Cuckolding, farce, George Dandin, impoverished nobility, jealousy, joke, Marriage, Molière, the agroikos, the right & wrong
George Dandin ou le Mari confondu (George Dandin or the Abashed Husband) is a three-act comédie-ballet written by Molière and composed by Jean-Baptiste Lully. It premièred on 18 July 1668, at Versailles. The comédie-ballet was part of a Grand Divertissement royal, a celebration of the French victory at Aix-la-Chapelle. On 9 November 1668, it was performed as a three-act play at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal. Devoid of its pastoral interludes, consisting mainly in a conversation between shepherdesses George Dandin was a rather sombre three–act farce. The pastoral lightened George Dandin.
- Henri van Laun (the translator)
- a comédie-ballet
- a pastoral
- sources: Guarini‘s (Il Pastor Fido) and, perhaps, Boccacio (The Decameron)
- the Dolopatos (the tale of a woman locked into a tower)
- a mésalliance
The text of the pastoral is included in Henri van Laun‘s (1820-1896) six-volume Dramatic Works of Molière with eleven ilustrations by Horace Vernet, Alexandre-Joseph Desenne, Tony Johannot and Louis Hersent. George Dandin appears in volume IV of Henri van Laun‘s translation of Molière’s complete works. We are using the toutmoliere.net collection of Molière’s plays, including its Notice, and the above-mentioned translation of Molière’s complete dramatic works. Mr. van Laun has separated the three acts of George Dandin into a larger number of scenes.
Pastorals – the Dolopatos
Pastorals find their origin in Guarini‘s (1538-1612) Pastor Fido (1590), The Faithful Shepherd. As for George Dandin, a farce, it may also be rooted in Giovanni Boccacio‘s (1313-1375) Decameron, 4th, 7th, and 8th days. The Decameron contains 100 tales told by young men and women hiding from the plague. These were very influential. Chaucer may have read the Decameron when he was on a mission to Italy in 1372. The structure of his Canterbury Tales resembles that of the Decameron.
George Dandin is also associated with an Indian work, the Dolopatos, written before the Common Era and translated into Arabic and Hebrew (see Salon littéraire). It was also translated into Latin and then French. It could be that Molière’s own Jalousie du Barbouillé, which may date back to 1650, was the dramatist’s source.
Molière has written other pastorals, Mélicerte (December 1666), La Pastorale comique (January 1667), Le Sicilien ou l’Amour peintre (February 1667). He did so just before writing George Dandin. In 1668, the year he wrote George Dandin, Molière was very ill.
The Agroikos – Impoverished Nobility
In Greek literature, George Dandin, would be called an agroikos (rustic), a stock character. He is a peasant who has married into the upper classes and wishes to be separated from his wife when he realizes that he has simply bought a title: de la Dandinière. Such incidents were frequent in 17th-century France because aristocrats wanted to be ‘seen’ at court, which costs a fortune. They could not afford dowries for all their daughters. Often only one was endowed.
Angélique’s parents, the Sotenvilles, are impoverished nobility, but they do have a home in Paris. In order to live up to their rank, the Sotenvilles literally sold their daughter to Dandin. Nothing is more important to the Sotenvilles than their rank, which vilifies them. As for George Dandin, although he bought the title of Monsieur de la Dandinière, the Sotenvilles (sot=stupid) continue to see him as a peasant and so does their daughter. In Molière as in Shakespeare, one must to one’s own self be true. Dandin’s marriage is a mésalliance, and Angélique is a “lamb,” as Claudine calls her.
A Mésalliance – Cuckoldry
In Act III, Scene 5, Clitandre points to the incongruous aspect of Angélique’s marriage to Dandin:
(…) et que c’est une étrange chose que l’assemblage qu’on a fait d’une personne comme vous avec un homme comme lui !
[(…) and that the union of a woman like you to a man like him is somewhat strange.(III, 5)]
The marriage has not been consummated (Act III, Scene V ), but there is a contract.
Typically, in Molière, a mésalliance (marrying into a different class) and a forced marriage (un mariage forcé) lead to cuckoldry, the fate so feared by Arnolphe (L’École des femmes, 1662). Dandin was foolish and the Sotenvilles, sots, as their name suggest. When her parents will not allow her to be separated from Dandin, Claudine, Angélique’s maid, says: “It is a pity to see a poor young wife treated in such a fashion; it cries to Heaven for vengeance.” (Claudine, III, 12) However, Dandin is treated neither as a husband nor as a nobleman.
The Dramatis Personæ is as follows:
- Georges Dandin (George Dandin), husband of Angelica
- Angelica (Angélique), Georges Dandin’s wife
- Sir Sotenville (Monsieur de Sotenville), Angelica’s father
- Mrs Sotenville (Madame de Sotenville), Sir Sotenville’s wife
- Clitander (Clitandre), in love with Angelica
- Claudine, Angelica’s servant
- Lubin, Clitandre’s servant
- Colin, Dandin’s servant
The play is a three-act farce and the overall dramatic action, the deceiver deceived, or trompeur trompé, is reflected in each act. The action is triggered in the same manner as in L’École des femmes. Dandin is told that he has a rival, Clitandre, by the rival’s valet, Lubin. Like Arnolphe, Dandin believes this intelligence will help him. He wishes to prove to his in-laws that he has a wicked wife from whom he should be separated, which her parents would never allow. However, Clitandre or Angélique always talk their way out of every ploy used by the ill-fated Dandin.
In Act One, Clitandre, who happens to be with Angélique, suggests that Angélique betrayed him.
Est-ce donc vous, Madame, qui avez dit à votre mari que je suis amoureux de vous ? (Clitandre, I. v)
[Is it you then, Madam, who have told your husband that I am in love with you?] (Clitandre, I, 6)
She defends herself by making believe she is accusing him, but if reversed her words are an invitation to Clitandre to continue the galanterie. It’s a brilliant double entendre. Dandin is then asked to apologize to Clitandre who is a genuine gentilhomme. (I. 8)
In Act Two, once again Lubin tells George everything. Angélique’s parents are brought to see their daughter breaking the terms of the contract, her marriage contract. Act Two, Scene 3 resembles L’École des femmes (III, 2). Dandin tries to impress upon his wife that, given the marriage contract, she has duties, but she is very quick to state that George married her parents. She was not consulted. Angélique denies that she has obligations towards George. When Dandin asks her to chase galants away she speaks as does Agnès in L’École des femmes. She will not chase galants away.
Moi, les [men courting her] chasser ! et par quelle raison ? Je ne me scandalise point qu’on me trouve bien faite, et cela me fait du plaisir. (Scene ii)
[I drive them away! and for what reason? I am not scandalised at being thought handsome, and it affords me pleasure.] (Scene 4)
Angélique is caught speaking with Clitandre, but she feigns anger at Clitandre. (Scene 10) Once again, Dandin is punished. It seems Clitandre is being hit with a stick, but George Dandin is the victim.
In Act Three, Angélique thinks George is sleeping. She is outside with Clitandre. It’s night time and very dark. Believing he is speaking with Claudine, Lubin tells George Dandin everything. But matters are as in the School for Wives, he is speaking to the young couple’s barbon, Dandin. The latter asks Colin, his valet, to seek his in-laws.
In Scene 5, Clitandre is worried. Husbands have privileges. Angélique tells him that she does not make love with Dandin:
Serez-vous assez fou pour avoir cette inquiétude, et pensez-vous qu’on soit capable d’aimer de certains maris qu’il y a ? (Scène v)
[Are you weak enough to have such anxiety, and do you think it is possible to love a certain sort of husbands?] (Scene 5)
In Scene VI, Angélique and Claudine, her maid, cannot re-enter the house. George Dandin has bolted the door. She tells him she has wronged him and, in desperation, she makes believe she has killed herself. When he opens the door to see if she is dead, she and Claudine lock him out. The Sotenvilles arrive and Angélique accuses George Dandin of having spent the evening drinking.
Angélique wants to end the marriage and so does Dandin, but Angélique’s father will not let her leave her husband. Monsieur de Sotenville gives himself the puissance absolue, the absolute power (Scène 7), of a pater familias. Angélique is asked by her father to forgive Dandin, a husband from whom she wants to be separated.
Moi ? lui pardonner tout ce qu’il m’a dit ? Non, non, mon père, il m’est impossible de m’y résoudre, et je vous prie de me séparer d’un mari avec lequel je ne saurais plus vivre. (Scène 7)
[I! pardon him after all that he has said to me? No, no, father I cannot possibly make up my mind to it; and I beg of you to separate me from a husband with whom I can no longer live.] (Scene 14)
As for Dandin, the Sotenvilles force him to kneel down and apologize to Angélique. Therefore, George says to himself that all he can do is go and drown himself, which is indeed all the he can do:
Ah ! je le quitte maintenant, et je n’y vois plus de remède, lorsqu’on a comme moi épousé une méchante femme, le meilleur parti qu’on puisse prendre, c’est de s’aller jeter dans l’eau la tête la première. (Scène 8)
[Ah! I give it up altogether, and I can see no help for it. When one has married, as I have done, a wicked wife, the best step on can take is to go and throw one’s self into the water, head foremost.] (Scene 15)
As noted above, in Molière, mésalliance and forced marriages lead to cuckoldry. All Dandin has gained by marrying Angélique is a title: de la Dandinière, a hollow and ridiculous title. “Se dandiner” means to waddle.
A Problematical comedy
- the contract
- the parasites
- Monsieur de Sotenville: a pater familias – fear
Marriage being a contract and a sacrament, Molière’s George Dandin is a problematical farce. In L’École des femmes, Arnolphe and Agnès were not married. But the Sotenvilles are George Dandin’s in-laws and parasites. They married Angélique to him because of the money he could provide.
Initially, George Dandin was also a parasite. He wanted a title. But the curtain rises on a desperate husband who wishes to see the marriage terminated. We know that the marriage has not been consummated. (Scene V)
Monsieur de Sotenville is the archetypal pater familias. Claudine obeys because she is afraid of him. Fear is very much a factor in Molière. The Sotenvilles may still need Dandin’s money, but more importantly, a separation could be a scandal. They are the Sotenvilles:
Ma fille, de semblables séparations ne se font point sans grand scandale, et vous devez vous montrer plus sage que lui, et patienter encore cette fois. (Scène vii)
[Such separations, daughter, are not brought about without a great deal of scandal; and you should show yourself wiser than he, and be patient once more.] (Scene 14)
Honour is invoked, but far more severe a threat is the authority Monsieur de Sotenville has given himself. He possesses his daughter.
You must, daughter; I command you. (Monsieur de Sotenville, Scene 14)
[This word stops my mouth. You have absolute authority over me.] (Angélique, Scene 14)
“Poor lamb,” says Claudine, Angélique’s maid.
As Angélique bemoans, it will happen again and again. The structure of farces allows constant reversals. They are like the Saturnalia of ancient Rome.
Tout ce que vous me faites faire ne servira de rien, et vous verrez que ce sera dès demain à recommencer. (Angélique, Scène 7)
[Whatever you make me do will be of no use; we shall have to recommence to-morrow, you will see. (Scene 14)]
In the world of comedy, there are no rules of marriage. The genre promotes the marriage of the young lovers. In this play, however, the dramatic structure, i.e. the reversals, dominate. However, while militating in favour of the real young lovers, the farce is unkind to Angélique and Clitandre. They cannot marry because Angélique’s parents will not allow their daughter to come home.
George Dandin is filled with comical scenes, such as the double entendre. The manner in which the Sotenvilles deal with George is also comical. (I. 4) So is the way in which Monsieur de Sotenville introduces himself to Clitandre. He mentions his lineage. (I. 5) In fact, the Sotenvilles are ridiculous. In George Dandin, lineage is mocked as it has never been. Madame de Sotenville’s maiden name is de la Prudoterie.
It could be said therefore that Molière rescues the comedic by pushing the farce to an extreme. Everything is a joke. When the curtain falls, the play will not have taken place. It will have been a joke.
The most famous line of the play is:
“J’enrage de bon cœur d’avoir tort, lorsque j’ai raison.” (Dandin, I. i)
[It makes me mad to be put in the wrong when I am in the right.] (I. 7)
In fact, Dandin is both in the wrong and in the right. According to Will G. Moore, “Dandin is essentially in the right, but he is in all actual cases made to appear in the wrong.”
Love to everyone ♥
- Destiny in “L’École des femmes” (10 June 2016)
- L’École des femmes, part two (2 June 2016)
- L’École des femmes, part one (29 May 2016)
Sources and Resources
- George Dandin is an Internet Archive publication (p. 221…) EN
- George Dandin is a Google eText FR
- George Dandin is a toutmolière.net publication FR
- Salon littéraire
- The School for Wives is an eText (UK) EN
- The School for Wives Criticized is an Internet Archive publication EN
- Molière21 is a research team
 There is disagreement concerning the date.
 Michel Serres, Le Parasite (Paris : Hachette littératures, coll. Pluriel, 1997 ), p. 361-373.
 See W. G. Moore, Molière: a New Criticism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968 ), p. 118.
P. I. Tchaikovsky – Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35
© Micheline Walker
24 June 2016