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La Guirlande de Julie (Photo credit: BnF [The National Library of France])

The “Galant” Opéra-Ballet and Ballet héroïque

  • The “Galant” Opéra-Ballet and Ballet héroïque
  • André Campra and Jean-Philippe Rameau

The word “galant” was used to describe an opéra-ballet, André Campra’s L’Europe galante, with a libretto by Antoine Houdar de la Motte, and Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Les Indes galantes, a ballet héroïque composed to a libretto by Louis Fuzelier.

In Baroque music, galanteries were also suites of dances (see Galanteries). For instance, most ‘suites’ included a minuet, which is a dance. J. S. Bach composed French Suites, English Suites, and Partitas. Baroque music, however, was considered rather complex: intricate counterpoint, etc. The galant style would advocate simpler and more sentimental music. Bach’s sons composed music in the “galant” style. (See Fêtes galantes: Watteau & Verlaine in RELATED ARTICLES.)

La Galanterie

  • galanterie
  • l’honnête homme
  • préciosité

But galanterie, as we know it, is not music. It is polite behaviour and, in particular, polite behaviour on the part of men courting women. In 17th-century France, l’honnête homme was quietly galant and préciosité demanded galanterie on the part of men. However, galanterie was not a synonym of honnêteté.  


La Vraye Histoire comique de Francion, illustration by Martin van Maële (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Galanterie and l’Honnête Homme

In 1644, Charles Sorel (c. 1602 – 7 March 1674) published Les Loix de la galanterie , a short book. Sorel’s Loix de la galanterie is a book about the requirements of galanterie: money, fashionable clothes, acceptable manners, cleanliness, and étiquette in general. “Propreté, Civilité, Politesse, Éloquence, Adresse, Accortise, et Prudence mondaine [.]” (See Les Loix de la galanterie.)

As for honnêteté, it was described by Nicolas Faret in L’Honnête Homme, ou l’Art de plaire à la cour, (… the Art of Pleasing at Court) published in 1633, and Antoine Gombaud, known as the “chevalier de Méré ” (1607 – 29 december 1684). Gombaud was a godchild to Antoine de la Rochefoucauld and the author of L’honnête homme et De la vraie honnêteté. (See Antoine Gombaud, Wikipedia.) Honnêteté has social, moral and intellectual goals and honnêteté is not a synonym of galanterie, but l’honnête homme is always impeccable.

However, Antoine Gombaud is best-known for his contribution, with Blaise Pascal, to the development of the théorie des probabilités, the theory of probability, calculating the odds. L’honnête homme et De la vraie honnêteté were published posthumously. The chevalier‘s writings are listed under his Wikipedia entry: Antoine Gombaud, Chevalier de Méré. Britannica is in the process of refreshing certain entries.

The Chevalier de Méré, an aristocrat, contributed to the development of the salon, the birthplace of honnêteté and préciosité. Literature was the main activity of salonniers and salonnières but Mademoiselle de Scudéry‘s Clélie, histoire romaine, which contains the map of Tendre, a map of the country of love, has affinities with galanterie. I rather like Petits Soins (tender loving care) (see Carte du Tendre).

L‘honnête homme avoided extreme views and he had a good jugement; he was not vain nor boastful, he was insightful, and he was polite, which at times precluded frankness. According to François de la Rochefoucauld, the moralist, “l’honnête homme ne se pique de rien[.]” L’honnête homme never boasts.

Molière’s Honnête Homme

Among the dramatis personæ of Molière’s comedies are honnête gens (plural for honnête homme): such as Cléante in Le Tartuffe (1664 – 1669) and Philinte in Le Misanthrope.

In Molière’s Misanthrope, Philinte, who is an honnête homme, would not tell an aging Émilie, la vieille Émilie, that she uses makeup (le blanc) and behaves (faire la jolie) in a manner that does not suit an aging woman  (I. i):

Quoi ! vous iriez dire à la vieille Émilie
Qu’à son âge il sied mal de faire la jolie,
Et que le blanc qu’elle a scandalise chacun ? (I. i)

What! would you tell old Emilie
that ’tis unbecoming at her age to play the pretty girl;
or that the paint she wears shocks every one?
Le Misanthrope (I. 1)

The truth would hurt Émilie, which neither galanterie nor honnêteté would allow. If at all possible, one does not offend others in the name of frankness or “truth.”

In scene two, Oronte walks in with a copy of a poem he wishes to read to Alceste, the misanthrope. The poem is mediocre and, although he hesitates for the longest time, Alceste ends up saying that “Franchement, il [le poème] est bon à mettre au cabinet.” Frankly, it’s good for the garbage.) Cabinet is an ambiguous word. It can mean a drawer (cabinet making), but can also mean a toilet. Alceste is franc, but he is not civil. He is acting offensively in the name of sincerity or “honnêteté” in its literal sense.

The above are examples of the polemical nature of many of Molière’s plays. They could lead to debates. When it was first staged, in 1664, Le Tartuffe, whose protagonist feigns devotion and nearly ruins Orgon’s family, was not seen as falsely devout by Orgon and, given its subject matter, the play was banned. It took Molière five years to make Le Tartuffe acceptable.


  • false précieuses
  • a farce

Similarly, Les Précieuses ridicules (18 November 1661; Petit-Bourbon) was not a depiction of préciosité, except for allusions, such as the use of a purer language. Magdelon and Cathos, who have just arrived in Paris, are besotted by préciosité and salons, but they have yet to set foot in a salon. Real précieuses and salonnières would know that Mascarille and Jodelet are not salonniers. They would not let themselves be courted and amused by the valets of Du Croisy and La Grange, the two suitable young men Magdelon and Cathos rejected. The Précieuses ridicules has the plot of a farce: le trompeur trompé (the deceiver deceived). The tables are turned on Magdelon and Cathos.

Yet, Molière was criticized for portraying Les Précieuses ridicules. In the Preface to Les Précieuses ridicules, he wrote that Magdelon and Cathos were false précieuses and that “Les plus excellentes choses sont sujettes à être copiées par de mauvais singes.” (The most excellent things are apt to be copied by bad monkeys.) Besides, comedies of manners are “miroirs publics.”


Louis XIV and Molière by Jean-Léon Gérôme (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Aristocrats and Comédies héroïques

Molière wrote comédies-ballets, but he also wrote comedies featuring gentilshommes, aristocrats and gods: Dom Garcie de Navarre (comédie héroïque; 1661), La Princesse d’Élide (1664), Dom Juan (1665), Amphitryon (1668)…  Moreover, as an actor, Molière was fond of playing roles in comédies-héroïques. Critic Paul Bénichou[2] dispelled the commonly held view that Molière advocated bourgeois common sense.

Molière was a human being and humans dream of worlds that are or seem better than the world they inhabit. Aristocrats were privileged individuals. So Molière featured aristocrats in a few of his comedies. For Molière, theatre was at times the goal of theatre. He created a comforting spectacle, an illusion.

Molière neither served nor disserved the “querelle des femmes,” feminists. Moreover, if there is a galant in the comedies of Molière, it is the young man who courts a woman who loves him, but whose marriage to her is threatened by a blocking character. Molière’s honnête homme is Philinte (Le Misanthrope), Cléante (Le Tartuffe) and other figures often called the raisonneur. L’honnête homme does not vilify women.

In L’École des femmes (1662) (The School for Wives), Agnès, who has been raised by Arnolphe to be his faithful wife, falls in love with Horace, whom she sees through her window. She rejects Arnolphe saying that the way Arnolphe’s speaks of marriage makes it sound terrible. Horace, on the other hand, presents marriage as pleasurable, which makes her feel like marrying:

Chez vous le mariage est fâcheux et pénible,
Et vos discours en font une image terrible;
Mais, las ! il le fait, lui, si rempli de plaisirs,
Que de se marier il donne des désirs. (V. iv)

With you, marriage is a trouble and a pain,
and your descriptions give a terrible picture of it;
but there — he makes it seem so full of joy
that I long to marry. (V. 4)
The School for Wives (V. 4)

Horace is galant and earns Agnès’ love. In comedy, galanterie is conventional, the goal of comedy being the marriage of young lovers, which would not be possible if the young man were not galant (love). But, as noted above, it is not honnêteté, at least not altogether.

Fêtes galantes

In French literature, however, galanterie reaches a summit in Verlaine‘s Fêtes galantes, which evoke Watteau and the commedia dell’arte.

I apologize for the long delay. I couldn’t concentrate due to a bout of mental fatigue and difficulties in gathering recent articles and books. I require these to write my book on Molière. All is not lost. I have contacted a number of sources and have used Jstor for several years, as a private scholar. Would that I still lived across the street from a library. However, when I quote 17th-century authors whose work I do not own, I use Internet Archives, the Project Gutenberg, and Google e-books. These e-books are seldom edited or annotated, but they are immensely useful tools.

With kind regards to everyone.




Sources and Resources


[1] Charles Sorel wrote La Vraie Histoire comique de Francion, in the hope of dealing a blow to Honoré d’Urfé‘s pastoral romances. La Vraie Histoire comique de Francion  (1623) was a success, but Honoré d’Urfé’s L’Astrée remained popular. However, Le Berger extravagant (1627-1628) did tarnish pastoral romances, or very long novels featuring shepherds and shepherdesses. (See Charles Sorel, Wikipedia.)

[2] Paul Bénichou, Morales du Grand Siècle (Paris : Gallimard, 1948), p. 263.


Rondeau des Indes Galantes de Rameau interprété par Magali Léger et Laurent Naouri, les Musiciens du Louvre sous la direction de Marc Minkowski en version de concert.


Magdelon (Photo credit: Larousse)

© Micheline Walker
16 April 2016