Chantecler

With introduction and footnotes in English by Sue Lloyd

CHANTECLER – Pièce en quatre actes en vers 

Edmond Rostand’s last major play

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Now published with English explanatory notes,  introduction and a brief chronology by Sue Lloyd, M. Phil. 

ISBN 978-0-9549043-4-0 (Genge Press, February 2010), i-xviii, 1-292

£15.00

Written in typically lively verse, Chantecler contains some of Edmond Rostand's best lyrical writing, including the famous “Hymn to the Sun”. It also explores some of his favourite themes. This edition of the French text, published to mark Chantecler's centenary in February 2010, aims to make the play more accessible by giving it an introduction and comprehensive notes in English. It is our hope that this will enable many more readers to understand and enjoy this major play, which deserves to become as well-known as Cyrano de Bergerac.

 

Chantecler   is the chef-d'oeuvre of Rostand's mature years, now deservedly being rediscovered in France. Our new edition, with text in French but comprehensive notes in English, will introduce readers to what many consider to be his best play.

If Cyrano de Bergerac was the play of Rostand's youth, then Chantecler is the play of his maturity. It deals with the loss of illusions and the renewal of faith in one's vocation; the difficulties of creativity, and the role of the poet in society. In this most personal of all his plays, Rostand reveals his innermost being,  even though he knew this would 

attract ridicule and scorn. Written when the poet, ill at ease with the fashionable life of Paris during the Belle Époque, had made his home in the Pyrenean countryside near Cambo, Chantecler is suffused with Rostand's love of his native soil. The simplicity and honesty of traditional provincial life are contrasted with what Rostand saw as the snobbish and cynical ways of the capital.

 

Like all Rostand's plays, Chantecler embodies a “leçon d'âme”, a lesson for the soul. Its central theme is the importance of fulfilling one's vocation to the best of one's ability. And, like the earlier La Princesse Lointaine and La Samaritaine, Chantecler is also about the power of love to transform and transcend human nature. As Rostand himself made clear in his reception speech to the French Academy, he believed his 'lessons for the soul' should be absorbed almost 

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Photograph by Larcher of the Act One set designed by Amable

unconsciously by the audience. So Chantecler also tells a story, expressed in witty or lyrical language, amusing characters, and humorous or poignant situations.

Unusually for the time, all the characters are animals or birds. The hero Chantecler is a cockerel who sings hymns to the sun and whose cockcrow is famous far and wide. Its excellence is due to Chantecler's secret belief that it is his crow every morning that causes the sun to rise every morning over his valley. The cock adores the sun because it gives light and warmth so that daily life can continue: the darkness it dispels is symbolic of ignorance, prejudice, faithlessness and malice.

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An illustration of the main character, Chantecler the cockerel,from L’Illustration, no. 3494, 12 February 1910

 

At its première, Chantecler  was not as great a success as Cyrano de Bergerac or L’Aiglon. The long delays (the play had been awaited since 1905); an unsympathetic lead actor (Chantecler was written for Constant Coquelin, the first Cyrano de Bergerac, but he died in 1909); the use of a commercial theatre rather than the Comédie-Françise (because the play had been promised to Coquelin); the criticism of contemporary Parisian society, and the novelty of using animal characters, all these acted against a proper appreciation of Rostand’s play in February 1910. However, Chantecler played to full houses for over three hundred consecutive performances, while three troupes of actors set off to perform it in the provinces and even abroad. The final performance at the Porte-Saint-Martin took place on the first of November 1910. The published play also sold well. In the USA, Maude Adams performed in Louis N. Parker's version in January 1911. Rostand himself was

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convinced of the merit of his play, and a posthumous production at the Porte-Saint-Martin theatre in 1927 was a resounding success. Later French productions have also been warmly received. In 2010 Sue Lloyd was honoured to be part of the centenary celebrations at Rostand’s home, now a museum, Villa Arnaga (www.arnaga.com).

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Sketches from L'Illustration by A. Edel, which were approved by Rostand and became the basis for the actual costumes. From left to right we see the Grande Duc and the proud peacock, enemies of Chantecler. The sketch shows how a seat was included in the owl's costume. On the right we see the Pintade (Guinea Fowl) and la Faisane (pheasant), with whom Chantecler was in love. 

Sue’s essay on Chantecler is available on The Literary Encyclopedia, www.litencyc.com. For French readers of Chantecler, we recommend Philippe Bulinge’s excellently presented and fully annotated edition (2006, Garnier-Flammarion). There have been no new English versions since 1961, but John Strong 

Newberry’s rhyming version (New York: Duffield & Co., 1911) is rather good and available.  Until a new translation becomes available, it is the editor’s hope that this annotated edition will encourage anglophone readers to appreciate and enjoy Rostand’s masterpiece, and perhaps even inspire a theatre director to take on the challenge of performing Chantecler in English on a British or American stage.

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Act Two set designed by Amable

Critical Review

Professor Derek Connon, of Swansea University, writing for Modern Languages Review, January 2011 (Vol.106, 1), has pointed out that “the main thrust of the drama is serious and poetic ... maintaining this when one's central character is effectively dressed in a chicken outfit proves difficult even for the playwright who made a romantic hero of the man with a huge nose.” Modern performances have dealt with this by dressing the characters like the humans they represent, such as giving the woodpecker the uniform of a French academician. Readers of course do not have this difficulty. Professor Connon concludes that “anglophone readers will find Lloyd's assistance invaluable in finding their way through Rostand's densely poetic and playful language.”