N’ai-je donc tant vécu que pour cette infamie ?
Et ne suis-je blanchi dans les travaux guerriers
Que pour voir en un jour flétrir tant de lauriers ?
Don Diègue , Acte 1 , Scène 4, Le Cid
Le Cid is based on the legend of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (nicknamed ‘El Cid Campeador’), a military figure in Medieval Spain.
The original 1637 edition of the play was subtitled a tragicomedy, acknowledging that it intentionally defies the classical tragedy/comedy distinction. Even though Le Cid was an enormous popular success, it was the subject of a heated argument over the norms of dramatic practice, known as theQuerelle du Cid or The Quarrel of Le Cid. Cardinal Richelieu’s Académie Française acknowledged the play’s success, but determined that it was defective, in part because it did not respect the classical unities of time, place, and action (Unity of Time stipulated that all the action in a play must take place within a twenty-four hour time-frame; Unity of Place, that there must be only one setting for the action; and Unity of Action, that the plot must be centred around a single conflict or problem).
Accusations of immorality were leveled at the play in the form of a famous pamphlet campaign. These attacks were founded on the classical theory that the theatre was a site of moral instruction.
This “war of pamphlets” eventually influenced Richelieu to call upon the French Academy (l’Académie Française) to analyze the play. In their final conclusions, the Academy ruled that even though Corneille had attempted to remain loyal to the unity of time, “Le Cid” broke too many of the unities to be a valued piece of work.