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La Pastorale comique (théâtre.documention.com)

La Pastorale comique by anonymous (théâtre.documentation.com)

Molière’s Pastorals

Mélicerte was the third entrée in Isaac de Benserade‘s Ballet des Muses. It was performed on 2 December 1666. As for La Pastorale comique, it replaced Mélicerte on 5 January 1667. In both plays, the action takes place at Thessaly, in the Vale of Tempe. Moreover, both Mélicerte and the Pastorale comique are dedicated to Thalia, the muse of comedy. The music was composed by Jean-Baptiste LullyLe Sicilien, ou l’Amour peintre was a bit of an afterthought. It was added to the thirteen entrées of Isaac de Benserade’s Ballet des Muses. It is a fourteenth entrée. So, our pastorals are:

The Ballet des Muses

The Ballet des muses had been written to celebrate the end of the period of mourning that followed the death of the Queen Mother, Anne of Austria. It was performed at Saint-Germain-en-Laye from 2 December 1666 to 19 February 1667. Louis and members of his court remained at Saint-Germain during the entire festivity. So did Molière’s troupe, la Troupe du Roi.

These comedies are considered entertainement (divertissement) and have often escaped the scrutiny of scholars. So have Les Amants magnifiques (1670) and Psyché (1671), a play Molière wrote in collaboration with Pierre Corneille.


Thalia, Muse of Comedy by Jean-Marc Nattier (Wiki2.org)

La Pastorale comique

  • has thirteen scenes (formerly fifteen)
  • eight entrées de ballet (formerly six)
  • professional singers were hired (see La Pastorale comique FR)
  • demons, magicians, peasants, etc., and l’Égyptienne,
    Its missing scenes are described.

In Henri van Laun‘s translation,
the Dramatis Personae is:

LYCAS, a rich shepherd in love with Iris.
PHILENE, a rich shepherd in love with Iris.
CORYDON, a young shepherd, friend of Lycas, in love with Iris.
A HERDSMAN, friend of Philene.
IRIS, a young shepherdess.


In toutmolière.net, the Dramatis Personae are:

IRIS, jeune bergère. Mlle de Brie
LYCAS, riche pasteur (herdsman). Molière 
FILÈNE, riche pasteur. le sieur d’Estival (bass)
CORIDON, jeune berger. La Grange
BERGER ENJOUÉ. Blondel (tenor)
UN PÂTRE. (Châteauneuf).

Professional singers played roles: Le sieur d’Estival, or Destival, a prominent bass, Blondel, a tenor (a playful shepherd) and Noblet l’aîné (l’Égyptienne). (See La Pastorale comique, footnote 3 [toutmolière.net].) Moreover, Molière sang and Louis XIV danced.

The Plot

In La Pastorale comique, Lycas and Filène court Iris, but are rejected (rebutés). Iris chooses the shepherd Coridon. Both Lycas and Filène are running to their death, when a playful shepherd sings:

Ha! quelle folie
De quitter la vie
Pour une beauté
Dont on est rebuté!

On peut, pour un objet aimable
Dont le cœur nous est favorable,
Vouloir perdre la clarté;
Mais quitter la vie
Pour une beauté
Dont on est rebuté,
Ha! quelle folie!
La Pastorale comique,
p. 6.  

[THE SHEPHERD (sings). What folly to quit life for a fair one who rejects us ! We might wish to quit this life for a lovely object’s sake, whose heart favours us, but to die for the fair one who rejects us, is folly ! ]
The Pastoral Comedyp. 51.

Lycas and Filène will not commit suicide, La Pastorale comique being comique. An aria follows the above, which I am omitting, but I should quote the second aria. It is a carpe diem.

Croyez-moi, hâtons-nous, ma Sylvie,
Usons bien des moments précieux;
Contentons ici notre envie,
De nos ans le feu nous y convie:
Nous ne saurions, vous et moi, faire mieux
Quand l’hiver a glacé nos guérets,
Le printemps vient reprendre sa place,
Et ramène à nos champs leurs attraits;
Mais, hélas! quand l’âge nous glace,
Nos beaux jours ne reviennent jamais.//
Ne cherchons tous les jours qu’à nous plaire,
Soyons-y l’un et l’autre empressés;
Du plaisir faisons notre affaire,
Des chagrins songeons à nous défaire:
Il vient un temps où l’on en prend assez.
(return to Quand l’hiver …)
La Pastorale comique, p. 7.

[Believe me, let us hasten, my Sylvia, and profit well by the precious time ; let us here  satisfy our desires. The passions of our age invite us ; you and I could not do better. Winter has covered our fields with ice, Spring comes to take her place again, and to our pastures gives their charms. But when, alas ! old age has chilled us; our happy days return no more. // Let us seek all day naught but what pleases us ; let us both be earnest about it ; let pleasures be our business ; let us get rid of all our troubles; a time will come when we shall have enough of them.] (Return to “Winter has covered”)
The Pastoral Comedy, pp. 51-52.


According to the members of the Molière21 (Sorbonne) research group, whose work is authoritative, we know very little about the Ballet des Muses and Molière’s pastorals.  However, as a genre, pastorals are important. In pastorals, “a pastoral lifestyle,” the lifestyle of shepherds, “lends its name to a genre of literature, art, and music that depicts such life in an idealized manner, typically for urban audiences.” (See Pastoral, Wiki2.org.) Toile de Jouy often uses a pastoral motif. So do tapestries and various ornaments, including dishes. It is innocence versus experience, simplicity in a complex world and a golden age, forever remembered.

Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony No 6 is a hymn to nature. Beethoven once heard the many voices of birds as he walked in wooded areas and he undoubtedly experienced nature’s newness following thunderstorms. Wikipedia uses Christopher Marlowe‘s The Passionate Shepherd to His Love as an example of the pastoral in literature.


Sources and Resources

Love to everyone 


© Micheline Walker
10 May 2019