Molière’s “L’Avare:” Doublings



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L’Avare by François Boucher (drawing) and Laurent Cars (engraving) (Photo credit: Pinterest)


  • Plautus (c. 254 – 184 BCE)
  • commedia dell’arte
  • French 17th-century misers: sources
  • Hellenic (ancient Greek) sources
  • French medieval farces and fabliaux
  • translations into English

As indicated in a previous post, Molière‘s L’Avare, The Miser, was first performed on 9 September 1668 at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal. It is a five-act play, in prose, inspired by Roman dramatist Plautus‘ (254 – 148 BCE) Aulularia, the Pot of Gold. As we have seen, it is also rooted in the commedia dell’arte as well as Italian comedies and tales, and in France’s own medieval farces and the largely scatological fabliaux.

However, Molière also drew his material from La Belle Plaideuse (1655), by François le Métel de Boisrobert, which features a father-as-usurer, and Jean Donneau de Visé‘s La Mère coquette (1665), where a father and son are in love with the same woman.[1]

L’Avare is one of Molière’s better-known comedies and it was translated into English by Thomas Shadwell (1772) and Henry Fielding, the author of Tom Jones. However, it was not a huge success in Molière’s own days. It has been speculated that Molière’s audience expected a play written in verse, the nobler alexandrine verse (12 feet or syllables), first used in the twelfth-century Roman d’Alexandre.


L’Avare (

The dramatis personæ is:

Harpagon, father to Cléante, in love with Mariane.
Cléante, Harpagon’s son, lover to Marianne.
Valère, son to Anselme, lover to Élise, and “intendant” to Harpagon
Anselme / Dom Thomas d’Alburcy, father to Valère and Mariane, and 
Master Simon, broker.
Master Jacques, cook and coachman to Harpagon.
La Flèche, valet to Cléante.
Brindavoine, and La Merluche, lackeys to Harpagon.
A Magistrate and his Clerk.
Élise, daughter to Harpagon.
Mariane, daughter to Anselme.
Frosine, an intriguing woman.
Mistress Claude, servant to Harpagon.

The scene is at Paris, in Harpagon’s house.

Act One

We will be focusing on the manner in which the young couples featured in the Miser, L’Avare, manage to overcome the obstacle to their marriage. Short of a miracle, they are condemned to do as their father’s greed dictates. All the elements of L’Avare’s plot are introduced in the first act of the play, which reflects the Græco-Roman origins of comedy and tragedy. As a five-act play, Molière’s L’Avare is a ‘grande comédie,’ not a farce (Molière wrote both), and its plot is the archetypal struggle, also called the agôn, between, on the one hand, the alazṓn of Greek comedy, or the blocking character, and, on the other hand, the eirôn, the young couple and their supporters: valets, maids, zanni. In other words, it is a traditional blondin-berne-barbon plot. The young couples will succeed in marrying.

A Comedy of Manners and A Comedy of Intrigue

  • doublings: two young couples and two fathers
  • Harpagon is the father of Élise and Cléante
  • Anselme is Valère and Mariane’s father, which we do not know until the fifth act (V. v) of the comedy

L’Avare is both a comedy of manners, a form we inherited mostly from Greek dramatist Menander, and a comédie d’intrigue, a comedy where the plot prevails. As the portrayal of a miser, L’Avare is a comedy of manners (see the full text in Wikisource and eBook #6923). Harpagon’s greed constitutes the obstacle to the marriage of Cléante (Harpagon) and Mariane as well as the marriage of Valère and Élise (Harpagon).

Cléante gambles and wins, which allows him to buy elegant clothes and court Mariane, but he does not have sufficient money to marry and must therefore go to a moneylender. Ironically, the moneylender happens to be Harpagon himself who demands no less than the now metaphorical “pound of flesh” (Shylock) as repayment. The moneylender episode—act two, scene two (II. i) [II. 2]—shows to what extent Harpagon’s greed is an obstacle to the marriage of our young couples. The plot advances in that Cléante cannot obtain a loan that might enable his marriage. Another “trick” must be devised. However, plot and manners (greed) are inextricably woven.

Obstacles to Two Marriages

  • “genre” art
  • a family tyrant

The action takes place in Harpagon’s house in Paris and can be described as genre arta depiction of ordinary people engaged in ordinary activities. Will G Moore has remarked that Molière’s characters

“[a]re concerned with everyday life; the stuff of which it was made was by tradition the doings of ordinary people in ordinary surroundings.”[2]

L’Avare is a five-act comedy, but it is written in prose, not verse, and Harpagon, our blocking character, is an enriched bourgeois. Although he does not feed his horse properly, he owns a carriage and he has servants. As depicted by François Boucher, the interior of his house is rather elegant. However, he is extremely greedy and he behaves as though he owned his children. He is a domestic tyrant. In act one, Harpagon states that he has arranged for his children to marry, but has not consulted them. Cléante will marry a “certain widow,” our tyrant has just heard of, and Élise will be “given” to Mr. Anselme, a gentleman who will not request the customary dowry, or “sans dot

Quant à ton frère, je lui destine une certaine veuve dont ce matin on m’est venu parler; et, pour toi, je te donne au seigneur Anselme. (Harpagon to Élise, [I. iv])
[As to your brother, I have thought for him of a certain widow, of whom I heard this morning; and you I shall give to Mr. Anselme. [1. 6] [eBook #6923]

Élise does not know Mr Anselme and refuses to marry him, threatening to commit suicide. As for Harpagon, he plans to marry Mariane, who loves his son (Cléante). For Harpagon, Mr Anselme is a perfect choice because Élise will marry at no cost to the miser: “sans dot.” (I. iv FR) (I. 6 EN) 

Harpagon’s Rigidity

Valère will attempt to save Élise from a marriage to a person other than himself. Valère, Harpagon’s “intendant,” begs Harpagon to free Élise. However, the objections he presents are followed by Harpagon’s “sans dot” (without a dowry). Molière’s blocking characters are inflexible or rigid. This rigidity is the feature Henri Bergson (18 October 1859 – 4 January 1941) attached to the comical or comedic in his Laughter. Valère’s objections having been rebuked by a litany of “sans dot,” he is literally speechless. He simply repeats what the Harpagon, the miser, has told him:

Lorsqu’on s’offre de prendre une fille sans dot, on ne doit point regarder plus avant. Tout est renfermé là-dedans, et sans dot tient lieu de beauté, de jeunesse, de naissance, d’honneur, de sagesse, et de probité. (Valère à Harpagon, I. v)
[When a man offers to marry a girl without a dowry, we ought to look no farther. Everything is comprised in that, and “without dowry” compensates for want of beauty, youth, birth, honour, wisdom, and probity.] (I. 10[eBook #6923]

But there is some hope. As the story goes, Valère’s father, Dom Thomas d’Alburcy, is believed to have drowned when he and his family (his wife, Valère and Mariane) were fleeing Naples. It appears, however, that Dom Thomas has survived and that he is a man of means. Valère was looking for him when he met Élise. At her request, he decided to stay near her and made himself Harpagon’s “intendant,” but someone else is looking for Valère’s father.

Mais enfin, si je puis, comme je l’espère, retrouver mes parents, nous n’aurons pas beaucoup de peine à nous le rendre favorable. J’en attends des nouvelles avec impatience, et j’en irai chercher moi-même, si elles tardent à venir. (I. i)
[However, if I can find my parents, as I fully hope I shall, they will soon be favourable to us. I am expecting news of them with great impatience; but if none comes I will go in search of them myself.] [I.1]

The curtain will then fall on an anagnorisis  (V. v) [V. 5], a recognition scene. However, when Anselme enters Harpagon’s house and hears that there is opposition to the contract he has come to sign, he tells Harpagon that he will not coerce a woman into a mariage, which frees Élise. He also remarks that he will not “lay claim to a heart which has already bestowed itself,” thereby allowing Mariane, his daughter, to marry Cléante, Harpagon’s son, rather than Harpagon.

Ce n’est pas mon dessein de me faire épouser par force, et de rien prétendre à un cœur qui se serait donné ; mais pour vos intérêts, je suis prêt à les embrasser ainsi que les miens propres. (Anselme to Harpagon [V. v])
[It is not my intention to force anybody to marry me, and to lay claim to a heart which has already bestowed itself; but as far as your interests are concerned, I am ready to espouse them as if they were my own.] (V. 5) [eBook #6923]

Anselme seems a fine gentleman whom the anagnorisis (V. v) [V. 5], the dénouement (see Dramatic Structure, Wikipedia), will identify as Valère and Mariane’s father. A greedy Harpagon has chosen Anselme as the perfect groom because Anselme would marry Élise without requesting the customary dowry, or at no cost to the miser: “sans dot.” (I. v) [I. 5]


Qu’il faut manger pour vivre, et non pas vivre pour manger. (III. i)

A Comedy of Intrigue

  • a plot or intrigue
  • a chiasmus (a mirror image in a sentence)
  • a quiproquo (a misunderstanding)
  • the doubling of the father figure (mirror image)

Harpagon’s greed is enormous, so students are taught that Molière concentrates on manners rather than the plot. He does, but in L’Avare, although the plot is mainly episodic, manners and plot (intrigue) are inextricably linked. For instance, when Harpagon is having a meal prepared to celebrate the marriage(s) that are to take place that very day, Harpagon hears Valère say that il faut manger pour vivre and not vivre pour manger, that one should eat to live and not live to eat, Harpagon so loves Valère’s witty chiasmus, that he wants these words engraved in gold and placed above his fireplace. (III. i) [III. 1] It is unlikely that Harpagon would use gold to celebrate greed, but it is true to character and comical. The meal he is planning often ends comedies and may solemnize a wedding.

Moreover, it is a quiproquo, a comical misunderstanding which, in L’Avare, leads to the anagnorisis. When Harpagon realizes his cassette has disappeared and may have been stolen, he loses his composure and accuses Valère, at the instigation of Maître Jacques. Maître Jacques resents the trust Harpagon has placed in Valère. If he could, Harpagon would have Valère drawn and quartered. Valère has not stolen Harpagon’s cassette, but he and Élise have signed a promise to marry another. Valère has ‘robbed’ Harpagon, but it is Élise he has taken, not a cassette. (V. iii & iv) [V. 3 & 4] [eBook #6923]

Anselme first steps foot on the stage as the battle rages. Given Élise’s promise, he cannot and would not marry her. However, Valère stands accused of a theft and wants to tell his story. The anagnorisis has now begun. To give himself credibility, Valère says that he is the son of Dom Thomas d’Alburcy, which Anselme hesitates to believe because he is a friend of Dom Those and, to his knowledge, all members of Dom Thomas’ family drowned as they were trying to flee Naples, which is not the case.Valère says that he was rescued by Pedro, a servant, and later adopted by the captain of the ship he and Pedro were allowed to board. He can prove his identity. As he speaks, Mariane realizes that Valère is her brother.

For their part, Mariane and her mother were also saved, but their helpers were corsaires, pirates, who enslaved them. Following ten years of enslavement, they were released and they returned to Naples where they could not find Dom Thomas d’Alburcy. They therefore picked up a small inheritance in Genoa and moved to Paris. Mariane’s mother is Valère’s  mother and Dom Thomas d’Alburcy’s wife. As he watches this scene, Dom Thomas learns that no member of his family died leaving Naples. He has just found his children and his wife. He would not stand in the way of Valère and Mariane’s marriage who wish to marry Harpagon’s children. Le sieur Anselme knows le sieur Harpagon.

Le Ciel, mes enfants, ne me redonne point à vous, pour être contraire à vos vœux. Seigneur Harpagon, vous jugez bien que le choix d’une jeune personne tombera sur le fils plutôt que sur le père. Allons, ne vous faites point dire ce qu’il n’est point nécessaire d’entendre, et consentez ainsi que moi à ce double hyménée. (V. v)

[Heaven, my dear children, has not restored you to me that I might oppose your wishes. Mr. Harpagon, you must be aware that the choice of a young girl is more likely to fall upon the son than upon the father. Come, now, do not force people to say to you what is unnecessary, and consent, as I do, to this double marriage.] [V. 5] [eBook #6923]


Molière’s L’Avare has an intrigue which resembles the intrigue of most comedies. A young couple wishes to marry, but a blocking character, or alazṓnprevents their marriage. However, Molière has doubled the young couple who are a brother and sister wishing to marry a brother and a sister, so Molière has therefore doubled the father figure which happens during the anagnorisis. As Dom Thomas d’Alburcy, Anselme is the eirôn who allows the young couples to marry.

The anagnorisis, the recognition scene, does not take place unannounced. As mentioned earlier, as he despairs,Valère tells Élise that he hopes to find his father who may still be alive. Act one (I. i) [I. 1] has prepared the reader or spectator:

Mais enfin, si je puis comme je l’espère, retrouver mes parents, nous n’aurons pas beaucoup de peine à nous le rendre favorable. (Valère à Élise, I. i)
[However, if I can find my parents, as I fully hope I shall, they will soon be favourable to us.] [I. 1] [eBook #6923]


Der Geizigue, Harpagon & La Flèche by August Wilhelm Iffland, 1810 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


In L’Avare, Molière does not use a deus ex machina. He simply introduces a second father figure who will allow the young couples to marry and will pay all costs. L’Avare‘s young couple are in fact very resourceful, but one cannot marry without money. Mariane (Dom Thomas) recoils at wishing Harpagon’s death, feelings that are reciprocated by Cléante (Harpagon).

Mon Dieu, Frosine, c’est une étrange affaire, lorsque pour être heureuse, il faut souhaiter ou attendre le trépas de quelqu’un, et la mort ne suit pas tous les projets que nous faisons. (Mariane à Frosine, III. iv)
[Oh, Frosine! What a strange state of things that, in order to be happy, we must look forward to the death of another. Yet death will not fall in with all the projects we make.] [III. 8] [eBook #6923]

Que veux-tu que j’y fasse ? Voilà où les jeunes gens sont réduits par la maudite avarice des pères ; et on s’étonne après cela que les fils souhaitent qu’ils meurent. (II. i)
[What would you have me do? It is to this that young men are reduced by the accursed avarice of their fathers; and people are astonished after that, that sons long for their death.] [II. 1] [eBook #6923]

When his father falls, accidentally, Cléante is worried:

Qu’est-ce, mon père, vous êtes-vous fait mal ? (III. ix)
[What’s the matter, father? Have you hurt yourself?] [III. 14] [eBook #6923]

Critic Northrop Frye states that “[t]he tendency of comedy is to include as many people as possible in its final society: the blocking characters are more often reconciled or converted than simply repudiated.”[3]

As for Harpagon, although he may he has been tyrannical, when Dom Thomas and the young couples leave to bring good news to Dom Thomas’ wife, Harpagon is off to see his dear cassette. His cassette, a casket, his vital to Harpagon.

Et moi, voir ma chère cassette. (I. vi)
And I to see my dear casket. [1. 6] [eBook #6923]


I have already suggested that Molière uses doubling and fusion of functions.[4] Harpagon is a miser and will remain a miser ready to sacrifice his children. It is a sad reflection on humanity but perhaps less sad than the intervention of a deus ex machina. Dom Thomas d’Alburcy is a  major member of the play’s society, the intervention of a second father figure allows the happy ending the play demands. An anagnorisis may not be as dazzling a dénouement as the intervention of a deus ex machina, the prince in Tartuffe and a godlike figure in Dom Juan, but all’s well that ends well. 

Love to everyone



Commedia dell’arte


Sources and Resources

The Miser is a Wikisource eBook (Charles Heron Wall, translator)
The Miser is an Internet Archive publication EN
The Miser is a Project Gutenberg publication [eBook #6923] EN
The Miser, Henri Fielding is an eText EN
L’Avare is a publication FR
Molière21 is a research group
Le Salon littéraire FR
The Miser is a LibriVox text publication (YouTube)
Laughter, Henri Bergson is an Internet Archive publication EN

[1] L’Avare in Maurice Rat, Œuvres complètes de Molière (Paris : Éditions Gallimard, coll. La Pléiade, 1956), p. 968.
[2] Will  G. Moore, Molière, a New Criticism (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1968 [1949], pp. 69-70.
[3] Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 [1957]), p. 165.
[4] Micheline Bourbeau-Walker, « Le Misanthrope, ou la comédie éclatée, » in David Trott & Nicole Boursier, eds. L’Âge du théâtre en France (Edmonton, Alberta: Academic Printing and Publishing, 1988 ), 53 – 63. (papers from a conference held in Toronto, May 14 – 16, 1987) ISBN 0-920980-30-9 — PQ527.A33 1988

The Miser


L’Avare by Jean Degrassi, 1955 (

© Micheline Walker
1 December 2016

Molière’s Les Femmes savantes


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LesFemmesSavantes (2)

Les Femmes savantes
(engraving by Moreau le jeune)

Our dramatis personæ is

CHRYSALE, an honest bourgeois
ARMANDE & HENRIETTE, their daughters
BÉLISE, his sister
TRISSOTIN, a wit (bel esprit)
VADIUS, a learned man
MARTINE, a kitchen-maid
JULIEN, servant to VADIUS

The scene is in Paris


  • Les Précieuses ridicules
  • The Salons
  • l’honnête homme & galanterie
  • literature

Les Femmes savantes is the last of Molière’s three grandes comédies: five acts written in Alexandrine verse. It was preceded by Tartuffe (1664) and Le Misanthrope (1666). It would be classified as a comedy of manners (mœurs).

Molière may have drawn his inspiration from a play by Calderón, or Chappuzeau’s L’Académie des femmes.[1] There is intertextuality in Molière’s Femmes savantes. However, the play originates in Molière’s own Précieuses ridicules (The Affected Ladies), a one-act play, first staged on 18 November 1659 at the Petit-Bourbon, Molière told Donneau de Visé that he wished to revisit Les Précieuses ridicules

Préciosité was a seventeenth-century movement that had a civilizing influence on both courtiers and the rapidly-growing bourgeoisie. However, it was, at times ridiculous. L’honnête homme was born in salons, but he is a descendant of Baldassare Castiliogne‘s (6 December 1478 – 2 February 1529) Il Cortegiano or The Book of the Courtier, written between 1508 and 1528.

Both men and women attended Salons (gatherings), the first of which was Madame de Rambouillet‘s Chambre bleue (the blue room), rue Saint-Honoré, where Molière was born, and the second, Madeleine de Scudéry‘s Société du samedi (Saturday Society). These are the main salons of seventeenth-century France.

Writing was the main activity of salonniers and salonnières. Language (l’éloquence) was in fact, the Grand Siècle‘s foremost achievement. Salonniers, men especially, recited their poems during gatherings. These were witty poets, hence the term bel esprit. Vincent Voiture was l’âme du rond (the soul of the circle).  In Les Femmes savantes Martine, a kitchen-maid, is fired by Philaminte because she made a grammar mistake. She should respect Vaugelas.  

The galant homme also developed in Salons. Courtship was modelled on Madeleine de Scudéry‘s Carte de Tendre, featured in Clélie, one of her novels. The map of the country of love, a French Arcadia, was engraved by Francois Chauveau. Précieuses (precious women wanted to be courted as displayed in the Carte de Tendre, a monument to galanterie, based on rather astute psychology. It represented three forms of love: reconnaissance (rougly indebtedness), inclination (attraction), and estime.

Charles Coypel (dessin) & François Joullain (gravure) (

Les Femmes savantes

(Bold letters are mine.)

Les Femmes savantes features three femmes savantes. They are Philaminte (Chrysale’s wife, her daughter Armande, and Chrysale’s sister Bélise. These women are not truly savantes.

When Clitandre talks about his love for Henriette, Bélise believes that he is using an oblique way of declaring his love for her:

Ah certes le détour est d’esprit, je l’avoue,
Ce subtil faux-fuyant mérite qu’on le loue;
Et dans tous les romans où j’ai jeté les yeux,
Je n’ai rien rencontré de plus ingénieux.
Bélise à Clitandre (I. iv, p. 9) (I. iv, Wikisource)
[Ah! truly now, the subterfuge shows excellent wit. This subtle evasion deserves praise; and in all the romances I have glanced over, I have never met with anything more ingenious.]
Bélise à Clitandre (1. 4)

Admiration for Trissotin’s poem does not reflect genuine knowledge. Our femmes savantes cannot see that Trissotin, a bel esprit, but three-times a sot (fool or idiot), has evil intentions. He wishes to marry Henriette’s Armande’s sister, not for love, but for Chrysale’s money. He is unmasked by the raisonneur, Ariste, Chrysale’s brother, who fools Trissotin into believing that Chrysale and Philaminte have lost their fortune. So, in the end, Henriette will marry Clitandre, to whom she is sexually attracted and who will be the father of her children. 

Mais vous ne seriez pas ce dont vous vous vantez,
Si ma mère n’eût eu que de ces beaux côtés;
Et bien vous prend, ma sœur, que son noble génie
N’ait pas vaqué toujours à la philosophie.
De grâce souffrez-moi par un peu de bonté
Des bassesses à qui vous devez la clarté;
Et ne supprimez point, voulant qu’on vous seconde,
Quelque petit savant qui veut venir au monde.
Henriette à Armande (I. i, p. 3)
[But you would not have been what you boast yourself to be if our mother had had only her nobler qualities; and well it is for you that her lofty genius did not always devote itself to philosophy. Pray, leave me to those littlenesses to which you owe life, and do not, by wishing me to imitate you, deny some little savant entrance into the world.]
Henriette to Armande (I. 1)

Moreover, the quarrel between Trissotin and Vadius, a knowledgeable visitor, dishonours both gentlemen. Trissotin is modelled on l’abbé Cotin, who had a vile temper, and the sarcastic Gilles Ménage is Vadius. Molière seldom depicted real persons. He used miroirs publics sc. 6. (See Critique de l’École des femmes.

Femmes_savantes_Moliere (2)

Trissotin and Vadius, Les Femmes savantes (

I should also note that despite her disdain for the flesh Armande would marry Clitandre who courted her first, but whom she rejected. When she realizes Clitandre will marry her sister Henriette, she claims him for herself on the ground of immorality on his part. She will marry him, if her mother, Philaminte, agrees .

Au changement de vœux nulle horreur ne s’égale,
Et tout cœur infidèle est un monstre en morale.
Armande à Clitandre (IV. ii, p. 52)
[Nothing can be compared to the crime of changing one’s vows, and every faithless heart is a monster of immorality.]
Armande to Clitandre (IV. 2)

Est-ce moi qui vous quitte, ou vous qui me chassez?
Clitandre à Armande (IV. II, p. 52)
Do I leave you, or do you not rather turn me away?
Armande to Clitandre (IV. 2)

Armande so loves Clitandre that she is ready to overcome her aversion for nœuds de chair and chaînes corporelles

Hé bien, Monsieur, hé bien, puisque sans m’écouter
Vos sentiments brutaux veulent se contenter;
Puisque pour vous réduire à des ardeurs fidèles,
Il faut des nœuds de chair, des chaînes corporelles;
Si ma mère le veut, je résous mon esprit
À consentir pour vous à ce dont il s’agit.
Armande à Clitandre (IV. ii, p. 53)
[Well, well! Sir, since without being convinced by what I say, your grosser feelings will be satisfied; since to reduce you to a faithful love, you must have 
carnal ties and material chains, I will, if I have my mother’s permission, bring my mind to consent to all you wish.]

Armande to Clitandre (IV. 2)

Il n’est plus temps, Madame, une autre a pris la place;
Et par un tel retour j’aurais mauvaise grâce
De maltraiter l’asile, et blesser les bontés,
Où je me suis sauvé de toutes vos fiertés.
Clitandre à Armande (IV. ii, pp. 53-54)
[It is too late; another has accepted before you and if I were to return to you, I should basely abuse the place of rest in which I sought refuge, and should wound the goodness of her to whom I fled when you disdained me.]
Clitandre to Armande (IV. 2)

Bélise also sees herself as Clitandre’s potential spouse.

… On pourrait bien lui faire
Des propositions qui pourraient mieux lui plaire:
Mais nous établissons une espèce d’amour
Qui doit être épuré comme l’astre du jour;
La substance qui pense, y peut être reçue,
Mais nous en bannissons la substance étendue.
Bélise à tous (V. iii, pp. 70-71)
[Propositions more to his taste might be made. But we are establishing a kind of love which must be as pure as the morning-star; the thinking substance is admitted, but not the material substance.]
Bélise to all (V. 3)

The Senex Iratus & the dénouement

Les Femmes savantes is a mundus inversus in that the pater familias is a mater familias. Philaminte, Chrysale’s wife, rules. Molière has chosen a woman as blocking character and she is a tyrant. The bon père de famille is not a tyrant. Women are just as capable of opposing a marriage as men are. Philaminte, Armande and Henriette’s mother, is our  alazṓn. As for their father, he is too weak to contradict his wife, or his wife, unbearable:

Non: car comme j’ai vu qu’on parlait d’autre gendre,
J’ai cru qu’il était mieux de ne m’avancer point.
Chrysale à Ariste (II. ix, p. 27)
Certes votre prudence est rare au dernier point!
N’avez-vous point de honte avec votre mollesse?
Et se peut-il qu’un homme ait assez de faiblesse
Pour laisser à sa femme un pouvoir absolu,
Et n’oser attaquer ce qu’elle a résolu?
Ariste à Chrysale (II. ix, p. 27)
[No; for as she talked of another son-in-law, I thought it was better for me to say nothing.
Chrysale to Ariste (II. 9)
Your prudence is to the last degree wonderful! Are you not ashamed of your weakness? How can a man be so poor-spirited as to let his wife have absolute power over him, and never dare to oppose anything she has resolved upon? ]
Ariste to Chrysale (II. 9)

Philaminte is apprized by Julien, a valet to Vadius, a learned gentleman who visits our learned ladies, that Trissotin wants to marry her daughter, because of the family’s wealth and that he plagiarizes (IV. iv, p. 53) (IV. 4 EN). Philaminte does not heed this warming.

Et moi, pour trancher court toute cette dispute,
Il faut qu’absolument mon désir s’exécute.
Henriette, et Monsieur seront joints de ce pas;
Je l’ai dit, je le veux, ne me répliquez pas:
Et si votre parole à Clitandre est donnée,
Offrez-lui le parti d’épouser son aînée.
Philaminte à Chrysalde (V. iii, p. 70)
[And I, to put an end to this dispute, will have my wish obeyed. (Showing TRISSOTIN) Henriette and this gentleman shall be united at once. I have said it, and I will have it so. Make no reply; and if you have given your word to Clitandre, offer him her elder sister.]
Philaminte to Chrysale (V. 3)

Philaminte has un pouvoir absolu (absolute power). So, a form of doubling (Chrysale-Ariste) is required or a comedy. The marriage that ends comedies will take place because the raisonneur, Ariste, Chrysale’s brother, brings to Philaminte and Chrysale letters indicating that they have lost their wealth. Trissotin will no longer wish to marry Henriette and Clitandre will attempt to look after Chrysale’s family.

In other words, salvation comes through a ploy. No deus ex machina is required, but “théâtre dans le théâtre” is used, an artifice. This process underscores the powerlessness of the society of the play. The alazṓn, a senex iratus, would block the marriage comedy demands, were it not for a little farce.  

Moreover, we cannot enclose Les Femmes savantes in the querelle des femmes or the woman question, as Philaminte, whom I call the blocking character, is a woman who would force sexual intercourse on her daughter. Philaminte is cruel.

Chrysale may be too docile, but Philaminte is bilious, “un vrai dragon” and a “diable” who “makes a great show of the name of philosopher.” She is an angry woman.

Mon Dieu, vous en parlez, mon frère, bien à l’aise,
Et vous ne savez pas comme le bruit me pèse.
J’aime fort le repos, la paix, et la douceur,
Et ma femme est terrible avecque son humeur.
Du nom de philosophe elle fait grand mystère,
Mais elle n’en est pas pour cela moins colère;
Et sa morale faite à mépriser le bien,
Sur l’aigreur de sa bile opère comme rien
Pour peu que l’on s’oppose à ce que veut sa tête,
On en a pour huit jours d’effroyable tempête.
Elle me fait trembler dès qu’elle prend son ton.
Je ne sais où me mettre, et c’est un vrai dragon;
Et cependant avec toute sa diablerie,
Il faut que je l’appelle, et «mon cœur», et «ma mie»
Chrysale à Ariste (II. ix, p. 28)
[Ah! it is easy, brother, for you to speak; you don’t know what a dislike I have to a row, and how I love rest and peace. My wife has a terrible disposition. She makes a great show of the name of philosopher, but she is not the less passionate on that account; and her philosophy, which makes her despise all riches, has no power over the bitterness of her anger. However little I oppose what she has taken into her head, I raise a terrible storm which lasts at least a week. She makes me tremble when she begins her outcries; I don’t know where to hide myself. She is a perfect virago; and yet, in spite of her diabolical temper, I must call her my darling and my love.]
Chrysale to Ariste (II. 9)

Molière wanted to revisit Les Précieuses ridicules, but he did so by  transferring to a woman (une contre-figure) the power of the traditional pater familias. In Les Femmes savantes, the blocking character is used as a function. In Les Femmes savantes, the absolute power normally vested in a man is vested in Philaminte. Henriette seeks her father’s permission to marry, but Armande will do as her mother wants. Both women are expressing the helplessness comedy’s young lovers normally face. Les Femmes savantes is, at times, a belittling of knowledge on the part of women. However, although the femmes savantes find sexuality rather bestial, Armande would marry Clitandre and so would Bélise. As for Philaminte, she would give Henriette to Trissotin, despite Henriette’s revulsion. So, whether a woman can be knowledgeable is not central to Les Femmes savantes. The play is yet another comedy in which young lovers overcome the blocking character’s attempt to prevent their marriage. However, there is a difference. A woman is the play’s tyrant.


Sources and Resources

[1] Molière, Œuvres complètes, II (Paris: La Pléiade) p. 193.

Love to everyone 💕

Chrysale (documents)

© Micheline Walker
26 March 2019


Les Femmes savantes, introduction


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Portrait of Molière by Pierre Mignard (ca. 1658)

I’m late again.

My doctor asked me to take one Aspirin tablet every morning, to avoid a cardiovascular accident. It was prescribed medication. However, I suffer from a very mild form of haemophilia, so I haemorrhaged. It happened during the night, when I was sound asleep. I did not notice I had bled until morning, when I saw dry blood on the bedclothes, all around my mouth, my teeth, my hands, my night gown. What a mess! 

So, I stayed put for a few days.

Les Femmes savantes

Les Femmes savantes (1672) is hilarious, but there are comments that could lead one to think that Molière was a misogynist. He wasn’t, but he featured pedants and women who opposed marriage, sexual intercourse, especially. The laws governing comedies demand a marriage, i.e. the perpetuation of life.

Molière features characters who cannot steer a middle-ground (called modération [restraint]) and threaten the marriage of comedy’s young lovers. Les Femmes savantes has affinities with Les Précieuses ridicules (1659). Magdelon and Cathos are blinded by their wish to open a salon. They cannot tell that Mascarille and Jodelet are valets to La Grange and Du Croisy, fine young men they have rejected.

Henriette’s mother, Philaminte, her sister Armande and aunt, Bélise, are blinded not so much by genuine knowledge, but by pedantry. They want Henriette to marry Trissotin (sot means fool or idiot, and tri suggests trinity [three]). As for Henriette’s father, Chrysalde, although he wishes his daughter to marry Clitandre, he does as his wife dictates. Philaminte runs their household, their ménage.

The Cast

  • our femmes savantes are Philaminte, Chrysale’s wife, Bélise and Armande
  • the young lovers are Henriette (Armande’s sister) and Clitandre
  • our pedant is Trissotin (bel esprit)
  • Chrysale is Armande and Henriette’s father
  • Ariste is Chrysale’s brother, a helper, and the raisonneur 
  • Vadius is a learned man
  • the play also features servants, Martine is the most important

The dramatis personæ will be given in my next post.

LesFemmesSavantes (2)

Les Femmes savantes
(engraving by Moreau le jeune) (

Lully — Marche royale


Les Précieuses ridicules (engraving by Moreau le jeune) (

© Micheline Walker
23 March 2019









Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, part two


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Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme by Edmond Geffroy (

Our dramatis personæ is:

Monsieur Jourdain, bourgeois.
Madame Jourdain, his wife.
Lucile, their daughter.
Nicole, maid.
Cléonte, suitor of Lucile.
Covielle, Cléonte’s valet.
Dorante, Count, suitor of Dorimène.
Dorimène, Marchioness.
Music Master.
Pupil of the Music Master.
Dancing Master.
Fencing Master.
Master of Philosophy.
Tailor’s apprentice.
Two lackeys.
Many male and female musicians, instrumentalists, dancers, cooks,
tailor’s apprentices, and others necessary for the interludes.

The Plot

  • l’ingénue (the young woman)
  • le jeune premier (the young man)
  • valets, maids, etc. (helpers)

We know the plot of the Would-be Gentleman. Monsieur Jourdain, who is attempting to elevate himself from bourgeoisie to gentilhommerie, wants his daughter to marry an aristocrat. Therefore, Monsieur Jourdain is a threat to Lucile and Cléonte, his daughter and the young man she wishes to marry, a bourgeois.

Helping Lucile, l’ingénue, is Nicole, a saucy servant. Helping Cléonte, the jeune premier, is Covielle, a valet. In some comedies, the young lovers are helpless and would never marry, were it not for the stratagems or their valets and servants. In the commedia dell’arte, zanni are very clever. They are tricksters. Covielle may not be a Brighella, but he devises the turquerie that fools our would-be gentleman, Monsieur Jourdain. Cléonte plays along.

The Maîtres

  • music
  • dance
  • fencing
  • philosophy

Monsieur Jourdain believes one can learn gentilhommerie and hires a group of maîtres. The music and dance masters are the first to arrive at the bourgeois‘ house and mention that Monsieur Jourdain’ wish to be an aristocrat, provides them with a good income. The music master says:

This is a nice source of income for us — this Monsieur Jourdain, with the visions of nobility and gallantry that he has gotten into his head. You and I should hope that everyone resembled him. (I. 1)
[Il est vrai. Nous avons trouvé ici un homme comme il nous le faut à tous deux. Ce nous est une douce rente que ce Monsieur Jourdain, avec les visions de noblesse et de galanterie qu’il est allé se mettre en tête. Et votre danse, et ma musique, auraient à souhaiter que tout le monde lui ressemblât.]  (I. i, p. 2)

However, the music master says that applause and praise do not necessarily bring money and that Monsieur Jourdain is in fact quite clever.

J’en demeure d’accord, et je les goûte comme vous. Il n’y a rien assurément qui chatouille [tickles] davantage que les applaudissements que vous dites; mais cet encens ne fait pas vivre. (I. i, p. 2)
[ I agree, and I enjoy them as you do. There is surely nothing more agreeable than the applause you speak of; but that incense does not provide a living.] (I. 1)
Il a du discernement dans sa bourse. (I. i, p. 2)
[He has discernment in his purse. His praises are in cash, and this ignorant bourgeois is worth more to us, as you see, than the educated nobleman who introduced us here.] (I. 1)

In scene two, a musician sings a new song:

I languish night and day, my suffering is extreme Since to your control your lovely eyes subjected me; If you thus treat, fair Iris, those you love, Alas, how would you treat an enemy? (I. 2)

Monsieur Jourdain finds the song a “little mournful” (lugubre) He proposes a song that has a sheep in it: “Il y a du mouton dedans.” 

I thought my Jeanneton As beautiful as sweet; I thought my Janneton Far sweeter than a sheep. Alas! Alas! She is a hundred times, A thousand times, more cruel Than tigers in the woods! (Monsieur Jourdain sings, I. 2) (I. ii, p. 4 FR)

His masters praise him, so he says that he knew “sans avoir appris la musique” (I. ii, p. 4) (“It’s without having learned music.” I. 2). It is always without his having learned, or because he does not want the lesson.

Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme by Charles Robert Leslie (R.A.), c. 1841 (Victoria and Albert Museum)


The next master is the fencing master (le maître d’armes). The fencing master is delighted with Monsieur Jourdain’s progress: You did marvelously! (II. 2); Vous faites des merveilles! (II. ii, p. 10).

As I have told you, the entire secret of fencing lies in two things: to give and not to receive; and as I demonstrated to you the other day, it is impossible for you to receive, if you know how to turn your opponent’s sword from the line of your body. This depends solely on a slight movement of the wrist, either inward or outward.
(Fencing Master to Monsieur Jourdain, II. 2)

In this way then, a man, without courage, is sure to kill his man and not be killed himself?
(Monsieur Jourdain to Fencing Master, II. 2)

I believe the image featured above shows a degree incompetence on the part of Monsieur Jourdain. One of his legs should be behind him, so he can pull himself away, and one ahead, so he can attack. That is how he will “kill his man and not be killed.”

Philosophy Master

  • morale
  • prose/verse
  • the marchioness: “Marquise, vos beaux yeux… ”

His philosophy master wants to know whether Monsieur Jourdain wishes to learn morale, among other subjects. Monsieur Jourdain enquires: “Qu’est-ce qu’elle dit cette morale?” (What does this morale say?) When the philosophy master tells him that it “teaches men to moderate their passions,” he stops the master: “No, let’s leave that. I’m as choleric as all the devils and there’s no morality that sticks, I want to be as full of anger as I want whenever I like.” (“Non, laissons cela. Je suis bilieux comme tous les diables; et il n’y a morale qui tienne, je me veux mettre en colère tout mon soûl, quand il m’en prend envie.” (II. iv, p. 14 FR ; II. 4 EN)

First, Monsieur Jourdain’s philosophy master teaches Monsieur Jourdain the difference between prose and verse. He learns that he has spoken prose his entire life and was never told. But he knew prose. He knew it without instruction.

Par ma foi, il y a plus de quarante ans que je dis de la prose, sans que j’en susse rien; et je  vous suis le plus obligé du monde, de m’avoir appris cela.
(Monsieur Jourdain au maître de philosophie, II. iv, p. 16)

[By my faith! For more than forty years I have been speaking prose without knowing anything about it, and I am much obliged to you for having taught me that.]
(Monsieur Jourdain to his philosopher master, II. 4)

Monsieur Jourdain has been mentioning a Marchioness. So he asks his maître de philosophie to teach him how to phrase: “Beautiful marchioness, your lovely eyes make me die of love. (“Marquise, vos beaux yeux me font mourir d’amour.”) Monsieur Jourdain’s philosophy master moves the words around: 

“Of love to die make me, beautiful marchioness, your beautiful eyes.”
“Your lovely eyes, of love make me, beautiful marchioness, die.”
“Die, your lovely eyes, beautiful marchioness, of love make me.”
Or else: “Me make your lovely eyes die, beautiful marchioness, of love.”
(The philosophy master, II. 4 EN; II. iv, p. 16 FR)

When asked by Monsieur Jourdain which of the above is the best tournure, phrase, the maître de philosophie replies that it would be: “Beautiful marchioness, your lovely eyes make me die of love.” (“Marquise, vos beaux yeux me font mourir d’amour.”) Monsieur Jourdain is delighted to learn that he had said it correctly without instruction. In fact, he does things without instruction and refuses instruction if the topic does not suit him: morale. However, he has learned that he phrase a compliment, without instruction.

Madame Jourdain, Lucile, Nicole (maid), and Covielle (valet)

Before the arrival of the fencing master, the maîtres quarrel. All believe that their skill is the superior skill. A tailor has also visited. Monsieur Jourdain is “decked out.” He says, however, that his shoes hurt him but he is told, peremptorily, that they don’t.

As of Act Three, the maîtres have left. The rest of the play is devoted to the lovers[1] and a possible second couple. Madame Jourdain has heard that her husband might be planning to court a marchioness: Dorimène. In fact, Dorante is courting Dorimène at Monsieur Jourdain’s expense. Dorimène has a beautiful diamond ring. He has borrowed money from Monsieur Jourdain, promising to pay his debts. Dorante takes Dorimène to Monsieur Jourdain’s house where they dine sumptuously: music and all… (at Monsieur Jourdain’s expense).

Nicole, the maid, and Madame Jourdain, our bourgeois’ “sensible” wife, make fun of Monsieur Jourdain’s craze for aristocracy… Madame Jourdain wants a faithful husband, Nicole will not have these people mess up the house. Finally, Cléonte is angry at Lucile because she ignored him when he bumped into her. Cléonte is resentful, and will not let Covielle talk him out of dépit amoureux (III. ix, p. 31 ; III. 9), until Covielle starts mentioning imperfections in Lucile. Cléonte disagrees. He loves Lucile and would die for her. A lover is as The Misanthrope‘s Éliante says in her tirade. He loves even the faults of her whom he admires. (II. iv, 711-730, pp. 30-31; II. 5)

Madame Jourdain wants Lucile to marry a bourgeois, Cléonte, not Dorante. Bourgeois have money, but Dorante is borrowing money…  Under Louis XIV, aristocrats had to be seen. So they maintained homes, carriages, etc. in Paris. They sought the privilege of seeing Louis rise and Louis go to bed: le grand lever, le petit lever, le grand coucher, le petit coucher. (See Levée [ceremony], Wiki2. org.) Few could sit on a bench, usually an ottoman, the only seats available. Moreover, Madame Jourdain will not be humiliated. George Dandin is humiliated. When she learns Lucile is marrying the Grand Turc‘s son, Madame Jourdain is alarmed, but Covielle reassures her.

All’s well that ends well. Lucile and Cléonte marry and so do Dorimène and Dorante. Monsieur Jourdain is perfectly happy as a mamamouchi. I doubt that Dorante will pay his debt. He needed money to court the Marchioness, and Monsieur Jourdain loaned him the money he required. Dorante did not intend to marry Lucile.


No one can change Monsieur Jourdain, so a mere disguise allows the young lovers, Lucile and Cléonte to marry, with Madame Jourdain’s blessing. Besides, although his masters are at times ridiculous, the questions are asked by Monsieur Jourdain and Monsieur Jourdain is the person who answers. The philosophy master is not ridiculed. In fact, Monsieur Jourdain has been generous with his masters and it appears that as a veuve, a widow, Dorimène is quite capable of looking after Dorante, who seems an impoverished gentleman.

Attending a good performance of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme will delight an audience, but one can also read Molière. There is a sense in which Molière is in the words and in the dialogues. For instance, the masters quarrel, but it is among themselves, which is revealing. Monsieur Jourdain does not participate in the quarrel. He says little more than: Doucement (softly), Tout beau (all’s well), De grâce (for pity’s sake) and Je vous en prie (I beg you), but the maître de philosophie arrives “just in time” to relieve Monsieur Jourdain :

Holà, Monsieur le philosophe, vous arrivez tout à propos avec votre philosophie. Venez un peu mettre la paix entre ces personnes-ci.
[Aha! Monsieur Philosopher, you come just in time with your philosophy. Come, make a little peace among these people.]
(Monsieur Jourdain, II. iii, p. 11; II. 3)

It’s been a long day. We now make dinner.


Sources and Resources

[1] People who are in love. In 17th century French, the word lover had no sexual connotation.


Love to everyone 💕 

Lully‘s Overture to Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme


A Collaboration, Molière and Pierre Corneille by Jean-Léon Gérôme (Getty Images)

© Micheline Walker
17 March 2019

Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, part one


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Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme by Edmond Geffroy (

Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, 1670 

  • comédie-ballet
  • prose & five acts
  • the plot: blondin-berne-barbon  
  • bourgeoisie
  • turqueries

Molière‘s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme premièred at Chambord, a Loire château, on 14 October 1670. It was performed as a divertissement du Roi, entertainment for the King.  On 23 November it was performed in Paris, at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal.

A Comédie-Ballet

Le Bourgeois gentilhomme is a five-act comédie-ballet written in prose rather than the twelve-syllable or pieds l’alexandrin, the ‘vers noble.’’ As we have seen, Dom Juan (1665) is also a comedy in five acts, a criterion for grandes comédies, but it is written in prose. So doubt lingers as to Dom Juan‘s status as a comedy. Is it or is it not a grande comédie? Doubt also lingers about L’Avare, The Miser. It could be argued that the use of prose in a five-act play is a dramatic device. Dom Juan is a serious play in need of comic relief. Incongruity and ambiquity are hallmarks of Molière’s comedies.

Molière’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme is a comédie-ballet consisting of five acts. However, as in Dom Juan, Molière uses prose rather than the “vers noble,” the twelve-syllable French alexandrine. Prose is associated with farces. As a comédie-ballet, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme is a mixed genre and perhaps best described as a genre of its own. Molière’s first comédie-ballet was Les Fâcheux, a three-act verse play by Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, dit Molière, words/lyrics, Giambattista Lulli, dit Jean-Baptiste Lully, choreography, and composer Pierre Beauchamp. It was performed in 1861 at Vaux-le-Vicomte, Nicolas Fouquet‘s castle. The Bourgeois Gentilhomme was written by Molière, its music composed Jean-Baptiste Lully. Its choreographer was Pierre Beauchamp, the sets were by Carlo Vigarani and the costumes were done by the chevalier d’Arvieux. (See Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme,

The Plot & Bourgeoisie

The Bourgeois Gentilhomme‘s plot is the usual blondin-berne-barbon (the young lover fools the old man), which is the Shakespearean “all’s well that ends well.” The young lovers are Cléonte and Lucile, Monsieur Jourdain’s daughter. Monsieur Jourdain is a blocking-character in that he is attempting to elevate himself from bourgeoisie to aristocratie and wants his daughter to marry an aristocrat. He is a domestic tyrant.

As you may recall, in 17th-century France, offices could be bought. In 1631, under Louis XIII, Molière’s father, Jean Poquelin, bought an office, “valet de chambre ordinaire et tapissier du roi” (valet of the King’s chamber and keeper of carpets and upholstery). It could have provided Molière with a comfortable living, had he not wanted to be a playwright and an actor. In other words, the sale of offices allowed members of the Third Estate to rise to prominence. Bourgeois, rich and powerful, were at court.

Monsieur Jourdain, our barbon, is not a gentilhomme; he is an enriched bourgeois attempting to become a gentilhomme. The title of Molière’s play is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, which differs little from grand seigneur méchant homme, in Dom Juan and, in The Misanthrope, the atrabilaire amoureux,[1] Alceste’s contrariness. Monsieur Jourdain could be described as a senex iratus, an alazṓn. The alazṓn, whether a miles gloriosus or a senex iratus is defined asan impostor that sees himself as greater than he actually is.” Monsieur Jourdain is not a faux dévôt. He is a social climber.

A Turquerie

Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme opposes the young lovers, Lucile and Cléonte, and Monsieur Jourdain, the alazṓn. Monsieur Jourdain wants his daughter to marry an aristocrat, but Covielle, Cléonte’s laquais, and Cléonte devise une comédie, a play within a play,[2] featuring fashionable Turks, une turquerie,[3] during which Lucile accepts to marry Cléonte, disguised as the son of the Grand Turc. Lucile realizes that the son of the Grand Turc is Cléonte in disguise, but mere appearances easily fool Monsieur Jourdain who has been made a Mamamouchi.


Sources and Resources


[1] Atrabilious (See Four Temperaments,

[2] Georges Forestier has proposed a new term: théâtre dans le théâtre. See Georges Forestier, Le Théâtre dans le Théâtre (Genève: Droz, 1996), pp. 9- 10.

[3] In 1536, an alliance was established between Francis I of France and Suleiman the Magnificent. (See Franco-Ottoman Alliance,
Montesquieu wrote his Persian Letters (Lettres persanes) in 1721.
Rameau composed his Indes galantes, an Opéra-Ballet in 1735. One of its entrées is Le Turc généreux.

Our dramatis personæ is:

Monsieur Jourdain, bourgeois.
Madame Jourdain, his wife.
Lucile, their daughter.
Nicole, maid.
Cléonte, suitor of Lucile.
Covielle, Cléonte’s valet.
Dorante, Count, suitor of Dorimène.
Dorimène, Marchioness.
Music Master.
Pupil of the Music Master.
Dancing Master.
Fencing Master.
Master of Philosophy.
Tailor’s apprentice.
Two lackeys.
Many male and female musicians, instrumentalists, dancers, cooks,
tailor’s apprentices, and others necessary for the interludes.

The scene is Monsieur Jourdain’s house in Paris.

Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme
Le Poème Harmonique

Pierre_Mignard_-_Portrait_de_Jean-Baptiste_Poquelin_dit_Molière_(1622-1673)_-_Google_Art_Project_(cropped) (2)

Portrait of Molière by Pierre Mignard (ca. 1658) (

© Micheline Walker
15 March 2019


Le Roi a fait battre tambour



Le Roi a fait battre Tambour (1750 c.)


Claire Lefilliâtre
Serge Goubiod
Marco Horvat Sylvie Moquet (viola)

Françoise Enock,
Friederike Heumann (viola da gamba)
Vincent Dumestre (cittern, baroque guitar, theorbo)


Quand le Roi a fait battre tambour (bis) When the King had the drums beat, 
Pour saluer ses dames, To greet his ladies,
La première qu’arriva The first to arrive
Lui a ravi son âme. Took his soul away.

– Marquis, dis-moi, la connais-tu ? – Marquis, tell me, do you know her?
À qui est cette dame ? Whose lady is she?
Le marquis lui a répondu : (bis) The marquis answered
– Sire roi, c’est ma femme. Sir King, she’s my wife.

– Marquis, t’es plus heureux qu’un roi (bis) – M., you are happier than a king
D’avoir femme si belle. To have so lovely a wife.
Si tu voulais l’honneur donner, If you gave me the honour,
De coucher avec elle. Of sleeping with her.

– Sir’, vous avez tout le pouvoir – Sir, you have all the power
Tout pouvoir et puissance. All power and might.
Mais si vous n’étiez pas le roi, (bis) But if you were not the king,
J’en aurais ma vengeance. I would avenge myself.

– Marquis, ne te fâche donc pas, (bis) – M., don’t get angry,
T’auras ta récompense : You’ll have your reward:
Je te ferai dans mes armées I will make you, in my armies,
Beau maréchal de France. A fine marshall of France.

– Adieu, ma mie, adieu, mon cœur, (bis) – Farewell my love, farewell my heart,
Adieu mon espérance ! Farewell my hope!
Puisqu’il faut servir le roi, Since one must the king serve,
Séparons-nous d’ensemble. Let us part.

– Le roi l’a prise par la main, (bis) – The king took her by the hand,
L’a menée dans sa chambre ; And led her to his room;
La belle en montant les degrés While climbing the steps, the lady
A voulu se défendre. Tried to defend herself.

– Marquise, ne pleurez pas tant ! (bis) – Marquise, do not cry so much!
Je vous ferai Princesse ; I’ll make you a Princess;
De tout mon or et mon argent, Of all my gold and my silver.
Vous serez la maîtresse. You will be the mistress.

– Gardez votre or ! Et votre argent ! (bis) Keep your gold and keep your silver!
N’appartient qu’à la Reine ; To the Queen alone it belongs;
J’aimerais mieux mon doux Marquis I’d rather have my gentle Marquis
Que toutes vos richesses ! Than all of your riches!

– La reine a fait faire un bouquet (bis)The Queen had a bouquet 
De belles fleurs de lyse Of pretty lilies made
Et la senteur de ce bouquet, And the scent of this bouquet,
Fit mourir marquise. The Marquise, it killed.

Le roi lui fit faire un tombeau The King had a coffin made
Tout en fer[1] de Venise Of iron from Venice 
A fait marquer tout à l’entour And had it engraved all around
« Adieu belle marquise » “Farewell beautiful marquise”[2]

[1] “fer” (iron) could be “verre” (glass). One can barely tell the difference.
[2] This song may be otherwise told and translated (see YouTube). I used and translated the Poème Harmonique‘s lyrics. In the 18th century, le roi was le roé, moi and toi were moé and toé, and avoir and pouvoir were avoér and pouvoér.


A kind reader recommended Émile Gaboriau‘s “Les Cotillons célèbres” (1861). He wrote that Gaboriau “describes in a humorous style the mistresses of Louis XIV, the Regent and Louis XV, including the Marquise de Pompadour.” It’s a lovely book and Gaboriau was very prolific.

The book is also available in English.

Love to everyone  💕


Young Country Girl Dancing by François Boucherblack, red and white chalk and stump on paper (

© Micheline Walker
9 March 2019


Molière: Page as Post




There will be more posts on Molière, but these are the ones I have written so far. They overlap and some have to be revised.

Love to everyone 💕

don-juan-tenorio.jpg_small (2)

© Micheline Walker
09 March 2019


Dom Juan, encore …


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Dom Juan by François Boucher (dessin) & Laurent Cars (gravure) (Google images)

Writing about Dom Juan has been a pleasure. In fact, I received a comment about libertinage in 17th century France.

Le Libertinage

I read René Pintard’s Le Libertinage érudit dans la première moitié du XVIIsiècle when I was writing my thesis, years ago, but I do not own a copy of this book. Wikipedia FR has an entry on the subject and the book is summarized, by GRIHL FR. But obtaining the material one requires to write a book is truly difficult.  

By virtue of his profession, a playwright and an actor, Molière is associated with  libertinage érudit. Actors were excommunicated. But libertinage érudit and libertinage are not synonyms. Molière did not lead a dissolute life.[1] However, his Tartuffe (1664) and his Dom Juan (1665) were attacked by la cabale des dévôts. He had to rewrite Tartuffe twice before the play could be performed (1669). As for his Dom Juan, although it was a great success, it closed after 17 performances and was not published until 1682, in Amsterdam. 

La Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement

The most important group of dévots, or faux-dévots, was the Compagnie du Saint-SacrementCompagnie du Saint-Sacrement, a secret society. Louis XIV himself could not protect Molière fully. Not that impiety went unpunished in Dom Juan, but that devotion is linked to religion and that there were in France genuinely devout persons as well as faux-dévots, persons feigning devotion. Feigned devotion is a powerful mask, and all the more so when it fills the needs of a potentially tyrannical, but frightened pater familias

It so happens that Orgon needs Tartuffe and is therefore easily blinded by his own needs. He sees what he wishes to see and hears what he wishes to hear. Only Orgon and his mother, Madame Pernelle, see a dévot in Tartuffe. Other members of Orgon’s family can tell that Tartuffe is a hypocrite and a rogue, but they do not have a strong-box, une cassette, containing potentially incriminating evidence. A friend of Orgon was involved in the Fronde and Orgon has his strong-box. So Orgon gives Tartuffe the cassette to breathe easier. However, Tartuffe takes it to the Prince, “our monarch,” endangering Orgon.

The villain who so long imposed upon you,
Found means, an hour ago, to see the prince,
And to accuse you (among other things)
By putting in his hands the private strong-box
Of a state-criminal, whose guilty secret,
You, failing in your duty as a subject,
(He says) have kept.
Valère to Orgon (V. 6)
Valère à Orgon (1835-40, V. vi, p. 104) FR

The prince, our monarch, “ennemi de la fraude”  (v. 1906, p. 107sees that Tartuffe is a criminal. Orgon is forgiven. (V. last scene). L’Exempt (an officer) returns the cassette to Orgon as well as the deed to his property. 

“The surprise twist ending, in which everything is set right by the unexpected benevolent intervention of the heretofore unseen King, is considered a notable modern-day example of the classical theatrical plot device Deus ex machina.” (See Tartuffe, 

The above could have been taken out of my thesis. I studied the pharmakós in six of Molière’s plays. The thesis was entitled: L’Impossible entreprise: une étude sur le pharmakós dans le théâtre de Molière. (The Impossible endeavour: a study of the pharmakós in Molière’s Theatre). In Molière’s comedies, the society of the play may be powerless, hence the use of a deus ex machina. Doublings, as in L’Avare (The Miser), are another recourse. In L’Avare, a second (real and benevolent) father surfaces. Truth be told, Tartuffe goes to prison, but he took little more than he was given. He was given the cassette by Orgon. The cassette comes back to haunt Orgon (V. i; V. 1), which makes him, to a significant extent, a scapegoat.

Feigned Devotion in Dom Juan

Feigned devotion is a mighty mask. Dom Juan fools Dom Louis, his father, and silences Dom Carlos who is ready to fight a duel that will avenge his sister, Done Elvire. There were real dévots in 17th France, but several members of the cabale des dévôts were faux-dévots. In 17th century France, one could also use casuistrywhiccould legitimize nearly all sins. Tartuffe reassures Elmire using casuistry. Moreover, there were dévots and faux-dévôts in high places. The Prince de Conti and the Sieur de Rochemont were aristocratic censeurs.

The Alazṓn: the senex iratus and the miles gloriosus

There is recurrence in Molière’s plays and intertextuality, a concept pioneered by Julia Kristeva. I should note that the alazṓn can be a senex iratus or a miles gloriosus. Plautus wrote a Miles gloriosus based on Aristophanes Alazṓn, now lost. Under the heading Alazṓn, two types of blocking character are mentioned: both the senex iratus and the miles gloriosus, the braggart soldier, can be the alazṓn, or blocking character. Dom Juan is a miles gloriosus. I updated a post. We do not see young lovers opposing a heavy father, but Dom Juan is a miles gloriosus and, therefore, an alazṓn.


  • the Baroque
  • sources
  • “pièce assez mal construite ”

I did not mention Baroque aesthetics in Dom Juan, but he has been called an homme de vent, windy. Nor did I mention sexuality, except briefly, in another post. Dom Juan would like to be an Alexandre, Alexander the Great. The word to conquer puts an emphasis on numbers. Sganarelle tells the peasant-girls that his master is an “épouseur du genre humain,” (II. iv); “the groom of the entire human race” (II.4, p. 27), but there is no eroticism in Dom Juan.

As for sources, most scholars mention Tirso de Molina’s (24 March 1579 – 12 March 1648) Burlador de Sevilla. He is considered the source in what could be described as the “Don Juan cycle,” but Molière’s source may have been Italian. Two of Molière’s contemporaries wrote a Don Juan: Dorimond (1659) and Villiers (1660).[2] Whether they influenced Molière cannot be ascertained. But if Don Juan is a legendary figure, when Molière wrote his Dom Juan, the story had circulated for several years.

Finally, Dom Juan has been considered a poorly-constructed play, une pièce “assez mal construite.”[3] It takes us from grands seigneurs to Pierrot, a peasant who does not want to lose his fiancée to Dom Juan. The play does seem poorly constructed. For instance, I have mentioned the picaresque nature of Molière’s Dom Juan. Picaresque suggests a horizontal line broken, with each encounter, by a vertical line (see Paradigms and Syntagms). It seems Dom Juan and Sganarelle are walking along, meeting artistocrats and peasants, all the way to the supernatural Statue. The trompeur trompé (deceiver deceived) plot formula is circular.

We must stop here. This is our last post on Dom Juan. I should note that Louis XIV banned secret societies in 1666. I doubt he did so to eliminate the Société du Saint-Sacrement. I suspect absolutism precluded secret societies.


Sources and Resources


[1] Earlier literary criticism used biography to explain a literary masterpiece. Biography is not irrelevant, but it is one of many referents.

[2] Maurice Rat, ed., Molière, Œuvres complètes (Paris: La Pléiade, 1956), p. 895.

[3] Maurice Rat, loc. cit.

Love to everyone 💕

Don Giovanni’s “La ci darem la mano,” encore
Samuel Ramey and Kathleen Battle with Wiener Philharmoniker conducted by Herbert von Karajan


The title page of Le festin de pierre, also known as Dom Juan, the play by Molière, published in Amsterdam in 1683. This is the first publication of the uncensored edition. (

© Micheline Walker
7 March 2019

A Struggle


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A Struggle

My last post on Molière’s Dom Juan is informative: the Russian connection. However, the text I published was replaced by various drafts. Nothing could lead me back to the text I had published. I returned the post to “private,” to no avail.

Moreover, whenever I tried to quote Molière, in French and English, my post disappeared.

One must keep humble, so I decided to stop working on it. It was published!

My main point is finding that ”Dom Juan (original spelling) is a comedy that uses the “deceiver deceived” (trompeur trompé) plot formula. Imagine a balloon and a needle. Dom Juan keeps defying heaven and earth and shows he is a mediocre human being, despite his rank, that of Grand Seigneur. By delaying the revenge, Dom Carlos shows that noblesse oblige. He is one of Done Elvire’s two brothers.

In Molière’s Dom Juan, the legendary burlador, is a méchant homme. He’s hoping his father will die as soon as possible. Dom Louis, Dom Juan’s father, believes that noblesse oblige. Aristocrats should be honnêtes hommes and never boast. According to La Rochefoucauld, un grand seigneur is an honnête homme and honnêteté precludes boasting: « L’honnête homme est celui qui ne se pique de rien» A gentleman does not boast.

For Dom Juan, his title provides liberty. It’s a mask.

I did not include the scene where Dom Juan explains his “morality:” two and two are four. If two and two are four and four and four are eight, God strikes.

Nor did I include a brief discussion of love. According to Don Juan, love is kept alive through jealousy. One loves a person who is loved. Madame de La Fayette wrote a novel in which the moment love is reciprocated, it dies. Her novel, a masterpiece of psychological novel, is entitled La Princesse de Clèves (1678). It will be discussed separately.

Molière’s Dom Juan is “the last part in Molière’s hypocrisy trilogy, which also includes The School for Wives and Tartuffe.”

Erik Satie — Gymnopédies I et II, André Derain

© Micheline Walker
4 March 2019

Dom Juan, “grand seigneur méchant homme”


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Don Giovanni by Angela Buscemi (Photo credit: Google Images)

In an earlier post on Molière‘s Dom Juan, which was first performed on 15 February 1665, I mentioned sources: Tirso de Molina‘s Trickster of Seville, the Stone Guest (1630) and the dramma giocoso. I also wrote that he was a descendant of Bergamo’s Brighella. Finally, I mentioned that Mozart had written an opera on our legendary figure: Don Giovanni (K. 527) and catalogued it as an opera buffa, a dramma giocoso. Mozart’s Don Giovanni is the most famous Don Juan. Mozart’s librettist was Lorenzo da Ponte.

In fact, I will now link Don Juan to Russian literature and music. In 1830, Russian poet Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) wrote The Stone Guest. Pushkin’s The Stone Guest was adapted as an opera by Alexander Dargomyzhsky (14 February 1813 – February 1869) as The Stone Guest, which was left incomplete. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov finished the opera which premièred in 1879. It was Alexander Dargomyzhsky‘s last opera. Rimsky-Korsakov adapted The Stone Guest a second time. The revised Stone Guest was first performed in 1907.[1] 

Dom Juan features a duel. Ironically, Pushkin was killed in a duel. He was fatally wounded and died of peritonitis two days later, on 29 January 1837.


Duel of Alexan­der Pushkin and Georges d’Anthès (Alexander Pushkin,

Un Grand Seigneur méchant homme

The full title of Mozart’s Don Giovanni is The Rake punished or Don Giovanni. The complete title of Molière’s Dom Juan is Dom Juan ou Le Festin de pierre.  The rake is an aristocrat and Sganarelle describes his master as a “grand seigneur méchant homme” (I.i , p. 4), a “great lord become an evil man.” (I.i, p. 3). (Sganarelle to Gusman). If one cannot be a misanthrope and love Célimène, a mondaine, can one be a Great Lord and an evil man? Molière’s Alceste (The Misanthrope) and his Dom Juan are incongruous characters.

Here is our dramatis personæ

DON JUAN, son of Don Louis
SGANARELLE, valet of Don Juan
DONNA ELVIRA, wife of Don Juan
GUSMAN, horseman to Elvira
DON CARLOS, brother of Elvira
DON ALONSE, brother of Elvira
DON LOUIS, father of Don Juan
CHARLOTTE, peasant-girl
MATHURINE, peasant-girl
PIERROT, peasant
LA VIOLETTE, a lackey (laquais) of Don Juan
RAGOTIN, a lackey of Don Juan
M. DIMANCHE, merchant
LA RAMÉE, swordsman (spadassin)


The Plot

The plot of Dom Juan differs from the classic “blondin berne le barbon” (the young man fools the old man). There are no young lovers opposing a senex iratus. But Dom Juan is a miles gloriosus. (See Alazṓn, He meets two peasant-girls, Mathurine and Charlotte. He fancies Mathurine, but as soon as he sees Charlotte, he has a change of heart. Dom Juan’s fickleness leads to a quiproquo (a misundertanding) that provides comic relief, but he has fooled the girls and he has abandoned a wife, Done Elvire. His behaviour is not mere fickleness, it is defiance. Done Elvire’s brothers, Dom Carlos and Dom Alonze are roaming the land looking for Dom Juan and intending vengeance. Moreover, Dom Juan has killed the Commandeur and returned from exile, infringing a code of laws.

It should be noted that Sganarelle describes Dom Juan as a pèlerin, a pilgrim, which suggests that the Grand Seigneur may be moving from place to place. The play has a picaresque flavour. The picaresque is usually associated with novels that feature rogues rather than aristocrats, and Grands Seigneurs at that.

Yet, the play consists of a series of scenes where Dom Juan encounters persons who warn him that his defiance will not go unpunished. These somewhat loosely connected scenes depict an inferior Dom Juan, courting peasant-girls, etc. who ends up feigning devotion to give himself impunity. This may seem a lame plot.

However, comedy has many formulas, one of which is the farcical trompeur trompé, the deceiver deceived. If the society of the play cannot get the better of a bombastic Dom Juan, God can and does. It may be used sparingly as a theatrical device, but Dom Juan’s dénouement is a deus ex machina, a heavenly salvation.



After the initial exchange between Gusman and Sganarelle, Sganarelle confirms Dom Juan’s suspicion that Sganarelle was speaking with Gusman, horseman to Done Elvire. The third scene of act one, is a conversation with Done Elvire and Dom Juan. Done Elvire does not convince Dom Juan that he has obligations. Marriage is a sacrament and Done Elvire is in love. Would that Dom Juan were lying:

“Why not say to me that affairs of ultimate consequence have obliged you to leave without your telling me; that you must, against your wishes, stay here for some small indefinite time, and that I have only to return from whence I came, in the assurance that you will follow my steps as soon as possible; that you burn to rejoin me, and that separated from me, you suffer what a body suffers when severed from its soul? This is how you should defend yourself, and not stutter and stammer as you do now.”
Done Elvire to Dom Juan (I.iii, p. 10)

His response is that he took her from a convent and that marrying her was sinful. His marriage was a transgression. He offended God Himself (I.iii, p. 11).


The first scenes of Act II are his encounters with Charlotte and Mathurine and a would-be husband to Charlotte, Pierrot. Pierrot has just saved Dom Juan who nearly drowned. Scene 4 is a lovely quiproquo. Both peasant-girls claim that Dom Juan will marry her, so Dom Juan walks back and forth, whispering lies to each peasant-girl.

At the end of act two, La Ramée warns Dom Juan that twelve men are looking for him. This is how he parts with the peasant girls. But he asks Sganarelle to wear his clothes:

“Twelve men on horseback are looking for you and might arrive here at any moment. I don’t know how they have followed you; but I learned of it from a peasant they had questioned. Time presses, and the sooner you leave the better.”
La Ramée to Dom Juan (II.v, p. 28)

“An urgent affair obliges me to leave; but I beg you to remember the word that I have given you, and to believe that you will hear from me before tomorrow night. As the party is not equal, I must resort to a stratagem, and deftly elude the misfortune that seeks me. Sganarelle, you shall put on my clothes [a mask], and for myself …”
Dom Juan to Charlotte, Mathurine and Sganarelle (II.v, p. 28)
Dom Juan à Charlotte, Mathurine et Sganarelle (II.v, p. 31-32) FR 


In Act III, Dom Juan meets a beggar who does not want money from him, but he is given money “out of love for humanity,” because he sees one man attacked by three. He doesn’t know the man is one of Done Elvire’s brothers.

“Take it anyway, then. I give it to you out of love for humanity. But what do I see over there? One man attacked by three? The match is too lopsided, and I cannot allow such baseness.” 
Dom Juan to the Beggar (III.ii, p. 34)
« Va, va, je te le donne pour l’amour de l’humanité, mais que vois-je là? Un homme attaqué par trois autres? La partie est trop inégale, et je ne dois pas souffrir cette lâcheté. »
Dom Juan au Pauvre (III.ii, p. 39)

This episode buys him time. They want revenge, but aristocratic rules prevail.

« Je sais la différence, mon frère, qu’un gentilhomme doit mettre entre l’un et l’autre, et la reconnaissance de l’obligation n’efface point en moi le ressentiment de l’injure : mais souffrez que je lui rende ici ce qu’il m’a prêté, que je m’acquitte sur-le-champ de la vie que je lui dois par un délai de notre vengeance, et lui laisse la liberté de jouir durant quelques jours du fruit de son bienfait. »
Dom Carlos à son frère (III.iv, p. 43)
“I know the distinction, my brother, that a gentleman always makes between the one and the other, and my recognition of the obligation does not annul in me all the resentment of the injury; but allow me to render to him here what he has loaned to me, that I acquit myself of the life that I owe him, by offering a delay in our vengeance, and leaving him the liberty to enjoy, for several hours, some fruit from his fine deed.”
Dom Carlos to his brothers (III.iv, p. 37) 

In scene four, Dom Juan asks Sganarelle to speak to the statue of the Commander. The statue lowers its head.


In Act IV, Scene three, Dom Juan speaks with Monsieur Dimanche. He owes him money. Dom Juan is a superb host, but he does not pay his debt.

In Scene four, Dom Juan’s father visits his son. Dom Juan is again very polite.

« Apprenez enfin qu’un gentilhomme qui vit mal, est un monstre dans la nature, que la vertu est le premier titre de noblesse, que je regarde bien moins au nom qu’on signe, qu’aux actions qu’on fait, et que je ferais plus d’état du fils d’un crocheteur, qui serait honnête homme, que du fils d’un monarque qui vivrait comme vous. »
Dom Louis à Dom Juan (IV.iv, pp. 55-56)
“Learn that a gentleman who lives in evil habits is a monster of nature, that virtue is the first title of nobility, and that I consider far less the name that one signs than the actions one has done, and that I would prefer to be the son of a weaver who was an honorable man, than the son of a monarch who lives as you do.”
Dom Louis to Dom Juan (IV.iv, p. 49)

After Dom Louis has spoken, Dom Juan offers him a seat. Dom Juan has not heard Dom Louis. When Dom Louis leaves and is barely out of hearing distance, Dom Juan tells him to die as soon as possible. (IV iv, p. 56) (IV.iv, p. 50.) In Scene six, Dom Juan speaks with Don Elvire very politely once again. Once again, he sees, but he does not hear. When she has left, Dom Juan tells Sganarelle that he was moved:

« Sais-tu bien que j’ai encore senti quelque peu d’émotion pour elle … »
Dom Juan à Sganarelle (IV.vii, p. 59)
“You know I think I felt a little glimmer of emotion for her, and even found something rather pleasurable in this new extravagance. Her careless clothes, languishing air and tears seemed to reawaken in me a few embers of a doused fire.”
Dom Juan to Sganarelle (IV.vii, p. 52)

In the last scene of Act IV (Scene eight), the Statue has arrived for dinner.


By Act V, Dom Juan is a faux-dévot. His father is extremely pleased, but Sganarelle knows the truth. Dom Carlos comes to avenge his sister. Dom Juan/Tartuffe repeats that the real transgression was to remove Done Elvire from a convent. (V.iii). In Scene five, a ghost arrives. Dom Juan will not repent:

“No, no, it will never be said, whatever happens, that I repented. Now, follow me.”
Dom Juan to the ghost (V.v, p. 61)
« Non, non, il ne sera pas dit, quoi qu’il arrive, que je sois capable de me repentir, allons, suis-moi. »
Dom Juan au spectre (V.v, p. 69)

In the last scene (, the statue takes Dom Juan’s hand. Thunder strikes, Dom Juan feels the fire and falls into an abyss.

Sganarelle is precious. After so many years of service, he has lost his living. So he says: « Mes gages ! mes gages! » (

« Ah! mes gages! mes gages! Voilà  par sa mort un chacun satifait : Ciel offensé, lois violées, filles séduites, familles déshonorées, parents outragés, femmes mises à mal, maries poussés à bout ; tout le monde est content : il n’y a que moi seul de malheureux! Mes gages! mes gages! mes gages! » (1683). (footnote 137)
Sganarelle (

Thunder resounds and great lightning-bolts surround Don Juan; the earth opens and takes him; and he exits in the great flames burning where he has fallen.

“Ah! My pay! My pay! Look at that, everyone satisfied with his death! Offended Heaven, violated laws, seduced daughters, dishonored families, outraged relatives, mistreated women, husbands pushed to the limit, everyone is content: no one is miserable but me, who, after so many years of service, have no other gratification than to see with my own eyes the impiety of my master chastised by the most horrible punishment in the world. My pay! My pay! My pay!”
Sganarelle (V.6, p. 62)


Dom Juan is probably the most enigmatic of Molière’s comedies. We do not see the traditional young lovers, engaged in a struggle (the agon). Dom Juan is a miles gloriosus or alazṓn, but he is not a convincing blocking character. As for the eirôn, it may be collective figure. We see a defiant and handsome aristocrat who flaunts every rule and believes he can get away with every transgression. His defiance has a metaphysical dimension. He thinks that he and God can sort everything out between themselves. From the beginning of the play, he trivializes God.

« Va, va, c’est une affaire entre le Ciel et moi, et nous la démêlerons bien ensemble, sans que tu t’en mettes en peine. »
Dom Juan à Sganarelle (I.ii, p. 7)

“That’s enough. It’s an issue between Heaven and me, and we get along just fine without you bothering yourself about it.” (I.ii, p. 7)

However, the statue leads him to a fiery abyss.

Dom Juan is un homme méchant, not a Grand Seigneur. But, as noted above, heaven strikes.


Sources and Resources

  • Dom Juan is a toutmoliè publication FR
  • Dom Juan is a digitalcommons publication EN
  • The translator, French to English, is Brett B. Bodemer (2010)

[1] Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart and Salieri, Harlow Robinson, The New York Times, 16 August 1981. Alexander Pushkin wrote a Mozart and Salieri. The common denominators are Pushkin and Mozart, not Don Juan.

Love to everyone 💕

Portrait of Francisco D’Andrade as Don Juan by Max Slevogt, 1912 (

© Micheline Walker
4 March 2019




Molière’s Dom Juan


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Don Juán, illustration by Carlos Saenz de Tejada, 1938
(Photo credit:

I’ve been writing a chapter on Molière‘s enigmatic Dom Juan (1665), the same Don Juán as Tirso de Molina‘s (24 March 1579 – 12 March 1648) Burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra and Mozart‘s Don Giovanni (1587) composed on a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte.

A Dramma giocoso

Molière’s Dom Juan does not seem a comedy. It lacks a young couple trying to marry despite a heavy father’s objections. However, it borrows elements from the Italian commedia dell’arte. Molière’s Dom Juan has in fact been labelled a dramma giocoso, a playful or comic drama, blending tragic and comical elements, which violates the rules of 17th-century French drama.

For instance, Sganarelle is a descendant of Brighella, a zanni in the Italian commedia dell’arte. He and Dom Juan are nearly always together, which makes for an incongruous relationship: Dom Juan is the master and Sganarelle, the valet. Molière’s play is a Saturnalia.

The Characters and other Elements

Our main characters are Dom Juan and his valet, Sganarelle (Mozart’s Leporello), played by Molière when the play premièred on 15 February 1665.

Dom Juan is Done Elvire’s husband. She has left a convent to marry him, but he no longer wishes to be her husband. He wants to be “free.” Done Elvire’s brothers, Dom Carlos and Dom Alonse, must avenge Done Elvire: (point d’honneurpoint of honour), but fail to do so. When Dom Carlos speaks to Done Juan (V. iii), the latter has become a faux dévot, a man who feigns devotion to serve earthly needs. It appears Molière is meditating his Tartuffe (1664).

The play also features two peasant girls, Charlotte and Mathurine, whom Dom Juan tries to “seduce.” He’s told Charlotte that he will marry her, but her fiancé, Pierrot, puts up a fight. Dom Juan has also told Mathurine that he will marry her. However, there is no successful seduction in Molière’s play, not even a kiss, except on Charlotte’s hand, that she describes as black. This scene is the “La ci darem la mano,” of Mozart’s Don Giovanni (see video below).

Molière’s play on Don Juán is singularly devoid of eroticism. His Dom Juan is compiling conquests, as does Leporello in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. However, the catalogo Dom Juan keeps is a metaphorical rather than literal catalogo. Yet, at the beginning of the play (I. i) Sganarelle tells Gusman, Done Elvire’s escort and servant, that Dom Juan is the very devil. He is a grand seigneur [lord] méchant homme, an aristocrat, but an evil man.



Don Giovanni by Angela Buscemi
 (Photo credit: Google Images)

The Plot

In fact, other than the above-mentioned events the plot of Molière’s Dom Juan consists in a series of fruitless attempts to save Dom Juan from eternal damnation. The individuals begging Dom Juan to convert are Sganarelle (1), Dom Juan’s valet, Done Elvire (2), Dom Juan’s abandoned wife, and Dom Louis (3), Dom Juan’s father.

When Sganarelle warns his master, whom he calls a pèlerin, a pilgrim, that he may be punished, he is silenced immediately, not by an angry, but verbose or quiet Dom Juan. Sganarelle falls short of words and when his master will not speak, he collapses (III. i).

Noblesse oblige

Similarly, when Dom Louis, Dom Juan’s father, bemoans the fact that aristocracy is no longer as it was, Dom Juan listens, but does not hear. When Dom Louis is finished, Dom Juan simply invites him to sit down so he can speak more comfortably (IV. iv). In 1665, the noblesse oblige of earlier years has been replaced by self-interest.

Later (IV. vi), Done Elvire implores Dom Juan to mend his ways as God is about to strike. He lets her speak, but as she is leaving, he invites her to stay overnight. It is late. Done Elvire leaves. It is as though she had not spoken a word.

Dom Juan as faux dévot

At the beginning of act V, Dom Louis returns and praises his son who now feigns devotion. Dom Louis does not notice that Dom Juan is putting on an act. Moreover, it is as a faux dévot that Dom Juan dismisses Dom Carlos. He will not live with Done Elvire as man and wife, because it is God’s will (V. iii).


However, Dom Juan has killed a Commandeur. There is a statue of the Commandeur with whom Dom Juan is to have dinner. At the appointed hour, the statue of the Commandeur takes him by the hand which causes the earth to move and engulf Dom Juan.


The above is an incomplete introduction to Molière’s Dom Juan, not to say le donjuanisme. I have left out the encounter with Francisque, a poor man, and uneven fight, &c. But this is a beginning.


Sources and Resources

Baryton Dmitri Hvorostovsky has been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. He’s being treated in the best facilities, in London, England, but these are shattering news. He has a very rich voice. I hope he soon recovers.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky died on 22 November 2017. May he rest in peace.

With kind regards to all of you. ♥ 


Don Giovanni, “La ci darem la mano”
Hvorostovsky & Fleming

© Micheline Walker
24 February 2016