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An analysis of the play by José Echegaray

The following analysis is reprinted from The Continental Drama of Today: Outlines for its Study. Barrett H. Clark. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1914.

Jose Echegaray's Madman or Saint illustrates as few other plays do the principle of suspense. From the end of the first act to the very end of the last, the action rises steadily; never until the final curtain falls does Don Lorenzo's fate become a certainty. Let us examine the means employed to attain this end.

Lorenzo tells the Duchess "this marriage is impossible"; the struggle begins, and the outcome is very problematical. The contending parties are known at once: Lorenzo is on one side, and in all probability Angela, Inez, Edward, and Thomas are against him. Early in the second act, Edward foreshadows the outcome, in his words: "Lorenzo shall give in if we have to put a gag and straitjacket on him." Then the struggle has begun to be defined, as Edward says, "We must either take Mr. Lorenzo as a joke or shut him up in an asylum." The question arises, is Lorenzo a madman or a saint? A little later, the Duchess heightens the interest by doubting Lorenzo's motives, as she declares that "to be the grandchild of a humble nurse, an accomplice in having usurped a social position, is the future of that poor girl, if what Mr. Lorenzo says is so." Again, Edward brings the matter to a clearer issue: ... "everything depends on Mr. Loranzo." Then follow a series of dialogues between Lorenzo and his opponents--in the dramatic sense: those who want something in direct opposition to his wishes. Lorenzo's sense of honor and his love for his daughter and wife are the real contending forces; he himself cares little for the external forces--Edward, the Duchess, and Thomas. Through all these scenes the struggle becomes sharper, the issues stand out more plainly. For a moment Lorenzo seems to waver ("What is truth? What is falsehood?") Then his love for Inez and Angela is almost too much for him: "But you, beloved women, you, my Inez, why must you go before me, marking with your tears the road my feet must stain with blood? I alone, so be it, but not you. My God, help me, for the light of my conscience is dying down, my will is failing, despair is taking possession of my mind." The entrance of Jane takes his mind away from his doubts, and he regains strength to carry out his resolution. We have already seen that it is unwise to keep a secret from the audience; no further justification of the principle can be seen than that which is at hand. Knowing Lorenzo's determination to give up his family name, Jane destroys the only proof upon which Lorenzo can base his assertion that his is not the name which rightfully belongs to him. The stage direction reads: "Throws letter into the fire and bends down to watch it burn." The audience therefore, as Jane soon dies, is the only party let into this secret, and assumes its "God-like attitude," awaiting the outcome; the strings draw tighter round Lorenzo, and his ultimate hope, he sees, will be the justification of his actions through the proof of the letter. His opponents will soon resort to desperate methods. The tension therefore grows with every scene, as the outcome becomes more and more uncertain. If the destruction of the letter and the substitution of the blank were unknown to every one, including, and above all, the audience, the suspense would be greatly lessened; we, as interested spectators of the misfortunes and struggles of humanity should have lost the "looking-forwardness," as it were, given by a fore-knowledge of the catastrophe. If Lorenzo has the proof, or if he thinks he has it, there is little doubt that he will adduce it at the necessary moment, and all will be well; but if we know he does not have it, another element of suspense is added, and the tension is therefore much greater. Again, we are forced to ask, What will happen? Jane's death-bed denial of the story furthers the case against Lorenzo, who is momentarily defeated. He is sure, though, because he has the proof, which he will bring forth when the time is ripe. Lorenzo's opponents, seeing him bent on the fulfilment of his determination, resolve that they will conquer, and Thomas brings in the alienist and his assistants; Lorenzo must be taken away if he is mad--and it seems that such is the case: seems, that is, to all but the audience. Still further suspense is gained as Lorenzo makes sure that his letter is in its place. From this point on the letter becomes the center of interest, and the climax, or crux, of the entire play is plainly in view: Lorenzo is either sane, and in consequence, a saint (but he must give ample proof of his sanity), or else (lacking proof of this) he is mad. Everything depends on the proof, and the proof is the letter. Now the audience knows the letter is gone, and wants to see how Lorenzo will behave when he learns this, and how his family and friends will behave toward him. The tension is greater than ever before. Consider, now, how much of this emotional stress would have been lost had we known nothing of the destruction of the letter; at the end of the play we should have experienced a shock of surprise, that is all; now, every moment, we are feeling emotions that are fundamental in the drama, emotions for which we pay and which we wish to have, and would be ill-content without: curiosity and suspense.

Note how a last touch is added to the pathos of Lorenzo's position, in his words, "I almost pity the traitors. The security of my triumph sustains me." Then comes the highest point in the play; this is the veritable climax. The dénouement is meteoric, and occupies only two pages. Lorenzo is conquered by force of circumstances, and is taken away as a madman; this is the catastrophe.

Compare this play, for subject-matter and treatment, with Ibsen's An Enemy of the People. Contrast the ending of each, and the conclusions reached.

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