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By Paul Claudel
The year is 1812: the army of Napoleon Bonaparte has initiated its fatal invasion of Russia while Pope Pius VII languishes as a political prisoner of the Emperor. When George de Coûfontaine et Dormant, Lord Lieutenant of the King, kidnaps the Pope, he sets into motion a series of events whose outcome could determine the fate of the Church and world alike. Bringing his papal hostage to the ancestral Coûfontaine home, George draws his cousin and the play’s heroine, Sygne, into the conspiracy to restore the French King to the throne, regardless of cost in terms of honor or happiness. In contrast to his visionary medieval or metaphysical dramas, Claudel sets the Hostage at a definite historical moment to create a conflict of conscience, of antipodal faiths, and, ultimately, of creature and Creator.
The Hostage, as Pierre Chavannes writes in his eloquent Introduction, is “the work of a great poet; it speaks to the noblest in us and can therefore only leave us nobler.”
Paul Claudel (1868–1955) was a French poet, dramatist, and essayist, and a convert to Roman Catholicism. A six-time nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Claudel achieved prominence in twentieth-century French literature for his unique prose style and powerful verse dramas. The 1924 drama Le Soulier de satin (The Satin Slipper) is widely recognized as his masterpiece.