Rodrigue, a young cavalier, is loved by Urraque, Princess of Spanish Castile; but, as she cannot be the bride of a commoner, she consents, in "a mingled sense of joy and pain," to Rodrigue's betrothal to Chimène, daughter of Count Gomez.
Rodrigue's romance, however, soon meets with tragedy. Diegue, his father, is tutor to the King's son, a position coveted by Count Gomez. The jealous Count strikes Diegue, and the latter challenges him to a duel. Gomez scornfully refuses: "You are too old to fight a powerful swordsman like me ... I draw my weapon only against a worthy opponent."
The humiliated Diegue begs Rodrigue to avenge him, and the son faces the cruel problem of whether to fight his beloved's father or leave undefended the honor of his own. He reflects: "Whatever course I follow, misfortune follows me." But honor triumphs over love and he kills Gomez in a duel. He thus earns not only the hatred of Chimène but the anger of the King, for the Count was a valuable soldier.
Chimène, alive with the desire to avenge her own father, condemns her lover before the King, demanding justice. Diegue defends his son and offers himself for punishment instead. The King defers his decision to await the opinion of his councilors. Rodrigue, mourning that "sharper than death to me is the knowledge of her hatred," goes to Chimène to offer his life as a sacrifice to her father's memory. Chimène agrees that he should die in atonement. She tells him: "My strength must equal yours. Like you, I must prove my courage for my father's sake. If I let you live, you must hate me for my cowardice. By your death alone can I prove myself worthy of your love."
Rodrigue replies: "It is sweet death that comes through your dear hand," and she finds that she cannot strike him. She bids him: "Go hide yourself from the King ... leave me to my shame ... your life is dearer to me than my honor."
But instead of hiding, Rodrigue replaces the dead Count Gomez as leader of the Spanish army and defeats the Moorish invaders. Summoned to court, he explains to the King that he had not dared to ask the monarch's consent to join in the battle, and had wished only to die in his service rather than in prison while his comrades were fighting. The King promptly dubs him the Cid, the Hero of Castile, and grants him full pardon for the killing of Gomez.
Chimène, again steeling herself against her love, protests the pardon. When the King rejects her plea that Rodrigue pay with his life, she calls for a cavalier to avenge her honor, his reward for Rodrigue's head to be herself as a bride. The King objects to so risking the life of the valuable Cid, but Rodrigue's father seconds Chimène's appeal, saying that it is only right that his son should pay his debt upon the field of honor. Sancho, a young gallant, challenges Rodrigue to win Chimène, and the Cid goes to bid her farewell.
He tells her that he is going to his death, and has come to salute her. "Why must you die?" she asks. Rodrigue replies: "To satisfy your hatred with my life ... Your champion shall find me an easy adversary ... I shall offer no defense, for I shall feel that it is your hand that is wielding Sancho's sword."
Chimène protests: "That would be the act of a coward!... You would allow the conqueror of my father to be conquered by this unskilled stripling?" Rodrigue insists that he has lost her love to save his honor, and now shall lose his life to regain her love.
"Live, Rodrigue," Chimène decides, "and deliver me from Sancho's arms. Go, fight him, help me to fulfil my duty to my father, but plan a sure defense ... And when you come back, if your heart still beats for your poor Chimène, why then--who knows? Forgive my blushing confession, and go."
The elevated Rodrigue goes forth with the cry: "Come on, Castile, Navarre, Morocco, the flower of Spain! My single sword I'll match against your combined power! I'll have my honor and my love again. I'll fight the world and win--for my Chimène."
Chimène awaits in torment the outcome of the duel, reflecting that if Rodrigue wins, she will marry the slayer of her father; if Sancho wins, her bridegroom will be the slayer of her lover--the victory of either will bring her a husband "steeped in blood that I adore." Then Sancho enters and offers her his sword. She cries: "What! dripping with my lover's blood? How dare you show yourself to me!" He implores her to hear his report, but she will not listen to his "boastful tale of murder." The King enters with Diegue, and she finally confesses her love for Rodrigue, lamenting that he is now dead at her command.
"Now that she is no longer ashamed of her love, speak to her, sire," old Diegue urges, and the King tells Chimène that Rodrigue still lives. Sancho, now given opportunity to speak, says that Rodrigue, after disarming him, mercifully returned his sword and bade him place it as a trophy at Chimène's feet. The King assures her that she has vindicated her honor and now may accept Rodrigue's love.
Rodrigue enters, accompanied by the forlorn Princess Urraque. She is still in love with him and can properly marry him since he has become a noble, but for love of Chimène she forgoes her own happiness and brings Rodrigue and Chimène together. Chimène smilingly murmurs: "I accept my verdict. It is a royal command, and I obey."
The King directs, however, that the marriage wait a year, "for time cures all and conquers all"; Chimène will dry her tears for her father's death and Rodrigue will expel the Moors. The King urges him to "let the name of Cid become a terror to the foe, and the love of Chimène an inspiration to your friends." Rodrigue obeys, and says: "I thank your majesty for your kindly words, and I will do my best to be worthy of them. My arm is iron and my heart is flame to wed my love and win a glorious name."
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