The Play

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The French Revolution has never really ended, some say — especially those who have seen Deloss Brown’s adaptation of the Stendhal masterpiece Le Rouge et le Noir. An intense dramatic experience first imagined by Marie Henri Bale, aka Stendhal, the subject of this play set in 18th century France is, on its surface, about women. An unlikely seduction occurs amidst conflicts of class, politics and religion, and the viewer is immersed in an intriguing and unforgettable story.

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Synposis of Stendhal’s original novel

The antagonism between the individual and society is the central subject of The Red and the Black. Stendhal’s realistic novel depicts the French social order under the Second Restoration (1815–30). The story centers on a carpenter’s son, Julien Sorel, a sensitive and intelligent but extremely ambitious youth who, after seeing no road to power in the military after Napoleon’s fall, endeavors to make his mark in the church. Viewing himself as an unsentimental opportunist, he employs seduction as a means to advancement, first with Madame de Rênal, whose children he is employed to tutor. After then spending some time in a seminary, he leaves the provinces and goes to Paris, where he seduces the aristocratic Mathilde, the daughter of his second employer. The book ends with Julien’s execution for the attempted murder of Madame de Rênal after she had jeopardized his projected marriage to Mathilde.

The title of The Red and the Black apparently refers to both the tensions in Julien’s character and to the conflicting choice he is faced with in his quest for success: the army (symbolized by the color red) or the church (symbolized by the color black). A variety of other polarities tempt the ambitious young hero as he sets out with fierce determination to rise above his lowly condition: the provinces or Paris, tender love or sexual conquest, happiness through ambition and achievement or happiness through reverie and the cultivation of self-hood. Careerism, political opportunism, the climate of fear and denunciation in Restoration France, a critique of bourgeois materialistic values—all these are dealt with in a subtle and incisive manner in a novel that is based on a newspaper account of a contemporary crime of passion. Julien Sorel, the central character, is a study in psychological complexity who both attracts and repels the reader. Timid and aggressive, sensitive and ruthless, vulnerable and supremely ambitious, Julien ultimately comes to realize, in prison, the vanity of worldly success and the superior value of love and a rich inner life. The Red and the Black also offers delicate portraits of two feminine figures, the maternal Madame de Renal and the romantic young aristocrat Mathilde de La Mole. At every point, the story challenges conventions and denounces the sham of societal values. As a literary achievement, it is remarkable for its blend of comedy, satire, and ironic lyricism.

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica