Arrangement based on Molière’s “Les Fourberies de Scapin”
Claudel wanted to tackle Les Fourberies de Scapin after seeing it at the Théâtre Marigny in February 1949, performed by Jean-Louis Barrault and his company in a staging by Jouvet. Both Molière’s comedy (judged “stupid”, Journal t. II, 1969, p. 674) and its “white satin and blue ribbons” interpretation disappointed him. Soon proposing to Barrault his own version of the comedy, he attached the manuscript of this new work – the last that he completed – to the letter he sent on 18 Oct. 1949.
With his Scapin, Claudel wanted to give a foretaste of the aesthetic stakes of the “ultra-modern” Tête d’Or (letter to Barrault of September 2, 1950) which was then in gestation, and to remind his friend Jean-Louis of their complicity born at the time of the Satin Slipper, where it was necessary “that everything should look temporary, in movement, sloppy, incoherent”.
Barrault took up his motto “badly, but quickly” from L’Impromptu de Versailles where Molière presents himself: “Kings love nothing so much as prompt obedience […]. It is better to do what they ask of us badly than not to do it soon enough; And if one is ashamed of not having done well, one always has the glory of having obeyed their commandments quickly.” (L’impromptu, O. c. t. I, Pléiade, 1956, pp. 553-4). The king is Claudel: Marie-Victoire Nantet, granddaughter of the poet, will title her childhood and youth memoir À l’ombre du roi.
Le Ravissement de Scapin is unique in Claudel’s work, because he reworked a piece from the French repertoire rather than one of his own, and because he copied it – at least for what he wished to retain – by refraining from letting his pen run, refraining from “fiddling” with it, which was quite contrary to its natural inclination. Even the verses of the Bible, he sometimes quoted them in his own way! He rewrote many of his own plays, in whole or in part, and sometimes several times. For Molière, the approach is the opposite: Claudel would have repeated verbatim up to the title of the Fourberies, if the Society of Authors had not forbidden him (cf. letter to Barrault of February 19, 1951). His idea was to make it an “arrangement”, which would allow him to free himself from any suspicion of stealing.
Belonging to the world of music, the term “arrangement” refers to the transcription of a work for one or more instruments different from those for which it was originally written. It is therefore neither an adaptation nor a new version. Claudel speaks of an arrangement, because he intends to transform only the genre of the work and touch only on the formal issues (the composition of the play and its staging), which he thinks can be distinguished from the discourse (the language of Molière, the replies of the characters).
The work of arranging Les Fourberies has in fact led to a real appropriation that has translated into both negative and positive interventions. The negative ones consisted in dismembering Molière’s text and reducing it. Entire scenes are deleted, cuts were made in those that have been preserved. Positive interventions are of two kinds. On the one hand, the theatrical realization of the selected scenes becomes the material of a new play. On the other hand, the poet has peppered the copied classical text with indications of stage games (there were very few), which pull it towards burlesque and buffoonery. Imbricated in its interpretation, Molière’s text is therefore drastically tightened in favor of the process of its representation, which undergoes a strong dilation. This results in a real transformation.
Claudel may have tried to become a director, but he writes as an author. It’s not enough to want to be Molière to become him. This is the place to recall Bernard-Marie Koltès: “The way a director thinks a performance and the way an author thinks a play are such different things that it is better that they ignore each other as much as possible, and that they meet only at the result.” (Une part de ma vie, Minuit, 2010). Approached by Claudel, neither Barrault nor Pierre-Aimé Touchard will stage the Ravissement.
A ‘comedy of the actors’ is created (the expression is by Molière in L’Impromptu de Versailles) but is all imaginary. A group of actors “on call” kill time in a cabaret. We do not know what providential error causes them to be delivered the costumes, wigs and accessories intended for the Fourberies programmed at the (Théatre) Français, alas, with different actors. Suddenly, our ‘intermittents’ decide to borrow all this beautiful equipment and collectively stage the play to occupy themselves. Roles and costumes are then distributed in a happy disorder. The actors are sometimes actors, sometimes spectators. Two of them first share the lines and the costume of Geronte, while in the last scene, that of the bag, the role is taken over by a third character, Nicolas, ex-actor who has recycled himself as an innkeeper.
Nicolas Poussin painted a Rapture of Saint Paul. This explains Zerbinette’s insistence on calling the innkeeper Nicolas “my /small / big / chicken”.
A certain Mr. Ledessous, known as Descartes, is unanimously co-opted to play Scapin. The choice of such a nickname is not trivial, one suspects. A former actor like Nicolas, the philosopher’s namesake is supposed to have engaged later on in a parareligious profession, reminiscent of a worldly usage of which Claudel thought little good: distributor of holy water (CF Le Poëte et la Bible II, 2004, p. 212). If he became a “church rat”, rather than entering “minor orders” or becoming an “acolyte, exorcist, doorman”, it is by analogy with the Socrates of the Clouds, of whom Aristophanes made an “altar rat”, an epithet attached in ancient Greece to the poor who stole the offerings of the altars. Thanks to the semantic field common to the church and the altar, and because of the altar/hotel homophony, the “church rat” evokes in French the small-scale thief (hotel rat), whose role Mr. Ledessous, alias Descartes, will play (we will see later that Claudel made another borrowing, much more visible, from the satirical comedy of Aristophanes).
The importance given to the gentrified ex-actor turned devout imperceptibly shifts the theatrical illusion. It is at a second level, where the realization of the performance is the subject of the representation, that the fiction of the theater “in a nascent state” comes to life (letter to Barrault of September 2, 1950), a formula to which Claudel has pledged himself since Le Soulier de satin, and which he also applies to the genre of music he wanted, or that he would have liked to do, with Milhaud (Prose, Pléiade, 1965, p. 153).
By this resemblance to the spirit of the commedia dell’arte, as well as to its composition based on the interlocking of two levels, the Claudelian Ravissement is formally very close to the Ariadne in Naxos of Richard Straussand Hugo von Hofmannsthal (a writer with whom Claudel had friendly relations).
In the second version of this opera (Ariadne), the only one in question, the performance begins behind the stage. The artists who are preparing to perform the second Act will first of all have been the real characters of the First. Soon, these performers of the opera seria, whose theme is the abandonment of Ariadne, are disturbed by exuberant Italian singers and dancers who seek to oust them. Two companies, but also two genres and two contradictory tones compete and are forced to coexist. In the second act, the planned opera (which is none other than Ariadne in Naxos) is actually performed. The comic actors of the first Act intervene freely, according to their employment. They try to console the grieving Ariadne of the opera seria, who wraps herself entirely within her grief.
In a similar way, the Zerbinette of the Claudelian fabulation makes Molière’s Scapin triumph. The hero of the Classical Fourberies pockets the (supposedly) real money of the innkeeper of the modern Ravissement. When Zerbinette moves the stolen purse from one level to another, they merge in a kind of apotheosis of the roles of comedy. However, this structural transgression does not fail to make its effects felt in reality. Its conditions of existence about to dissipate, the world of Molière is definitively immobilized into itself as Claudel reconfigured it: the curtain collapses.
Molière will have recovered for a moment the sovereign power to make illusion. It is he who triumphs in the elevation of Scapin that a rope with a hook catches in the hangers. The “fourborum imperator” is ultimately the embedded writer while the writer who is doing the embedding includes himself in the truth he reveals, like the character of the composer of Ariadne represented in the first Act, who vanishes behind his work performed in the second Act.
In Molière’s Les Fourberies Zerbinette is the name given to one of the two young heroines whose role Claudel suppressed. In the commedia dell’arte, Zerbinette is (alternating with Columbine) the main female figure, a roué servant, loud-mouthed, mistress of Harlequin whom she leads by the nose. Hofmannsthal’s Zerbinetta, who interferes in opera seria, and the Claudelian Zerbinette, who does not spare her support for Scapin, each disrupt in her own way the regularity of theatrical play, revealing its fundamentally comic nature.
Claudel goes back openly to Molière’s text, but the earlier author drew his Fourberies from the ancient tradition and repertoire of his time, which everyone could know. His subject is dependent on Latin comedy – Terence –, and countless borrowings are made from Plautus, the commedia dell’arte, Cyrano, Rotrou, Corneille… to Molière himself. Claudel’s lively entertainment brings back to its Italian origin the French comedy of intrigue and manners into which Molière had introduced his character of civilized rascal. Claudel’s gesture of appropriation is therefore part of a received tradition, but a tradition whose meaning has been transformed by contact with the modernity of Hofmannsthal.
The first version of Ariadne à Naxos, libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, music by Richard Strauss (premiered in 1912 in Stuttgart), was a total failure (only one performance!). The two authors took four years to transform it.
The Austrian writer and the Bavarian musician renewed the dedication of their work, finally redone, to the Berlin director Max Reinhardt, a great opponent of naturalism in the theatre, who commissioned Claudel (but did not follow up) a drama on the theme of Christopher Columbus, in 1927 (cf. “Le drame et la musique”, Prose, 1965, p. 151), after having taken an interest in Proteus, in 1925, not pursuing the latter either.
Seeing Molière’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme performed during a trip to Paris, where the eponymous character is drawn into a show intended to trick him (the Turkish ceremony), Hofmannsthal had the idea of adding to his own Bourgeois, shortened and sung, an entertainment in the form of an opera seria, which gave birth to the first Ariadne in Naxos . The second, in which the Prologue of the ‘comedy of the actors’ replaces Le Bourgeois gentilhomme and which owes much, it seems to me, to L’Impromptu de Versailles, began his brilliant musical career in 1916, in Vienna. Claudel and Hofmannsthal met in 1925. Many years later, also during a Parisian performance, did Barrault’s Les Fourberies de Scapin bring back memories that revolved around Reinhardt, of whom Hofmannsthal was a friend and associate, and did they remind him of the dramatic device of Ariane (second version)?
André Espiau de la Maëstre stressed the reciprocal links between the Claudelian Proteus (a 1913 play, for which Reinhardt negotiated the requirement of a new denouement in 1925) and L’Hélène d’Egypte, another libretto by Hofmannsthal written for Richard Strauss, begun in 1923 (premiere in Dresden in 1928). There is no mention in this article, focused on the figure of Helen, about the Ravissement de Scapin (“Claudel and Hofmannsthal, Proteus II and Die Aegyptische Helena“, Bulletin de la société Paul Claudel, No. 176, Dec. 2004).
Claudel did not only dramatize his staging. By his cuts, he reduced to nothing the action that Molière had perfectly knotted together according to the concordant or opposite interests of the characters (love, money, power, marriage, glory). The plot of Les Fourberies having disappeared (but viewers are supposed to remember it), numerous variations of a single situation replace it. The theatrical aesthetic has thus been changed.
However, it turns out that the choice of scenes is no more original than textual copying. Indeed, it is not on this choice itself that Claudel’s intervention really focused, because he took up the selection made long before him by a theoretician of the theater, who was one of his admirers of the first hour, Georges Polti. It is there, therefore, in the importance given by an author to the ideas of a critic, that the decisive innovation lies. The Ravissement gives the rare example of an old work that has been reformulated so that it corresponds, not to the diffuse expectations of a renewed public, but very precisely to the image that a critic had given of it.
Claudel appreciated the theatrical chronicles Polti wrote for Mercure de France. Did he want to pay tribute to the ideas of this “dear friend”, who had recently passed away? Or test his ideas by putting them to work? One wonders. The scenes he retains correspond in any case to the four ‘stages’ of the unique situation that Polti had identified by analyzing les Fourberies in 1912, in The Art of Inventing Characters, a work engaged in the renovation of traditional dramaturgy, and whose ideas were used in L’Ours et la Lune, The Satin Slipper and La Lune à la recherche d’elle-même. These four ‘steps’ are successively and crescendo “the history of the alleged forced marriage, the haggling over the sum intended to break it, the history of the problem, and the old comedy routine involving the sack and the beating with a stick” (The Art of inventing… p. 288). Claudel will select for copying only the scenes of Les Fourberiesconcerned in the approach of Polti, whose thought has the great quality of being compatible with the influence that Noh had exerted on Claudel in Japan.
In Les Trente-six situations dramatiques (1890, rééd. Mercure de France, 1912), Polti seeks to shed light on the whole of past and present theatre in the light of his thesis that the situation (general and human) takes precedence over psychology (singular and individual). In L’Art d’inventer les personnages (Montaigne, Aubier 1912, rééd. 1930), this theorist develops a complementary argument: character is nothing compared to the roles that exist independently of it. Claudel the prefacer restates these ideas that he has made his own: “Everything in life is reduced to situations. […] We are told about characters: the Miser, the Hypocrite… We don’t care about characters!” This emphasis on character is, of course, the unanimous doxa of university criticism and school teaching, while Polti writes as an independent and innovative thinker, as Cécile De Bary recently pointed out although not mentioning the attention that Claudel paid to the poetics of the theoretician and critic.
The latter, for his part, had recognized favourably, at the time of its first publication, the value of Break of Noon.
In his “arrangement”, Claudel eliminates the two young heroines, the double recognition, the crossed marriage of brothers and sisters. There remain the two fathers put on the defensive, who are supposed to be fooled. The interests of the heart being discarded, Scapin, who was already the soul of Molière’s play (Maurice Rat dixit), becomes its sole hero. Love is replaced by cunning, extorting money becomes an art, and no longer, as in the Fourberies, the means of fulfilling legitimate wishes.
It is therefore clear that The Ravissement varies only one of the situations retained in Polti’s oldest work, The Thirty-six Dramatic Situations. This situation is the twelfth, “obtain”. Striving to obtain the money that the young men lack, in fact Scapin wants recognition for his talents.
Being entirely focused on the exploits and the consecration of a single character, the series of similar scenes proposed by the Ravissement leads nowhere. A unique situation, even if it is made to last (being resumed, repeated), does not allow an action to be established, shows or demonstrates the Claudel who, already in 1917, had retained this scenario (which was later going to interest Beckett) in L’Homme et son désir. Similarly, Ariadne does not recognize in Bacchus, who arrives in Naxos where Theseus abandoned her, the romantic and theatrical adventure of a new love: she takes the amorous god for death in person, and refuses to waver from her error. By following him (leaving the stage), she imagines fulfilling her only wish: to die of grief. Death is obviously a simple way to end the stage presence of a character, to close a situation.
Exploring the dimension of temporality rather than that of causality, the situation is not interested in the motivations of the characters – psychology – nor in the purposes of the action, and not in the acts, but in the words, the lines that the characters “extort” from each other (“what benefit to draw from it, now that < we are> disinterested in the drama”, notes the Preface). The situation focuses on showing how things happen, their external and internal developments, until their potential is exhausted or a rupture artificially provoked.
That two sources of inspiration – Hofmannsthal and Polti – combined their effects in Claudel’s memory and imagination should come as no surprise. The Ravissement is at the confluence of other living forces… The actors compete with well-known quotations and allusions, deliberately misattributed, obviously in order to produce a comic effect, but also to draw attention to the dialogue between the works, which the Ravissement leaves largely hidden, and which the reader is invited to discover.
In his interpretation of the Scriptures, which became more and more intensive after the completion of the Satin Slipper, Claudel did not miss an opportunity to show how the stories, verses, images of the Bible were taken up and communicated from one book to another, from one Testament to another. According to very ancient and venerable traditions of Jewish and then Christian exegesis, grasping the dialogue between the pages of the Bible makes it possible to understand them in spirit. At the time of the Ravissement, Claudel tried to apply this method of reading to his own writing. Not only did he decide to make texts dialogue as if they were theater characters, but the word “dialogue” itself then appears under his pen. The Cantique de Mesa, as noted in the scenic indications of Break of Noon (new version – dated January 20, 1949: a month before the Fourberies at the Marigny!) “is made <of the> dialogue” gradually established between Mesa, delivered to the throes of death, and the “dull grumbling of a distant liturgy: for example, those texts of Scripture that would come to us perceptible only as a torrent of consonants” (Th. t. I, 1967, p. 1218). As a suggestion, Claudel mentions two verses of the Old Testament in Latin (Job 38, 2 and 4), which must give rise to an incomprehensible choral recitation, because it is precisely the purpose of the text to show that the desired dialogue struggles to establish itself in the consciousness of the character.
Attributing the role of the valet of farce to Descartes, or to a pseudo-Descartes, will make it possible to stigmatize rationalist ambition by making the voices of the comic actor and that of the philosopher dialogue. To this end, the future Scapin, that is to say, this M. Ledessous pleasantly nicknamed Descartes, recites a famous passage from the beginning of the Discourse on the Method from which is taken a stage game supposed to imitate poorly the elevation of the chalice at the Mass (Th. t. II, 1971, pp. 1345-6). The irony here is that the elevation of the real Descartes, “to the highest point to which the mediocrity of his mind and the short duration of his life can allow him to reach” (transposition of the Discourse in the indirect style), never goes higher than a glass of wine that is drunk among comrades. But the mediocrity of philosophical ambition is not the only one at issue in this dramatization of the Discourse. It is the staging that is the vehicle of the essential message here. To have the supposed philosopher and real rascal usurp the sacred gesture of the priest responds to the intention of denunciation: philosophy grows on the terrain of religion, whose sacredness it appropriates. Thus, the elevation and the comic coronation of Scapin “ravished” at the end of Claudel’s entertainment, become the archetype of all successful usurpations (the servants who dominate their masters, the philosophers who compete in influence with the priests, the prodigal Son who overcomes the Father).
For Claudel, Descartes is neither “a master in writing” nor “a master of thought”. His Ravissement mocks a philosopher whom he had publicly panned (CF. Prose, p. 439), and whom he reproached with limiting the power and the Presence of God to the flipping gesture necessary to set the universe in motion (CF. Le Poëte et la Bible, t. II, Gallimard, p. 1028).
After Hofmannsthal, Polti, Descartes, and in connection with the latter, a fourth foreign discourse interacted with Molière’s comedy, presenting the particularity of having been discovered and integrated once the Ravissement had been completed. In this way, the addition of a preface will be clarified and the overwritten parts of the manuscript will be explained. As it had already been sent to Barrault, Claudel asked him to return it (“I would like to make certain modifications,” letter of November 23, 1950). The work that had just been published by the Cartesian Etienne Souriau, Les Deux Cent Mille Situations dramatiques (Flammarion, October 1950) would indeed offer an ideal target for his mockery of philosophy.
What must have triggered his verve was that Professor Souriau (at the time very famous) had allowed himself to heavily criticize Polti’s ideas, which inspired him nevertheless. Cécile De Bary presents, while moderating it, the academic’s attempt to control the somewhat messy inventiveness of the theoretician he corrects. For my part, I would add that Souriau affected not to see what Claudel’s theatre, which he pretended to ignore globally, owed to Polti. It is therefore understandable that the later Preface to the Ravissement openly attacks the professor’s formulas (without doing him the honor of naming him, as Racine did with his opponent in the preface to Berenice). This unconscious “Philippe Auguste” has the naivety or arrogance to reprimand Pirandello – a “bad boy” [!] – because it is necessary to keep out of sight “the secrets of art” (p. 239), his “tricks”. This word of theater slang will awaken in Claudel the representation of the proper meaning of the image that lies dormant in the frozen expression: the tricks (“strings”) of the trade. These remind him of the very real rope (the string is a bit large!) that he lowered from the hangers in his just-completed Scapin (and already in The Satin Slipper, in Proteus…):
Tied-up hands that make the sign of the cross, this was the kind of vision that determined the composition of Jeanne au bûcher. Another vision, a little later, what was it? A rope that floats. A rope? Excuse me! We are in the theatre where any allusion to the invisible and sacred string that sets in motion our brilliant competition with reality is forbidden (Th. t. II, 1971, p. 1337).
In this sarcastic Preface, the professor’s retrograde theories are discredited, while the presentation of the Ravissement, with the exuberance more of a carnival tumbler than an old man, draws Polti’s theses along in its wake. Claudel’s taunts are right. When, in 1950, Souriau seems to be unaware that it was the whole of modernity that had never ceased to problematize illusionist art as a mode of representation, he was at the very least showing a lack of foresight.
It is difficult to understand that Souriau did not grasp the meaning and importance of the great movement of disavowal that his own century was to oppose to the realist, illusionist aims of art. While he could, moreover, be recognized as a precursor of structuralism, as noted by Cécile De Bary who finds him closer to OuLiPo.
The Two Hundred Thousand Dramatic Situations not only criticize Polti’s approach. Claudel discovered an unexpected pearl, relegated to an appendix of the book: a strong attack on Pascal’s wager. Imagining, but wrongly, that he is quoting Pascal, who speaks of the “underside (le dessous) of the game” (Pensées, ed. Pléiade, 1954, p. 1215), Souriau inadvertently writes “the underside of the cards” (Id. p. 275). Claudel immediately seizes on this inadvertence, which must have made him laugh. Thanks to minimal alterations, his Descartes will henceforth be called “M. Ledessous”, while his comrades continue to designate him by his first and illustrious surname, so that Souriau’s blunder is perpetuated (Claudel had a marked propensity to play with proper names, as his work, and even more so his Journal testify).
On May 5, 1951, Claudel wrote to Jean-Louis Barrault to announce that he had “replaced” the philosopher’s name, while concealing that he had in fact demoted it to the status of sobriquet. Tongue-in-cheek, he claims that his modification is intended to spare the image of Descartes, who cannot in French minds be associated with that of a thief, when the underside of the game of his Scapin reveals that they will have to live with it. In short, when his goal is to debase the great philosopher with Molière, he succeeds again with Souriau.
That the Preface to Le ravissement mocks the University should not be surprising, it is one of the poet’s favorite targets. The rope “is used with a hook at the end to store in the attic the classical provisions in which our university has never stopped making discoveries. /Me too.” Without saying it explicitly, Claudel obviously thinks of his own discovery in Professor Souriau’s book. The “attic” is the image (used in The Satin Slipper) of the mental space underlying writing, where Claudel stages the imaginary dialogue of the works that his memory summons. In his letter of 9 January 1907 to Polti, he shows a sovereign contempt for academics, whom he had nevertheless read (“the books of professors, equivalent to nothing”).
The final confusion between actors and characters makes it possible to realize scenically the reproach that Claudel formulates in his letter to Barrault: this Descartes-Scapin who is hoisted to the pinnacle thanks to the rope that should have been used to hang him, is a thief! And here we reach the missing link that leads the Scapin of the Fourberies to the inspiring rope mentioned by the Preface. In The Clouds, Aristophanes imagined having Socrates (whom he hated) sit in a basket suspended at the end of a rope and hoisted above the stage to be closer to the sky (to the clouds) – but what a Socrates! The master of ancient Greek comedy portrayed him as the robber of an elderly and helpless father (a “humiliated father”). This Scapin before his time is also the dispenser of an immoral education, a scammer of young people, a sophist (!), impious, a modernist rationalist, an enemy of healthy traditional values… According to him, the sons may well beat their fathers: on this ground in particular, the imaginary link with Les Fourberies is confirmed. The common point between Descartes, Socrates (that of Aristophanes), Souriau, Scapin is that they are all moderns – that is to say, sons – in opposition to tradition, to the fathers.
Through the Noble Father, the Ravissement wishes to specify that Descartes is the son… of his father, and perhaps, Ledessous that of Descartes: “I am transported with admiration in thinking of all that Providence through the intermediary of Monsieur your father has been able to bring to light in the narrow dimensions of a German stove!” (Th. t. II, 1971, p. 1344). The biological incarnation of beings and the bookish incarnation of ideas are assumed to be a continuous process. What modernity!
The rope that delights the kidnapper is compared without further explanation to an angel (Id., p. 1372): hoisted laughably into the sky of the theater, Claudel’s acrobatic Scapin would therefore be a joyful Satan, a Christian variant of the divine Scoundrel, this archaic and polymorphous god of whom Hermes, winged god, is the approximation in the Greek pantheon and that the Middle Ages opposed to Christ. The apotheosis of Scapin must evoke a modern Mass for donkeys, which would turn into a farce any elevation of thought or any clerical establishment, both philosophy (Descartes, Souriau) and religion. This allegorical level, where the elevation of Scapin seems to respond in its register to that of Christ, is not without echo in Claudel’s religious work. A Poet looks at the Cross associates the rope with a hook to the Cross, based on a “vision” (a term used in the Preface to the Ravissement) by Anne Catherine Emmerich: “Christ is not only suspended from a hook, but he is also seized by a mechanism” (Le Poëte et la Bible, 1998, vol. I, p. 499).
In the finale that he invents to put an end to the situation where he has engaged his Scapin, the character will also be “seized by a mechanism”, by a rope equipped with a hook, and “pulled high”. His coronation as “Fourborum imperator” inscribes him in the irreverent feast that the Church has long admitted, where a licentious “fatuorum papam“, a pope of jesters, was created. When Scapin disappears into the trapdoor that opens at the top of the scenery, we can understand that Satan is saved (cf. the scandalous parable of the prodigal son), as we can also imagine that in this farce, since it is one, the trapdoor is never more than a … booby trap. As Claudel declares in his Mémoires improvises, nothing can be taken really seriously in the theatre, on the basis that “all the actors in a play are, in short, disguised” (M. i., Gallimard, 2001, p. 299).
As Claudel gave the greatest credence to analogy in all its forms, the allegorical meaning of Le ravissement de Scapin should attract attention despite this belated devaluation of the theatre which, in the mouth of such an author, actually sounds rather like a call to order. Despite the insignificance of a theme that the poet agrees to raise (“sursum corda!”), the reader, surprised by the apparent frivolity of Le Ravissement,will therefore take into consideration that Claudel believed evil as necessary as good, both participating in the great theatrical work that the world performs, sometimes well, sometimes badly, under the gaze of God. The apotheosis of Scapin is therefore by no means his divinization, and even less an apology for him. On this point, in 1954, the Pauline verse II Cor., VI, 15 will be called to the bar against Hugo. Let us quote it in the form that Claudel gives it: “Quis consensus Christi et Belial?” (“What relationship between Christ and Belial?” J. vol. II, 1969, p. 853).
According to the thieving (and flying!) Satan’s aerobatics, the vital wisdom of carnival accords with that of old age, which inclines Claudel to take the apostle’s rhetorical question for a real question. In this regard, Le Ravissement de Scapin is illuminated by another passage from the Mémoires improvisés (broadcast in 1951-52): “not only Christopher Columbus, but even Napoleon, even, if you like, Hitler, finally Stalin himself, all these people < have worked>, either for God or for the Devil, but in short for a work that was necessary, which must be realized one day or another.” (M. i., 2001, p. 346). Thanks to the Mass of the Donkeys that is said in Le Ravissement, the Socrates, Descartes and sub-Descartes benefited from this exceptional broad-mindedness, and with them philosophy, rationalism, not to mention the seductions exercised by the theater on a certain “church rat”.