A CATHOLIC KNOWLEDGE
An examination of Claudel’s poetic and dramatic works, as well as his numerous critical works (collected notably in Accompagnements), his Correspondance and his Journal, shows that abundant reading contributed to his formation in many domains and to the blooming of his extremely original writing. Aside from the Bible and liturgical texts, meditated and used continually since the religious “conversion” on Christmas of 1866, we notice that this catholic poet was curious about a large diversity of literary movements. He was eager for universal and spiritual knowledge. It is difficult to follow the chronological and hierarchical order of these influences, which are not so much experienced as exploited: according to the periods of his life, Claudel can be enthusiastic or severe concerning the same artist. Nevertheless, we can discern different degrees of literary impregnation, or rather digestion, in Claudel’s readings, resulting in the following classification:
-The five “imperial” or catholic poets (terms justified in the “Introduction à un poème sur Dante”, whose capital influence is claimed very early (during the period of simultaneous literary and spiritual awakening) and in a constant manner: first of all Rimbaud (the “seer” or “prophet” inspired in his quest of the absolute, whose “seminal influence” is emphasized by Claudel), but also Shakespeare (master of blank verse, of the most varied tonalities and of complex actions situated on the stage of the universe), the contact with Aeschylus which allows him to form his thought and dramatic technique by translating the Oresteia (as well as knowledge of the other Greek tragic dramatists), Dante marked by the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas and leading to the “professor of style”, Vergil; we should also add the psychological and formal lessons given by Dostoevsky.
-The writers of genius admired from far and often read starting in his youth; the classical poets Homer and Pindar, Catullus, Horace and Seneca, the prose writers of unequaled style, Pascal and especially Bossuet, English literature explored following Shakespeare and preferred to that of his own country, Baudelaire (offering a first breath of imagination and infinity during the materialist period of the “Fin de Siècle”); novelists Hugo and Balzac, whose stylistic gifts are recognized by Claudel in spite of his personal rejection of the novel form.
-the authors from whom Claudel draws different lessons, evoking nonetheless their weaknesses: baroque Spanish writers Lope de Vega and Calderon, “creators of altogether extraordinary dramatic machines”; Wagner, model for a total, poetic and mystical drama, and the Symbolist precursors like Verlaine, (the lame poet “the wounded walker between heaven and earth”, partisan of musical irregular verse), and Mallarmé (the “professor of attention”, who asks the fundamental question, “What does that mean?”).
-Foreign discoveries: Far Eastern literature and especially the Nô theatre, whose spiritual challenge and staging techniques echo Claudel’s preoccupations.
To complete this panorama of the principal influences on Claudel’s poetic and metaphysical formation, we should also mention the fundamental study of Aristotle, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Denis “l’Aaéropagite”, Saint Bonaventure, and Saint Augustine, who allow the conception of art to be anchored in a theological and philosophical truth.
We can add movements that Claudel downplayed but knew well : classicism with Racine and Molière who were only recognized much later, Romantic drama—disappointing certain critics who cannot resist recognizing in Claudel’s drama a realization of Romantic drama—and the overall contemporary French theatre.
The drama was created the15th December 1928 for the National Theatre in Varsaw with a staging by Waclv Radelesky then in Fulda in german language in 1954. In France, the creation was in 1965 for the theater de l ’Oeuvre, with a staging by Pierre Franck with Fernand Ledoux as the emperor and Maria Casares as the demon. More recently it was in 1993 in the théâtre 14 (staging by Jean Bollery) and in 2003 in the théâtre du Nord Ouest for an “Intégrale Claudel” (the second act was played in total darkness).