SYNOPSIS ACTS I and II
In Scene 1, Fulbert discovers that Heloise has gone. Drogo informs Alberic that Abelard has put her in a nunnery to protect her from Fulbert. Fulbert has publicly announced the marriage, but Heloise has denied it, making her uncle furious. Alberic takes the opportunity to sting him with the belief that now Abelard has had his way with her he is discarding her. Tormented by Alberic, Fulbert develops the terrible intention to take away from him the part of Abelard's body that did the damage.
Scene 2 shows Abelard asleep in his room that night. Drogo opens the door to the plotters, who spread Abelard's arms and legs and emasculate him, taking everything. We hear offstage Heloise's first apprehension of her loss.
Scene 3. The next morning the three jolly monks, still celebrating vino, give their account of Abelard's fate. A washerwoman gives her opinion that Abelard got just what he deserved.
In Scene 4 Heloise visits Abelard for the first time since his emasculation, to say I still love you, now more than ever. Abelard is filled with shame and confusion, cannot bear to have her touch him, and motivated by possessiveness and a sense of having nothing left to offer her, orders her to enter a nunnery. When she has done this he says he will become a monk. Heloise cannot see how she can become the bride of Christ while the husband she loves is still alive, but finally and very reluctantly agrees.
Scene 5. Drogo rushes in asking Maria to quickly hide me. He is being pursued by the guard for his part in the plot on Abelard. With Maria's help he evades capture, but is repentant and thinks he should throw the blood money away. Maria has other ideas.
Scene 6, December 1119. Simultaneously the nunnery at Argenteuil and the monastery at St Denis. Heloise is urged by Abelard and the congregation to become the bride of Christ. She is furious, and gives herself over again to Abelard as his human bride, leaving her being open only to him. At the same time Abelard is retreating into the Latin of the profession service, deserting her, and telling her to look to Christ to be her husband. When they shear off Heloise's hair she feels they are robbing her of beauty in the same way they robbed Abelard of his manhood.
Scene 7. Hirsinde sings a haunting song without words (Vocalise) as Heloise adjusts to the role of nun with apparent calmness, her face often lit with a secret smile. Abelard continues to be furiously active: reading, writing, and teaching.
Scene 8. 1121, a street before a cathedral. His students praise Abelard's delight in teaching even though he's now an Abbot, but Alberic has provoked the townspeople to stone him.
Scene 9. In I gave myself to human loving, Abelard struggles with the knowledge that although he still loves Heloise his physical passion for her has gone. His book of theology holds all the love he can give her now. Drunk on spiritual excitement, the people surround him saying he must feel God's love now. His enemies have caught up with him at last and he must face trial. Alberic accuses Abelard of heresy, forcing him to burn his book of theology. This hurts him more deeply than his physical injury had done.
Scene 10. Heloise in her study at Le Paraclet, the nunnery Abelard has given her. She has heard of Abelard's condemnation at the heresy trial. She is reading one of his letters, in which he says he is in mortal danger. She reveals that she still has strong physical longings for him. A messenger arrives at the door with another letter, this time from the Abbot of Cluny. She realises that it contains news of Abelard's death. The story ends with memories of her feelings when they were lovers, desire for his touch, and belief in his continued existence while she is alive: you will never be dead to me, not as long as I live and see you and all we did in my mind's eye. Physical love has been changed by its intensity into something much more mysterious and timeless.
©1998 - 2000 Paul Kavanagh