautiful and having a personality which had an easy time with people and could flatter with the best of them. I think these are two qualities, beauty and winning personality, which make many people more tolerant of someone deviating from social norms. It's hard to say why this is so, but somehow I think we tend to think the beautiful and personable are already different and somehow entitled to a degree of acceptance the rest of us don't readily receive.
I enjoyed reading this work and was challenged by it particularly because of the ambiguities it presents. Royal Blossom's character is a mixture of a free person moving beyond tradition culture and a simple selfish soul who just rejects all but her own momentary whim no matter how much harm it does to others. Just when I would want to embrace her as a model of Nietzschean overman or Existentialist authenticity, she would be outrageously selfish, even cruel. On the other hand, that side of the complex and ambiguous character would quickly be off-set by the profound challenge she presents to traditional values.
Certainly the fact that Palamas would pick a woman as his lead character for this role in 1902 is startling and significant in explaining why the village women were her most loyal supporters to the very end. It also makes her bid for freedom to be somehow more significant that a man doing it, since that role is much more familiar in literature and life.
Royal Blossom is a philosophically deep piece despite its ambiguity, or perhaps, precisely because of it. Rather than giving us answers and a thesis, Palamas gives us a slice of believable and provocative human existence and demands we make sense of it.
It is also a deeply poetic…. poetic what? Well, it seems to have the form of a play, it has acts and characters signified when they speak and some stage directions, but it is in the language of a long poem, yet the story seems more that of a tragic novella. In any case, it is a work well worth reading.Bob Corbett firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Corbett email@example.com