The Albigensian Motif of the Celestial Double in The Rose And The Cross by Aleksandr Blok

Yevgeny A. Slivkin, Defense Language Institute

Research on Blok’s dramaturgy has long since veered away from the realistic interpretation of the drama The Rose and the Cross (1913) promoted by the author himself and supported by such renowned scholars as P. Medved'ev (“In the Writer’s Laboratory”, 1928), V. Zhirmunsky (“Aleksandr Blok’s drama The Rose and the Cross”, 1964) and P. Gromov (“From the History of the Creation of The Rose and the Cross”, 1961). However, as T. Westphalen writes, “The question of Albigensianism as an ideology has received only scant attention in the scholarship of the play.”

In this paper I begin by opposing the notion, still persistent in works on The Rose and the Cross, that the historical-psychological atmosphere in the play should be viewed as authentic. In a 1931 article, the Russian emigre scholar of medieval literature D. Shelud'ko first enumerated some of the historical incongruities in the play. This article was discarded from Blok scholarship due to Zhirmunsky’s and Gromov’s severe (and not entirely unreasonable) criticism; as a result, some of Shelud'ko’s interesting remarks about Blok as a student of the Middle Ages slipped from the attention of subsequent researchers. By continuing Shelud'ko’s observations, I demonstrate that not only are almost all the facts and names mentioned in The Rose and the Cross historically inconsistent with the actual chronology of events, but that even such a character as Count Archimbaut, extracted by Blok from the Provençal chivalric novel Flamenka, the main literary source of his play, could not possibly have existed in the historical period in which the poet sets his drama.

Further, I argue that the only aspect of the epoch of the Albigensian Crusade in which Blok was genuinely interested is the gnostic doctrine of the Cathars (Albigensians). In this regard, I attempt to demonstrate the significance of Blok’s remark, “The Rose and the Cross is not a historical drama.” According to my interpretation, this statement does not mean that Blok has simply draped a modern psychological drama in the external trappings of another era. Rather, through his exploration of the Cathars’ crucial mystical creed, Blok extends this belief system to become universally applicable, not tied to the particular historical period in which it originated.

Scholars who mention Catharism in connection with Blok’s drama treat it as one ideological component of the play which could be used to explain the bodily and spiritual “rectangularness” (kvadratnost') of the count’s castle dwellers (O. Liubimova), the spectral quality of Gaetan (I. Prikhod'ko), or Bertran’s consolation in death (C. Westphalen, L. Lewitter). A somewhat superficial familiarity with the Cathars’ religious doctrine causes these scholars to overlook in the motif of metaphoric doubles in the play (Bertran and Gaetan) a reflection of the central belief of Catharism: the myth of “an angelic body in Heaven” which every human being on earth possesses. J. Markale, a researcher of Catharsism, explains this concept, “The angelic soul, which is definitely a prisoner of the human body, has left its angelic body in Heaven. The angelic being that has become human is thus torn, separated. [. . . ] But the same radical Cathars imagined a third component. [. . .] There is, they maintained, a link between the body and soul of the separated angel: the spirit, which floats between Heaven and Earth, searching for the soul it recognized as its double.” In Blok’s play, as I show, the relations between Bertran, Izora and Gaetan is built in accordance with this model.

I conclude that the motif of “metaphoric doubles”, which runs through the whole trilogy of lyrical dramas written by Blok, finds its highest artistic expression in The Rose and the Cross due to the Catharistic overtone of this play. Blok’s fixation on this motif prompts him to use historical facts and realities of the epoch of the Albigensian Crusade in order to designate the conditional material world around the spiritual process of the human becoming Cathar (meaning “perfect”). Through the Cathars’ belief in “an angelic body in Heaven”, I define the place of The Rose and the Cross in Blok’s dramaturgy and the play’s connections with the poet’s other lyrical dramas in a new way.