The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Ruy Blas

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RUY BLAS, by Victor Hugo, has held the stage better than any other of his dramas and has been popular in America also in the adaptation ‘Don César de Bazan.’ Here Hugo's dramatic theory of contrast of grave and gay, rapid alternation of tragic and grotesque, is pushed to its utmost verge. The scene is Madrid; the time 1699. Don Salluste de Bazan, scorned by Maria de Neubourg, second wife of the do-nothing King, Charles II, plots revenge. Failing to enlist the aid of his scapegrace but chivalrous cousin, Don César, he introduces his valet, Ruy Blas, to the queen and through her sympathetic interest gains official preferment which he uses for political and fiscal reform. The long speech, 101 lines, in which he contrasts the sordid struggle for sinecures in a decaying monarchy with the glories of Charles V ranks among the most brilliant tirades of the French drama. The queen and Ruy Blas are betrayed into a compromising situation by Don Salluste, who, when Don César threatens to balk his revenge, ruthlessly sacrifices his cousin to his injured vanity. Ruy Blas kills Don Salluste and then himself, consoled that his death has extorted from the queen an admission that love has overcome all prejudice of rank or station. This play, which Hugo says he began to write on 4 July 1838, has, except for the dénouement, constant and perplexing likeness to Bulwer's ‘Lady of Lyons,’ first acted 14 Feb. 1838. The idea of a valet set by a scorned lover to woo a fine lady had been turned to dramatic account in Molière's ‘Précieuses ridicules’. Hugo certainly used Latouche's ‘La Reine d'Espagne’ (1831). In his very inaccurate ‘V. Hugo raconté par un temoin de sa vie’ he notes as sources the ‘Memoirs’ of Madame d'Aulnoy (1690), ‘Solo Madrid es corte’ (1675) and Vayrac's ‘État présent d'Espagne’ (1718). How carelessly he used all these is shown in detail by Morel-Fatio, ‘Études sur l'Espagne’ (Vol. I., pp. 177-244) ‘Ruy Blas’ is translated in ‘Dramatic Works of Victor Hugo’ (London 1913) and in ‘Dramas by V. Hugo’ (Boston 1903). Consult Biré, ‘V. Hugo après 1830’ (Vol. I, pp. 236-251) and Bruner, ‘Studies in V. Hugo's Dramatic Characters’ (pp. 32-129, Boston 1908).

Benjamin W. Wells.