Two lyrical farces
Claudel composed Protée in 1913, taking up the title of a lost satirical drama that Aeschylus had imagined to complete his Oresteia. As for L’Ours et la Lune, it was in 1917 that this farce for puppets inspired by the misfortunes of the First World War was written. In L’Ours as in Protée, Claudel mixes the historical framework (the Trojan War and that of 1914) with reminiscences of the drama of passion that he had experienced with Rosalie Vetch a few years earlier and that had already inspired Break of Noon. What is new is that he is trying to heal his wounds by turning his story as well as History to farce.
In Proteus, a small sea god collects, in a bourgeois manner, wrecks stranded near his island, mathematician seals, satyrs and a horned nymph named Brindosier. Only Helen, for whom Greeks and Trojans have just fought bitter battles, is missing from his collection. Now here is Menelaus landing on the island accompanied by Helen. Proteus hopes to deceive the Spartan and take his wife; Menelaus would like to fool Proteus in order to steal anything needed to repair his ship, while Brindosier intends to play the two men to escape the island. What follows is a ballet of deceptions that turns into a game of who loses wins. In L’Ours, the pranks fit together in trompe-l’oeil. It’s about mocking an old moon in love with a young airman with a war wound, unless it’s tricking a teddy bear, who plays a crooked banker, to force him to return stolen money to orphans. But isn’t it more about encouraging the footless Aviator to renounce his love for a young woman who loves another? Both plays depict the earthly illusions, the disappointments of love and the pranks of God in which men are victims. If Protée flouts all material desires and celebrates the forces of life and freedom, L’Ours is an invitation to detachment and inner liberation.