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By Romain Rolland
Translated from the French by Eugene Lohrke
New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1928
147 pages

Bob Corbett
March 2015

In an introduction to this play author, Rolland Romain, indicates that this is a preliminary play to his later works on the French Revolution itself. He believes it is important to set the stage and remind us of historical roots that had been building for some time

The play is set in 1774. The author indicates that this play to set the stage for the coming revolution and he claims that his primary stimulus was the work of Jean-Jacques Rosseau who indicated as early as the 1770s that things were amiss in France and that trouble was brewing.

The prince in this play is “. . . dominating Fate with his irresistible smile.” He is modelled on Louis-Francois of Bourbon, Prince of Tonty, and cousin of Louis XVI. Rolland claims he was the best of all the royalty of the time. The prince is older and worried about establishing the line of inheritance of his property and title.

He is not in favor of deposing the monarch, but of bringing proper order to the throne. He wants to establish the rule of the law and the “Princes of the Blood” who must protect the law.

Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI are on the throne. In this more remote estate of the prince it would be expected that his son, the count would be given this honor. However, the count has become an outspoken opponent of King Louis and is in favor of moving to a more democratic form of government. His father, the prince, has come to lean toward those who are in dissent, and especially his illegitimate son, the chevalier, who also supports the revolutionary ideas which are in the air, and, in the play, supported by the aging Jean-Jacques Rosseau.

The count has come to his father’s home to face the finalizing of the passing of his rule to the chevalier, his illegitimate brother. The brothers are in very different positions of the nature of the future. However, in an intrigue involving the chevalier’s tendency to seek after woman on the manor, the count cooperates with some of the local peasants who share his anti-monarchy sentiments. The chevalier is killed before he is able to assume control of the estate.

One of the lowly workers on the estate, Guerin, has organized the assassination of the count. He explains his aims:

“For hundreds of years they have seen us, the people, miserable, hating them, prostrate before them, kissing their feet. They forget that there are some things that may put enough backbone into grovelers to make them leap at their throats and kill them… I shall kill them!”

The central theme is to emphasize that the issue isn’t for or against Louis XV himself. They all recognize that he is an impossible leader and must be opposed. Rather, the issue is whether the strategy is simply wait out his rule and his death and then set the monarchy on a more solid footing, or is the issue to give up on monarchy and establish some sort of democratic rule of the people.

Rousseau himself has a slight role in the play. He comes to the manor for a party, but is presented as being 62 years old and simply spacy, if not completely incompetent or insane. Some of the guests see him as dangerous and others as a great seer. However, he is a very pathetic figure, yet given credit with having set the stage for the sort of thinking that is going on among the people and encouraging them toward taking control of government. Yet, it is made clear that the figure who is the “honorable” Rosseau is a much older Rosseau.

The play is actually written to be presented or read before one reads his later two plays which are about the French Revolution of the period of 1789 and following. As such it seems sort of incomplete and quite short. It is interesting, but seems only a pointer to the longer Rolland main plays concerning the Revolution itself.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett