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: Nature vs Nurture


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Æsop‘s Venus and the Cat by Arthur Rackham

Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index type 2031C
The Perry Index (#050)
Æsop’s Fables: Venus and the Cat (The Project Gutenberg [EBook #11339])
Fables d’Ésope: La Chatte et Aphrodite
The Cat and Venus (
La Fontaine: La Chatte métamorphosée en femme (II. xviii) FR (site officiel)
La Fontaine: The Cat Changed into a Woman (II. xviii) EN (site officiel)
Photo credit (image above): The Project Gutenberg [EBook #25433] p. 46

Our next play is Molière‘s Amphitryon. In Amphitryon, we have people who look alike, which leads to cuckoldry. One character is named Sosie. In French, un sosie is a “dead ringer,” a look-alike. Amphitryon is cuckolded.


Æsop’s Cat and Venus by Walter Crane

“Nature exceeds nurture.

  • anagnorisis (recognition)
  • doublings
  • the deceiver deceived, le trompeur trompé
  • deus ex machina

However, before going further, I should point out, once again, that, in Molière, people seldom change. One could not talk Argan (The Imaginary Invalid) into thinking he is perfectly healthy. In The Miser, Harpagon remains a miser. The young couples marry because Molière brings in a second father, a doubling, who recognizes his children, (an anagnorisis, or recognition scene). He pays for the weddings. In l’École des femmes (The School for Wives), Arnolphe is so afraid his wife will be unfaithful that he adopts Agnès and has her brought up so she will know as little as possible. However, Agnès’ father, Enrique, returns suddenly and unexpectedly, an anagnorisis. He and Oronte, Horace’s father, were planning for Agnès and Horace to marry. 

Molière may also use a deus ex machina, which he does in Dom Juan. But Dom Juan is also “hoisted by his own petard,” a happy ending borrowed from the farce’s plot formula. Dom Juan will not be convinced that the freedom he gives himself will cause eternal damnation, which it does. He is a deceiver deceived, le trompeur trompé.

As for Psyché, Jupiter, the king of the gods, is a deus ex machina. Cupid cannot transform Psyché into a goddess because he is a lesser god. Venus could revive Psyché but she would not allow her son to marry a mortal. That would be a mésalliance. Therefore, Jupiter transforms a mortal being into an immortal, or a goddess. In Tartuffe, Orgon’s family would be ruined if a prince did not intervene. The prince, “un prince ennemi de la fraude,” knows that Tartuffe is a criminal and, although Orgon has given Tartuffe an incriminating cassette, a forgiving prince does not use it to Orgon’s detriment. Yet, to a large extent, Orgon is Tartuffe and Tartuffe is Orgon. Consequently, Tartuffe is a pharmakós.[1]

Given his theatrical, or formulaic, happy endings, Molière’s Weltanschauung (world view) resembles Jean de La Fontaine’s. A cat may be metamorphosed into a woman, but if the metamorphosed woman hears a mouse, she will jump out of bed and pursue the mouse. Therefore, in the 17th-century debate between nature & nurture, nature wins. (See The Cat and Venus.)

However, in 17th-century France, one could buy an office and become a bourgeois. Molière’s father was quite wealthy. So, in 1631, he bought an office for his son Jean-Baptiste. Poquelin would be “valet de chambre ordinaire et tapissier du Roi” (“valet of the King’s chamber and keeper of carpets and upholstery”). (See Molière, In 1641, Molière was, briefly, a valet de chambre ordinaire et tapissier du Roi, but he loved the theater, which led to his founding l’Illustre-Théâtre, on 30 June 1643. In August 1645, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin was imprisoned for bankruptcy. His father paid most of his debts,[2] La Troupe de Molière then left for the provinces and did not return to Paris until the late 1650s. As I mentioned in an earlier post, no one knows why Molière chose to call himself Molière. He never told. In 17th-century France, one could also become an honnête homme (a gentleman).


In short, Molière was a bourgeois and an honnête homme, but in his plays, usually comedic, nature is almost as implacable as tragedy’s destiny or fate. Dénouements, the deus ex machina especially, are “theatrical,” or formulaic. For instance, Molière may use a farcical plot formula in comedies moliéristes have called grandes comédies, thereby blurring the difference between his farces and grandes comédies. We are centuries away from existentialism.

My related article is particularly useful and more complete. I am updating my La Fontaine page, because the site officiel has been modified, for the better.


Sources and Resources

[1] My PhD thesis was a study of the pharmakós in Molière. It is entitled: L’Impossible Entreprise : une étude sur le pharmakós dans le théâtre de Molière.
[2] Molière also paid debts, when he returned to Paris.
[3] I believe Château-Thierry has become La Fontaine’s site officiel. 

Love to everyone 💕

Georges Brassens sings Le Cocu

© Micheline Walker
19 September 2019
updated 21 September 2019


Reading “Psyché,” (P. S.)


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Lecture de Molière par Jean-François de Troy, vers 1728

Yesterday, I published a complete post, but an incomplete post surfaced.

It was late, so I had run out of energy, which is often the case. I now realize I could have turned the post into a private publication, but I was too tired to think about options.

I keep ‘back ups’ of my posts and used them this morning. The post should therefore be complete. I apologize to readers who could not see the entire post.

I would also like to thank Mr Bowie for looking at my post. He had become a dear cousin to Belaud, my blue cat. Belaud loved to hear about Mr Bowie. Blue cats are excellent companions and rather quiet. Belaud is a chartreux, a close relative to British Blues.

Mr Bowie is probably looking down admiringly at his human companion. Beloved cats never die fully; they just become invisible. We do not know when they visit, but they visit and we remember them forever.

I will not forget Mr Bowie.

Mille Regretz —Josquin des Prés
The Hilliard Ensemble

Image result for Belaud michelinewalker

© Micheline Walker
15 September 2019

A Reading of Molière’s “Psyché” (Part Three)


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Psyche entering Cupid’s Garden by John William Waterhouse, 1903 (

Our dramatis personæ is
Love (Cupid).
Aegiale and Phaëne, two Graces.
The King.
Aglaura (sister to Psyche).
Cidippe (sister to Psyche).
Cleomenes and Agenor, two princes, Psyche’s lovers.
Lycas, captain of the guards.
A River God
Two Cupids.


Act Four, Scene Four
(bold letters are mine)

After Cupid tells Psyche that he is the god of Love, he disappears. She was in a garden, reminiscent of the Garden of Eden. Psyche is suddenly alone on the shores of a large river experiencing the worst of pains: happiness lost. Psyché’s former happiness is conditioned by memory. Happiness lost does not differ much from Paradise Lost. It is greater than happiness when it is experienced.

1555 J’aimais un Dieu, j’en étais adorée,/ Mon bonheur redoublait de moment en moment, Et je me vois seule, éplorée, Au milieu d’un désert, où pour accablement, Et confuse, et désespérée,/ 1560 Je sens croître l’amour, quand j’ai perdu l’amant.
Psyché (IV. iv, p. 57)
[I loved a god; was beloved by him; my happiness redoubled at every moment; and now behold me, alone, bewailing, in the midst of a desert, where, to increase my pain, when shame and despair are upon me, I feel my love increasing now that I have lost the lover.]
Psyche (IV. 4)

In Psyché, happiness lost is also conditioned by guilt. Asking Cupid to reveal his identity was a transgression. Cupid had changed his appearance so he would not seem a god to Psyche:

Aussi, ne veux-je pas qu’on puisse me connaître,/ Je ne veux à Psyché découvrir que mon cœur,/ 940 Rien que les beaux transports de cette vive ardeur/ Que ses doux charmes y font naître; /Et pour en exprimer l’amoureuse langueur, / Et cacher ce que je puis être /Aux yeux qui m’imposent des lois,/ 945 J’ai pris la forme que tu vois.
l’Amour au Zéphire (III. i, p. 37)
[‘Tis because I do not wish to be known to Psyche. ‘Tis my heart, my heart alone, I wish to unfold; nothing more than the sweet raptures of this keen passion, which her charms excite within it. To express its gentle pining, and to hide what may be from those eyes that impose on me their will, I have assumed this form which thou seest.]
Cupid to Zephyr (III. 1)

Psyche feels so forlorn that were it not for the River God, she would gladly throw herself into the river. She cannot “sully” his stream, says the River God, nor offend “le Ciel,” Heaven. Moreover, the River God tells her that happiness lost is at times regained.

The River God tells Psyché to flee. He sees Venus approaching, whose anger is much greater now that her son Cupid, a lesser god and a mere child, did not kill Psyché, but fell in love with her.

1584 Ton trépas souillerait mes ondes,/ 1585 Psyché, le Ciel te le défend, Et peut-être qu’après des douleurs si profondes/ Un autre sort t’attend./ Fuis plutôt de Vénus l’implacable colère:/ Je la vois qui te cherche et qui te veut punir,/ 1590 L’amour du fils a fait la haine de la mère,/ Fuis, je saurai la retenir.
le Dieu du fleuve (IV. iv, p. 58)
[Thy death would sully my stream, Psyche. Heaven forbids it. Perhaps after such heavy sorrows, another fate awaits thee. Rather flee Venus’ implacable anger. I see her seeking thee in order to punish thee; the son’s love has excited the mother’s hatred. Flee! I will detain her.]
The River God (IV. 4)

Psyché par Ed. Héd.

Psyché et le Dieu du fleuve par Edmond Hédouin (théâ

But Psyché does not fear Venus. She has the beauty of a goddess, but such was not her wish. Her beauty was a gift to the king, her father. However, a mortal cannot be divinely beautiful. It appears gods themselves usurped Venus’ supremacy, endangering Psyche. As for Cupid, he is a lesser God than Venus who is a lesser god than Jupiter. When Psyche nearly dies, he is powerless. There is a hierarchy among gods, so Jupiter, the greater god, will therefore be a deus ex machina, in a play that owes much of its immense success to stage machinery. Psyché is a pièce à machines.

J’attends ses fureurs vengeresses./ Qu’auront-elles pour moi qui ne me soit trop doux?/ Qui cherche le trépas, ne craint Dieux, ni Déesses,/ 1595 Et peut braver tout leur courroux.
Psyche (IV. iv, p. 58)
[I shall await her avenging wrath! What can it have that will not be too pleasant for me? Whoever seeks death dreads no gods or goddesses, but can defy all their darts.]
Psyche (IV. 4)

Enters Venus.

Orgueilleuse Psyché, vous m’osez donc attendre,/ Après m’avoir sur terre enlevé mes honneurs,/ Après que vos traits suborneurs/ Ont reçu les encens qu’aux miens seuls on doit rendre?/ 1600 J’ai vu mes temples désertés,/ J’ai vu tous les mortels séduits par vos beautés/ Idolâtrer en vous la beauté souveraine,/ Vous offrir des respects jusqu’alors inconnus,/ Et ne se mettre pas en peine/ 1605 S’il était une autre Vénus: Et je vous vois encor l’audace/ De n’en pas redouter les justes châtiments,/ Et de me regarder en face,/ Comme si c’était peu que mes ressentiments.
Vénus à Psyché (IV. v, p. 59)
[Insolent Psyche, you dare then to await my arrival after you have deprived me on earth of my honours, after your seducing charms have received the incense which is due to mine alone? I have seen my shrines forsaken, I have seen all the world, enslaved by your charms, idolise you as the sovereign beauty, offer to you a homage until then unknown, and not stay to consider whether there was another Venus at all; notwithstanding this, I see you bold enough not to dread the punishment your crime justly deserves, and to meet my gaze as if my resentment were but little matter.]
Venus to Psyche (IV. 5)


Reading from Molière by Jean-François de Troy (Paris 1679 – Rome 1752) c. 1728 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Scène première (First Scene)

In Act Five, Scene One, Psyche has been enslaved by Venus, but accepts her plight because she asked Cupid to reveal his identity. Her sister had instilled fear in her and fear is powerful. Yet, if she learned that Cupid’s anger had not relented, nothing could surpass grief. Would that she could see him and know that he feels pity for her.

Si son courroux durait encore,/ Jamais aucun malheur n’approcherait du mien:/ Mais s’il avait pitié d’une âme qui l’adore,/ Quoi qu’il fallût souffrir, je ne souffrirais rien./ Oui, Destins, s’il calmait cette juste colère,/ 1695 Tous mes malheurs seraient finis:/ Pour me rendre insensible aux fureurs de la mère,/ Il ne faut qu’un regard du fils.
Psyche (V. i, p. 62)
[If his anger lasted still, no anguish could equal mine; but if he felt any pity for a soul that worships him, however great the sufferings to which I am condemned, I should feel them not. Yea, thou mighty destiny, if he would but stay his wrath, all my sorrows would be at an end. Ah! a mere look from the son suffices to make me insensible to the mother’s fury.]
Psyche (V. 1)

Act Five, Scene Two

In Act Five, Scene Two, Psyche sees her former lovers: Cleomenes and Agenor. They are ghosts. But they nevertheless live in a forest, where they are alive because love caused their death. But Cupid (l’Amour) is punishing Psyche’s sisters.

Ces ministres ailés de son juste courroux,/ Sous couleur de les rendre encore auprès de vous,/ 1785 Ont plongé l’une et l’autre au fond d’un précipice,/ Où le spectacle affreux de leurs corps déchirés/ N’étale que le moindre et le premier supplice/ De ces conseils dont l’artifice/ Fait les maux dont vous soupirez.
Agénor à Psyché (V. ii, p. 65)
[Those winged ministers of his just wrath, under pretence of restoring them again to you, cast them both to the bottom of a precipice, where the hideous spectacle of their mangled bodies displays but the first and least torture for that stratagem the cunning of which was the cause of the ills you now endure.]
Agénor to Psyche (V. 2)

Act Five, Scene Three

Psyche feels sorry for her lovers and her sisters. But her suffering is about to end. She has been sent to the underworld to fetch beauty for Venus and and crossed the river Styx with Charon. Proserpine has put it in a golden box.

Psyche thinks punitive tasks have tarnished her beauty. So, she opens the box to take a little beauty, but the vapours the box contains make her faint.

Psyche and Charon by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, 1883 (
Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1874 (Tate, Britain)


Psyche opening the Golden Box by John William Waterhouse (

Act Five, Scene Four

Amour flies down and fears Psyche may be dying. His mother arrives but will not revive Psyche unless Cupid marry a spouse Vénus has chosen. This he will not accept.

Act Five, Scene Five

Vénus refuses to save Psyché, which Cupid cannot do. He is a god, but a lesser god.

Votre Psyché : son âme va partir,/ Voyez, et si la vôtre en est encore éprise,/ Recevez son dernier soupir./ Menacez, bravez-moi, cependant qu’elle expire:1925 Tant d’insolence vous sied bien, /Et je dois endurer, quoi qu’il vous plaise dire, /Moi qui sans vos traits ne puis rien.
Vénus à l’Amour (V. v, p. 69)
[See! her soul is even now departing; and if thine is still smitten, receive now her last breath. Threaten and brave me if thou wilt, but she must die. So much insolence suits thee well; and I must needs bow to all it pleases thee to say, I, who can do nothing without thy darts.]
Venus to Cupid (V. 5)

Rendez-moi ma Psyché, rendez-lui tous ses charmes,/ Rendez-la, Déesse, à mes larmes/ Rendez à mon amour, rendez à ma douleur/ Le charme de mes yeux, et le choix de mon cœur.
l’Amour à Vénus (V. v, p. 70)
[Give me back my Psyche, restore to her all her charms, surrender her to my tears, to my love, to my grief; for she is my eyes’ delight, my heart’s happiness.]
Cupid to Venus (V. 5)

Venus is not altogether insensitive.

Cette douleur n’est pas commune,/ Qui force un immortel à souhaiter la mort.
Vénus à l’Amour (V. v, p. 70)
[This grief is not common that drives an immortal to long for death.]
Venus to Cupid (V. 5)

However, in Scene 6 (Scène dernière) Venus will object to her son marrying a mortal.

Enters Jupiter to the sound of thunder.

Act Five, Scene Six

Jupiter has descended. Cupid tells him that he will no longer be the god of Love unless Psyche is returned to him. Jupiter asks Venus to be less severe.

Ma fille, sois-lui moins sévère.
Tu tiens de sa Psyché le destin en tes mains[.]
Jupiter à Venus (V. vi, p. 72)
My daughter, show thyself less severe towards him; his Psyche’s destiny is even now in thy hands.
Jupiter to Venus (V. 6)

She forgives her son but will not allow him to be married to a mere mortal.

Je pardonne à ce fils rebelle; Mais voulez-vous qu’il me soit reproché/ Qu’une misérable mortelle,/ 2010 L’objet de mon courroux, l’orgueilleuse Psyché,/ Sous ombre qu’elle est un peu belle,/ Par un hymen dont je rougis,/ Souille mon alliance, et le lit de mon fils?
Venus to Jupiter (V. vi, p. 72)
I forgive this rebel son. Yet would you have me submit to the reproach that a contemptible mortal, the object of my wrath, proud Psyche, because she displays some charms, has defiled my alliance and my son’s couch?
Venus to Jupiter (V. 6)

Jupiter therefore transforms Psyche into a goddess. She will be immortal.

Hé bien, je la fais immortelle,/ 2015 Afin d’y rendre tout égal.
Jupiter à tous (V. v, p. 72)
Well, then, I make her immortal, so that all shall be equal.
Jupiter to all (V. 6)


Cupid, a god, will be married to Psyche, a goddess. Psyche’s divine beauty clashed with her mortal self and belonged to Venus. Psyche’s beauty remains divine, but eternally so, as befits a goddess. In GrecoRoman mythology, such a metamorphosis is acceptable. The Tale of Cupid and Psyche is Roman. It is the fourth of seven tales or “digressions,” told in Apuleius’ Golden Ass. All feature a metamorphosis. Molière modified the Tale of Cupid and Psyche. For instance, she is not asked to take a lamp in order to tell whether Cupid is a serpent, accidentally dropping hot oil on Cupid and awakening him.

In Psyche, intrigue dominates. Yet, jealousy is a central theme in Molière but it is linked to a fear of cuckoldry. Molière’s Psyché has jealous sisters, as does Cinderella. But she does not have a fairy godmother and, although all admire her, her beauty is a curse. Mere mortals are not divinely beautiful. So Jupiter, a deus ex machina, solves this problem. He gives immortality to Psyche, to Venus’ delight and Cupid and Psyche’s everlasting happiness. Our dénouement is an apotheosis.


Sources and Resources

  1. Psyché is a publication
  2. Psyché is Gutenberg’s [EBook # 7444]
  3. Our translator is Charles Heron Wall


Love to everyone 💕

Jean-Baptiste Lully — Psyché “Chantons les plaisirs charmants”

Image result for canova psyche and cupid

Psyche revived by Cupid’s Kiss by Antonio Canova (Louvre)

© Micheline Walker
14 September 2019

A Reading of Molière’s “Psyché” (Part Two)


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Our dramatis personæ is
Love (Cupid).
Aegiale and Phaëne, two Graces.
The King.
Aglaura (sister to Psyche).
Cidippe (sister to Psyche).
Cleomenes and Agenor, two princes, Psyche’s lovers.
Lycas, captain of the guards.
A River God
Two Cupids.


Act Two, Scene One

Psyche is to be taken to the top of a hill where a monster-serpent will kill her. But in Act Two, Scene One, she is with her father, the king, who very much regrets losing a daughter. He and Psyche know that one cannot escape one’s fate or destiny. Once the Oracle has spoken, Psyche’s fate is sealed. However, she says that she does not deserve to await a monster-serpent. She wishes her father could oppose the oracle’s requests. We sense resistance.

Je ne mérite pas cette grande douleur: / Opposez, opposez un peu de résistance /Aux droits qu’elle prend sur un cœur 605 /Dont mille événements ont marqué la puissance./ Quoi? faut-il que pour moi vous renonciez, Seigneur,/ À cette royale constance,/ Dont vous avez fait voir dans les coups du malheur/ Une fameuse expérience?
Psyché à son père (II. ii, p. 26)
[I deserve not this violent grief. Seek, I pray, to resist the claims it asserts over your heart, whose might a thousand events have marked. What! for me, my Lord, you must abandon that kingly firmness of which, under the blows of misfortune, you have shown such perfect proofs?]
Psyche to her father (II. 1)

In Scene One, the king bemoans losing what was a gift to him. Psyche’s beauty was a gift from kind gods. Psyche’s beauty is divine, which is an affront to Venus.

Pour m’ôter leur présent, leur fallait-il attendre/ Que j’en eusse fait tout mon bien? 700 /Ou plutôt, s’ils avaient dessein de le reprendre, /N’eût-il pas été mieux de ne me donner rien?
Le roi à Psyché (II. i, p. 28)
[To withdraw their gift, have they not waited till I had made it my all? Rather, if it was their purpose to remove it, had it not been better to give me nothing?]
The king to Psyche (II. 1)

The gods are fickle. Not that Jansenism (predestination) exerted much influence on Molière, but that Molière always described his century, “les mœurs de son siècle.”  Moral issues divided 17th-century France. Tartuffe (1664) is a casuiste, a 17th-century heresy. Yet, given the role played by destiny, one could suggest a link between Jansenism and Psyche’s demise.

As we know, Psyche will not be the victim of a venomous monster-serpent, which would have pleased a jealous Venus, Psyche’s jealous sisters, and, perhaps, a jealous Cupid, Venus’ son is a god. I noted an element of magic(al) realism in Molière’s Psyché. Gods and mortals share the stage. They also share such attributes as a jealous heart. At one level, her beauty, Psyche is divine, which is not altogether the case. She is also a mortal. In fact, not only is Venus jealous, but so is Cupid. In Psyché, the gods of mythology share faults with mere mortals.

Psyche climbs to the top of the hill, asking her jealous sisters, whose jealousy she fails to notice, to look after the king, their grieving father. As for her lovers, Cléomène and Agénor, they also follow her and believe they can kill the serpent.

Act Two, Scene Five

They can’t. An unconscious Psyche is carried away by two Zephirs before their very eyes. Cupid was to kill Psyche, but saved her. However, all is not well. Psyche awakens in a castle quickly built by Vulcan (Vulcain), the god of fire. The Oracle could be a jealous Cupid:

Allez mourir, rivaux d’un dieu jaloux, / Dont vous méritez le courroux,/ Pour avoir eu le cœur sensible aux mêmes charmes./ Et toi, forge, Vulcain, mille brillants attraits/ Pour orner un palais,/ Où l’amour de Psyché veut essuyer les larmes,/ 905 Et lui rendre les armes.
Cupid (II. v, pp. 35-36)
[Die, then, rivals of a jealous god, whose wrath you have deserved, since your heart was sensible to the same charms. And thou, Vulcan, fashion a thousand brilliant ornaments to adorn the palace where Love will dry Psyche’s tears, and yield himself her slave.]
Cupid (II. 5)


Act Three, Scene One

In Act Three, Scene One, Cupid, the venomous-serpent, confides to Zephir (Molière’s role) that he fears Venus, his mother. Venus wanted Psyche killed by her son Cupid, the god of Love, but Cupid did not eliminate his mother’s rival. There is a hierarchy among gods and goddesses, and they may be jealous.

Cupid, a god, tells Zephir that he wonders what his mother will do. Moreover, Cupid has also changed his appearance. He now seems an adult.

970 Ce changement sans doute irritera ma mère.
[This change will, no doubt, vex my mother.]
Cupid to Zephir (II. i, p. 38 ; II, 1)

Act Three, Scene Two

As Act Three, Scene One is closing, Zephir asks Cupid to end Psyche’s “martyrdom.” What is Psyche to think? She may be divinely beautiful, but she is a human being who still awaits her death:

Si le Ciel veut ma mort, si ma vie est un crime,/ De ce peu qui m’en reste ose enfin t’emparer,/ Je suis lasse de murmurer/ Contre un châtiment légitime, 1030/ Je suis lasse de soupirer:/ Viens, que j’achève d’expirer.
Psyché (II. ii, p. 40)
[If heaven wills my death, if my life be a crime, dare at length to seize whatever little remains of it; I am tired of murmuring against a lawful penalty; I am weary of sighs; come, that I may end the death I am dying.]
Psyche (II. 2)

Act Three, Scene Three

In Scene Three, Love (Cupid) appears and says that he is the monster-serpent. A serpent tempted Eve.

C’est l’amour qui pour voir mes feux récompensés/ Lui-même a dicté cet oracle,/ Par qui vos beaux jours menacés/ D’une foule d’amants se sont débarrassés,/ Et qui m’a délivré de l’éternel obstacle/ 1140 De tant de soupirs empressés,/ Qui ne méritaient pas de vous être adressés.
Amour à Psyché (III. iii. p. 43)
[It was Love who, to reward my passion, dictated this oracle, by which your fair days that were threatened have been released from a throng of lovers; and which has freed me from the lasting obstacle of so many ardent sighs that were unworthy of being addressed to you.]
Love to Psyche (III. 2)

But Cupid would prefer not to tell his identity.

Ne me demandez point quelle est cette province,/ Ni le nom de son prince,/ Vous le saurez quand il en sera temps: / 1145 Je veux vous acquérir, mais c’est par mes services,/ Par des soins assidus, et par des vœux constants,/ Et bien que souverain dans cet heureux séjour,/ Je ne vous veux, Psyché, devoir qu’à mon amour./ Par les amoureux sacrifices/ De tout ce que je suis,/ De tout ce que je puis,/ 1150 Sans que l’éclat du rang pour moi vous sollicite,/ Sans que de mon pouvoir je me fasse un mérite,/Et bien que souverain dans cet heureux séjour,/ Je ne vous veux, Psyché, devoir qu’à mon amour.
Amour à Psyché (III. iii, p. 43)
[Ask not of me what this region be, nor the name of its ruler; you shall know it in time. My object is to win you; but I wish to do so by my services, my assiduous care, my constant vows, by a lover’s sacrifice of all that I am, of all my power can effect. The splendour of my rank must not solicit you for me, neither must I make a merit of my power; and though sovereign lord of this blissful realm, I wish to owe you, Psyche, to nothing but my love.]
Cupid to Psyche (III. 3)

Cupid wants to be loved for what he is. Rank is secondary and might prevent him from knowing that he is Psyche’s beloved. I hear Alceste telling Philinte that he wants to be certain that praise addressed to him is genuine, that he is “singled out.”[1]  


Act Four, Scene One

Although she is very happy, Psyche would like to relieve her father and her sisters. They do not know that she was not killed. Zephyr is asked to fetch Psyche’s sisters.

N’en parlons plus, ma sœur, nous en mourrions d’ennui,/ Songeons plutôt à la vengeance,/ Et trouvons le moyen de rompre entre elle et lui/ Cette adorable intelligence./ 1350 La voici. J’ai des coups tous prêts à lui porter,/ Qu’elle aura peine d’éviter.
Aglaure à Cidippe (IV. i, p. 50)
[No more of this, my sister; the thought of it would kill us; let us rather think of revenge; let us find means of breaking the spell that fosters this affection between her and him. She comes; I have darts ready, such as she shall find difficult to parry.]
Aglaure to Cidippe (IV, 1)

1316 La jalousie est assez fine,/ Et ces délicats sentiments/ Méritent bien qu’on s’imagine/ Que celui qui pour vous a ces empressements,/ Passe le commun des amants./ 1365 Je vous en parle ainsi faute de le connaître./ Vous ignorez son nom, et ceux dont il tient l’être,/ Nos esprits en sont alarmés:/ Je le tiens un grand prince, et d’un pouvoir suprême/ Bien au-delà du diadème/, 1370 Ses trésors sous vos pas confusément semés/ Ont de quoi faire honte à l’abondance même,/ Vous l’aimez autant qu’il vous aime,/ Il vous charme, et vous le charmez;/ Votre félicité, ma sœur, serait extrême,/ 1375 Si vous saviez qui vous aimez.
Aglaure à Psyché (IV. ii, pp. 50-51)
[Jealousy is very keen, and these nice sentiments well deserve that he who shows such tenderness for you should be considered above the generality of lovers. I speak thus because I do not know him; nor do you know his name, or that of those to whom he owes the light. This alarms us. I hold him to be a mighty prince, whose power is extreme, far above kingly sway. His treasure which he has strewn beneath your feet would put Abundance herself to the blush. Your love for him is as keen as his for you; you are his delight, he is yours; your happiness, my sister, would be perfect if you but knew whom you love.]
Aglaure to Psyche (IV. 2)

Psyche loves her sisters, but her sisters are jealous of her, which Psyche does not know. They will use Cupid’s wish not to reveal his identity as reason for Psyche to believe she may be the victim of an enchantment. So, they instill in Psyche fear that she is not loved.

Je n’ai plus qu’un mot à vous dire./ 1405 Ce prince qui vous aime, et qui commande aux vents,/ Qui nous donne pour char les ailes du Zéphire,/ Et de nouveaux plaisirs vous comble à tous moments,/ Quand il rompt à vos yeux l’ordre de la nature,/ Peut-être à tant d’amour mêle un peu d’imposture,/ 1410 Peut-être ce palais n’est qu’un enchantement,/ Et ces lambris dorés, ces amas de richesses/ Dont il achète vos tendresses,/ Dès qu’il sera lassé de souffrir vos caresses,/ Disparaîtront en un moment./ 1415 Vous savez comme nous ce que peuvent les charmes.
Aglaure à Psyché (IV. ii, p. 52)
[I have but one word more to say. This prince who loves you, sways the winds, gives us Zephyr’s wings for a chariot, and every moment lavishes on you new pleasures, when he thus openly breaks the order of nature, may perhaps mingle some little imposture with so much love. Perhaps this palace is nothing more than an enchantment; these gilt ceilings, these mountains of wealth, with which he buys your affection, so soon as he shall be weary of your caresses, will vanish in a moment. You know as well as ourselves what power lies in spells.]
Aglaure to Psyche (IV. 2)

Ma sœur, vous me faites trembler.
Juste Ciel! pourrais-je être assez infortunée…
Psyche (IV. ii, p. 51)
[In my turn, what cruel alarms I feel.]
Psyche (IV. 2)

Act Four, Scene Three

Cupid senses a change in Psyche. She is worried.

1445 Mais d’où vient qu’un triste nuage/ Semble offusquer l’éclat de ces beaux yeux?/ Vous manque-t-il quelque chose en ces lieux?/ Des vœux qu’on vous y rend dédaignez-vous l’hommage?
Amour à Psyché (IV. iii, p. 53)
But wherefore does a cloud of sadness seem to dim the brightness of those beautiful eyes? Is there aught which you can want in these abodes? Scorn you the homage of the vows here paid to you?
Cupid to Psyche (IV.3)

She wishes to know his identity, which he reveals reluctantly and to Psyche’s detriment. He is the god of Love and he has come of age.

1540 Vous me forcez vous-même à vous quitter,/ Vous me forcez vous-même à vous ôter/ Tout l’effet de votre victoire:/ Peut-être vos beaux yeux ne me reverront plus,/ Ce palais, ces jardins, avec moi disparus/ 1545 Vont faire évanouir votre naissante gloire;/ Vous n’avez pas voulu m’en croire,/ Et pour tout fruit de ce doute éclairci,/ Le Destin sous qui le Ciel tremble,/ Plus fort que mon amour, que tous les Dieux ensemble,/ 1550 Vous va montrer sa haine, et me chasse d’ici.
Amour à Psyché (IV. iii, p. 57)

Psyche is transported to a river.


Is it fate, or is it jealousy? At this point, we could say jealousy. We will learn that Psyche’s lovers committed suicide. She speaks to their ghostly selves. As for Psyche’s jealous sisters, Psyche’s lovers tell her that they were brutally killed for suggesting that their sister may be the victim of an illusion. It is as though only gods remained. Remember that we are looking at two frames, mortals and gods, that Molière is retelling a myth, and that the myth of Psyché is an “all’s well that ends well” narrative.


Sources and Resources

The following quotation reveals Alceste’s vanity and fear.

Je veux qu’on me distingue, et pour le trancher net,
L’ami du genre humain n’est point du tout mon fait.

Alceste à Philinte (I. i, p. 3)
[I must be singled out; to put it flatly,
The friend of all mankind’s no friend for me.]
Alceste to Philinte (I. 1) (Le Misanthrope [1666])

Love to everyone

Psyché  — Jean-Baptiste Lully LWV 56 

© Micheline Walker
12 September 2019













A Reading of Molière’s “Psyché” (Part One)


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burne_jones_cupid_delivering_psyche (2)

Cupid Delivering Psyche by Sir Edward Burne-Jones  (


Molière’s Psyché was written in collaboration with dramatists Pierre Corneille[1] and Philippe Quinault. As director of the Troupe du Roi, Molière attended to several requests on the part of Louis XIV. These precluded his full participation, in a play based on the myth of Psyche, a theme he chose in 1670. Molière wrote the PrologueAct One and the first scene of Acts Two and Three. The music was composed by Jean-Baptiste Lully, to a libretto by Philippe Quinault. Pierre Beauchamp(s) was the play’s main choreographer. Scenery and stage effects, planned by Molière, were coordinated by Carlo Vigarani.

Psyché is a

  • tragi-comédie and
  • a tragédie-ballet,
  • in five acts, and includes
  • intermèdes.
  • It is in free verse and was
  • first performed at the Théâtre des Tuileries (Paris),
  • on 17 January 1671.
  • Psyché premièred again at the renovated Théâtre du Palais-Royal (Paris),
  • on 24 July 1671.

Molière’s Psyché was first performed at the Théâtre des Tuileries because this royal residence had sophisticated machinery, la salle des machines. It has been said that Louis XIV wanted to re-use a décor of hell built for Francesco Cavalli’s Ercole amante (Hercules in love), performed in 1662. For instance, when the immortal Venus, the Roman goddess of love, beauty, desire, sex, fertility, etc. descends from some lofty abode lamenting rivalry from a mere mortal, she does so in a machine. Her rival, Psyche, is the most beautiful woman in the world. Special effects provided magnificence to the festivities that followed the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1668), a victory for Louis XIV. After the Théâtre du Palais-Royal was renovated, at the troupe du Roi‘s expense, Psyché was staged at Molière’s troupe usual venue, the Théâtre du Palais-Royal.

Molière chose the subject of his play, the Tale of Cupid and Psyche, shortly after the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1668) was signed. Psyche was a popular narrative in 17th-century France. It was used by Isaac de Benserade (1656, a ballet) and La Fontaine (1669, a novel). However, Psyche’s main source is 2nd century ApuleiusGolden Ass. The Golden Ass, first entitled The Metamorphosis, is a frame story containing “digressions,” or inner tales, one of which, and the most memorable, is the Tale of Cupid and Psyche. Apuleius had read Ovid (20 March 43 BCE – 17/18 CE) whose Metamorphoses was an extremely  influential work.

In the Golden Ass, Lucius Apuleius wants to be transformed into a bird, but he is mistakenly metamorphosed into an ass. The novel contains tales, but none as elegant as The Tale of Cupid and Psyche, Apulée’s Âge d’or. Few have endured. The Tale of Cupid and Psyche so differs from its sister tales that it seems a deviation rather than a digression (an inner tale). It appears misplaced, but its subject isn’t. Psyche will be transformed into an immortal, which is consistent with the carnivalesque, but dares reversing the Creation myth. Moreover, gods and humans interact as in magical realism. Mortals, such as Psyché’s sisters Aglaure and Cidippe can be jealous of Psyche’s beauty, the most beautiful woman in the world. Venus is a goddess and immortal. 

Our dramatis personæ is:

Love (Cupid).
Aegiale and Phaëne, two Graces.
The King.
Aglaura (sister to Psyche).
Cidippe (sister to Psyche .
Cleomenes and Agenortwo princesPsyche’s lovers.
Lycascaptain of the guards.
A River God
Two Cupids.



The front of the stage represents a rustic spot, while at the back the sea can be seen in the distance.

As a play Psyche’s main theme is Venus’ jealousy. It is expressed in the Prologue, which I will quote at some length:

Moi, la fille du dieu qui lance le tonnerre,
Mère du dieu qui fait aimer;
Moi, les plus doux souhaits du ciel et de la terre,
Et qui ne suis venue au jour que pour charmer;
Moi, qui par tout ce qui respire
Ai vu de tant de vœux encenser mes autels,
Et qui de la beauté, par des droits immortels,
Ai tenu de tout temps le souverain empire;
Moi, dont les yeux ont mis deux grandes déités
Au point de me céder le prix de la plus belle,
Je me vois ma victoire et mes droits disputés
Par une chétive mortelle!
Le ridicule excès d’un fol entêtement
Va jusqu’à m’opposer une petite fille!
Sur ses traits et les miens j’essuierai constamment
Un téméraire jugement!
Et du haut des cieux où je brille,
J’entendrai prononcer aux mortels prévenus:
« Elle est plus belle que Vénus! »

Vénus, Prologue, p. 6, 101

I, the daughter of the Thunderer, mother of the love-inspiring god;
I, the sweetest yearning of heaven and earth, who received birth only to charm;
I, who have seen everything that hath breath utter so many vows at my shrines,
and by immortal rights have held the sovereign sway of beauty in all ages;
I, whose eyes have forced two mighty gods to yield me the prize of beauty
I see my rights and my victory disputed by a wretched mortal.
Shall the ridiculous excess of foolish obstinacy 
go so far as to oppose to me a little girl?
Shall I constantly hear a rash verdict on the beauty of her features and of mine,
and from the loftiest heaven where I shine shall I hear it said to the prejudiced world, “She is fairer than Venus”?
Venus, Prologue


Auglure and her sister Cidippe bemoan their sorry fate and agree that they must be less reserved than they have been.

SCÈNE PREMIÈRE (first scene)

Quelle fatalité secrète,
Ma sœur, soumet tout l’univers
Aux attraits de notre cadette,
Et de tant de princes divers
Qu’en ces lieux la fortune jette,
N’en présente aucun à nos fers?

Auglure à Cidippe ( I. v. 180, p. 9)
[My sister, what secret fatality makes the whole world bow before our younger sister’s charms? and how is it that, amongst so many different princes who are brought by fortune to this place, not one has any love for us?]
Auglura to Cidippe (I. 1)

Est-il pour nous, ma sœur, de plus rude disgrâce, 196
Que de voir tous les cœurs mépriser nos appas,
Et l’heureuse Psyché jouir avec audace
D’une foule d’amants attachés à ses pas?
Aglaure (I. i. v. 196 -, p. 9)
[Can there be for us, my sister, any greater trial than to see how all hearts disdain our beauty, and how the fortunate Psyche insolently reigns with full sway over the crowd of lovers who ever attend her?]
Cidippe (I. 1)

Sur un plus fort appui ma croyance se fonde, 273 /Et le charme qu’elle a pour attirer les cœurs, /C’est un air en tout temps désarmé de rigueurs, /Des regards caressants que la bouche seconde, /Un souris chargé de douceurs /Qui tend les bras à tout le monde, /Et ne vous promet que faveurs.
Aglaure (I. 1. v. 273 -, p. 12)
[My opinion is founded on a more solid basis, and the charms by which she draws all hearts to herself are a demeanour at all times free of reserve; caressing words and looks; a smile full of sweetness, which invites everyone, and promises them nothing but favours.]
Aglaure (I. 1)

Oui, voilà le secret de l’affaire, et je voi /Que vous le prenez mieux que moi.
290 C’est pour nous attacher à trop de bienséance, /Qu’aucun amant, ma sœur, à nous ne veut venir, /Et nous voulons trop soutenir  /L’honneur de notre sexe, et de notre naissance. /Les hommes maintenant aiment ce qui leur rit, 295 /L’espoir, plus que l’amour, est ce qui les attire, /Et c’est par là que Psyché nous ravit / Tous les amants qu’on voit sous son empire. /Suivons, suivons l’exemple, ajustons-nous au temps, /Abaissons-nous, ma sœur, à faire des avances, 300 /Et ne ménageons plus de tristes bienséances /Qui nous ôtent les fruits du plus beau de nos ans.
[Yes, that is the secret; and I see that you understand it better than I. It is because we cling too much to modesty, sister, that no lovers come to us; it is because we try to sustain too strictly the honour of our sex and of our birth. Men, nowadays, like what comes easily to them; hope attracts them more than love; and that is how Psyche deprives us of all the lovers we see under her sway. Let us follow her example, and suit ourselves to the times; let us stoop, sister, to make advances, and let us no longer keep to those dull morals which rob us of the fruits of our best years.]

The sisters resolve to be more forthright with the princes who love Psyché.


The princes visit. They say that they have little power over their feelings. It is Psyche they love. According to the sisters, they will be harmed by Psyche. She will not respond to their love.

Les voici tous deux, et j’admire /Leur air et leur ajustement.
Aglaure (I. i, p. 13)
(Here they both are. I admire their manners and attire.
Aglaure (I. 1)
Ils ne démentent nullement /Tout ce que nous venons de dire.
Cidippe (I. i, p. 13)
They in no way fall short of all that we have said of them.
Aglaure (I. 1)

Scène II

D’où vient, Princes, d’où vient que vous fuyez ainsi? /Prenez-vous l’épouvante, en nous voyant paraître?
Aglaure (I. ii, p. 13)
Wherefore, princes, wherefore do you thus hasten away? Does our appearance fill you with fear?
Aglaure (I. 2)

The princes tell Aglaure and Cidippe that they love Psyche and have little power over their feelings.

Est-ce que l’on consulte au moment qu’on s’enflamme? /Choisit-on qui l’on veut aimer? /Et pour toute son âme, /Regarde-t-on quel droit on a de nous charmer?
Cléomène ( I. ii, v. 347-, p. 15)
[Do we reason when we fall in love? Do we choose the object of our attachment? And when we bestow our hearts, do we weigh the right of the fair one to fascinate us?]
Cléomène (I. 2.)

Sans qu’on ait le pouvoir d’élire, /On suit, dans une telle ardeur /Quelque chose qui nous attire, /Et lorsque l’amour touche un cœur, 355 /On n’a point de raisons à dire.
Agénor (I. ii, v. 351-, p. 15)
[Without having the power of choosing, we follow in such a passion something which delights us; and when love touches a heart, we have no reasons to give.]
Agénor (I. 2)

They may be dissatisfied, says Cidippe:

L’espoir qui vous appelle au rang de ses amants /Trouvera du mécompte aux douceurs qu’elle étale; /Et c’est pour essuyer de très fâcheux moments, 365 /Que les soudains retours de son âme inégale.
Cidippe (I. ii, p. 15)
[The hope which calls you into the rank of her lovers will experience many disappointments in the favours she bestows; and the fitful changes of her inconstant heart will cause you many painful hours.]
Cidippe (I. 2)

The princes no longer know their own worth, which makes the sister pity the love that guides them. They could find a “more constant heart.”

366 Un clair discernement de ce que vous valez /Nous fait plaindre le sort où cet amour  vous guide, /Et vous pouvez trouver tous deux, si vous voulez, /Avec autant d’attraits, une âme plus solide.
Cidippe (I. ii, p. 16)
[A clear discernment of your worth makes us pity the fate into which this passion will lead you; and if you wished, you could both find a more constant heart and charms as great.]
Cidippe (I. 2)

Par un choix plus doux de moitié /Vous pouvez de l’amour sauver votre amitié, /Et l’on voit en vous deux un mérite si rare, /Qu’un tendre avis veut bien prévenir par pitié /Ce que votre cœur se prépare.
Cidippe (I. ii, v. 370-, p. 16)
[A choice sweeter by half can rescue your mutual friendship from love; and there is such a rare merit apparent in you both that a gentle counsel would, out of pity, save your hearts from what they are preparing for themselves.]
Cidippe (I. 2)

Scène III

Psyche tells her lovers that her fate is to be decided by a father.

Ce n’est pas à mon cœur qu’il faut que je défère /Pour entrer sous de tels liens; /Ma main, pour se donner, attend l’ordre d’un père, 445 /Et mes sœurs ont des droits qui vont devant les miens.
Psyché (I. iii, p. 18)
[I must not listen to my heart only before engaging in such a union, but my hand must await my father’s decision before it can dispose of itself, and my sisters have rights superior to mine.]
Psyché (I. 3)

But she goes on to say:

Oui, Princes, à tous ceux dont l’amour suit le vôtre, /Je vous préférerais tous deux avec ardeur; 460 /Mais je n’aurais jamais le cœur /De pouvoir préférer l’un de vous deux à l’autre. /À celui que je choisirais, /Ma tendresse ferait un trop grand sacrifice,
Et je m’imputerais à barbare injustice 465 /Le tort qu’à l’autre je ferais. /Oui, tous deux vous brillez de trop de grandeur d’âme, /Pour en faire aucun malheureux, /Et vous devez chercher dans l’amoureuse flamme /Le moyen d’être heureux tous deux.
Si votre cœur me considère /Assez pour me souffrir de disposer de vous, / J’ai deux sœurs capables de plaire, /Qui peuvent bien vous faire un destin assez doux, /Et l’amitié me rend leur personne assez chère, 475 /Pour vous souhaiter leurs époux.
Psyche (I. iii, p. 18)
[Yes, Princes, I should greatly prefer you to all those whose love will follow yours, but I could never have the heart to prefer one of you to the other. My tenderness would be too great a sacrifice to the one whom I might choose, and I should think myself barbarously unjust to inflict so great a wrong upon the other. Indeed, you both possess such greatness of soul that it would be wrong to make either of you miserable, and you must seek in love the means of being both happy. If your hearts honour me enough to give me the right of disposing of them, I have two sisters well fitted to please, who might make your destinies happy, and whom friendship endears to me enough for me to wish that you should be their husbands.]
Psyche (I. 3)

Un cœur dont l’amour est extrême /Peut-il bien consentir, hélas, /D’être donné par ce qu’il aime? /Sur nos deux cœurs, Madame, à vos divins appas 480 /Nous donnons un pouvoir suprême, / Disposez-en pour le trépas, /Mais pour une autre que vous-même /Ayez cette bonté de n’en disposer pas.
Cléomène (I. iii, p. 19)
[Can a heart whose love, alas! is extreme, consent to be given away by her it loves? We yield up our two hearts, Madam, to your divine charms, even should you doom them to death; but we beg you not to make them over to any one but yourself.]
Cléomène (I. 3)

Scène IV

In Scene Four, Psyche is summoned to see the king. She is afraid.

De ce trouble si grand que faut-il que j’attende?
Psyché à Lycas (I. iv, p. 21)
[What am I to augur from your agitation?
Psyche to Lycas (I. 4)

Scène V

In Scene Five, Psyche learns from the king, that an oracle demands that she be led to a hill, dressed for a “pompous mournful line.” A monster/serpent will be her husband.

Que l’on ne pense nullement 525 /À vouloir de Psyché conclure l’hyménée; /Mais qu’au sommet d’un mont elle soit promptement /En pompe funèbre menée, /Et que de tous abandonnée, /Pour époux elle attende en ces lieux constamment 530 /Un monstre dont on a la vue empoisonnée, /Un serpent qui répand son venin en tous lieux, /Et trouble dans sa rage et la terre et les cieux.
Lycas (I. v, p. 22)
“No one must think to lead
Psyche to Hymen’s shrine;
But all with earnest speed,
In pompous mournful line,
High to the mountain crest
Must take her; there to await,
Forlorn, in deep unrest,
A monster who envenoms all,
Decreed by fate her husband;
A serpent whose dark poisonous breath
And rage e’er hold the world in thrall,
Shaking the heavens high and realms of death.”
Lycas (I. 5)

Scène VI

In Scene Six, Psyche’s sisters say they cannot grieve. On the contrary, they are relieved.

À ne vous point mentir, je sens que dans mon cœur /Je n’en suis pas trop affligée.
Cidippe (I. vi, p. 23)
[To speak the truth, my heart is not very much grieved at it.]
Cidippe (I. 6)

Moi, je sens quelque chose au mien /Qui ressemble assez à la joie. /Allons, le Destin nous envoie 545 /Un mal que nous pouvons regarder comme un bien.
Aglaure (I. vi, p. 23)
[My heart feels something which very much resembles joy. Let us go; Fate has sent us a calamity which we can consider as a blessing.]
Aglaure (I. 6)

I would love to conclude, but we must read the rest of the play. Remember that jealousy is a prominent theme in Molière’s plays and 17th-century French literature. However, jealousy in Molière is usually of a comedic nature. It is Arnolphe’s plight and it is linked to cuckoldry. (See The School for Wives, Wikipedia.)

In Psyché, Molière is true to the myth. Venus is jealous because Psyche is the most beautiful woman in the world, yet a mere mortal. Only mortals, Psyche’s two sisters, can be jealous of Psyche. They will harm her and nearly cause her death.

The juxtaposition of a mortal and an immortal is problematical. It is incongruous. Psyche’s beauty of a transitory nature. The soul, the psyche, has been deemed and is still deemed immortal. As a human being, Psyche will experience metamorphoses. She will age and die. This is l’humaine condition. Venus is a goddess and, therefore, immortal. However, after a string of trials and tribulations,  Psyche ascends to godliness, an honest twist consistent with the carnivalesque, but a reversal of the Judeo-Christian creation myth.

Psyché is an “all’s well that ends well” narrative. Our young lovers marry…  But the play  is a part of a celebration: festivities. “Pump and circumstance” colours Psyche. Louis is seen as divine, albeit briefly.

Le plus puissant des rois
  Interrompt ses exploits
  Pour donner la paix à la terre.
Descendez, mère des Amours,
Venez nous donner de beaux jours.
Flore (Prologue)

The din of battle is stayed;
The mightiest king of earth
His arms aside has laid;
Of peace ’tis now the birth!
Descend thou, lovely Venus,
And blissful hours grant us!
Flora (Prologue)


Sources and Resources

[1] Pierre Corneille is the author of Le Cid (1636), a play that generated a quarrel, la Querelle du Cid, which occurred shortly after the Académie-Française was established. Tragédies would have to respect classicism’s rule of the “three unities.” These consisted in one action that lasted no longer than 24 hours, and took place in one location: action, temps, lieu. Classicism inherited its rules from Aristotle.

Love to all of you 💕

Acte 5, Scène 4: Prélude de Trompettes pour Mars
00:00 Acte 5, Scène 4: Chanson “Laissons en paix toute la Terre”
01:48 Acte 5, Scène 4: Derniere Entrée
02:36 Acte 5, Scène 4: “Chantons les Plaisirs charmants” (chœur)
04:27 Olivier Laquerre (bass / Mars)
Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra & Chorus
Paul O’Dette & Stephen Stubbs (conductor)

© Micheline Walker
6 September 2019

The “Figaro Trilogy,” revisited


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Portrait de Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, by Jean-Marc Nattier

Portrait de Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais by Jean-Marc Nattier

Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (24 January 1732 – 18 May 1799) had recruited men who fought in the American Revolutionary War  and had also supplied arms to American revolutionaries.

One of his recruits was Pierre-Charles L’Enfant (9 August 1754 – 14 June 1825), an architect and engineer who designed the Washington National Mall. L’Enfant was dismissed and replaced by Andrew Ellicott (24 January 1754 – 28 August 1820) who criticized L’Enfant Plan and Pierre-Charles L’Enfant. In 1902, the McMillan Commission did away with Andrew Ellicott’s revisions. The Washington Mall was redesigned using L’Enfant Plan.

The Figaro Trilogy

The Barber of Seville (1773; 1775)
The Marriage of Figaro (written in 1778, performed in 1784, published in 1785)
The Guilty Mother (1791; 1966[opera])
The Marriage of Figaro as the center-piece of Beaumarchais’ “Figaro trilogy” 
Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro (K. 492, 1786)

The Marriage of Figaro (1784)

At an early point in his life, Beaumarchais did recruit men willing to join the Americans in their struggle for independence, but he is known mainly as the author of the Figaro trilogy, which consists of three plays: The Barber of Seville (1775), The Marriage of Figaro  (1784), and The Guilty Mother (1791).

A problematical comedy

the second installment in the Figaro trilogy
Accepted for production in 1778 (Comédie-Française)
Vilification of French aristocracy: condemned by Louis XVI
Revised: change of location
Performed in France in 1784
Published in France in 1785

The Marriage of Figaro is the second installment in Beaumarchais’ Figaro trilogy, but constitutes the centerpiece of Beaumarchais’ trilogy. It was written in 1778 and accepted for production by the Comédie-Française in 1781. However, as first written, it vilified French aristocracy and so shocked Louis XVI that he banned the production of the play.

The play was problematical because Count Almaviva, who marries Rosina in The Barber of Seville, or the Futile Precaution (1778), wants to consummate Figaro’s marriage to Susanna, Figaro’s bride. Beaumarchais revised the play and moved the action to Spain. Ironically, Count Almaviva wanted to avail himself of a right he had abolished: “the feudal droit du seigneur, the right of the lord of the manor to sleep with his servant’s bride on her wedding night.”[I]  

The Marriage of Figaro is a comedy inspired by the commedia dell’arte. Given the conventions of comedy, the Count’s plans will therefore be foiled. The innmorati will be helped not only by clever zanni and other servants, but also by Rosina, Almaviva’s wife, whose marriage to the Count, a philanderer, did not end altogether “well.” The play also features a redeeming discovery. The Count wants Figaro to marry Marcellina, Bartolo’s housekeeper, but it turns out that Figaro is the love child of Marcellina and Bartolo. One does not marry one’s mother. Bartolo therefore proposes marriage to Marcellina. There will be two weddings, which is not uncommon in comedy.


The Marriage of Figaro’s Cherubino,[II] a character reminiscent of Cupid, the mythological god of desire, could be called a zanni. He is forever in love and gets into trouble. However, he also provides comic relief as do zanni in the commedia dell’arte. Zanni are stand-up comics. In Passion Plays, comic interludes were inserted between the acts. The same stratagem can also be used inside comedy. Some “comic” is always at the ready not only to “fill in,” but also to support zanni (servants, one of whom is clever, but the second, clumsy).

As part of the props, we have incriminating letters and, in the case of the Barber of Seville, the Count, disguised as Lindoro, a name borrowed from the commedia dell’arte, we have musicians serenading Rosina. Guitars are inextricably linked with the commedia dell’arte. They are a prop that Watteau and Picasso, Picasso especially, depicted abundantly.

Moreover, to fool the Count, the Countess dresses as Susanna, Figaro’s bride-to-be, while Susanna dresses as the Countess. Therefore, when the Count court Susanna, he is in fact courting his wife. He reveals his plans to seduce Susanna, but find Rosina attractive. It is quite normal in comedies for the Alazṓn , the Count, to undo himself, except that comedy is kind. Cross-dressing is also a frequent device in the comic text and it is rooted in the topsy-turvy world of the Roman Saturnalia, not to mention the last days of l’ancien régime

Beaumarchais and the Revolution  

After Beaumarchais relocated The Marriage of Figaro, “[t]he feudal droit du seigneurbecame a distant right and wrong. Louis XVI lifted the ban on the production of The Marriage of Figaro and the play was performed by the Comédiens français ordinaires du Roi, on Tuesday, 27 April 1784, and the text was published in 1785. Yet the play remained problematical. Although The Marriage of Figaro is a Shakespearean “all’s well that ends well,” the conventional ending, or dénouement, of comedies, in the Marriage of Figaro, this ending seems a little theatrical.

First, the Barber of Seville‘s Rosina has married a philanderer. Second, Georges Danton  commented that Beaumarchais’ Marriage of Figaro had “killed off the nobility.” (See The Marriage of Figaro, play, Wikipedia). Jesus of Nazareth might have said “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (Matthew 1:5-7). Georges Danton voted in favour of the execution of Louis XVI. (See Georges Danton, Wikipedia.)

Mozart’s Le nozze de Figaro (1786)

Beaumarchais or Pierre de Beaumarchais’ Marriage of Figaro was made famous by Mozart‘s (27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791) Nozze di Figaro, a four-act opera buffa, or comic opera composed in 1785 on a libretto (the text) by Lorenzo da Ponte (10 March 1749 – 17 August 1838). Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro) premiered in Vienna at the Burgtheater, on 1 May 1786. It has remained a favourite opera often associated with Mozart only, not Pierre de Beaumarchais.

The Barber of Seville, or The Futile Precaution

The Barber of Seville, or The Useless Precaution (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Barber of Seville (1775)

The Barber of Seville; or, the Useless Precaution[III] was performed and published in 1775 as Le Barbier de Séville; ou, la précaution inutile. It is the first play in Beaumarchais Figaro’ trilogy. The play was written in 1773, but it was not performed until 23 February 1775, when it premiered at the Comédie-Française in the Tuileries. Although I have prepared a point by point description of the plot of The Barber of Seville, I am quoting Britannica’s summary. Simply add the name Lindoro, a guitar, and a few suspicious letters. The Count first dresses as a poor student named Lindoro.

“Rosine (known as Rosina in the opera), the ward of Dr. Bartholo, is kept locked in her room by Bartholo because he plans to marry her, though she despises him. Young Count Almaviva loves her from afar and uses various disguises, including one as Alonzo, a substitute music teacher, in his attempts to win her. Bartholo’s roguish barber Figaro is part of the plot against him. Indeed, it is Figaro who steals the key to Rosine’s room for Almaviva. Unfortunately, Almaviva is in his disguise as Alonzo when he meets Rosine. Though in love with “Alonzo,” Rosine is convinced by the suspicious Bartholo that Alonzo intends to steal her away and sell her to a wicked count. Disappointed, she agrees to wed Bartholo that very night. All of Figaro’s ingenuity is required to substitute Count Almaviva for Bartholo at the wedding ceremony.”[IV]
Portrait of Gioachino Rossini in 1820, International Museum and Library of Music, Bologna

Portrait of Gioachino Rossini in 1820, International Museum and Library of Music, Bologna (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia (1816)

In 1816, Le Barbier de Séville; ou, la précaution inutile (four acts)[V] was made into a two-act opera by Giaochino Rossini on a libretto by Cesare Sterbini. The Barber of Seville, or the Futile Precaution or Il barbiere di Siviglia, ossia L’inutile precauzione premiered on 20 February 1816 at the Teatro Argentina, in Rome.

Beaumarchais’ Guilty Mother (1792)

The Guilty Mother, subtitled The other Tartuffe (La Mère coupable ou l’autre Tartuffe), a play in five acts, is the final part of the Figaro trilogy. Tartuffe is a play by Molière. The character Tartuffe feigns devotion. The Guilty Mother was completed in 1791, but not performed until 1792 at the Théâtre du Marais. The French Revolution had gained impetus, which made it necessary for Beaumarchais to take away his title from Count Almaviva. The Guilty Mother   will be discussed in a later post.

Marius Milhaud‘s The Guilty mother or La Mère coupable (1966)

The Guilty Mother or The other Tartuffe was set to music: an opera in three acts (Op. 412), by Marius Milhaud, to a libretto by Madeleine Milhaud. It is the final instalment in Beaumarchais’ Figaro trilogy and was first performed at the Grand Théâtre de Genève, on 13 June 1966. (See La Mère coupable [The Guilty mother], Wikipedia.)

Jean-Antoine Watteau‘s Italian comedy.


The Rebirth of Brighella and the Birth of Figaro

Figaro is heir to the commedia dell’arte‘s Brighella, a zanni. He joins Pedrolino-Pierrot, Harlequin, Scapino, and other zanni. In fact, Figaro himself joins the rank of the zanni. As portrayed above, he looks like Harlequin, but he may disguised as Harlequin. Figaro is an iconic figure in France. To be precise, Figaro is an institution: a newspaper, founded in 1826 and published in Paris. Le Figaro is the second-largest paper in France. It takes its motto from Beaumarchais’ Figaro trilogy:

“Sans la liberté de blâmer, il n’est point d’éloge flatteur.”
(“Without the freedom to criticise, there is no true praise.”)



The Commedia dell’arte
Bartolo is a dottore
Lindoro is one of the names innamorati used in the commedia dell’arte
Figaro is a Brighella, a zanni in the commedia dell’arte, who helps the innamorati overcome obstacles to their marriage)
The guitar is an essential prop
Letters are used all the time: false, anonymous, incriminating…
Sources and Resources
  • The Marriage of Figaro is an Online Library of Liberty, full text EN
  • Le Mariage de Figaro is a Gutenberg Project [EBook #20577] FR
  • Male innamorati are called: Arsenio, Aurielo, Cinthio, Fabrizio, Flavio, Fedelindo, Florindo, Leandro, Lelio, Lindoro, Mario, Ortensio, Ottavio, Sireno, often the son of Pantalone, Silvio, Tristano
  • Female innamorati are called: Angelica, Aurelia, Beatrice, Bianchetta, Celia, Clarice, Clori, Cinzio, Emilia, Eularia, Flaminia, Florinda, Filesia, Filli, often the daughter of Pantalone, Isabella, Lavinia, Lidia, Orazio, Ortensia, Silvia, Turchetta, Vittoria 
  • Brighella
  • Maurice Sand, Masques et bouffons (comédie italienne), 1860
Flûte de Brighella, Henrico Brunelleschi (Photo credit: Christi'e)

Flûte de Brighella, Enrico Brunelleschi
(Photo credit: Christie’s) (This image cannot be enlarged.)


[I] Watteau depicted Mezzetino, a zanni, playing the guitar. The guitar is also a major motif in Picasso’s art.

[II] See Commedia dell’arte, Wikipedia, under Subjects.
[III] “The Barber of Seville.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 13 Jul. 2014.
The Count also calls himself Lindoro.
[IV] Op. cit.
[V] Op. cit.

Love to everyone 💕

This post was published several years ago, but it is related to our current posts.

Gioachino Rossini : The Barber Of Seville – Overture 


© Micheline Walker
(revised 4 September 2019)
13 July 2014



A Foreword to Molière’s “Psyché”


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I wish to thank all of you for the comments you have written. The invitation to rate my posts is proof that people are reading my posts, including moliéristes. It’s a forum, not an arena.

As you know, I was ready to write my book during a forthcoming sabbatical, but I was assigned the preparation of new courses, one of which was Animals in Literature. It took away my sabbatical. I’m not writing my book online, but I am reading Molière and sharing this endeavour with my WordPress colleagues.

I realize that students can get information from my posts and other online sources. That’s fine. They may quote me, acknowledging their source, and posts can be republished. If writing my book proves impossible, I will nevertheless have discussed Molière publicly for a brief period of time and in a manner that introduces Molière to the general public. Quoting Molière in French and English is time consuming, but it is an imperative.

800px-honorc3a9_daumier_003-1-1 (2)

Crispin et Scapin par Honoré Daumier, 1865 (


Comedy Scene from Molière by Honoré Daumier (

Les Fourberies de Scapin

My Pléiade edition of Molière was published in 1956. It is an old edition that does not contain the lines where Scapin tells Argante that he himself, Argante, will not break Octave’s marriage because he loves his son. However, these lines are part of the editor’s Notes et Variantes. Occasionally, Molière recycled parts of his comedies. These were his. The conversation I quoted is all but repeated in Le Malade imaginaire. The editors of the 1682 edition of the complete works of Molière excluded that part of the conversation. But the Molière 21‘s editors of the Pléiade 2010 edition have re-entered the relevant dialogue in the latest Pléiade edition, which we are using.

In Les Fourberies de Scapin, Molière juxtaposed the power of fathers and a father’s love. This juxtaposition is essential to an understanding of the play. Molière knew that there were forced marriages. Octave barely believes that his father will let him marry Géronte’s daughter Hyacinte. So, Molière also knew that fathers loved their sons and that this love was more powerful than tradition: parents choosing their children’s spouse. Molière used a subtle path, a kind destiny. Our fathers, Argante and Géronte, had chosen to marry their sons to the women their sons love, one of whom, Octave, has already married Hyacinte.

Scapin and the innamorati

Scapin is a zanni, a valet in the service of Octave and, by the same token, in the service of the innamorati, the young couple(s). In the eighteenth century zanni became more daring. Beaumarchais wrote the Figaro Trilogy. His Marriage of Figaro would inspire Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte. It was transformed into a beloved opera: Le nozze di Figaro (K. 492, 1786). As well, Antoine Watteau painted ethereal fêtes galantes that are inextricably associated to the commedia dell’artePierrot emerges: the sad clown.

More importantly, how does one cease discussing love? Love is une constante. Le Roman de la Rose was an apex in the treatment of courtly love. The eighteenth century also brought Marivaux. His play, Le Jeu de l’amour et du hasard, was performed by the Comédie-Italienneon 23 January 1730. We need also mention Mozart/Da Ponte’s Così fan tutte, ossia La scuola degli amanti (K. 588, 1790), a charming love story. It is rooted in the Decameron.


Our next play is Molière’s Psyché, which he wrote in collaboration with the legendary Pierre Corneille. It is a tragi-comédie in verse and a tragédie-ballet. Its composer is Jean-Baptiste Lully and its choreographer, Pierre Beauchamp. Psyché was first performed at the Théâtre des Tuileries, on 17 January 1671.

I wrote posts on 2nd century ApuleiusGolden Ass. It contains the Tale of Cupid and Psyche, a “digression.” Apuleius had read Ovid’s (20 March 43 BCE – 17/18 CE)  Metamorphoses, an extremely influential work. Transformations have long fascinated human beings. Icarus wanted to fly. In 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson published The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and, in 1915, Franz Kafka published The Metamorphosis. We do have the loup garou (the werewolf).

Psyche is a mythical figure.


Sources and Resources

Love to everyone 💕

Soave sia il vento (May the wind blow gently…)
Susan Chilcott (Fiordiligi) & Susan Graham (Dorabella)
Mozart Così fan tutte


Pierrot with Guitar by Honoré Daumier, 1869 (

© Micheline Walker
1 September 2019





Just a few words


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Lion Resting, 1650 - 1652 - Rembrandt

Lion Resting by Rembrandt (

A Mystery

On 29 August 2019, I put in a short note at the very bottom of my post. The note was about my posts on Molière.

Navigating the Internet, I saw an invitation to rate one of my posts on Molière. This had never happened before. Besides only experts could rate scholarly articles, but they would not rate a post. Experts assess articles submitted for publication in a journal and books submitted for publication as monographs.

I wrote a PhD thesis on Molière and have published articles on some of his plays. I have not published a book on Molière because of other assignments. I would like to write a book on Molière, but that may not be possible. I no longer have access to a research library and my pension fund is too small for me to support the costs involved in writing a book.

Besides, I am now 75 years old and in poor health. I am nevertheless rereading the plays of Molière and writing posts as I read. These are accessible for free. There is no “pay” button on my site.

I have a loving community on WordPress, which is all I need.

In fact, I will have to spend more time resting. In my last post, I wrote “taught” instead of “thought.” That is a clear sign of fatigue.

I don’t know who decided that my posts on Molière should be rated. Moreover, I cannot understand why anyone would do this. Scholarly articles are much longer than posts. They contain several quotations by fellow scholars, and few images are used.

Let us hope this will not happen again, not without my consent.

Love to everyone 💕




© Micheline Walker
31 August 2019





“Les Fourberies de Scapin” (Part Two)


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Our dramatis personæ is

OCTAVE, son to ARGANTE, and lover to HYACINTHA.
LÉANDRE, son to GÉRONTE, and lover to ZERBINETTE.
ZERBINETTE, daughter to ARGANTE, believed to be a gypsy girl.
SCAPIN, servant to LÉANDRE.
CARLE, a trickster.

The scene is at NAPLES.


  • destiny
  • the power of fathers
  • a father’s love

Act Three is very short, but dense. In Scene One, Hyacinte and Zerbinette, who has been bought back, compare their destiny. Zerbinette is not married to Léandre, but she is not too fearful. She would like a pledge which “little ceremonies” will provide.

Il doit lui en coûter autre chose que de l’argent; et pour répondre à son amour de la manière qu’il souhaite, il me faut un don de sa foi qui soit assaisonné de certaines cérémonies qu’on trouve nécessaires.
Zerbinette à Hyacinte (III. i, p. 40)
[He will have to give something else besides money, and for me to answer to his love as he wishes me, he must give me his word, with an accompaniment of certain little ceremonies which are thought indispensable.]
Zerbinette to Hyacinte (III. 1)

La ressemblance de nos destins doit contribuer encore à faire naître notre amitié ; et nous nous voyons toutes deux dans les mêmes alarmes, toutes deux exposées à la même infortune.
Hyacinte à Zerbinette (I. i, p. 41)
[The similarity of our fate ought to strengthen the tie of friendship between us. We are both subject to the same fears, both exposed to the same misfortune.]
Hyacinte to Zerbinette (I. 1.)

Zerbinette believes a woman can keep the man she has chosen, but she fears the power of fathers.

On se peut naturellement croire assez de mérite pour garder sa conquête; et ce que je vois de plus redoutable dans ces sortes d’affaires, c’est la puissance paternelle, auprès de qui tout le mérite ne sert de rien.
Zerbinette à Hyacinthe (III. i, p. 41)
A change in a lover’s heart is not what we should fear the most. We may justly rely on our own power to keep the conquest we have made; but what I particularly dread is the power of the fathers; for we cannot expect to see them moved by our merit.
Zerbinette to Hyacinthe (III. 1)

Scapin reassures the young women. His role as a zanni is to help the young couple(s) of comedy. Octave believes he was betrayed by Scapin, but was he?

Scapin told Argante he was surprised his son married, but reason helped him. Besides, destiny had brought Octave and Hyacinte together. Destiny is powerful. When Argante recognizes his daughter, he says: “What an extraordinary coincidence!” Yes, Nérine insisted that Octave marry Hyacinte. Octave’s father was away. Octave was not forced to marry Hyacinte. He loved her and still does. And no, Argante will not have the contract cancelled and disinherit his son. Fathers are powerful, but they love their children. The power of fathers is very real, but so is a father’s love. When Géronte learns that Hyacinte is his daughter, a new and perhaps the real Géronte emerges.



Images (théâ

Le Seigneur Pandolphe is Géronte

In Scene VII, Nérine, Hyacinthe’s nourrice (nurse), calls Géronte “Seigneur Pandolphe.” As Pandolphe, Géronte is the father of Hyacinthe whose wife has just died. Nérine, Hyacinthe’s nurse, knows le Seigneur Pandolphe, not Géronte.  Molière recycles Molière. Horace knows Arnolphe. He doesn’t know Monsieur de La Souche. Nérine tells Géronte that she arranged for Octave to marry Hyacinte, and apologizes. Apologies are not needed; Géronte is overjoyed. He has found his daughter and it so happens she married Argante’s son. Ô Ciel! (Heaven), he exclaims.

Votre fille, Monsieur, n’est pas loin d’ici. Mais avant que de vous la faire voir, il faut que je vous demande pardon de l’avoir mariée, dans l’abandonnement, où faute de vous rencontrer, je me suis trouvée avec elle.
Nérine à Géronte/Pandolphe (III. vii, p. 51)
[Your daughter, Sir, is not far from here; but before I go to fetch her, I must ask you to forgive me for having married her, because of the forsaken state we found ourselves in, when we had no longer any hope of meeting you.]
Nérine to Géronte/Pandolphe (III..8)

Nérine is now moving to Géronte’s house and, in Scene Nine, Géronte invites his daughter Hyacinte to follow him home.

Allons, ma fille, venez chez moi. Ma joie aurait été parfaite, si j’y avais pu voir votre mère avec vous.
Géronte à Hyacinte (III. ix, p. 52)
[Come, my daughter; come to my house. My happiness would be perfect if your mother had been with you.]
Géronte to Hyacinte (III, 10)

Octave just happens to come on stage. He remembers Scapin’s lessons and protests an arranged marriage, but he is brought to see that his Hyacinte is Argante’s daughter. Ironically, he has married the woman his father wanted him to marry.

As for Zerbinette, she apologizes to Géronte whom she has called a miserly father:

Monsieur, je vous prie de m’excuser. Je n’aurais pas parlé de la sorte, si j’avais su que c’était vous, et je ne vous connaissais que de réputation.
Zerbinette à Géronte (III. x, p. 53)
[Pray forgive me, Sir; I should not have spoken in that way if I had known who you were, and I only knew you by reputation.]
Zerbinette to Géronte (III. 11)

Hyacinte hears Zerbinette apologize to Géronte and says that she can vouch for Zerbinette’s integrity.

Mon père, la passion que mon frère a pour elle, n’a rien de criminel, et je réponds de sa vertu.
Hyacinthe (III. x, p. 53)
Father, I can answer for it that she is most virtuous, and that the love my brother has for her is pure.
Hyacinthe (III. 11)

In Scene Ten, Léandre who has just bought back Zerbinette tells her father that she was a local girl, captured at the age of four and that he has a bracelet that is proof of her identity. Argante recognizes the bracelet. It belonged to the daughter he lost when she was four-years old. In fact, he recognizes not only the bracelet, but also Zerbinette.

Mon père, ne vous plaignez point que j’aime une inconnue, sans naissance et sans bien. Ceux de qui je l’ai rachetée, viennent de me découvrir qu’elle est de cette ville, et d’honnête famille; que ce sont eux qui l’y ont dérobée à l’âge de quatre ans; et voici un bracelet qu’ils m’ont donné, qui pourra nous aider à trouver ses parents.
Léandre à Argante (III. xi, p. 54)
My father, you must no longer say that I love a stranger without birth or wealth. Those from whom I bought her have just told me that she belongs to an honest family in this town. They stole her away when she was four years old, and here is a bracelet which they gave me, and which will help me to discover her family.
Léandre to Argante (III. 12)


Sylvestre goes to Scapin. He has good news. Octave married Hyacinte, “our Hyacinte,” and Léandre’s Zerbinette is Argante’s daughter. Yes, Scapin hurt both Argante and Géronte, but is Scapin not threatened.

J’ai deux avis à te donner. L’un, que l’affaire d’Octave est accommodée. Notre Hyacinte s’est trouvée la fille du seigneur Géronte; et le hasard a fait, ce que la prudence des pères avait délibéré. L’autre avis, c’est que les deux vieillards font contre toi des menaces épouvantables, et surtout le seigneur Géronte.
Sylvestre à Scapin (III. viii. p. 52)
[I have two things to tell you. One is that Octave is all right; our Hyacintha is, it seems, the daughter of Géronte, and chance has brought to pass what the wisdom of the fathers had decided. The other, that the old men threaten you with the greatest punishments—particularly Mr. Géronte.]
Sylvestre to Scapin (III. 9)

Scapin is not one to run out of resources. He decides he will feign approaching death, which should suffice. Two fathers having found lost daughters have discovered that destiny had arranged for the women they love to be the women they taught their sons should marry.

They all go for supper, supper being a normal ending for a comedy. We could call it the banquet.


les fourberies de Scapin 2 (3)

Les Fourberies de Scapin (théâ


As mentioned in Part One of Les Fourberies de Scapin (Scapin the Schemer), the young lovers are married, or nearly so, when the curtain rises. Yet, there is an obstacle to their marriage. Octave and Léandre’s father were absent when Octave married Hyacinte. But tradition demands a father’s consent. Father’s have responsibilities, one of which is to ensure their children marry a compatible spouse.

The fathers of comedies usually oppose the marriage of the young couple and do so to serve their needs. In the Imaginary Invalid, Argan opposes a marriage that will not bring a doctor into his household. He thinks of his needs only and not the needs of his daughter Angélique. He suffers from hypochondriasis, which is an illness. In the end, his daughter marries the man she loves, but on the condition that he become a doctor. Argan himself because a doctor, an attack on the profession.

However, ruining a daughter’s life is not an option. It’s a crime. There have been and there are happy marriages with a husband or a wife chosen by parents. These are exceptions rather than the rule. Hyacinte and Zerbinette will not share a bed with a man they loathe and bear that man’s children. The young women of comedy often threaten suicide and real women commit suicide. Their life has been taken away by a father and convents are very hard for most young women.

Géronte find their long-lost daughters and Scapin, disguised as a dying man, is forgiven by his victims. The characters of comedies resemble Reynard the Fox‘s animals. They can regrow lost parts. Bruin’s nose grows back. It could be that farcical characters do not feel hurt by the stick.

Comedy also favours endings where all characters are united again. Orgon empowers Tartuffe, but Tartuffe, not Orgon,  is punished. Tartuffe is a scapegoat, the pharmakos of ancient Greece.

But the main criticism addressed at society is the power fathers wield, their might. Do fathers have the right to control the life of a son or a daughter. In The Impostures of Scapin, Molière creates sons who fall in love with the woman they wish to marry. It all seems miraculous. However, these sons have no money. Fourberies allows Scapin to extract money from fathers. Géronte has to give money to Scapin, so his son can be returned to him, but he keeps repeating: Que diable allait-il faire dans cette galère. A galère is a galley ship. People found guilty of a crime were long condemned to row the galère for several years. Sylvestre tells Scapin that he does not want to have to deal with “justice.” Scapin tells him about the galère:

Va, va; nous partagerons les périls en frères; et trois ans de galère de plus, ou de moins, ne sont pas pour arrêter un noble cœur. (I. v. p. 16)
[Never mind, we will share our perils like brothers, and three years more or less on the galleys are not sufficient to check a noble heart.] (I. 7)

But to return to fathers, Scapin makes Argante say that he would not have the heart to break his son Octave’s marriage and that he would not disinherit him. That scene is brilliant. We must use reason when matters seem to have gone wrong. Yes destiny guides. Besides, a young man may make mistakes. Wasn’t Argante a bit of un homme galant, a womanizer, rather than a galant homme. Sganarelle tells Guzman that Don Juan is jeune encore. Octave was not altogether forced to marry Hyacinte, but Nérine insisted that he marry Hyacinte. Octave’s father was out of town and so was Léandre’s father.


Comedy Scene from Molière by Honoré Daumier (


Sources and Resources

Love to everyone 💕

My posts on Molière are not scholarly articles. I’m simply rereading all of Molière’s plays. I wrote a PhD thesis on Molière decades ago and published articles.

Francesca Caccini (Firenze, 1587-1641) – Ciaccona
Luigi Cozzolino, violino; Andrea Benucci, chitarra; Alfonso Fedi, clavicembalo; Francesco Tomei, viola da gamba
Registrato a gennaio 2012 al Conservatorio Santa Maria degli Angeli di Firenze 2013, Brilliant Classics


Géronte et Scapin  (Source : Gallica)

© Micheline Walker
28 August 2019


A Note to my Readers





Géronte et Scapin (Gallica)

This is a note I intend to erase.

While writing my post, I suddenly felt enormous, crippling, fatigue. There is nothing one can do. I transferred the post from Word to WordPress, but left out most of Act One, accidentally. The part I did not include was Reason, Destiny, Youth and a Father’s Love.

These words are keys to an understand of Molière’s Les Fourberies de Scapin, and to an understanding of Molière’s plays.

I copied my article, including Act One, and put it in a new post. I wanted to avoid old versions coming up.

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is a difficult illness. I caught a virus in 1976, a long time ago, and never recovered fully. The same thing happened to Florence Nightingale, but the triggering factor may have been something other than a powerful virus. The virus damaged my brain because the rate of perfusion of blood to the brain slowed down. However, my intelligence has not been affected, so work was my best remedy and it has remained just that. Furthermore, myalgic should be removed because I am not in pain. I have migraines, but who doesn’t?

Allow me to rest a little and I will conclude reading Les Fourberies de Scapin.  In Act Three, Scapin puts Géronte in a bag, changes his voice several times to make Géronte think others are beating him. Géronte gets out of the bag. The good news is that Octave is no longer a prisoner of the Turks, which was a fourberie, and Zerbinette has been saved.

I’ll rest a little more and post the details.

Love to everyone 💕