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Ruy Blas


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A: Victor Hugo Pf: 1838, Paris Pb: 1838 Tr: 1860 G: Trag. in 5 acts; French alexandrines S: Madrid, 1690s C: 13m, 4f, extrasRuy Blas, valet of the unscrupulous Don Salluste, loves the beautiful German Queen, wife of the cruel and weak Carlos (Charles II of Spain). Don Salluste wishes to avenge himself on the Queen, because she banished him for refusing to marry the lady-in-waiting he seduced. He orders Ruy Blas to impersonate his cousin, the absent nobleman Don César, in order to win the Queen's heart and so bring about her downfall. With his new identity the noble-minded valet at last has the opportunity to approach the Queen he loves and to become an exemplary courtier, who reproaches the self-seeking behaviour of many of the royal counsellors. The real Don César now returns to court, and Ruy Blas, glowing from a declaration of love by the Queen, has to choose between bringing about her disgrace or losing her by revealing his identity. To save her honour, he kills Don Salluste and then takes poison. Dying, he learns that she loves him even as a valet.

A: Victor Hugo Pf: 1838, Paris Pb: 1838 Tr: 1860 G: Trag. in 5 acts; French alexandrines S: Madrid, 1690s C: 13m, 4f, extras

Ruy Blas is the most accomplished of Hugo's plays, offering linguistic richness and variety of incident, from Don César's farcical return down a chimney to the violent acts of the last scene. The highly charged atmosphere of the play lends credence to the author Charles Nodier's observation that ‘Romantic drama is nothing but melodrama ennobled by verse’, but it is melodrama of the highest order and far surpasses anything that the British stage could offer in the same period. Because of its ‘subversive’ depiction of a commoner denouncing the nation's leaders, the play was banned during the Second Empire (1852–71).

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Victor Hugo (1802—1885) French poet, novelist, and dramatist


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