Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

The Balcony

by Jean Genet Translated from French by Bernard Frechtman

“One of France’s most original and forceful novelists and playwrights.” –The New York Times Book Review

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 112
  • Publication Date January 01, 1966
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5034-9
  • Dimensions 5.38" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00

About The Book

In the midst of a war-ravished city, a brothel caters to the elaborate role-playing fantasies of men from all walks of life. These perverse costumed masquerades parody and stylize the nature of the anarchic political struggle that rages outside. In a stunning series of macabre scenes, Genet presents his caustic view of man and society.


“One of France’s most original and forceful novelists and playwrights.” –The New York Times Book Review

The Balcony is probably the most stunning subversive work of literature to be created since the writings of the famous Marquis. . . . A major dramatic achievement.” –Robert Brustein, The New Republic

The Balcony satisfies to a degree hitherto unknown our contemporary appetite for violence, perversion, and squalor.” –The New Yorker

“A theatrical experience as startling as anything since Isben’s revelation that there was such a thing as syphilis.” –Kenneth Tynan



On the ceiling, a chandelier, which will remain the same in each scene. The set seems to represent a sacristy, formed by three blood-red, cloth folding-screens. The one at the rear has a built-in door. Above, a huge Spanish crucifix, drawn in trompe l’oeil. On the right wall, a mirror, with a carved gilt frame, reflects an unmade bed which, if the room were arranged logically, would be in the first rows of the orchestra. A table with a large jug. A yellow armchair. On the chair, a pair of black trousers, a shirt and a jacket. THE BISHOP, in mitre and gilded cope, is sitting in the chair. He is obviously larger than life. The role is played by an actor wearing tragedian’s cothurni about twenty inches high. His shoulders, on which the cope lies, are inordinately broadened so that when the curtain rises he looks huge and stiff, like a scarecrow. He wears garish make-up. At the side, a woman, rather young, highly made up and wearing a lace dressing-gown, is drying her hands with a towel. Standing by is another woman, IRMA.

She is about forty, dark, severe-looking, and is wearing a black tailored suit and a hat with a tight string (like a chin-strap).

THE BISHOP (sitting in the chair, middle of the stage. In a low but fervent voice) : In truth, the mark of a prelate is not mildness or unction, but the most rigorous intelligence. Our heart is our undoing. We think we are master of our kindness; we are the slaves of a serene laxity. It is something quite other than intelligence that is involved. . . . (He hesitates.) It may be cruelty. And beyond that cruelty–and through it–a skilful, vigorous course towards Absence. Towards Death. God? (Smiling)I can read your mind! (To his mitre)Mitre, bishop’s bonnet, when my eyes close for the last time, it is you that I shall see behind my eyelids, you, my beautiful gilded hat . . . you, my handsome ornaments, copes, laces. . . .

IRMA (bluntly) : An agreement’s an agreement. When a deal’s been made. . . .

(Throughout the scene she hardly moves. She is standing very near the door.)

THE BISHOP (very gently, waving her aside with a gesture) : And when the die is cast. . . .

IRMA : No. Twenty. Twenty and no nonsense. Or I’ll lose my temper. And that’s not like me. . . . Now, if you have any difficulties. . . .

THE BISHOP (curtly, and tossing away the mitre) : Thank you.

IRMA : And don’t break anything. We need that. (To the woman) Put it away.

(She lays the mitre on the table, near the jug.)

THE BISHOP (after a deep sigh) : I’ve been told that this house is going to be besieged. The rebels have already crossed the river.

IRMA : There’s blood everywhere. . . . You can slip round behind the Archbishop’s Palace. Then, down Fishmarket Street. . . .

(Suddenly a scream of pain, uttered by a woman off-stage.)

IRMA (annoyed) : But I told them to be quiet. Good thing I remembered to cover the windows with padded curtains.

(Suddenly amiable, insidious)

Well, and what was it this evening? A blessing? A prayer? A mass? A perpetual adoration?

THE BISHOP (gravely) : Let’s not talk about that now. It’s over. I’m concerned only about getting home. . . . You say the city’s splashed with blood. . . .

THE WOMAN : There was a blessing, Madame. Then, my confession. . . .

IRMA : And after that?

THE BISHOP : That’ll do!

THE WOMAN : That was all. At the end, my absolution.

IRMA : Won’t anyone be able to witness it? Just once?

THE BISHOP (frightened) : No, no. Those things must remain secret, and they shall. It’s indecent enough to talk about them while I’m being undressed. Nobody. And all the doors must be closed. Firmly closed, shut, buttoned, laced, hooked, sewn. . . .

IRMA : I merely asked. . . .

THE BISHOP : Sewn, Madame.

IRMA (annoyed) : You’ll allow me at least, won’t you, to feel a little uneasy . . . professionally? I said twenty.

THE BISHOP (his voice suddenly grows clear and sharp, as if he were awakening. He displays a little annoyance) : We didn’t tire ourselves. Barely six sins, and far from my favourite ones.

THE WOMAN : Six, but deadly ones! And it was a job finding those.

THE BISHOP (uneasy) : What? You mean they were false?

THE WOMAN : They were real, all right! I mean it was a job committing them. If only you realized what it takes, what a person has to go through, in order to reach the point of disobedience.

THE BISHOP : I can imagine, my child. The order of the world is so lax that you can do as you please there–or almost. But if your sins were false, you may say so now.

IRMA : Oh no! I can hear you complaining already the next time you come. No. They were real. (To the woman) Untie his laces. Take off his shoes. And when you dress him, be careful he doesn’t catch cold. (To the Bishop) Would you like a toddy, a hot drink?

THE BISHOP : Thank you. I haven’t time. I must be going. (Dreamily)

Yes, six, but deadly ones!

IRMA : Come here, we’ll undress you!

THE BISHOP (pleading, almost on his knees) : No, no, not yet.

IRMA : It’s time. Come on! Quick! Make it snappy!

(While they talk, the women undress him. Or rather they merely remove pins and untie cords that seem to secure the cope, stole and surplice.)

THE BISHOP (to the woman) : About the sins, you really did commit them?

THE WOMAN : I did.

THE BISHOP : You really made the gestures? All the gestures?


THE BISHOP : When you moved towards me with your face forward, was it really aglow with the light of the flames?

THE WOMAN : It was.

THE BISHOP : And when my ringed hand came down on your forehead, forgiving it. . . .

THE WOMAN : It was.

THE BISHOP : And when my gaze pierced your lovely eyes?

THE WOMAN : It was.

IRMA : Was there at least a glimmer of repentance in her lovely eyes, my Lord?

THE BISHOP (standing up) : A fleeting glimmer. But was I seeking repentance in them? I saw there the greedy longing for transgression. In flooding it, evil all at once baptized it. Her big eyes opened on the abyss . . . a deathly pallor lit up–yes, Madame–lit up her face. But our holiness lies only in our being able to forgive you your sins. Even if they’re only make-believe.

THE WOMAN (suddenly coy) : And what if my sins were real?

THE BISHOP (in a different, less theatrical tone) : You’re mad! I hope you really didn’t do all that!

IRMA (to the Bishop) : Don’t listen to her. As for her sins, don’t worry. Here there’s no. . . .

THE BISHOP (interrupting her) : I’m quite aware of that. Here there’s no possibility of doing evil. You live in evil. In the absence of remorse. How could you do evil? The Devil makes believe. That’s how one recognizes him. He’s the great Actor. And that’s why the Church has anathematized actors.

THE WOMAN : Reality frightens you, doesn’t it?

THE BISHOP : If your sins were real, they would be crimes, and I’d be in a fine mess.

THE WOMAN : Would you go to the police?

(IRMA continues to undress him. However, he still has the cope on his shoulders.)

IRMA : Stop plaguing her with all those questions.

(The same terrible scream is heard again.)

They’re at it again! I’ll go and shut them up.

THE BISHOP : That wasn’t a make-believe scream.

IRMA (anxiously) : I don’t know. . . . Who knows and what does it matter?

THE BISHOP (going slowly to the mirror. He stands in front of it) : Now answer, mirror, answer me. Do I come here to discover evil and innocence? (To Irma, very gently) Leave the room! I want to be by myself.

IRMA : It’s late. And the later it gets, the more dangerous it’ll be . . .

THE BISHOP (pleading) : Just one more minute.

IRMA : You’ve been here two hours and twenty minutes. In other words, twenty minutes too long. . . .

THE BISHOP (suddenly incensed) : I want to be by myself.

Eavesdrop, if you want to–I know you do, anyway–and don’t come back till I’ve finished.

(The two women leave with a sigh, looking as if they were out of patience. The Bishop remains alone.)

THE BISHOP (after making a visible effort to calm himself, in front of the mirror and holding his surplice) : Now answer, mirror, answer me. Do I come here to discover evil and innocence? And in your gilt-edged glass, what was I? Never–I affirm it before God Who sees me–I never desired the episcopal throne. To become bishop, to work my way up–by means of virtues or vices–would have been to turn away from the ultimate dignity of bishop. I shall explain: (THE BISHOP speaks in a tone of great precision, as if pursuing a line of logical reasoning) in order to become a bishop, I should have had to make a zealous effort not to be one, but to do what would have resulted in my being one. Having become a bishop, in order to be one I should have had–in order to be one for myself, of course!–I should have had to be constantly aware of being one so as to perform my function. (He seizes the flap of his surplice and kisses it.) Oh laces, laces, fashioned by a thousand little hands to veil ever so many panting bosoms, buxom bosoms, and faces, and hair, you illustrate me with branches and flowers! Let us continue. But–there’s the crux!

(He laughs.)

So I speak Latin!–a function is a function. It’s not a mode of being. But a bishop–that’s a mode of being. It’s a trust. A burden. Mitres, lace, gold-cloth and glass trinkets, genuflexions. . . . To hell with the function!

(Crackling of machine-gun fire.)

IRMA (putting her head through the door) : Have you finished?

THE BISHOP : For Christ’s sake, leave me alone. Get the hell out! I’m probing myself.

(IRMA shuts the door.)

THE BISHOP (to the mirror) : The majesty, the dignity, that light up my person, do not emanate from the attributions of my function.–No more, good heavens! than from my personal merits.–The majesty, the dignity that light me up come from a more mysterious brilliance: the fact that the bishop precedes me. Do I make myself clear, mirror, gilded image, ornate as a box of Mexican cigars? And I wish to be bishop in solitude, for appearance alone. . . . And in order to destroy all function, I want to cause a scandal and feel you up, you slut, you bitch, you trollop, you tramp. . . .

IRMA (entering) : That’ll do now. You’ve got to leave.

THE BISHOP : You’re crazy! I haven’t finished.

(Both women have entered.)

IRMA : I’m not trying to pick an argument, and you know it, but you’ve no time to waste. . . .

THE BISHOP (ironically) : What you mean is that you need the room for someone else and you’ve got to arrange the mirrors and jugs.

IRMA (very irritated) : That’s no business of yours. I’ve given you every attention while you’ve been here. And I repeat that it’s dangerous for anyone to loiter in the streets.

(Sound of gun-fire in the distance.)

THE BISHOP (bitterly) : That’s not true. You don’t give a damn about my safety. When the job’s finished, you don’t give a damn about anyone!

IRMA (to the girl) : Stop listening to him and undress him.

IRMA (to the Bishop, who has stepped down from his cothurni and has now assumed the normal size of an actor, of the most ordinary of actors) : Lend a hand. You’re stiff.

THE BISHOP (with a foolish look) : Stiff? I’m stiff? A solemn stiffness! Final immobility. . . .

IRMA (to the girl) : Hand him his jacket. . . .

THE BISHOP (looking at his clothes, which are heaped on the floor) : Ornaments, laces, through you I re-enter myself. I reconquer a domain. I beleaguer a very ancient place from which I was driven. I install myself in a clearing where suicide at last becomes possible. The judgment depends on me, and here I stand, face to face with my death.

IRMA : That’s all very fine, but you’ve got to go. You left your car at the front door, near the power-station.

THE BISHOP (to Irma) : Because our Chief of Police, that wretched incompetent, is letting us be slaughtered by the rabble! (Turning to the mirror and declaiming) Ornaments! Mitres! Laces! You, above all, oh gilded cope, you protect me from the world. Where are my legs, where are my arms? Under your scalloped, lustrous flaps, what have my hands been doing? Fit only for fluttering gestures, they’ve become mere stumps of wings–not of angels, but of partridges!–rigid cope, you make it possible for the most tender and luminous sweetness to ripen in warmth and darkness. My charity, a charity that will flood the world–it was under this carapace that I distilled it. . . . Would my hand emerge at times, knife-like, to bless? Or cut, mow down? My hand, the head of a turtle, would push aside the flaps. A turtle or a cautious snake? And go back into the rock. Underneath, my hand would dream. . . . Ornaments, gilded copes. . . .

(The stage moves from left to right, as if it were plunging into the wings. The following set then appears.)


Same chandelier. Three brown folding-screens. Bare walls. At right, same mirror, in which is reflected the same unmade bed as in the first scene. A woman, young and beautiful, seems to be chained, with her wrists bound. Her muslin dress is torn. Her breasts are visible. Standing in front of her is the executioner. He is a giant, stripped to the waist. Very muscular. His whip has been slipped through the loop of his belt, in back, so that he seems to have a tail. A JUDGE, who, when he stands up, will seem larger than life (he, too, is mounted on cothurni, which are invisible beneath his robe, and his face is made up) is crawling, on his stomach, towards the woman, who shrinks as he approaches.

THE THIEF (holding out her foot) : Not yet! Lick it! Lick it first. . . .

(THE JUDGE makes an effort to continue crawling. Then he stands up and, slowly and painfully, though apparently happy, goes and sits down on a stool. THE THIEF (the woman described above) drops her domineering attitude and becomes humble.)

THE JUDGE (severely) : For you’re a thief! You were caught. . . . Who? The police. . . . Have you forgotten that your movements are hedged about by a strong and subtle network, my strong-arm cops? They’re watchful, swivel-eyed insects that lie in wait for you. All of you! And they bring you captive, all of you, to the Bench. . . . What have you to say for yourself? You were caught. . . . Under your skirt. . . . (To the Executioner.) Put your hand under her skirt. You’ll find the pocket, the notorious Kangaroo Pocket. . . . (To the Thief) that you fill with any old junk you pick up. Because you’re an idiot to boot. . . . (To the Executioner.) What was there in that notorious Kangaroo Pocket? In that enormous paunch?

THE EXECUTIONER : Bottles of scent, my Lord, a flashlight, a bottle of Fly-tox, some oranges, several pairs of socks, bearskins, a Turkish towel, a scarf. (To the Judge.) Do you hear me? I said: a scarf.

THE JUDGE (with a start) : A scarf? Ah ha, so that’s it? Why the scarf? Eh? What were you going to do with it? Whom were you planning to strangle? Answer. Who? . . . Are you a thief or a strangler? (Very gently, imploringly) Tell me, my child, I beg of you, tell me you’re a thief.

THE THIEF : Yes, my Lord.


THE THIEF (looking at him in surprise) : No?

THE EXECUTIONER : That’s for later.


THE EXECUTIONER : I mean the confession is supposed to come later. Plead not guilty.

THE THIEF : What, and get beaten again!

THE JUDGE (mealy-mouthed) : Exactly, my child: and get beaten. You must first deny, then admit and repent. I want to see hot tears gush from your lovely eyes. Oh! I want you to be drenched in them. The power of tears! . . . Where’s my statute-book? (He fishes under his robe and pulls out a book.)

THE THIEF : I’ve already cried. . . .

THE JUDGE (he seems to be reading) : Under the blows. I want tears of repentance. When I see you wet as a meadow I’ll be utterly satisfied!

THE THIEF : It’s not easy. I tried to cry before. . . .

THE JUDGE (no longer reading. In a half-theatrical, almost familiar tone) : You’re quite young. Are you new here? (Anxiously) At least you’re not a minor?

THE THIEF : Oh no, sir.

THE JUDGE : Call me my Lord. How long have you been here?

THE EXECUTIONER : Since the day before yesterday, my Lord.

THE JUDGE (reassuming the theatrical tone and resuming the reading) : Let her speak. I like that puling voice of hers, that voice without resonance. . . . Look here: you’ve got to be a model thief if I’m to be a model judge. If you’re a fake thief, I become a fake judge. Is that clear?

THE THIEF : Oh yes, my Lord.

THE JUDGE (he continues reading) : Good. Thus far everything has gone off well. My executioner has hit hard . . . for he too has his function. We are bound together, you, he and I. For example, if he didn’t hit, how could I stop him from hitting? Therefore, he must strike so that I can intervene and demonstrate my authority. And you must deny your guilt so that he can beat you.

(A noise is heard, as of something having fallen in the next room. In a natural tone)

What’s that? Are all the doors firmly shut? Can anyone see us, or hear us?

THE EXECUTIONER : No, no, you needn’t worry. I bolted the door.

(He goes to examine a huge bolt on the rear door.)

And the corridor’s out of bounds.

THE JUDGE (in a natural tone) : Are you sure?

THE EXECUTIONER : You can take my word for it.

(He puts his hand into his pocket.)

Can I have a smoke?

THE JUDGE (in a natural tone) : The smell of tobacco inspires me.

Smoke away.

(Same noise as before.)

Oh, what is that? What is it? Can’t they leave me in peace?

(He gets up.)

What’s going on?

THE EXECUTIONER (curtly) : Nothing at all. Someone must have dropped something. You’re getting nervous.

THE JUDGE (in a natural tone) : That may be, but my nervousness makes me aware of things. It keeps me on the alert.

(He gets up and moves towards the wall.)

May I have a look?

THE EXECUTIONER : Just a quick one, because it’s getting late.

(THE EXECUTIONER shrugs his shoulders and exchanges a wink with the thief.)

THE JUDGE (after looking) : It’s lit up. Brightly lit, but empty.

THE EXECUTIONER (shrugging his shoulders) : Empty!

THE JUDGE (in an even more familiar tone) : You seem anxious. Has anything new happened?

THE EXECUTIONER : This afternoon, just before you arrived, the rebels took three key-positions. They set fire to several places. Not a single fireman came out. Everything went up in flames. The Palace. . . .

THE JUDGE : What about the Chief of Police? Twiddling his thumbs as usual?

THE THIEF : There’s been no news of him for four hours. If he can get away, he’s sure to come here. He’s expected at any moment.

THE JUDGE (to the Thief, and sitting down) : In any case, he’d better not plan to come by way of Queen’s Bridge. It was blown up last night.

THE THIEF : We know that. We heard the explosion from here.

THE JUDGE (resuming his theatrical tone. He reads the statute-book) : All right. Let’s get on with it. Thus, taking advantage of the sleep of the just, taking advantage of a moment’s inattention, you rob them, you ransack, you pilfer and purloin. . . .

THE THIEF : No, my Lord, never. . . .

THE EXECUTIONER : Shall I tan her hide?

THE THIEF (crying out) : Arthur!

THE EXECUTIONER : What’s eating you? Don’t address me. Answer his Lordship. And call me Mr. Executioner.

THE THIEF : Yes, Mr. Executioner.

THE JUDGE (reading) : I continue: did you steal?

THE THIEF : I did, I did, my Lord.

THE JUDGE (reading) : Good. Now answer quickly, and to the point: what else did you steal?

THE THIEF : Bread, because I was hungry.

THE JUDGE (he draws himself up and lays down the book) : Sublime! Sublime function! I’ll have all that to judge. Oh, child, you reconcile me with the world. A judge! I’m going to be judge of your acts! On me depends the weighing, the balance. The world is an apple. I cut it in two: the good, the bad. And you agree, thank you, you agree to be the bad! (Facing the audience) Right before your eyes: nothing in my hands, nothing up my sleeve, remove the rot and cast it off. But it’s a painful occupation. If every judgment were delivered seriously, each one would cost me my life. That’s why I’m dead. I inhabit that region of exact freedom. I, King of Hell, weigh those who are dead, like me. She’s a dead person, like myself.

THE THIEF : You frighten me, sir.

THE JUDGE (very bombastically) : Be still. In the depths of Hell I sort out the humans who venture there. Some to the flames, the others to the boredom of the fields of asphodel. You, thief, spy, she-dog, Minos is speaking to you, Minos weighs you. (To the Executioner) Cerberus?

THE EXECUTIONER (imitating the dog) : Bow-wow, bow-wow!

THE JUDGE : You’re handsome! And the sight of a fresh victim makes you even handsomer. (He curls up the Executioner’s lips.) Show your fangs. Dreadful. White. (Suddenly he seems anxious. To the Thief) But at least you’re not lying about those thefts–you did commit them, didn’t you?

THE EXECUTIONER : Don’t worry. She committed them, all right. She wouldn’t have dared not to. I’d have made her.

THE JUDGE : I’m almost happy. Continue. What did you steal?

(Suddenly, machine-gun fire.)

THE JUDGE : There’s simply no end to it. Not a moment’s rest.

THE THIEF : I told you: the rebellion has spread all over the north of the city. . . .


THE JUDGE (irritated) : Are you going to answer, yes or no? What else have you stolen? Where? When? How? How much? Why? For whom?

THE THIEF : I very often entered houses when the maids were off. I used the tradesmen’s entrance. . . . I stole from drawers, I broke into children’s piggy-banks. (She is visibly trying to find words.)

Once I dressed up as a lady. I put on a dark-brown suit, a black straw hat with cherries, a veil and a pair of black shoes–with Cuban heels–then I went in. . . .

THE JUDGE (in a rush) : Where? Where? Where? Where–where– where? Where did you go in?

THE THIEF : I can’t remember. Forgive me.

THE EXECUTIONER : Shall I let her have it?

THE JUDGE : Not yet. (To the girl) Where did you go in? Tell me where?

THE THIEF (in a panic) : But I swear to you, I don’t remember.

THE EXECUTIONER : Shall I let her have it? Shall I, my Lord?

THE JUDGE (to the Executioner, and going up to him) : Ah! ah! your pleasure depends on me. You like to thrash, eh? I’m pleased with you, Executioner! Masterly mountain of meat, hunk of beef that’s set in motion at a word from me! (He pretends to look at himself in the Executioner.) Mirror that glorifies me! Image that I can touch, I love you. Never would I have the strength or skill to leave streaks of fire on her back. Besides, what could I do with such strength and skill? (He touches him.) Are you there? You’re all there, my huge arm, too heavy for me, too big, too fat for my shoulder, walking at my side all by itself! Arm, hundredweight of meat, without you I’d be nothing. . . . (To the Thief) And without you too, my child. You’re my two perfect complements. . . . Ah, what a fine trio we make! (To the Thief) But you, you have a privilege that he hasn’t, nor I either, that of priority. My being a judge is an emanation of your being a thief. You need only refuse– but you’d better not!–need only refuse to be who you are–what you are, therefore who you are–for me to cease to be . . . to vanish, evaporated. Burst. Volatilized. Denied. Hence: good born of. . . . What then? What then? But you won’t refuse, will you? You won’t refuse to be a thief? That would be wicked. It would be criminal. You’d deprive me of being! (Imploringly) Say it, my child, my love, you won’t refuse?

THE THIEF (coyly) : I might.

THE JUDGE : What’s that? What’s that you say? You’d refuse? Tell me where. And tell me again what you’ve stolen.

THE THIEF (curtly, and getting up) : I won’t.

THE JUDGE : Tell me where. Don’t be cruel. . . .

THE THIEF : Your tone is getting too familiar. I won’t have it!

THE JUDGE : Miss. . . . Madame. I beg of you. (He falls to his knees.) Look, I beseech you. Don’t leave me in this position, waiting to be a judge. If there were no judge, what would become of us, but what if there were no thieves?

THE THIEF (ironically) : And what if there weren’t?

THE JUDGE : It would be awful. But you won’t do that to me, will you? Please understand me: I don’t mind your hiding, for as long as you can and as long as my nerves can bear it, behind the refusal to confess–it’s all right to be mean and make me yearn, even prance, make me dance, drool, sweat, whinny with impatience, crawl . . . do you want me to crawl?

THE EXECUTIONER (to the Judge) : Crawl.

THE JUDGE : I’m proud!

THE EXECUTIONER (threateningly) : Crawl!

(THE JUDGE, who was on his knees, lies flat on his stomach and crawls slowly towards the Thief. As he crawls forward, the Thief moves back.)

THE EXECUTIONER : Good. Continue.

THE JUDGE (to the Thief) : You’re quite right, you rascal, to make me crawl after my judgeship, but if you were to refuse for good, you hussy, it would be criminal. . . .

THE THIEF (haughtily) : Call me Madame, and ask politely.

THE JUDGE : Will I get what I want?

THE THIEF (coyly) : It costs a lot–stealing does.

THE JUDGE : I’ll pay! I’ll pay whatever I have to, Madame. But if I no longer had to divide the Good from the Evil, of what use would I be? I ask you?

THE THIEF : I ask myself.

THE JUDGE (is infinitely sad) : A while ago I was going to be Minos. My Cerberus was barking. (To the Executioner) Do you remember? (THE EXECUTIONER interrupts the Judge by cracking his whip.) You were so cruel, so mean! So good! And me, I was pitiless. I was going to fill Hell with the souls of the damned, to fill prisons. Prisons! Prisons! Prisons, dungeons, blessed places where evil is impossible since they are the crossroads of all the malediction in the world. One cannot commit evil in evil. Now, what I desire above all is not to condemn, but to judge. . . . (He tries to get up.)

THE EXECUTIONER : Crawl! And hurry up, I’ve got to go and get dressed.

THE JUDGE (to the girl) : Madame! Madame, please, I beg of you. I’m willing to lick your shoes, but tell me you’re a thief. . . .

THE THIEF (in a cry) : Not yet! Lick! Lick! Lick first!

(The stage moves from left to right, as at the end of the preceding scene, and plunges into the right wing. In the distance, machine-gun fire.)


Three dark-green folding-screens, arranged as in the preceding scenes. The same chandelier. The same mirror reflecting the unmade bed. On an armchair, a horse of the kind used by folk-dancers, with a little kilted skirt. In the room, a timid-looking gentleman: the GENERAL. He removes his jacket, then his bowler hat and his gloves. IRMA is near him.

THE GENERAL (He points to the hat, jacket and gloves) : Have that cleared out.

IRMA : It’ll be folded and wrapped.

THE GENERAL : Have it removed from sight.

IRMA : It’ll be put away. Even burned.

THE GENERAL : Yes, yes, of course, I’d like it to burn! Like cities at twilight.

IRMA : Did you notice anything on the way?

THE GENERAL : I ran very serious risks. The populace has blown up dams. Whole areas are flooded. The arsenal in particular. So that all the powder supplies are wet. And the weapons rusty. I had to make some rather wide detours–though I didn’t trip over a single drowned body.

IRMA : I wouldn’t take the liberty of asking you your opinions. Everyone is free, and I’m not concerned with politics.

THE GENERAL : Then let’s talk of something else. The important thing is how I’m going to get out of this place. It’ll be late by the time I leave. . . .

IRMA : About it’s being late. . . .

THE GENERAL : That does it.

(He reaches into his pocket, takes out some banknotes, counts them and gives some to Irma. She keeps them in her hand.)

THE GENERAL : I’m not keen about being shot down in the dark when I leave. For, of course, there won’t be anyone to escort me?

IRMA : I’m afraid not. Unfortunately Arthur’s not free. (A long pause.)

THE GENERAL (suddenly impatient) : But . . . isn’t she coming?

IRMA : I can’t imagine what she’s doing. I gave instructions that everything was to be ready by the time you arrived. The horse is already here. . . . I’ll ring.

THE GENERAL : Don’t, I’ll attend to that. (He rings.) I like to ring! Ringing’s authoritative. Ah, to ring out commands.

IRMA : In a little while, General. Oh, I’m so sorry, here am I giving you your rank. . . . In a little while you’ll. . . .

THE GENERAL : Sh! Don’t say it.

IRMA : YOU have such force, such youth! such dash!

THE GENERAL : And spurs. Will I have spurs? I said they were to be fixed to my boots. Oxblood boots, right?

IRMA : Yes, General. And patent-leather.

THE GENERAL : Oxblood. Patent-leather, very well, but with mud?

IRMA : With mud and perhaps a little blood. I’ve had the decorations prepared.

THE GENERAL : Authentic ones?

IRMA : Authentic ones. (Suddenly a woman’s long scream.)

THE GENERAL : What’s that?

(He starts going to the right wall and is already bending down to look, as if there were a small crack, but IRMA steps in front of him.)

IRMA : Nothing. There’s always some carelessness, on both sides.

THE GENERAL : But that cry? A woman’s cry. A call for help perhaps? My heart skips a beat. . . . I spring forward. . . .

IRMA (icily) : I want no trouble here. Calm down. For the time being, you’re in mufti.

THE GENERAL : That’s right.

(A woman’s scream again.)

THE GENERAL : All the same, it’s disturbing. Besides, it’ll be awkward.

IRMA : What on earth can she be doing?

(She goes to ring, but by the rear door enters a very beautiful young woman, red-headed, hair undone, dishevelled. Her bosom is almost bare. She is wearing a black corset, black stockings and very high-heeled shoes. She is holding a general’s uniform, complete with sword, cocked hat and boots.)

THE GENERAL (severely) : So you finally got here? Half an hour late. That’s more than’s needed to lose a battle.

IRMA : She’ll redeem herself, General, I know her.

THE GENERAL (looking at the boots) : What about the blood? I don’t see any blood.

IRMA : It dried. Don’t forget that it’s the blood of your past battles. Well, then, I’ll leave you. Do you have everything you need?

THE GENERAL (looking to the right and left) : You’re forgetting. . . .

IRMA : Good God! Yes. I was forgetting.

(She lays on the chair the towels she has been carrying on her arm. Then she leaves by the rear. THE GENERAL goes to the door, then locks it. But no sooner is the door closed than someone knocks. THE GIRL goes to open it. Behind, and standing slightly back, THE EXECUTIONER, sweating, wiping himself with a towel.)

THE EXECUTIONER : Is Mme Irma here?

THE GIRL (curtly) : In the Rose-garden. (Correcting herself) I’m sorry, in the Funeral Chapel.

(She closes the door.)

THE GENERAL (irritated) : I’ll be left in peace, I hope. And you’re late. Where the hell were you? Didn’t they give you your feed-bag? You’re smiling, are you? Smiling at your rider? You recognize his hand, gentle but firm? (He strokes her.) My proud steed! My handsome mare, we’ve had many a spirited gallop together!

THE GIRL : And that’s not all! I want to trip through the world with my nervous legs and well-shod hooves. Take off your trousers and shoes so I can dress you.

THE GENERAL (he has taken the cane) : All right, but first, down on your knees! Come on, come on, bend your knees, bend them. . . .

THE GIRL rears, utters a whinny of pleasure and kneels like a circus horse before the General.)

THE GENERAL : Bravo! Bravo, Dove! You haven’t forgotten a thing. And now, you’re going to help me and answer my questions. It’s fitting and proper for a nice filly to help her master unbutton himself and take off his gloves, and to be at his beck and call. Now start by untying my laces. (During the entire scene that follows, THE GIRL helps THE GENERAL remove his clothes and then dress up as a general. When he is completely dressed, he will be seen to have taken on gigantic proportions, by means of trick effects: invisible foot-gear, broadened shoulders, excessive make-up.)

THE GIRL : Left foot still swollen?

THE GENERAL : Yes. It’s my leading-foot. The one that prances. Like your hoof when you toss your head.

THE GIRL : What am I doing? Unbutton yourself.

THE GENERAL : Are you a horse or an illiterate? If you’re a horse, you toss your head. Help me. Pull. Don’t pull so hard. See here, you’re not a plough-horse.

THE GIRL : I do what I have to do.

THE GENERAL : Are you rebelling? Already? Wait till I’m ready. When I put the bit into your mouth. . . .

THE GIRL : Oh no, not that.

THE GENERAL : A general reprimanded by his horse! You’ll have the bit, the bridle, the harness, the saddlegirth, and I, in boots and helmet, will whip and plunge!

THE GIRL : The bit is awful. It makes the gums and the corners of the lips bleed. I’ll drool blood.

THE GENERAL: Foam pink and spit fire! But what a gallop! Along the rye-fields, through the alfalfa, over the meadows and dusty roads, over hill and dale, awake or asleep, from dawn to twilight and from twilight. . . .

THE GIRL : Tuck in your shirt. Pull up your braces. It’s quite a job dressing a victorious general who’s to be buried. Do you want the sabre?

THE GENERAL : Let it lie on the table, like Lafayette’s. Conspicuously, but hide the clothes. Where? How should I know? Surely there’s a hiding-place somewhere.

(THE GIRL bundles up his clothes and hides them behind the armchair.)

THE GENERAL : The tunic? Good. Got all the medals? Count “em.

THE GIRL (after counting them, very quickly) : They’re all here, sir.

THE GENERAL : What about the war? Where’s the war?

THE GIRL (very softly) : It’s approaching, sir. It’s evening in an apple-orchard. The sky is calm and pink. The earth is bathed in a sudden peace–the moan of doves–the peace that precedes battles. The air is very still. An apple has fallen to the grass. A yellow apple. Things are holding their breath. War is declared. The evening is very mild. . . .

THE GENERAL : But suddenly?

THE GIRL : We’re at the edge of the meadow. I keep myself from flinging out, from whinnying. Your thighs are warm and you’re pressing my flanks. Death. . . .

THE GENERAL : But suddenly?

THE GIRL : Death has pricked up her ears. She puts a finger to her lips, asking for silence. Things are lit up with an ultimate goodness. You yourself no longer heed my presence. . . .

THE GENERAL : But suddenly?

THE GIRL : Button up by yourself, sir. The water lay motionless in the pools. The wind itself was awaiting an order to unfurl the flags. . . .

THE GENERAL : But suddenly?

THE GIRL : Suddenly? Eh? Suddenly? (She seems to be trying to find the right words.) Ah yes, suddenly all was fire and sword! Widows! Miles of cr”pe had to be woven to put on the standards. The mothers and wives remained dry-eyed behind their veils. The bells came clattering down the bombed towers. As I rounded a corner I was frightened by a blue cloth. I reared, but, steadied by your gentle and masterful hand, I ceased to quiver. I started forward again. How I loved you, my hero!

THE GENERAL : But. . . the dead? Weren’t there any dead?

THE GIRL : The soldiers died kissing the standard. You were all victory and kindness. One evening, remember. . . .

THE GENERAL : I was so mild that I began to snow. To snow on my men, to shroud them in the softest of winding-sheets. To snow. Moskova!

THE GIRL : Splinters of shell had gashed the lemons. Now death was in action. She moved nimbly from one to the other, deepening a wound, dimming an eye, tearing off an arm, opening an artery, discolouring a face, cutting short a cry, a song. Death was ready to drop. Finally, exhausted, herself dead with fatigue, she grew drowsy and rested lightly on your shoulder, where she fell asleep.

THE GENERAL (drunk with joy) : Stop, stop, it’s not time for that yet, but I feel it’ll be magnificent. The cross-belt? Good. (He looks at himself in the mirror.) Austerlitz! General! Man of war and in full regalia, behold me in my pure appearance. Nothing, no contingent trails behind me. I appear, purely and simply. If I went through wars without dying, went through sufferings without dying, if I was promoted, without dying, it was for this minute close to death.

(Suddenly he stops; he seems troubled by an idea.)

Tell me, Dove?

THE GIRL : What is it, sir?

THE GENERAL : What’s the Chief of Police been doing?

(THE GIRL shakes her head.)

Nothing? Still nothing? In short, everything slips through his fingers. And what about us, are we wasting our time?

THE GIRL (imperiously) : Not at all. And, in any case, it’s no business of ours. Continue. You were saying: for this minute close to death . . . and then?

THE GENERAL (hesitating) : . . . close to death . . . where I shall be nothing, though reflected ad infinitum in these mirrors, nothing but my image. . . . Quite right, comb your mane. Curry yourself. I require a well-groomed filly. So, in a little while, to the blare of trumpets, we shall descend–I on your back–to death and glory, for I am about to die. It is indeed a descent to the grave. . . .

THE GIRL : But, sir, you’ve been dead since yesterday.

THE GENERAL : I know . . . but a formal and picturesque descent, by unexpected stairways. . . .

THE GIRL : You are a dead general, but an eloquent one.

THE GENERAL : Because I’m dead, prating horse. What is now speaking, and so beautifully, is Example. I am now only the image of my former self. Your turn, now. Lower your head and hide your eyes, for I want to be a general in solitude. Not even for myself, but for my image, and my image for its image, and so on. In short, we’ll be among equals.

Dove, are you ready?

(THE GIRL nods.)

Come now. Put on your bay dress, horse, my fine Arab steed. (THE GENERAL slips the mock-horse over her head. Then he cracks his whip.)

We’re off!

(He bows to his image in the mirror.)

Farewell, general!

(Then he stretches out in the arm-chair with his feet on another chair and bows to the audience, holding himself rigid as a corpse. THE GIRL places herself in front of the chair and, on the spot, makes the movements of a horse in motion.)

THE GIRL : The procession has begun. . . . We’re passing through the City. . . . We’re going along the river. I’m sad. . . . The sky is overcast. The nation weeps for that splendid hero who died in battle. . . .

THE GENERAL (starting) : Dove!

THE GIRL (turning around, in tears) : Sir?

THE GENERAL : Add that I died with my boots on!

(He then resumes his pose.)

THE GIRL: My hero died with his boots on! The procession continues. Your aides-de-camp precede me. . . . Then come I, Dove, your war-horse. . . . The military band plays a funeral march. . . .

(Marching in place, THE GIRL sings Chopin’s Funeral March, which is continued by an invisible orchestra [with brasses]. Far off, machine-gun fire.)