This play is based on the biblical story of Saul, the king of Judea before David. Saul is jealous of David and suspects him of plotting to take the throne, and this distrust and desire to hold on to power is his downfall, as his children are killed as a result of his power hungry actions and he commits suicide by falling on his own sword. I could not help but think of Phèdre as a comparison to this play, not necessarily because of the thematic overlap, but because the plight of Phèdre and Saul is so similar. In line 837, Saul says :
Je reconnais mon mal, et ce qui m'en délivre,
Bref, Je sais mon devoir, mais je ne puis le suivre,
Un pouvoir que le mien ne saurait ébranler
M'entraîne avec horreur où j'ai honte d'aller.
Is this not dissimilar from Phèdre's horror at her own desires and actions, yet her inability to avoid them? Like Phèdre, Saul is compelled to continue on this path which he knows is dangerous, but he must continue anyways because of predestination. Saul's downfall is his desire to know the outcome of his struggle, leading him to consult with a sorceress to raise the spirit of the prophet Samuel to tell him of the future. From a critical perspective this allies the play more closely with English plays such as Macbeth which were interested in the supernatural as opposed to strict neoclassicists who avoided this topic in an effort to uphold vraisemblance. But one could also argue that this takes place in the biblical story as well, so this is purely an act of adaptation on the part of the author. The question for the audience is whether Saul is punished due to his consorting with sorceresses or if his fate was predestined, in which case his effort to discover the future was completely futile.
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M.A. French Literature Florida State University