Gordian Plot


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(The Hero; the Beloved Victim ; the Necessity for the Sacrifice)

Although similar to the three situations we have just considered, the Twenty-Third recalls, in one of its aspects, that destruction of natural affection which marked the Thirteenth, "Hatred of Kinsmen." The feelings which we here encounter in the protagonist are, it is true, of a nature altogether different. But through the intrusion of the element of Necessity, the end toward which he must proceed is precisely the same.

A (1)—Necessity for Sacrificing a Daughter in the Public Interest:—"The Iphigenias" of Aeschylus and of Sophocles; "Iphigenia in Aulis," by Euripides and by Racine; "Erechtheus" by Euripides.

(2)—Duty of Sacrificing Her in Fulfillment of a Vow to God:—The "Idomenees" of Crebillon, Lemierre, and Cienfuegos; the "Jephthes" of Buchanan and of Boyer. This nuance tends at first toward Situation XVII, "Imprudence," but the psychologic struggles soon give it a very different turn.

(3)—Duty of Sacrificing Benefactors or Loved Ones to Ones Faith: "Torquemada:" "Ninety-Three:" "Les Mouettes" (Paul Adam, 1906); "La Fille a Guillotin" (Fleischmann, 1910). Historic instances; Philip II; Abraham and Isaac.

B (1)—Duty of Sacrificing Ones Child, Unknown to Others, Under the Pressure of Necessity:—Euripides' "Melanippe"; "Lucrece Borgia," (II, 5).

(2)—Duty of Sacrificing, Under the Same Circumstances, Ones Father:—The "Hypsipyles" of Aeschylus, and of Metastasio; "The Lemnian Women" by Sophocles.

(3)—Duty of Sacrificing, Under the Same Circumstances, Ones Husband:—The "Danaides" of Phrynichus,, of Aeschylus, of Gombaud, of Salieri, of Spontini; the "Lynceus" of Theodectes and of Abeille; the "Hypermnestres" of Metastasio, Riupeiroux, Lemierre, etc.

(4)—Duty of Sacrificing a Son-In-Law for the Public Good:—"Un Patriote" (Dartois, 1881). For the Sake of Reputation:—"Guibor" (a XIV Century Miracle of Notre-Dame).

(5)—Duty of Contending with a Brother-In-Law for the Public Good:—Corneille's "Horace," and that of Aretin„ The loyalty and affection subsisting between the adversaries remove all resemblance to the Thirtieth.

(6)—Duty of Contending With a Friend:—"Jarnac" (Hennique and Gravier, 1909).

Nuance B, (B 1 for example), lends itself to a fine interlacing of motifs. Melanippe finds herself (1st) forced to slay her son, an order which she would have resisted at the risk of her own life, but she is at the same time (2nd) obliged to conceal her interest in the child, for fear of revealing his identity and thereby causing his certain death. Similar dilemmas may be evolved with equal success in all cases in which a character receives an injunction which he is unwilling to obey; it will suffice to let him fall, by his refusal, into a second situation leading to a result equally repugnant or, better yet, identical. This dilemma of action is again found in what is called blackmail; we have also seen its cruel alternatives outlined in Class D of Situation XX ("Theodore," "The Virgin Martyr," etc.), and clearly manifested in Class D (especially D 2) of Situation XXII ("Measure for Measure," "Le Huron," etc.) but it is there presented most crudely, by a single character or event, of a nature tyrannical and odious. Whereas in "Melanippe" it results so logically and pitilessly from the action that it does not occur to us to rebel against it; we accept it without question, so natural does it appear, so overwhelming.

Before leaving these four symmetrical situations, I would suggest a way of disposing their elements with a view to seeking states of mind and soul less familiar. We have just seen these forces marshaled:—Passion (vice, etc.); pure affection (for parents, friends, benefactors, and particularly devotion to their honor, their happiness, their interests); reasons of state (the success of a compatriot, of a cause, of a work); egoism (will to live, cupidity, ambition, avarice, vanity); honor (truthfulness, feminine chastity, promises to God, filial piety). Oppose these to each other, two By two, and study and the ensuing conflicts.

The first cases produced will be those already cited. Here follow other and newer ones:—a passion or vice destroying interests of state (for in "Antony and Cleopatra" it is only the royal pomp of the two lovers which is impressive; one does not reflect upon the peril of their peoples); egoism (in the form of ambition, for example) struggling with faith in the soul of man, a frequent case in religious wars; egoism in this ambitious guise overcoming natural affection (the plotter denying or sacrificing his father, mother or friend offers a fine study); a conflict between personal honor and reasons of state (Judith in the arms of Holofernas; Bismarck falsifying the dispatch of his master). Then oppose the various nuances to each other (the hero torn between his faith and the honor of his people, and so on). Subjects will spring up in myriads. (Special notice—the neo-classic tragedy having proved itself dead,—to psychological fiction, its legatee).


Example: Abraham and Isaac.

The traditional hero is typically driven by a sense of duty, and often to some higher principle even than their kin relationships. Whilst being horrified at the act, we nevertheless may feel a certain admiration for the hero for sticking to ideals even beyond family ties. The hero does not do this lightly and we feel the anguish of having to make such a decision.

Of course we also feel deep sympathy for the person sacrificed and hope that they understand the higher cause rather than simply feeling betrayed.

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