Ruy Blas is a tragic drama by Victor Hugo. It was the first play presented at the Théâtre de la Renaissance and opened on November 8, 1838. Though considered by many to be Hugo’s best drama, the play initially met with only average success.
The story centers around a practical joke played on the Queen Maria de Neubourg, by Don Salluste de Bazan, in revenge for being scorned by her. Knowing that one of his slaves, Ruy Blas, has secretly fallen in love with the Queen, and having previously failed to enlist the aid of his scapegrace but chivalrous cousin, Don César, in his scheme, Don Salluste disguises Blas as a nobleman and takes him to court. Intelligent and generous, Blas becomes popular, is appointed prime minister, and begins useful political and fiscal reforms, and conquers the queen's heart. A long speech, 101 lines, in which he contrasts the sordid struggle for sinecures in a decaying monarchy with the glories of Emperor Charles V (King Charles I of Spain), is notable.
Don Salluste returns to take his revenge. The Queen and Ruy Blas are betrayed into a compromising situation by Don Salluste, who, when Don César threatens to frustrate his revenge, ruthlessly sacrifices his cousin to his injured vanity. Don Salluste discloses the masquerade by cruelly humiliating Blas – he commands Blas to close the window and pick up his handkerchief, while trying to explain the condition of Spanish politics. Blas kills him and decides to commit suicide with poison. At his dying moment, he is forgiven by the queen who openly declares her love for him.
Hugo says he began to write the play on 4 July 1838. The play has, except for the dénouement, constant and perplexing likeness to Edward Bulwer-Lytton's The Lady of Lyons, first acted on 14 February 1838. The idea of a valet set by a scorned lover to woo a fine lady had been turned to dramatic account in Molière's Les Précieuses ridicules. Hugo certainly used Henri de Latouche's La Reine d'Espagne (1831). In his very inaccurate autobiography, Victor Hugo raconté par un témoin de sa vie, Hugo notes as sources for the play Madame d'Aulnoy's Memoirs de la cour d'Espagne, Relation du voyage d'Espagne (1690), Alonso Nuñez de Castro's Solo Madrid es corte (1675) and Jean de Vayrac's État présent d'Espagne (1718).
- Felix Mendelssohn, after reading (and at first hating) the play, was commissioned to write a Concert Overture based on it, his Opus 95.
- Maxime de Redon created a parody, Ruy Brac, first performed in 1838 Maxime de Redon des Chapelles
- Irish actor and dramatist Edmund Falconer translated Ruy Blas in 1858. It was performed at the Princess Theatre, London, in late 1858.
- W. S. Gilbert wrote a burlesque of the play, by the same name, in Warne's Christmas Annual for 1866.
- An opera of the same name, by Filippo Marchetti with a libretto by Carlo d'Ormeville was produced at La Scala in Milan in 1869.
- A musical comedy, Ruy Blas and the Blasé Roué, by A. C. Torr and Herbert F. Clark with music by Meyer Lutz, premiered in 1889.
- A 1947 movie, again called Ruy Blas, was directed by Pierre Billon, adapted by Jean Cocteau, and starring Jean Marais, Danielle Darrieux and Marcel Herrand.
- A 1971 movie, La folie des grandeurs, directed by Gérard Oury, adapted by Danièle Thomson, and starring Alice Sapritch, Louis de Funès and Yves Montand, is also based on the play.
- It also formed the basis for a 2002 telefilm by Jacques Weber, again called Ruy Blas.
- Eminently actable verse translation published by Oberon Books by David Bryer - highly recommended.
- Ruy Blas
- Don Salluste de Bazan, marquis de Finlas
- Don César de Bazan, comte de Garofa
- Don Guritan
- Le Comte de Camporeal
- Le Marquis de Santa-Cruz
- Le marquis del Basto
- Le comte d'Albe
- Le marquis de Priego
- Don Manuel Arias
- Don Antonio Ubilla
- Doña Maria de Neubourg, Queen of Spain
- La Duchesse d'Albuquerque
- Un laquais, un alcade, alguazils, pages, dames, seigneurs, privy councillors, duègnes, guards, huissiers de chambre et de cour
- Franco Manzoni, "Il Teatro Romantico di Victor Hugo (Victor Hugo's Romantic Theatre)" on cesil.com in English Retrieved 3 February 2011
- Benjamin Willis Wells (1920). "Ruy Blas". In Rines, George Edwin. Encyclopedia Americana.
- Philip Radcliffe: Mendelssohn, Publ. J.M.Dent, 1954; 3rd Edition, Oxford University Press, 2001
- "Program Notes: October 9, 2005" on Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra's website, smsymphony.org Retrieved 3 February 2011
- W. S. Gilbert, "A PREPOSTEROUS PIECE OF NONSENSE FOR PRIVATE REPRESENTATION" on diamond.boisestate.edu Retrieved 3 February 2011
- Ruy Blas libretto (in Italian) on librettidopera.it Retrieved 3 February 2011
- Holden, p. 529
- Holden, Amanda (Ed.), The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam, 2001. ISBN 0-14-029312-4
- Information about the background of the play on hugo-online
- Lancaster, H. Carrington. "The Genesis of Ruy Blas" in Modern Philology, Vol. 14, No. 11 (March 1917), pp. 641–46
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