Book review: El Cid by Pierre Corneille, Ranjit Bolt (Translator)

El CidEl Cid by Pierre Corneille
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From BBC Radio 3 – Drama on 3:
The story of the 11th century Spanish hero before his rise to fame. Rodrigo is a charming young courtier who plans to marry Ximene. But when her father, the chief general in the King’s army, insults Rodrigo’s father, he promptly finds himself challenged by Rodrigo to a duel. The young suitor, inexperienced in warfare, knows that if he loses he dies. But also that if he wins he loses Ximene. Pierre Corneille’s famous play examines the complex moral and emotional dilemmas faced by the legendary champion-to-be, and his intended.

Translated and adapted by Ranjit Bolt

Directed by Peter Kavanagh

The star-studded cast included James Purefoy as the Cid, with Indira Varma as Ximene, Gina Mc Kee as the Princess, and featuring Eleanor Bron and David Calder.

Pierre Corneille was one of France’s three outstanding Classical dramatists, alongside Racine and Moliere. The Cid is his most famous – but in Britain too little-performed – play.

The distinguished translator Ranjit Bolt’s refashioning tells the story of the younger Cid, a self-indulgent, love-smitten courtier in 11th century Spain who when duty calls rises to the occasion to become Spain’s greatest hero.

It is a tale of love, honour and might, but in the great tradition of Racine and their other contemporary writers of tragedy, Corneille focuses on romantic dilemma, to show how lovers act under intense duress, and what choices – and perhaps compromises – they then make.

Bolt’s translation is at once daring and faithful. He has observed the conventions of 17th century French Drama (rules imposed on his select group of writers by the infamous Cardinal Richelieu, intent on restoring classical virtues). But Bolt in customary fashion has dynamised the language and style.

Featuring Spanish guitar music by, amongst others, Heitor Villa-Lobos.

A movie was made based on this play: El Cid (1961), directed by Anthony Mann, with Charlton Heston, Sophia Loren, Raf Vallone.

El Cid’s statue may be found in the city of Burgos, in Spain:

The true story of Rodrigo Diaz is told in the epic poem “El cantar de mio Cid” (The Song of my Cid) composed sometime between 1140 and 1207. Date and authorship are still open to debate. More details about this magnificent medieval work (including Rodrigo’s biography) as well as the original Spanish version may be found at Camino Del Cid.

In addition, there is The Route of El Cid which is a cultural and tourist route that crosses Spain from north-west to south-east, following in the steps of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, El Cid, the famous 11th-century mediaeval knight. This route is based on “El Cantar de mio Cid”, the great Hispanic mediaeval epic poem written at the end of the 12th or beginning of the 13th century.

A short note should be mentioned about “El Cofre de El Cid” located at Burgos Cathedral: On one wall of the Chapel of Corpus Christi Cathedral of Burgos you can see a bunker known as “the Cofre del Cid.” The story goes that corresponds to the ark with which Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, El Cid, endorsed requesting money to pay three hundred knights who accompany him in exile decreed by King Alfonso VI, asking for “borrowed” the Jews Raquel and Vidas de Burgos. Arriving home lenders, he convinced them to accept his deal: money in exchange for a chest containing all his family jewels. The Jews thought they would get a lot more capital than left, so accepted. Rodrigo, after receiving the amount, left the city with his men leaving the Jews with the hood. After opening his surprise he was capitalized. There were no treasures, or jewels, only earth and stones, still too late to claim anything. Another version of the legend that tells how Rodrigo really delivered the chest full of jewels but to the greed of the Jews, they became stones, stones they would become jewelry when he returned to Burgos with enough money to pay their treatment . Whether or not real, the truth is that this story is found in the “Cantar de Mio Cid” as a sign of the trickery employed by Christians with Jews, while others think it was just a way to punish greed lenders.

Some related paintings:

1864 Marcos Giráldez de Acosta’s painting depicting the “Santa Gadea Oath”. In the middle of the scene, Alfonso VI (with red cape) is swearing with his right hand on the Bible that he did not take part in the murder of his brother Sancho II, while El Cid stands as a witness in front of him.

“Daughters of the Cid” by Ignacio Pinazo Diputación, Valencia, Spain Oil on canvas, 1879.

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