Business Tianjin Magazine - Business English Magazine in China
Written by Helen Tuesday, 21 May 2019 00:00
French Drama: Partage de Midi (The Break of Noon)
In 1906, Paul Claudel took up a post in Peking and finished writing a lyric play called ''Partage de Midi'' or, in Wallace Fowlie's translation, ''Break of Noon.'' Because of the personal nature of the play, Claudel did not allow it to be produced until 1948, when Jean-Louis Barrault staged a revised version in Paris. The Jean Cocteau Repertory Company is now presenting ''Break of Noon'' in Mr. Fowlie's translation as its first show of the season.
''Break of Noon'' is set just before the turn of the century, on the eve of the Boxer Rebellion, and opens on the deck of a ship in the Indian Ocean bound for China. Among the passengers are De Ciz, a gun runner; Yse, his wife; Amalric, a rubber-plantation owner and former lover of Yse, and Mesa, a civil servant who has been rejected for the priesthood (as Claudel himself had been). Mesa and Yse are, of course, drawn irresistibly toward each other, and the plot of the play, such as it is, traces the flowering and death of their passion.
There are other characters in the play, however, who have no lines -Lust, Greed, Remorse, Grace, Redemption, Death, to mention a few. In fact, ''Break of Noon'' fairly drips with symbolism, and the real characters onstage serve mostly to represent something more abstract. Yse, for example, is a Mystery who is described in the opening act as ''mad'' by her husband, ''a charming woman'' by her former lover and a ''brazen-faced flirt'' by Mesa. These opinions of her change, of course, and the human frailty of ambivalence is one of the lessons of Claudel's homily.
Mesa is torn by his carnal desires for Yse, yet calls her rude names. Yse is constantly yearning for security, yet lives awaiting death or the end of the world.
''Break of Noon'' is a play about conflicts, but they are internal conflicts, and what drama exists comes from the struggle between the worldly and spiritual that rages within the characters, especially Mesa. And this is its main weakness as a work for the stage. These internal conflicts are set out in poetic monologues that have the cumulative effect of inducing a certain tedium.