Debussy: The Box of Toys - Synopsis


This story takes place in a box of toys.

Boxes of toys are practically towns in which playthings are like human beings.

Or rather, perhaps towns are only boxes of toys in which people behave like toys.

The dolls are dancing: a Soldier saw one of them and fell in love with her, but the doll was already betrothed to a superficial, lazy, bad-tempered, puppet (or Punch).

Then the soldiers and puppets engage in a great battle, in the course of which the poor little wooden solider is grievously wounded.

Abandoned by the wretched Puppet the Doll gives shelter to the Soldier, nurses him and makes love to him. They get married, live happily and have an abundance of children.

The silly Puppet becomes a village policeman. And life goes on as ever in the Box of Toys.



The Policeman The Captain

The Mariner The Drum-Major

The Negro The English Soldier

Harlequin The Sergeant of the Town

Pierrot The Puppet General

The Shepherd

The Shepherdess


Sailors, puppets, soldiers, artillery men, dolls


TABLEAU I: The Toy-shop

Prelude: The Box Asleep


Curtain: The interior of a toy-shop, almost completely dark; through a window one sees a street-lamp burning outside; in the foreground, a large white wooden box with lid, and a phonograph; at the back, leaning against the wall, Pierrot, Harlequin, Punch and three dolls are sleeping.

One of the dolls wakes up and walks (in time with the music) towards the front of the stage. She touches a switch and light goes on. She next turns on the phonograph.


The dolls, Pierrot, Harlequin and Punch wake up.

The dolls go away and return dragging all the toys in the shop.

Pierrot, Harlequin and Punch a0 likewise.

The lid of the box opens up: a wooden soldier puts his head through the small opening and looks around curiously.

Steps of an elephant. Parade of the toys. Steps and dances.

The elephant goes away, down-in-the-mouth (or trunk?).

Harlequin’s Dance.

The English Soldier.


The Negro; the Policeman.

Dance of the Doll.

Pierrot, Harlequin, Punch and the two dolls begin a dance (round).

General dance.

The doll has just found them

The sailor (solo).

Passing in front of the box, the Doll drops a flower.... in front of the little soldier who picks it up and hugs it. But the Doll cocks a snook at him and goes off quickly to find Punch who returns towards the box.., and thumbs his nose at the Soldier: the lid is now opened wide and the angry countenance of the Captain becomes visible, as well as a drum, and a piece of curtain.

The dance continues; each time it moves near the wings, a new character joins in.

Day breaks through the window, little by little ... the toys are scared and scatter.

Pierrot, Harlequin and Punch and the three dolls go off to sleep together... the doll who switched on the light returns quickly to turn it off.


TABLEAU II: The Field of Battle

A great green plain; two trees from Nuremberg in the middle of the stage.

Curtain. Punch is sitting beside the Doll, and discoursing with her.

The doll wants to know when he’s going to marry her.

Punch laughs and embraces her more lovingly.

Noise in the wings of a troop of soldiers on the march.

Entry of the soldiers.

The Captain points out Punch to his soldiers with his sabre;

and Punch wishing to save himself crosses the stage.

The soldiers rank themselves ready for battle.

Punch returns with other punches, artillery and cannon.


Peas, i.e. cannon-balls.

The combatants retire,

Night; moon; the soldier who carried the flower on the end of his gun is sleeping between the two trees; he holds the flower to his heart.

Punch comes in stealthily.

Terrified gesture from the doll.

He takes the flower

laughs as he looks at it

puts it back on the chest of the soldier, and goes away carrying off his gun.

Punch turns his head and makes a last grimace at the soldier.

The doll comes softly towards the soldier, leans over him and nurses him.

The soldier revives gradually.

In the distance, noise of festivities and music made by puppets.


TABLEAU III: A desolate landscape; at the back, a broken down sheepfold with its fences down and a notice saying:

Sheepfold - far sale - a bargain.

The soldier, one arm in a sling, and holding the flower in the other hand is alone with the doll.

A shepherd plays a pipe in the distance.

An old tune is heard.

A shepherd passes, leading some sheep.

The doll buys two.

A gooseherd comes along next.

The doll buys two geese.

Alone on the stage with their two geese and their two sheep, the soldier and the doll give way to feelings of melancholy aroused in their hearts by the sound of the shepherds pipe.



They embrace each other...

and go off slowly, in the direction of the sheepfold. Change of scene (no curtain).

The backdrop that descends now represents a comfortable country cottage, with a streamer that says, "Twenty years later". One catches sight first of Punch dressed as a village policeman, with a belt and a badge saying "The Law".

In front of the cottage, the soldier, with a great white beard, is leaning on a strong box or chest, holding in his hand the dolls withered flower; the doll is on one side of him, considerably fatter; then, in order of height, their children.

The doll, who can no longer dance, tries to sing ...!

The children enthusiastically dance a famous polka with evident disrespect for the composer.

Everything is darkened suddenly...

Gradually the decor for Tableau I is seen again, with the

same characters.

The soldier’s head appears; he gives a military salute as the curtain falls.