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Gordian Plot

TWENTY-FIFTH SITUATION, ADULTERY

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(A Deceived Husband or Wife; Two Adulterers)

Without deserving to constitute a situation of itself alone, Adultery yet presents an interesting aspect of Theft (action from without) combined with Treason (action within). Schiller, following the example of Lope, was pleased to idealize brigandage; Hugo and the elder Dumas undertook for adultery a similar paradox; and, developing the process of antithesis by which were created "Triboulet" and "Lucrece Borgia," they succeeded, once for all—and quite legitimately. The folly lies in the belief of the unthinking crowd in the excellence of the subject thus presented; in the public's admiration for the "Antonys"—but the public has ended by preferring the moving pictures to them.

First Case:—The author portrays the Adulterer, the stranger in the house, as much more agreeable, handsomer, more loving, bolder or stronger than the deceived husband . . . Whatever arabesques may cover the simple and fundamental fact of Larceny, whatever complaisance may be shown by a tired public, there remains nevertheless, beneath it all, a basis of granite—the old-fashioned conscience; to it, the thing which is here vaunted is simply the breach of the Word of Honor of a contract—that word, that promise which was obeyed by the Homeric gods and by the knights of Chivalry no less than by ourselves; that base of every social agglomeration; that which savages and which convicts respect between themselves; that primary source of order in the world of action and of thought. The spectators' attention may of course be momentarily turned from a point of view so strict, and quite naturally; through the heresies of the imagination almost anything may evoke a laugh. Do we not laugh heartily at the sight of a fat man tumbling ridiculously down a flight of steps, at the bottom of which he may break his neck? Anything, likewise, may evoke our pity; we have pity for the perjuries of the gambler and the drunkard, but it is mingled with contempt. Now, is it this sort of sad contempt which our dramatists wish to claim for their attractive young adulterers, as the reward of so much care and effort? If not, the effort has been a mistaken one.

Second Case:—The Adulterer is represented as less attractive and sympathetic than the unappreciated husband. This forms the sort of play known as "wholesome," which as a matter of fact is merely tiresome. A man whose pocket-book has been stolen does not on that account grow greater in our eyes, and when the information which he is in a position to furnish us is once obtained, our attention is turned from him and directed toward the thief. But if the latter, already far from heroic in his exploit, is in turn portrayed as still less interesting than his dupe, he merely disgusts us—and the adulterous wife appears but a fool to have preferred him. Then (with that childishness which most of us retain beneath our sophistication), scenting a foregone conclusion in the lesson which the author intends for us, and suspecting falsehood at the bottom of it, we grimace with irritation, disappointed to perceive, behind the story presented for our entertainment, the vinegarish smile of the school-teacher.

Third Case:—The deceived Husband or Wife is Avenged. Here, at last, something happens! But this vengeance, unfortunately, is merely one of the cases of the Third Situation.

Thus we shall not succeed with our Twenty-fifth Situation except by treating it in a broadly human spirit, without dolefulness and without austerity. It will not be necessary to defend the thief nor the traitor, nor to take the part of their dupe. To comprehend them all, to have compassion upon all, to explain them all—which is to say to comprehend oneself, to have pity upon oneself, and to explain oneself— this is the real work to be accomplished.

A—A Mistress Betrayed; (1)—For a Young Woman:—Sophocles' "Women of Colchis"; the "Medeas" of Seneca and of Corneille; "Miss Sara Sampson" by Lessing; "Lucienne" (Gramont, 1890). These examples are, because of the final vengeance, symmetrical to the masculine of Class B.

(2)—For a Young Wife (the marriage preceding the opening of the play):—"Un Voyage de Noces" (Tiercelin, 1881).

(3)—For a Girl:—"La Veine" (Capus, 1901).

(B)—A Wife Betrayed: (1)—For a Slave, Who Does Not Love in Return:—"Maidens of Trachis" by Sophocles; "Hercules on CEta" by Seneca (the first part; as to the rest, see "Imprudence"); the "Andromache" of Euripides and that of Racine (in which this is one side of the drama; for the other, see "Sacrifices for Kinsmen").

(2)—For Debauchery:—"Numa Roumestan" by Daudet; "Francillon" by Dumas; "Serge Panine" by Ohnet; the opening part of "Meres Ennemies," which afterward turns to "Hatred of Kinsmen."

(3)—For a Married Woman (a double adultery):— "La Princesse Georges" and "L'Etrangere" by Dumas; "Monsieur de Morat" (Tarbe, 1887); "Les Menages do Paris" (Raymond, 1886); "Le Depute Leveau" (Lemai'tre).

(4)—With the Intention of Bigamy:—The "Almaeons of Sophocles and of Euripides.

(5)—For a Young Girl, Who Does Not Love in Return:—Shakespeare's "Henry VIII," and that of SaintSaens; Alfieri's "Rosamonde" (a combination of the present and the preceding situations, for it is also a simple Rivalry of King and Subject).

(6)—A Wife Envied by a Young Girl Who is in Love With Her Husband:—"Stella" by Goethe; "Dernier Amour" (Ohnet, 1890).

(7)—By a Courtesan:—"Miss Fanfare" (Ganderax, 1881, see B 2); "Proserpine" (Vacquerie and SaintSaens, 1887); "La Comtesse Fredegonde" (Amigues, 1887); "Myrane" (Bergeat, 1890).

(8)—Rivalry Between a Lawful Wife Who is Antipathetic and a Mistress Who is Congenial:—"C'est la Loi" (Cliquet, 1882); "Les Affranchis" (Madame Leneru, 1911).

(9)—Between a Generous Wife and an Impassioned Girl:^-"La Vierge Folle" (Bataille, 1910); "La Femme de Demain" (Arthur Lefebvre, 1909).

C (1)—An Antagonistic Husband Sacrificed for a Congenial Lover:—"Angelo;" "Le Nouveau Monde" by Villiers de l'Isle Adam; "Un Drole" (Yves Guyot, 1889); "Le Mari" (Nus and Arnould, 1889); "Les Tenailles" (Hervieu); "Le Torrent" (Donnay); "Decadence" (Guinon, 1901); "Page Blanche" (Devore, 1909).

(2)—A Husband, Believed to be Lost, Forgotten for a Rival:—"Rhadamiste et Zenobie" by Crebillon; "Jacques Damour" by Zola. The "Zenobie" of Metastasio, by the faithful love retained for her husband, forms a case unique (!) among the innumerable dramas upon adulterous passions. Compare "Le Dedale" (see XXIV, A 12).

(3)—A Commonplace Husband Sacrificed for a Sympathetic Lover:—"Diane de Lys" by Dumas; "Tristan and Isolde" by Wagner (with the addition of "Madness," produced by a love-potion); "Franchise de Rimini" (A. Thomas, 1882); "La Serenade" (Jean Jullien, 1887); "L'Age Critique" (Byl, 1890); "Antoinette Sabrier" (Coolus, 1903); "La Montansier" (Jeofrin, de Flers and de Caillavet, 1904); "Connais-toi" (Hervieu, 1909). The same case without adultery: "Sigurd" (Reyer, 1885); "La Comtesse Sarah" (1886).

(4)—A Good Husband Betrayed for an Inferior Rival:—"L'Aveu" (Sarah Bernhard, 1888); "Revoltee" (Lemaitre, 1889); "La Maison des Deux Barbeaux" (Theuriet, 1885); "Andre del Sarte" (Alfred de Musset); "La Petite Paroisse" (Daudet, 1911); "Le Mannequin d'Osier" (France, 1904); "La Rencontre" (Berton, 1909). Cases of preference without adultery: "Smilis" by Aicard; "Les Jacobines" by Hermant (1907).

(5)—For a Grotesque Rival:—"The Fatal Dowry" by Massinger.

(6)—For an Odious Rival:—"Gerfaut" (from C. de Bernard, by Moreau, 1886); "Cceur a Cceur" (Coolus, 1907).

(7)—For a Commonplace Rival, By a Perverse Wife:—"La Femme de Claude" by Dumas; "PotBouille" by Zola; "Rivoli" (Fauchois. 1911): "Les Malefflatre" (Porto-Riche, 1904); "Soeurette" (Borteau-Loti). In fiction: "Madame Bovary."

(8)—For a Rival Less Handsome, but Useful (with comic false suspicions; that is, suspicions afterward thought to have been false):—"L'Echeance"' (Jean Jullien, 1889).

D (1)—Vengeance of a Deceived Husband (dramas

built upon a crescendo of suspicion):—"The Physician

of His Own Honor" and "Secret Vengeance for Secret

Outrage" by Calderon; "L'Affaire Clemenceau" by

Dumas; "The Kreutzer Sonata" (after Tolstoi, 1910);

"La Legende du Cceur" (Aicard, 1903); "Paraitre" (Donnay, 1906); "Les Miroirs" (Roinarrd); "The Enigma" by Hervieu (which borrows something from Situation XI of this name. A vengeance purely moral: "Apres Moi" (Bernstein, 1911); financial: "Samson," by the same author, (1907).

(2)—Jealousy Sacrificed for the Sake of a Cause: (tending toward "Sacrifices for an Ideal"):—"Les Jacobites" (Coppee, 1885); "Patrie" (Paladilhe, 1886). Sacrificed out of Pity:—"La Famille d'Armelles (Marras, 1883).

E—A Husband Persecuted by a Rejected Rival:— "Raoul de Crequi" (Delayrac, 1889). This case is symmetrical to B 7, and both proceed in the direction of "Murderous Adultery."

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Examples: Bridges of Madison County, Same Time Next Year, The Piano.

Adultery, whilst often considered a shameful social crime, is hardest of all for the cuckolded person whose trust in the adulterer is betrayed. They must not only suffer the agonies of betrayal, but must also face others who may point and laugh behind their backs or offer pitying sympathies.

The response of a person thus betrayed can be harsh, as they seek retributive justice, and their anger can lead to vengeance against the offending adulterers (one, other or both, depending on how the betrayed person attributes blame).

See also

Murderous adultery, Rivalry of superior and inferior, All sacrificed for a passion

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