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UBC Theses and Dissertations

L'influence des religions de l'Extrême-orient et du Moyen-orient dans le théâtre de Montherlant Scott, Robert


This thesis examines the parallels between the religions of the Far and Middle East and the theatre of Henry de Montherlant. The religions discussed are Hinduism, Buddhism, Zen, Shinto, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Mithraism, Islam and Judaism. Montherlant has referred to all these religions in his Essays and we have sought to demonstrate the underlying syncretism which they constitute in his drama. The pattern we have followed is, firstly to indicate aspects of each sect which compare with Montherlant's plays, next to give evidence of his knowledge of these aspects and finally to show how this influence affects the plays. In our Introduction we outline Montherlant's literary career before turning to his doctrine of syncretism. He is a syncretist because he sees in most religions examples of what he, outside religion, calls 'la qualité', that is a personal attitude of grandeur. Chapter one deals with Hinduism and we have examined its asceticism, its caste system, its treatment of women, certain of its contradictions, and its mysticism. After clarifying these aspects as part of the Hindu faith, we have turned to Montherlant's plays and found parallels between Hinduism and Montherlant's ascetics, between caste and his idea of 'la qualité', his view of women as portrayed in his theatre, his apparent contradictions concerning many things but especially concerning women and sensuality, and, lastly, his examples of mysticism as seen in Le Maître de Santiago, Port-Royal and Le Cardinal d'Espagne. In the second chapter Buddhism presents fewer parallels, indeed many of its typical characteristics would he unattractive to Montherlant. However, Montherlant does accept its asceticism, its original anti-feminism and, to a certain degree, its attitude towards morality and nature. Chapter three concerns the two sects of Japan, Zen and Shinto. Zen is wary of intellectual processes, it encourages a mode of behaviour rather than a mode of thought. This simple creed, with its strict code of honour, contempt for personal gain and death and encouragement of terseness of expression and personal discipline, became the basis for the way of life of the samurai, greatly admired by Montherlant. In several of his plays there is a clash between affection and discipline typical of the samurai knights. Similarly, some of his heroes experience the sudden revelation advocated by Zen, induced by violence or simplicity. There is also evidence of the samurai attitude towards wealth, especially in Le Maître de Santiago, and towards death, particularly in Malatesta, Port-Royal, Le Cardinal d'Espagne and La Guerre civile. This last attitude leads on to a lofty idea of self which is typical both of the samurai and of many of Montherlant's heroes. Zen accepts violence as part of reality and Montherlant sees it as part of 'la qualité' since he deliberately sought violence in sports, bull-fighting and war. His plays abound with violent images, especially La Reine morte, Malatesta and Le Cardinal d'Espagne. Shinto is essentially nationalistic and so compares with the recurrent theme in the drama of Montherlant of the separate community. Groups of people who choose to live by a strict code of behaviour clearly gain Montherlant's sympathy. In his theatre we find several of these groups. The animism of Shinto stresses the harmony of man and nature, man is not divorced from divinity but is part of it. This conception is close to Montherlant's outlook in Inès (La Reine morte) and Malatesta. In chapter four we have grouped the religions of the Middle East: Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Mithraism, Islam and Judaism. Zoroastrianism has a positive attitude towards life which is shared by Montherlant at times. This acceptance of life is overshadowed by the renown of his severe ascetics, but Pasiphaé, Malatesta, Ravier and Don Juan among others indicate the other side to his nature. With Manichaeism there are striking parallels but its influence has probably been indirect through the early Church and the Cathars. Its extreme dualism, separating the evil physical world from the good spiritual world, its distinction between the 'Perfects' and the mere believers and its lyricism are all paralleled in the theatre of Montherlant. Mithraism has also influenced Montherlant. We have emphasised three particular aspects of it; water, sun and the bull, since they all figure significantly in the plays. With its hierarchy of seven grades and its attraction for the Roman soldier, Mithraism offers other parallels with Montherlant's theatre and thought. The influence of Islam has been twofold, firstly through its historical effect on Spain, deeply admired by Montherlant, and through its effect on the North African Arab culture, experienced by Montherlant during his important travels there. Montherlant is attracted by the violence of Islam and, once more, by its mysticism--Sufism. Evidence of this influence can be seen particularly in La Reine morte, Le Maître de Santiago and Le Cardinal d'Espagne, the 'Spanish' plays. The particular aspects of Judaism that we have considered are its monotheism, its idea of separate race with the subsequent feeling of isolation and the theme of guilt. The Christianity of Montherlant's characters refers more to God than to Christ. The idea of race is another example of the community which chooses 'la qualité' and in the case of Judaism this stand has brought about a feeling of isolation which is mirrored by some of Montherlant's heroes. The concept of guilt, a very minor theme, appears in La Reine morte, Fils de personne and Le Cardinal d'Espagne. In our conclusion we have remarked that the parallels which exist between some of the world's religions and Montherlant's theatre are not surprising since a deep religious conviction is dramatic in itself and is thus similar to Montherlant's doctrine of 'la qualité'. Like Catholicism, in which Montherlant detects a rich syncretism, the religions we have examined accept the opposing forces at work in man and attempt to lead him towards an existence which is on a higher level than that of man without religion. Montherlant does not agree with the metaphysics of these religions, but he does agree that 'la qualité' is a condition which is worth striving for.

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