Short summary - The Satin Slipper; or, The Worst Is Not Always Certain - Paul Claudel

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - The Satin Slipper; or, The Worst Is Not Always Certain
Paul Claudel

The action takes place at the end of the 16th or the beginning of the 17th century. on four continents, wherever Spain has any possessions or where it is trying to conquer something else, as well as in the sea, that is, the whole world, the entire universe, is a giant stage of this voluminous, five hundred pages, play. It consists of four "days", that is, of four actions. The drama "The Satin Slipper" was clearly created with an eye to the tradition of the Christian Mysteries, where legends about saints, martyrs, and angels were transferred to the stage. Here, too, there are saints and angels among the characters, and the play is as monumental as the mysteries often were. The whole action of the play is preceded by a scene that serves as a prologue. In the middle of a desert ocean, at an equal distance from Europe and from America, a wreck of a shipwreck floats with a Spanish missionary monk, a member of the Jesuit order, crucified on a stump from the mast. Jesuit recites his deathbed monologue, where at first. thanks God for all his suffering, and then asks him to give his brother Rodrigo de Manacor an opportunity to experience a great passion, so that he, having gone through all the trials, will eventually come to God.
Apparently, the Almighty condescended to the request of the Jesuit, since by the time the main action of the play began, Rodrigo and dona Pruesa, the second main character, had long been in love with each other. Of the two, she is the first to appear on the stage. Appears with her stern husband, the royal judge Don Pelago. Don Pelago was a friend of her father, and when he died, he married a girl who remained in Madrid without any support. There is no love between them, and therefore dona Pruesa easily falls in love with Rodrigo, whom she saved from death in the past, leaving him after a shipwreck. However, being a highly moral woman, brought up in the strict rules of the Catholic religion, she resists in every possible way her desire to change her husband. In order not to succumb to temptation at some point, she leaves her satin slipper in the hands of the sculptural image of the Virgin Mary, so that if she happened to direct her feet in the direction of vice, her leg would immediately limp. However, despite this peculiar vow, she still tries to reunite with Rodrigo and travels to the ancestral castle of the latter, where he heals the wounds received in battle. But first, she notifies Don Pelago of her intention, and therefore, once in the castle, she meets not Rodrigo there, but her husband. He comes to the castle not to punish her, but in order, knowing her proud nature, to invite her to voluntarily undergo a test: to go to Africa and take command of Mogador, a fortress that plays the role of a Spanish outpost on the border with the Moorish possessions. This appointment has already been agreed with the king. Don Pelago says goodbye to Pruesa, as it later turns out, forever.
Meanwhile, there is already one commandant in Mogador, Don Escamillo, a man who has long been in love with Pruesu, who has more than once suggested that she leave her husband and go there, to Africa, to the kingdom of the fire element, which is very kind to his rebellious nature. The point of appointing Pruesa to help him is that she control him, since Don Escamillo has long been suspected, and not without reason, that he is hatching treasonous plans and is even going to convert to Islam. Therefore, the mission of Pruesa is to protect the Spanish possessions from the attacks of the Moors and to keep this potential renegade from treason, and herself from sinful desires. Thus, the passion of Pruesa is channeled in a good direction. The same thing happens with Rodrigo de Manacor. Appearing on stage for the first time, he, in dialogue with a Chinese who performs the functions of a servant for him, says that in order to satisfy his passion for dona Pruesa, he is ready to crush all obstacles. But since, due to the contradictory behavior of Pruesa, circumstances develop in such a way that his passion still remains unsatisfied, he directs all his energy to the conquest of new lands for Spain. And from now on, Pruesa becomes a "guiding star" for him. Spain at that time was inclined to consider itself the center of the Christian world and was extremely successful in carrying out its policy of conquest. In an effort to take over the entire planet, and such superhuman tasks could not but tempt conquistadors obsessed with the idea of the absolute like Rodrigo. The material interests of Spain, expressed in its colonial practice, coincided with its spiritual and ideological interests. Hence the attempt to spread the Christian religion to the whole world as well. Rodrigo personifies in the eyes of Claudel the idea of converting the entire planet to Catholicism. But in order to take possession of the souls of people, it is not enough to conquer them by force of arms. For the idea of Christianity to triumph, for the spirit to become stronger than military force, it is necessary, after going through trials, to become simple. This is exactly what happens to Rodrigo. And Pruesa becomes the instrument of its simplification and at the same time its improvement. The king, having learned that unrest is brewing in the recently conquered America, appoints Rodrigo Viceroy of the Spanish overseas territories. Rodrigo shows his obstinate disposition: he demands that Pruesu be returned from Africa. Then he resigns himself, but, before going to America, he makes an attempt to see Prueza, and sails to Mogador. However, Pruesa orders him to hit the road alone. And Rodrigo obeys, despite the torment of jealousy, realizing that in order to earn the love of Pruesa, he needs to transform his passion into something spiritual. Their mystical marriage must take place in heaven. Unsatisfied human love becomes a means of knowing divine love. Rodrigo begins to understand that true love should not isolate a person from the world, but, on the contrary, should open the gates of the universe wide for him. Thanks to Prues, he gradually realizes his responsibility and the meaning of his mission. Having given up the hope of ever having a beloved woman physically, he is getting closer and closer to her spiritually.
The action is transferred to Naples, then to Prague, more and more new characters appear, dramatic scenes alternate with buffoonery. Meanwhile, Don Pelago dies, and Pruese has to marry Escamillo, and precisely at the moment when the apostasy of the latter becomes an already accomplished fact, when he secretly adopts Islam, taking the name Oshali. Pruesa was trying to resist his harassment, but he manages to convince and beg her, because, as a true Christian, she must think not only about the salvation of her own soul, but also about the salvation of the soul of her neighbor, in this case the soul of Escamillo. Moreover, the renegade demands from her that she finally forget Rodrigo, would refuse even a spiritual connection with him. After much hesitation, Pruesa agrees to make this sacrifice as well.
And just at this moment, Rodrigo receives a letter from Pruesa, which a young woman ten years ago, in a moment of despair, entrusted the sea and in which she asked him for help. Rodrigo equips the ship and sails from America to Africa, drops anchor in front of Mogador. Escamillo, frightened, thinks that the Spaniards went to war against him, and sends his wife to the ship Rodrigo. He would now be ready to abandon the Pruesa, if only the attackers had spared the city. However, having passed the very path of giving up everything for the sake of spiritual values, Pruesa wants to get from Rodrigo such an absolute abandonment. Thus, Rodrigo again, for the umpteenth time, is put to the test. Pruesa urges him to give up everything that is fleeting in order to receive everything that is eternal. And Rodrigo again resigns himself to fate - agrees with the arguments of Pruesa. He lets Pruez go, says goodbye to her now forever, and she entrusts his cares to her daughter Maria, who was born to her from Escamillo, but who, however, looks like Rodrigo.
Thus, the simplification of Rodrigo took place. Now he is giving up his role as conqueror. And falls out of favor with the king. After all, he left America without permission and is not going to return there. Another ten years pass. Doña Pruesa is dead. Rodrigo lost one leg in Japan. Now he is sailing on an old inferior ship, making and selling images of saints. The daughter of Pruesa hatches plans to free the Spaniards, captured by Arab pirates and held in Africa, and her fiancé John of Austria is sent by the king to fight against the Turks. The king uses rumors that the Invincible Armada allegedly did not die at all, but, on the contrary, defeated the English fleet in order to play Rodrigo, who he hates because of his independent behavior. He even appoints him Viceroy of England, as if this country had suddenly become a colony of Spain. And Rodrigo falls for the bait, begins to dream of how he will "expand the world" and establish cosmic harmony in it. However, the king in the end throws the jokes aside and gives Rodrigo into slavery to the first soldier who comes across, and he, in turn, gives in to his old nun for nothing. At the end of the play, Rodrigo's behavior, as well as his speech, become, from the point of view of ordinary common sense, simply ridiculous. The former conquistador makes himself look like a jester. Through all these oddities, it is discovered that he is losing contact with the human world. But this at the same time means that, freeing himself from the stereotypes of human logic, turning essentially into a holy fool, Rodrigo becomes a divine man. He's funny, but he's peaceful. Thus, in the struggle for his soul, earthly forces and heavenly forces wins the sky. As conceived by Claudel, the fate of Rodrigo is an allegory of human fate, developing in accordance with the logic of divine providence inaccessible to reason.