Pyrame et Thisbée
This play takes its source material the doomed lovers Pyramus and Thisbe, who communicate through a crack in the wall between their homes. The beginnings of the neoclassic obsession with passion and its destructive power is placed at the center, but it is also a pointed critique of monarchy. The king, who is also in love with Thisbe dispatches some assassins to kill Pyramus, and when his aide scoffs at the immorality and illegality of his actions, the king responds that kings are above the law. There is a lot to dig into here concerning passion, duty, and the beginnings of proper neoclassical forms, but I would like to take a neoplatonist perspective on this. Neoplatonism meaning that pure love is an intellectual aspiration for the perfect form that sheds the sinful nature of physical love. The problem of the play is not merely the passions that drive the characters to illogical and destructive ends, but their pursuit of physical fulfillment of those desires. Pyramus and Thisbe’s relationship through the wall is passionate, but pure because it aspires to the spiritual. The king will not be satisfied until he can possess Thisbe physically, and thus is consumed by physical passion. The couple’s decision to meet does not have explicitly sexual connotations, but their reactions to the perceived or real death of the other is the consequence of their physical passions and the impossibility of their fulfillment. In this respect, Pyramus and Thisbe are not the victims of fate or misunderstanding, but of their own physical desires. Neither can imagine a physical world without the other, forgetting the spiritual (according to neoplatonists) connection of their souls. This play is an early example of attempts by 17th century writers to adapt pagan tales from antiquity to a christian audience.
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M.A. French Literature Florida State University