The Tower and Ruy Blas, written in the 1830s by two of the most eminent French writers of their time, provide us with a fascinating insight into early Romantic drama which swept the classical verities of Racine, Marivaux and Beaumarchais from the stage and replaced them with a melange of melodrama, German Sturm und Drang and Shakespearean complexity. In the fashion of the time, both plays are set in the past.
The Tower is a riotously inaccurate retelling of a notorious royal scandal from fourteenth-century France. The text, full of unexpected developments and shocking revelations, has a twisted history of its own: written by the little-known Frederick Gaillardet, it was taken on and 'improved' by Alexandre Dumas père at a late stage, as much to add his famous name to the credits as his literary expertise to the play.
Set in seventeenth-century Spain, Victor Hugo's Ruy Blas is named after its low-born hero, forced to masquerade as an aristocrat as part of his disgraced master's revenge against the Queen. Noble in heart, Ruy Blas soon proves a champion of the poor and all but wins what he most wants in the world: the Queen herself. Hugo's most admired and, in France, most frequently staged play, it has never been performed in its original form in English.