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Roger Planchon's Gilles de Rais: A Liturgy of Evil ROSETTE C. LAMONT In choosing to subtitle his Gilles de Rais "Miracle en dix tableaux," Roger Planchon - the famous director of the TNP (now located at Villeurbanne, a suburb of Lyon) and, as is less known, particularly outside of France, an increasingly prolific, adventurous, poetic, and even metaphysical dramatist stresses the liturgical aspects of a "Bluebeard" drama featuring the mysterious hero/antihero of the fifteenth century. When Planchon arrived in New York in January 1981 to supervise the CSC production of his Gilles de Rais, he was asked why he had chosen this gory subject. He replied without hesitation: Perhaps because at the time I was writing the play my two sons were the age of Gilles's victims. But ofcourse gore, violence, are an integral part oftragedy •drama. I would not like to shake Gilles de Rais'5 hand were I to meet him, but neither would Ihave shaken Macbeth's hand. There is something fascinating about such extreme personalities. Above all] feel that the character of Gilles is strangely contemporary, nOl only because we read about mass murder in the papers all the time, but because the problem ofahero, aman who fought valiantly on the battlefield and who must, once peace has been signed, resume acommonplace existence, is indeed famiJiar to us (conversation with the author, 15 January 1981). Gilles de Rais is the bold portrait ofone of France's most sadistic assassins. With the help of a former companion in arms and a retinue of servants, this immensely rich and powerful nobleman kidnapped, mutilated, sodomized, tortured and killed some four hundred peasant lads. He was eventually brought to trial and hanged. (He was not burned at the stake as received opinion maintains, perhaps by association with Joan of Arc's death, and as Planchon shows, not because he is unaware ofthe facts, but possibly because he wishes to evoke the death of Gilles's friend La Pucelle.) Between 1426, when he raised seven companies of soldiers to attack the ROSETTE C. LAMONT British, and '43', when Joan ofArc was condemned as a witch and died by fire, Gilles de Rais was the faithful companion and comrade in arms of the Maid. Together, fighting side by side, they helped to raise the siege of Orleans, and later fought at Jargeau and Patay. Gilles had also been the lieutenant of Count Richemont, brother to John V of Brittany, and he played an important part in negotiating the release of John V from captivity when the latter was prisoner of Olivier de Blois. For this success in diplomacy, the young nobleman was rewarded with important landholdings which, added to those of his wife, Catherine de Thouars, a powerful heiress in Brittany and Vendee, made Gilles one of the great lords in this region. At the age of twenty-five, he was named Marshal of France at Reims on the occasion ofthe coronation of Charles VII. It seems, however, that Gilles de Rais's military career came to an end in 1436, a year after his wife left him. By then, stories of sacrilege and violence had begun to leak out. Pressure was placed on the church to investigate these allegations. Gilles no longer enjoyed the immunity of being the intimate friend of the Duke of Brittany; the two men had had a falling-out. Having incurred great debts through his lavish spending as a patron of the arts, Gilles had to sell back much of the land he had received. The powerful lord, now impoverished, was arrested on charges of heresy and murder. Threatened with excommunication, Gilles de Rais confessed to all the crimes with which he had been charged. He was executed on 26 October '440. There is another aspect of Gilles de Rais which is not as well known as his brilliant war record or criminal career: he literally ruined himself in staging all manner of dramatic enactments, mystery pJays, moralites, religious processions , the celebrations offeast-days. It is thought that he might have written all, or a good part, of the famous Mystery ofOrlians. Even when under suspicion of heresy, he was seen carrying the statue of...


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