Short summary - Orpheus - Jean Cocteau

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - Orpheus
Jean Cocteau

The action takes place in the living room of the country villa of Orpheus and Eurydice, reminiscent of the salon of an illusionist; despite the April sky and bright lighting, it becomes obvious to viewers that the room is in the grip of a mysterious enchantment, so that even familiar objects in it look suspicious. In the middle of the room is a pen with a white horse.

Orpheus stands at the table and works with the Spiritual alphabet. Eurydice stoically expects her husband to finish communicating with the spirits through the horse, which answers Orpheus's questions with knocks that help him learn the truth. He gave up writing poems and praising the sun god for the sake of obtaining some poetic crystals enclosed in the sayings of the white horse, and thanks to this, at one time he became famous throughout Greece.

Eurydice reminds Orpheus of Aglaonis, the leader of the Bacchantes (Eurydice herself belonged to them before marriage), who also has a habit of practicing spiritualism, Orpheus has an extreme dislike for Aglaonis, who drinks, confuses married women and interferes with young girls get married. Aglaonisa opposed the fact that Eurydice left the circle of bacchantes and became the wife of Orpheus. She promised someday to take revenge on him for taking Eurydice away from her. It is not the first time that Eurydice begs Orpheus to return to his previous way of life, which he led until the moment when he accidentally met a horse and placed it in his house.

Orpheus disagrees with Eurydice and, to prove the importance of his studies, cites one phrase recently dictated to him by a horse: "Madame Eurydice will return from hell," which he considers the height of poetic perfection and intends to submit to a poetry competition. Orpheus is convinced that this phrase will have the effect of an exploding bomb. He is not afraid of the rivalry of Aglaonisa, who also takes part in a poetry competition and hates Orpheus, and therefore is capable of any vile trick against him. During a conversation with Eurydice, Orpheus falls into extreme irritability and bangs his fist on the table, to which Eurydice remarks that anger is not a reason to destroy everything around. Orpheus replies to his wife that he himself does not react in any way to the fact that she regularly breaks the window panes, although he knows perfectly well that she is doing this so that Ertebiz, a glazier, would come to her. Eurydice asks her husband not to be so jealous, to which he breaks one of the glasses with his own hand, in a similar way, as if proving that far from jealousy and without a shadow of doubt gives Eurydice the opportunity to meet Ertebiz again, after which he leaves to apply for the competition.

Left alone with Eurydice, Ertebiz, who came to her at the call of Orpheus, expresses his regret for such unrestrained behavior of her husband and reports that he brought Eurydice, as agreed, a poisoned cube of sugar for the horse, whose presence in the house in radically changed the nature of the relationship between Eurydice and Orpheus. Sugar was transferred through Ertebiz Aglaonis, in addition to the poison for the horse, she also sent an envelope, in which Eurydice must enclose a message addressed to her ex-girlfriend. Eurydice does not dare to feed the poisoned lump of sugar to the horse herself and asks Ertebiz to do it, but the horse refuses to eat from his hands. Eurydice, meanwhile, sees through the window of the returning Orpheus, Ertebiz throws sugar on the table and stands on a chair in front of the window, pretending to measure the frame. Orpheus, as it turns out, returned home because he forgot his birth certificate: he takes out a chair from under Ertebiz and, standing on it, looks for the document he needs on the top shelf of the bookcase. Ertebiz at this time, without any support, hangs in the air. Having found a certificate, Orpheus again places a chair under Ertebiz's feet and, as if nothing had happened, leaves the house. After his departure, the astonished Eurydice asks Ertebiz to explain what happened to her and requires him to reveal his true nature to her. She declares that she no longer believes him, and goes to her room, after which she puts a letter prepared in advance for her in Aglaonisa's envelope, licks the edge of the envelope to seal it, but the glue turns out to be poisonous, and Eurydice, sensing the approach of death, calls Ertebiz and asks him to find and bring Orpheus in order to have time to see her husband before his death.

After Ertebiz leaves the scene, Death appears in a pink ball gown with his two assistants, Azrael and Raphael. Both assistants are wearing surgical gowns, masks and rubber gloves. Death, like them, also puts on a robe and gloves over a ball gown. At her direction, Raphael takes sugar from the table and tries to feed it to the horse, but nothing comes of it. Death brings the matter to the end, and the horse, having moved to another world, disappears; Eurydice also disappears, carried by Death and her assistants to another world through the mirror. Orpheus, who returned home with Ertebiz, no longer finds Eurydice alive. He is ready for anything to return his beloved wife from the kingdom of shadows. Ertebiz helps him, pointing out that Death has forgotten rubber gloves on the table and will fulfill any wish of the one who returns them to her. Orpheus puts on gloves and enters the other world through the mirror.

While Eurydice and Orpheus are not at home, the postman knocks on the door, and since no one opens him, he puts a letter under the door. Soon a happy Orpheus emerges from the mirror and thanks Ertebiz for the advice he had given. Eurydice appears after him from there. The horse's prediction - "Madame Eurydice will return from hell" - will come true, but on one condition: Orpheus has no right to turn around and look at Eurydice. In this circumstance, Eurydice sees a positive side: Orpheus will never see how she is getting old. All three sit down to dinner. At dinner, an argument breaks out between Eurydice and Orpheus. Orpheus wants to leave the table, but stumbles and looks back at his wife; Eurydice disappears. Orpheus cannot realize in any way the irreparability of his loss. Looking around, he notices an anonymous letter on the floor by the door, brought in by the postman in his absence. The letter says that under the influence of Aglaonisa, the jury of the competition saw an indecent word in the abbreviation of Orpheus's phrases sent to the competition, and now, raised by Aglaonisa, a good half of all women in the city are heading to Orpheus's house, demanding his death and preparing to tear him to pieces. The drumming of the approaching Bacchantes is heard: Aglaonis waited for the hour of vengeance. Women throw stones at the window, the window is broken. Orpheus hangs from the balcony hoping to reason with the warriors. In the next instant, the head of Orpheus, already detached from the body, flies into the room. Eurydice appears from the mirror and leads the invisible body of Orpheus into the mirror.

The police commissioner and the court clerk enter the living room. They demand to explain what happened here and where the body of the victim is. Ertebiz informs them that the body of the murdered was torn to pieces and not a trace remained of it. The commissioner claims that the Bacchantes saw Orpheus on the balcony, he was covered in blood and called for help. According to them, they would have helped him, but before their very eyes he fell from the balcony, already dead, and they could not prevent the tragedy. The servants of the law inform Ertebiz that now the whole city is agitated by a mysterious crime, everyone is dressed in mourning for Orpheus and are asking for some bust of the poet to be glorified. Ertebiz points to the commissioner at the head of Orpheus and assures him that this is the bust of Orpheus by the hand of an unknown sculptor. The commissioner and the court clerk ask Ertebiz who he is and where he lives. The head of Orpheus is responsible for him, and Ertebiz disappears into the mirror after Eurydice calling him. Surprised by the disappearance of the interrogated, the commissioner and the court clerk leave.

The scenery goes up, Eurydice and Orpheus enter the stage through the mirror; Ertebiz leads them. They are going to sit down at the table and finally have dinner, but first they say a prayer of thanks to the Lord, who determined their home, their hearth as the only paradise for them and opened the gates of this paradise for them; because the Lord sent them Ertebiz, their guardian angel, because he saved Eurydice, who in the name of love killed the devil in the guise of a horse, and saved Orpheus, because Orpheus worships poetry, and poetry is God.