- The Farceur as Modernist: Fernand Crommelynck, The Magnanimous Cuckold, and Twentieth-Century Western Drama
Retraction: The Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism retracts “The Farceur as Modernist: Fernand Crommely, The Magnanimous Cuckold and Twentieth Century Western Drama,” by Bert Cardullo, published in JDTC, (Fall of 2013). The author did not cite sections taken from two previous publications that bear his name: (a) The Theatre of Fernand Crommelynk: Eight Plays, and (b) The Crommelynk Mystery: the Life and Work of a Belgian Playwright, a volume the author co-edited with Alain Piette.
The international reputation of Fernand Crommelynck (1886–1970) was established in 1922 when Meyerhold directed his most important—and subsequently most popular—play, The Magnanimous Cuckold (Le Cocu magnifique), in Moscow. Though Crommelynck’s reputation has mysteriously suffered since then (one finds only brief mention of him in standard theatre texts, with nothing but a photograph of the set design from the 1922 production), this Belgian author’s other major plays include The Merchant of Regrets (Le Marchand de regrets), The Sculptor of Masks (Le Sculpteur des masques), The Childish Lovers (Les Amants puérils), Golden Guts (Tripes d’or), Carine, or the Young Woman Who Was Crazy about Her Soul (Carine ou la Jeune fille folle de son âme), A Small-Hearted Woman (Une Femme qu’a le cœur trop petit), and Hot and Cold, or Mr. Dom’s Idea (Chaud et Froid ou L’idée de Monsieur Dom), all written and published between around 1910 and the mid-1930s.
Torn between the extremes of laughter and sorrow, frequently violent and visionary, Crommelynck’s work is typically Flemish (though written in French), not least in its preoccupation with sin. Pain is always present in his plays, The pain felt by characters living in a world where happiness, often a reality at the outset, is quickly destroyed by irrationalism, self-deception, and obsession. As in the works of his compatriot Michel de Ghelderode, the process of destruction may be farcical but the outcome never is. Crommelynck’s plays humorously show us how human behavior can be dominated and even determined to a catastrophic end by extreme expressions of emotion or desire. The mixture of buffoonery and tragedy characteristic of Crommelynck’s theatre extends to his prose style, which presents the most outrageous or gross situations in a language of beautifully sensuous imagery.
Farce with tragic overtones and drama depicting human folly, then, typify the oeuvre of Fernand Crommelynck. He encountered early twentieth-century drama through his father and uncle, both actors, and disapproved. Crommelynck felt that the characters he saw on the stage spoke endlessly, and he set out to create plays in which dramatic action would supersede exposition, where characterization and [End Page 23] situation would go beyond the limitations of realism, and where speech and silence would be of equal value. In Crommelynck’s theatre, humor and a poetic command of language prevail over all other dramatic techniques to create a fusion of the serious and the comic so appropriate to his—and our own—tortured, confused, relativistic age.
Although Crommelynck himself calls some of his plays farces, others dramas, and still others simply plays, these distinctions are in the end arbitrary. Indeed, in the case of The Magnanimous Cuckold (1920), the author specifically declared that the work may be done as either a farce or a tragedy. The ambiguity of Crommelynck’s theatre is probably traceable to the ambivalence of his artistic roots. While he early displayed a strong predilection for the heavy, almost plodding type of farce usually associated with the Flemish stage, as a young man he was also influenced by the fashionable literary movement of the time, symbolism, with all its tragic undercurrents. Influences of expressionism1 as well as symbolism2 have been noted in Crommelynck’s work, but in his major plays he is a fascinatingly fierce dramatic poet who defies classification.
From the repertoire of Crommelynck’s plays the following six have attracted the greatest amount of attention and analysis: The Sculptor of Masks (1908), where the life and work of a maritally unfaithful but uniquely gifted artist are not tolerated by the general community...