The Death Of Tintagiles – 3rd Day of Lenaia 2020

My third meditation for Lenaia is a scene from the play The Death of Tintagiles by Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck. Maeterlinck is one of my favourite authors and has been an important representative of symbolist theatre.

When Tintagiles comes back to the castle, his sweet sister Ygraine already knows that something wrong is going to happen. The queen, hidden in some tower of the castle, is spreading her dark shadow on the places and people of the castle. The sisterhood and the old guard are trying hard to protect Tintagiles, but the young boy is kidnapped during the night and carried out of reach, behind the gate that leads to the tower.

The last scene of the play is the one I chose for today. Although the title of the play looks like the focus should be on the boy, it’s the voice of the sister Ygraine trying to reach her brother behind that door, which, in the darkness of her bottomless despair, echoes with our coolest gloom. We already know what happens at the end, for all of us. And the last words of the sister have this poignant similarity with the mix of fear and fury that human voice always has, when asking the mother of all questions: why the door and what’s behind?


I have only my lamp, Tintagiles.,. There ! There! (She aims repeated blows at the gate with her earthenware lamp which goes out and breaks the pieces falling to the ground) Oh ! … It has all grown dark ! …Tintagiles, where are you ? … Oh ! listen, listen ! . . .Can you not open from the inside ?…


No, no ; there is nothing… I cannot feel anything at all… I cannot see the light through the crack any more…


What is the matter, Tintagiles ? . . . I can scarcely hear you…


Little sister, sister Ygraine. lt is too late now…


What is it, Tintagiles ?… Where are you going ?


She is here !…0h, I am so weak. Sister Ygraine, sister Ygraine… I feel her on me !


Whom ? . . .whom ? . . .


I do not know… I cannot see… But it is too late now… She… she is taking me by the throat… Her hand is at my throat… Oh, oh, sister Ygraine, come to me ! …


Yes, yes…


It is so dark…


Struggle — fight — tear her to pieces!… Do not be afraid . . . Wait a moment ! . . . I am here . . . Tintagiles ? . . . Tintagiles ! answer me ! . . . Help ! ! !… where are you?… I will come to you . . . kiss me . . . through the door . . here — here.

TINTAGILES (very feebly)

Here… here… sister Ygraine…


I am putting my kisses on this spot here, do you understand ? Again, again !

TINTAGILES (more and more feebly)

Mine too — here… sister Ygraine ! Sister Ygraine! …Oh!

(The fall of a little body is heard behind the iron door.)


Tintagiles !… Tintagiles !… What have you done? …Give him back, give him back!… for the love of God, give him back to me!… I can hear nothing… What are you doing with him ? …You will not hurt him ?…He is only a little child… He cannot resist… Look, look!… I mean no harm… I am on my knees… Give him back to us, I beg of you… Not for my sake only, you know it well… I will do anything… I bear no ill will, you see… I implore you with clasped hands… I was wrong… I am quite resigned, you see… I have lost all I had… You should punish me some other way… There are so many things which would hurt me more… if you want to hurt me… You shall see… But this poor child has done no harm… What I said was not true… but I did not know… I know that you are very good… Surely the time for forgiveness has come ! . . . He is so young and beautiful, and he is so small!… You must see that it cannot be ! . . .He puts his little arms around your neck ; his little mouth on your mouth ; and God Himself could not say him nay… You will open the door, will you not ? … I am asking so little . . . I want him for an instant, just for an instant… I cannot remember… You will understand… I did not have time… He can get through the tiniest opening… It is not difficult … (A long inexorable silence)… Monster !… Monster !… Curse you ! Curse you ! …I spit on you !

(She sinks down and continues to sob softly, her arms outspread against the gate in the gloom.)

The Death of Tintagiles, by Maurice Maeterlinck

Translated from French by Alfred Sutro

Picture Credits: Katia Desaire 〈La peur d’un adieu〉

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