Hernani (drama)  

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"It is not yet sixty years since the Romanticists and the Classicists first met in battle-array; and it is but little more than fifty years since Hernani sounded his trumpet, and the hollow walls of Classicism fell with a final crash. This half-century is a period of no slight importance in the history of the drama : it is one of the two epochs when the plays of France have been conspicuously and incomparably superior to the plays of any other country."--French Dramatists of the 19th Century (1881) Brander Matthews

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Hernani (Full title: Hernani, ou l'Honneur Castillan) is a drama by the French romantic author Victor Hugo.

The play opened in Paris on February 25, 1830. Today, the drama is more remembered for the demonstrations and riots which accompanied the premiere which are now called the Battle of Hernani, than it is for its own merits. In writing the play, Hugo violated the artificial rules of classicism, including the unities of time and place, in pursuit of a more naturalistic drama.



The plot is extremely convoluted. Set in a fictitious version of the Spanish court of 1519, it is based on courtly romance and intrigues.

Act I

  • In the very first scenes Hugo introduces Doña Sol, a young noblewoman of the court of the fictional Don Carlos, King of Spain. The King has come to her room to seduce her.
  • They are interrupted by the arrival of Doña Sol's true love, the bandit Hernani, and the two argue over her and are about to duel.
  • At this point, her Uncle (and fiancé) Don Ruy Gomez de Silva enters, and demands to know why both other men are in Doña Sol's private chambers.
    • Don Carlos asserts that he had come hoping to meet Ruy Gomez to discuss affairs of state, and Hernani does not reveal the King's true intent.
  • In return for the bandit's discretion, Don Carlos claims to Don Ruy that Hernani is a member of his entourage. Thus, each has given the other an honorable excuse for their presence in the quarters of Doña Sol.

So: three men; two noble and one a mysterious bandit, all in love with the same woman. What follows in the ensuing chaos of action prompted the biographer of Hugo, J.P. Houston, to write "... and a résumé [plot synopsis] will necessarily fail, as in the case of Notre-Dame de Paris, to suggest anything like the involution of its details" (Houston 1974:53).

Act II

  • In Act II, Don Carlos learns of a midnight rendezvous between Doña Sol and Hernani. He decides to interrupt it in the hope of abducting the object of his lust.
    • Hernani becomes aware of the plot and has his men surround the King's guards.

For the first time, the King (a bit thick) becomes aware of Hernani's true identity as a bandit, rather than a nobleman, and refuses a duel. Hernani, although he could charge the King with a crime, allows him to go free.


  • The action in Act III takes place at the wedding of Doña Sol to Ruy Gomez.
    • Hernani arrives in disguise, and confronts her for agreeing, however reluctantly, to marry.
    • He admits his criminal past to Ruy Gomez, and the fact that he is being pursued by the King.
  • On the King's arrival, Ruy Gomez hides Hernani and refuses to surrender him, citing laws of hospitality, which, he asserts, protect his guests, even from the King.
  • While Ruy Gomez and Don Carlos argue, Doña Sol, alone with Hernani, reveals that she plans to commit suicide before her marriage can be consummated.
  • The King, frustrated by Ruy Gomez' resistance, drops the pursuit of Hernani, and instead abducts Doña Sol.

Acts 4-5

In the end, The king pardons Hernani and gives him Doña Sol. The two are married, but as they enjoy their wedding feast, Hernani hears the distant call of the horn blown by Silva, and kills himself by drinking poison to retain his honour. Doña Sol drinks his poison as well and they die together.


Referenced in Edgar Allan Poe's short story, "The Masque of the Red Death". It is used to describe the magnitude/ elegance of Prince Prospero's masquerade.


  • Easton, Malcolm. Artists and Writers in Paris: The Bohemian Idea, 1803-1867. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1964
  • Houston, John Porter. Victor Hugo. New York: Twayne Publishers. 1974
  • Houston, John Porter (1974). Victor Hugo, Revised Edition. New York: Twayne Publishers. 1988
  • Miller, Richard. Bohemia; the Protoculture Then and Now. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1977.
  • Porter, Laurence M.. Victor Hugo. Ed. David O'Connell. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1999.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Hernani (drama)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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