Part 07, Chapter 1 : Edmond Rostand, Chantecler
Part 07, Chapter 1
In view of the progress the modern drama has made as an interpreter of social ideas and portrayer of the human struggle against in. ternal and external barriers, it is difficult to say what the future may bring in the way of great dramatic achievement. So far, however, there is hardly anything to compare with " Chantecler " in philosophic depth and poetic beauty.
Chantecler is the intense idealist, whose mission is light and truth. His soul is aglow with deep human sympathies, and his great purpose in life is to dispel the night. He keeps aloof from mediocrity; indeed, he has little knowledge of his immediate surroundings. Like all great visionaries,Chantecler is human, " all too human "; therefore subject to agonizing soul depressions and doubts. Always, however, he regains confidence and strength when he is close to the soil; when he feels the precious sap of the earth surging through his being. At such times he feels the mysterious power that gives him strength to proclaim the truth, to call forth the golden glory of the day.
The pheasant hen is the eternal female, bewitch. ingly beautiful, but self-centered and vain. True to her destiny, she must possess the man and is jealous of everything that stands between her and him she loves. She therefore employs every device to kill Chantecler's faith in himself, for, as she tells him, " You can be all in all to me, but nothing to the dawn."
The blackbird is the modernist who has become blase, mentally and spiritually empty. He is a cynic and scoffer; without, principle or sincerity himself, he sees only small and petty intentions in everybody else.
Patou, true and stanch, is the symbol of honest conviction and simplicity of soul. He loathes the blackbird because he sees in him, the embodiment of a shallow, superficial modernity, a modernity barren of all poetic vision, which aims only at material success and tinseled display, without regard for worth, harmony or peace.
The peacock is the overbearing, conceited, intellectual charlatan; the spokesman of our presentday culture; the idle prater of " art for art's sake." As such he sets the style and pace for the idle pursuits of an idle class.
The guinea hen is none other than our most illustrious society lady. Sterile of mind and empty of soul, she flits from one social function to an. other, taking up every fad, clinging to the coattails of every newcomer, provided he represent station and prestige. She is the slave of fashion, the imitator of ideas, the silly hunter after effect - in short, the parasite upon the labor and efforts of others.
The night birds are the ignorant, stupid maintainers of the old. They detest the light because it exposes their mediocrity and stagnation. They hate Chantecler because, as the old owl remarks, " Simple torture it is to hear a brazen throat forever reminding you of whit you know to be only too true 1 " This is a crime mediocrity never forgives, and it conspires to kill Chantecler.
The woodpecker is our very learned college professor. Dignified and important, he loudly proclaims the predigested food of his college as the sole source of all wisdom.
The toads represent the cringing, slimy hangerson, the flunkies and lickspittles who toady for the sake of personal gain.
"Chantecler," then, is a scathing arraignment of the emptiness of our so-called wise and cultured, of the meanness of our conventional lies, the petty jealousies of the human breed in relation to each other. At the same time "Chantecler" characterizes the lack of understanding for, and appreciation of, the ideal and the idealists -the mob spirit, whether on top or at the bottom, using the most cruel and contemptible methods to drag the idealist down; to revile and persecute him - aye, even to kill him -for the unpardonable sin of proclaiming the ideal. They cannot forgive Chantecler for worshiping the sun:
Blaze forth in glory! . . .
0 thou that driest the tears of the meanest among weeds
And dost of a dead flower make a living butterfly
Thy miracle, wherever almond-trees
Shower down the wind their scented shreds,
Dead petals dancing in a living swarm
I worship thee, 0 Sun! whose ample light,
Blessing every forehead, ripening every fruit,
Entering every flower and every hovel,
Pours itself forth and yet is never less,
Still spending and unspent-like mother's love!
I sing of thee, and will be thy high priest,
Who disdainest not to glass thy shining face
In the humble basin of blue suds,
Or see the lightning of thy last farewell
Reflected in an humble cottage pane!
Glory to thee in the vineyards! I Glory to thee in the fields!
Glory among the grass and on the roofs,
In eyes of lizards and on wings of swans,
Artist who making splendid the great things
Forgets not to make exquisite the small!
'Tis thou that, cutting out a silhouette,
To all thou beamest on dost fasten this dark twin,
Doubling the number of delightful shapes,
Appointing to each thing its shadow,
More charming often than itself.
I praise thee, Sun! Thou sheddest roses on the air,
Diamonds on the stream, enchantment on the hill;
A poor dull tree thou takest and turnest to green rapture,
O Sun, without whose golden magic--things
Would be no more than what they are!
In the atmosphere of persecution and hatred Chantecler continues to hope and to work for his sublime mission of bringing the golden day. But his passion for the pheasant hen proves his Waterloo. It is through her that he grows weak, disclosing his secret. Because of her he attends the silly five o'clock function at the guinea hen's, and is involved in a prize fight. His passion teaches him to understand life and the frailties of his fellow creatures. He learns the greatest of all truths, -that " it is the struggle for, rather than the attainment of, the ideal, which must forever in" spire the sincere, honest idealist." Indeed, it is life which teaches Chantecler that if he cannot wake the dawn, he must rouse mankind to greet the sun.
Chantecler finds himself in a trying situation when he comes into the gathering at the guinea hen's five o'clock tea, to meet the pompous, overbearing cocks representing the various governments. When he arrives in the midst of these distinguished society people, he is plied with the query, "How do you sing? Do you sing the Italian school or the French school or the German school? " Poor Chantecler, in the simplicity of his idealism, replies, " I don't know how I sing, but 1 know why I sing." Why need the Chanteclers know how they sing? They represent the truth, which needs no stylish clothes or expensive feathers. That is the difference between truth and falsehood. Falsehood must deck herself out beyond all semblance of nature and reality.
Chantecler. I say . . . that these resplendent gentlemen are manufactured wares, the work of merchants with highly complex brains, who to fashion a ridiculous chicken have taken a wing from that one, a topknot from this. I say that in such Cocks nothing remains of the true Cock. They are Cocks of shreds and patches, idle bric-a-brac, fit to figure in a catalog, not in a barnyard with its decent dunghill and its dog. I say that those befrizzled, beruffled, bedeviled Cocks were never stroked and cherished by Nature's maternal hand. . . . And I add that the whole duty of a Cock is to be an embodied crimson cry! And when a Cock is not that, it matters little that his comb be shaped like a toadstool, or his quills twisted like a screw, he will soon vanish and be heard of no more, having been nothing but a variety of a variety!
The Game Cock appears. He greets Chanteclear with the announcement that he is the Champion fighter, that he has killed so and so many Cocks in one day and an equal number on other occasions. Chantecler replies simply, "I have never killed anything. But as 1 have at different times succored, defended, protected this one and that, I might perhaps be called, in my fashion, brave."
The fight begins. Chantecler is wounded and about to succumb, when suddenly all the guests present rush to Chantecler for protection: the common enemy, the Hawk is seen to approach. Chantecler mistakes the cowardice of those who come to seek his aid, for friendship; but the moment the danger is over, the crowd again circles around the fighters, inciting the Game Cock to kill Chantecler. But at the critical moment the Game Cock mortally wounds himself with his own spurs, and is jeered and driven off the scene by the same mob that formerly cheered him on. Chantecler, weak and exhausted from loss of blood, disillusioned and stung to the very soul, follows the pheasant hen to the Forest.
Soon he finds himself a henpecked husband: he may not crow to his heart's content any more, he may not wake the sun, for his lady love is jealous. The only time he can crow is when her eyes are closed in sleep.
But leave it to the pheasant hen to ferret out a secret. Overhearing Chantecler's conversation with the woodpecker, she is furious. " I will not let the sun defraud me of my love," she cries. But Chantecler replies, " There is no great love outside of the shadow of the ideal." She makes use of her beauty and charm to win him from the sun. She embraces him and pleads, " Come to my soft bosom. Why need you bother about the sun? "
Chantecler hears the nightingale and, like all great artists, he recognizes her wonderful voice, her inspiring powers compared with which his own must seem hard and crude. Suddenly a shot is heard, and the little bird falls dead to the ground. Chantecler is heart-broken. And as he mourns the sweet singer, the dawn begins to break. The pheasant hen covers him with her wing, to keep him from seeing the sun rise, and then mocks him because the sun has risen without his crowing. The shock is terrible to poor Chantecler, yet in his desperation he gives one tremendous cock-adoodle- do.
" Why are you crowing? " the hen asks." As a warning to myself, for thrice have I denied the thing I love."
Chantecler is in despair. But now he hears another Nightingale, more silvery and beautiful than the first. "Learn, comrade, this sorrowful and reassuring fact, that no one, Cock of the morning or evening nightingale, has quite the song of his dreams."
A wonderful message, for there must always be in the soul a faith so faithful that it comes back even after it has been slain." It is vital to understand that it is rather the consciousness that though we cannot wake the dawn, we must prepare the people to greet the rising sun.
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