(The notes you’re about to read have been written considering the characters as they’re shown and pictured in the musical theatre “Notre Dame de Paris” which opened in Paris in 1999. As I haven’t seen or read any other versions of the famous novel by Victor Hugo, my considerations may well be quite different than those derived from the personages as seen by the reader, if he has a better knowledge of the original ones.)
In this touching story, Notre-Dame de Paris, we are presented with three quite different men who love Esmeralda in three disparate ways: Phoebus de Chateaupers, the Captain of the King’s Archers; Claude Frollo, the Archdeacon of Notre-Dame, and Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bell-ringer. Well, of course there’s also Pierre Gringoire, the poet; but, though he finds himself unexpectedly married to Esmeralda out of her pity, he’s the only one who doesn’t love her; nor does she love him. So, I’ll leave him aside in this text, whose only aim is to ponder the three loves in play (mark: not the men, but their loves), try to compare and analyse them, and express my preferences.
So, first we have Phoebus. When he meets Esmeralda, he’s engaged to Fleur-de-Lys, and though he inmediately falls for the gipsy (and she corresponds him), his heart is divided between the two women, he’s “déchiré”, he wants “l’une pour toujours jusqu’à la fin des temps, et l’autre pour un temps un peu plus court”. His plea, though surely understandable by almost anyone, however doesn’t awaken our sympathies. He’s an opportunist, and his love for Esmealda is admittedly transient, a caprice. He wonders if she’s still a virgin, and his love is meant to last only until he gets her “fleur d’amour”. Nothing creditable seems to be here, and Phoebus’ only tribulation is whether he could possibly profit both women’s loves without having to renounce to any; and this appears to be quite easy, taking into account that he knows that both women love him. He actually doesn’t have much to lose.
Then we have Quasimodo. And how not to like him? He has a great spiritual beauty. He worships Esmeralda and is devoted to her. His love is totally pure, honest, clean and guiltless. He doesn‘t conceal his feelings, is ready to make a fool of himself (but he’s already a fool!), to do any sacrifices for her, offers everything he has (which isn’t much) and places himself at her feet. His love is the only one which actually cares for her, and not only for himself. He’s ready to help her and comfort her any time even if she choses not to love him. This is moving. No person who has a soul would be untouched by Quasimodo’s tenderness and purity of feeling. But, on one hand, and as Pierre says in the heartrending song Lune, this is a “détresse folle”, a folly distress, an almost insane affection. Quasimodo can’t reasonably expect that Esmeralda -nor any other woman- would correspond him. And the very desperate nature of his love makes it almost unhuman. On the other hand, for him it’s just trivial to fall in love with her: she’s beauty and desirable, while he’s just a monster, a hunchback, much “below” her in any possible accepted scale. Even though he’s ready to sacrifice “everything” for her, he doesn’t really have to sacrifice anything, because he’s a pariah and has nothing to sacrifice except a misrable and wretched life, worth “nothing”. Thus, having nothing, he also has nothing to lose.
And finally there’s Frollo’s love, allegedly the most complex of all. Frollo is an authority, a big man, one who has devoted all his life to the faith he professes, but who suddenly caughts himself red-handed having some feelings he hadn’t known before, feelings which contravene all what he had sincerely believed until then: his religious beliefs, his moral principles, everything shakes under the weigh of this unexpected love. He finds he’s a priest -supposedly strong as a rock- trapped in a man’s flesh. As a human, he loves Esmeralda, but as a serf of God he doesn’t know what to do with this carnal love, how to deal with his feelings; he’s at a loss. He cries a question that makes us empathise with him: “la désirer, fait-il de moi un criminel?” By desecrating his own nature, he becomes a being tortured by his feelings, which he can’t suppress but through cruelty. This character, however heinous, shatters me; I’m fascinated by the prohibitions that devour him, and I can’t but admire him. He’s the only one whose love implies a real sacrifice, the only one truly tormented by the passion he experiments. Definitely the one I find more credit in.