Pelléas – Character study in the first person

It’s the last night…the last night. It all must end. I played like a child around something I did not understand. I played in a dream around the traps of destiny…What woke me up all of a sudden? – Pelléas et Melisande, Act IV Scene III

My name is Pelléas. I’m 18 years old. Royalty. Sheltered and coddled. The youngest child of my mother, the queen. I’ve fallen helplessly in love with my brother’s wife, Mélisande. How did I let this go on for so long? I should have left long ago but I couldn’t! She kept me here. Not by force or by words, but by beauty and self. I didn’t know. I was in a dream. Denying my feelings and the source of the energy that fueled my actions.

But this is the end of my story, not the beginning. My story begins as all love stories do—two humans coming together and falling in love.

Before I met Mélisande this castle was like a dungeon—stifling, ugly and sad. I dreamed of a time when I was free. Free to be me, to find beauty, love and motivation. I lived a life of ease, to be sure. My mother, father and grandfather loved me and saw me as a worthy possessor of royal blood. Royalty of what? A kingdom riddled with famine and disease.

I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on Melisande. She was walking along the coastline with my mother. The sky was overcast and angry, the sea a tumult of foam, spray and waves. She took my breath away but I wouldn’t dare feel those emotions. She was the newly married wife of my dear older brother! As quickly as I felt the attraction I pushed it under the surface. Focus on the moment, distract my mind. 

No matter how hard I tried to keep them at bay, those feelings hidden deep in the depths of my gut exerted an influence. They grew and grew, overcoming my denial, driving me to action.

At first it was easy to pretend like there was nothing there. She was my brother’s wife and it was my duty to welcome her into our kingdom. As we were much closer in age than she and my brother, we spent a great deal of time together. This castle, while enormous, was lonely. Mélisande was smart, whimsical and adventurous. She had a mysticism and intrigue about her that made each moment feel like an exciting journey into something new. It was intoxicating.

Friends, we became good friends. Beautiful, she was so beautiful.

Early on, my brother started to become suspicious. “Of what?” I would say. The best liars are those who successfully lie to themselves and at that, I was an expert. For many months his suspicion grew, grew as strong and as deep as my denial.

It all came to head one stiflingly hot evening at the castle tower. I found Mélisande combing her hair, sitting on the sill of her bedroom window. Driven by attraction and desire, I flirted with her. Obstinately cajoling her to give her hand so that I could kiss it. At the height of my appeals her hair fell from the tower, its voluptuousness enveloping my body. I held on to it. Kissed it. Embraced it. I was in a trance, drunk with attraction and desire. At my deepest moment of intoxication, my brother enters. He saw it all.

While everything changed after that encounter, my denial continued. How strong it was! Even the news of Melisande’s pregnancy was experienced as only a flash of jealously and despair.  Was Melisande’s denial as strong as mine? I think so, though, she is so different than I. It seems to me as if she knows everything and nothing all at the same time. She has the wisdom and the gaze of someone who has lived two full lifetimes but acts as if she’s just a child.

My desire to leave the castle grew stronger with each day. I looked for any reason, any excuse to escape the trap of a love that I wouldn’t dare let myself feel. It was as if my burning desire for Mélisande was transformed into an equally powerful desire to leave.

The opportunity finally arrived when my ailing father recovered from illness and said in his plain and direct manner “…you have the look of someone who is not going to live long. You must travel. You must travel.”

There it was, my reason to leave. Cover for the real reason that I dared not admit even to myself.

Passion overcoming logic, I asked Mélisande to meet that evening for one last encounter by the Fountain of the Blind–our special meeting place. It was only when I arrived at the fountain’s edge that I “woke up”. My feelings for her, my desire for her, my longing to be with her overcame me, springing forth into the forefront of my mind. Desire could no longer be denied!

It’s the last night…the last night. It all must end. I played like a child around something I did not understand. I played in a dream around the traps of destiny…What woke me up all of a sudden? – Pelléas, Act IV Scene III

It wasn’t until these very last moments together that I learned Mélisande also experienced love at first sight. What was it that “woke” us up? Why did we both wait until now to admit it to each other and to ourselves? To fall in love with my brother’s wife; for her to fall in love with her husband’s brother. It’s hard to imagine a more shameful action.

For me, however, the light of truth always burned inside, even if it seemed at times only a flicker. Walking to our meeting place by the fountain, that light began to burn brighter and brighter until its existence became undeniable.  I woke up because desire overwhelmed my defenses. The knowledge that we only had one more night together, the need to get it all out before we would never see each other again.