Sganarelle ou le Cocu imaginaire de Molière : « Allez, fripier d’écrits, impudent plagiaire. » Œuvres: Dessins par Lorentz, Jules David, etc. Gravures par les meilleurs artistes, Paris, Schneider, 1850. (Wiki2.org)
I wrote a very long post on Sganarelle, ou le Cocu imaginaire and apologize. Yet there are points I would like to underline, the first of which is Célie’s suivante’s praise of marriage.
Célie’s Suivante: a Praise of Marriage
In those pleasant times, which flew away like lightning, I went to bed, in the very depth of winter, without kindling a fire in the room; even airing the sheets appeared then to me ridiculous; but now I shiver even in the dog days. In short, madam, believe me there is nothing like having a husband at night by one’s side, were it only for the pleasure of hearing him say, “God bless you,” whenever one may happen to sneeze. Clélie’s suivante praise of marriage (Scene 2).
Can this praise of marriage reassure Célie? She faints and drops her portrait of Lélie.
Sganarelle’s Wife: Jealousy or Love
I did write that Sganarelle’s wife was jealous, but did not quote her. When she sees Sganarelle helping Célie who has fainted, Sganarelle’s wife thinks he is unfaithful to her.
Ah! what do I see? My husband, holding in his arms… But I shall go down; he is false to me most certainly; I should be glad to catch him. Sganarelle’s wife (Scene 4)
Moreover, Sganarelle’s wife knows that her husband is not a handsome man. She says that the young man the portrait depicts is the kind of person a woman would find attractive.
Que n’ai-je un mari d’une aussi bonne mine, Au lieu de mon pelé, de mon rustre… Sganarelle’s wife, (Sc. 6, p. 6) Alas! why have I not a handsome man like this for my husband instead of my booby, my clod-hopper…? Sganarelle’s wife (Scene 6)
Yet, in the “recognition” scene (Scene 22), an anagnorisis, Sganarelle’s wife asks Célie not to seduce her husband’s heart. She is fond of her husband despite poor looks.
I am not inclined, Madam, to show that I am over-jealous; but I am no fool, and can see what is going on. There are certain amours which appear very strange; you should be better employed than in seducing a heart which ought to be mine alone. Sganarelle’s wife to Célie (Scene 22)
Sganarelle viewed by Lélie
But Lélie is confused. Not only has Célie chosen Sganarelle, but the man is ugly, uglier than Lélie was told. How could Célie have found qualities in Sganarelle?
Alas! what have I heard! The report then was true that her husband was the ugliest of all his sex. Even if your faithless lips had never sworn me more than a thousand times eternal love, the disgust you should have felt at such a base and shameful choice might have sufficiently secured me against the loss of your affection… But this great insult, and the fatigues of a pretty long journey, produce all at once such a violent effect upon me, that I feel faint, and can hardly bear up under it. Lélie, alone (Scene 10)
Lélie cannot see Sganarelle’s heart. He thinks his good looks should have served him. He doesn’t know the “other” man is Valère, nor does he know that “the cœur has its reasons, which reason doesn’t know.” (“Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point.”) (Blaise Pascal)
It is at this point that Célie’s maid decides to “interfere.” She knows that Célie loves Lélie and that Gorgibus has decided his daughter would marry Valère, rather than Lélie. What Célie’s suivante does not appear to know is that Célie dropped her portrait of Lélie and that Sganarelle’s wife picked it up and admired it. Hearing his wife praise the portrait, Sganarelle snatched the portrait and became extremely jealous.
Célie’s suivante (maid) “interferes”
Célie’s suivante knows that Célie is in love with Lélie, but that her father wants her to marry Valère.
Upon my word, I do not know when this entanglement will be unravelled. I have tried for a pretty long time to comprehend it, but the more I hear the less I understand. Really I think I must interfere at last. (Placing herself between Lelio and Celia). Answer me one after another, and (To Lelio) allow me to ask what do you accuse this lady of? Célia’s maid to Lélie (Scene 22)
In other words she knows that Célie is not Sganarelle’s lover and that his wife is keeping him on a short leash.
But, the plot is as Lélie says, except that Célie has not married Sganarelle. Célie dropped the portrait which is in Sganarelle’s hands when Lélie talks to him.
As soon as I heard she was going to be married I hastened hither, carried away by an irrepressible love, and not believing I could be forgotten; but discovered, when I arrived here, that she was married to Sganarelle. Lélie to Clélie’s suivante (Scene 22)
Lélie does have a rival, but the rival is an invisible Valère. That is why he was riding back to Paris as quickly as possible. So there is a blondin berne le barbon (the young man fools the old man). But as the plot unfolds, Gorgibus does not seem a blocking-character. The blondin berne le barbon seems to provide a frame story. The themes are jealousy, cuckolding, and false appearances. Sganarelle imagines that he is a cocu, and he can’t resist his bile.
By the way, yes Les Précieuses ridicules were extremely successful when the farce was first performed, on 18 November 1659. But, in the long run, Sganarelle, ou le Cocu imaginaire has been the more popular play. It’s progeny is truly impressive. I have unearthed more sources, but Sganarelle was paraphrased, imitated and adapted time and again. (See The Imaginary Cuckold, Le Cocu imaginaire, Wiki2.org.) During Molière’s life time, or from 1660 to 1673, Sganarelle was played 122 times.
The fact that Sganarelle’s wife loves her husband says a great deal about Molière. Sganarelle, played by Molière, may not be handsome in the eyes of other persons. In fact, his wife knows that he is not handsome, but he is her man.
Célie’s suivante unravels the mess, and her praise of marriage makes sense. A good husband provides warmth and reassurance. A man and wife are a household. They operate a small business and may become the best of friends. We will be looking at Les Quinze joyes de mariage(The Fifteen Joys of Marriage) a satire, but… Molière read it. It’s an Internet Archive publication, in old French, but I had to study old French.
Painting of Blaise Pascal made by François II Quesnel for Gérard Edelinck in 1691
Imagination. It is that deceitful part in man, that mistress of error and falsity, the more deceptive that she is not always so; for she would be an infallible rule of truth, if she were an infallible rule of falsehood. But being most generally false, she gives no sign of her nature, impressing the same character on the true and the false.
The computerworks quite well, but be very careful. Internet criminals are now very convincing. They use a form of terrorism. They say they want to protect you from the “bad guys” who are already helping themselves to your pension fund and stealing your identity. This isn’t true. They are the “bad guys.”
Yesterday, I realized I could not copy passages from my usual internet publications, such as toutmolière.net. I hope this is a temporary setback.
I apologize for not reading your posts. I could not use the computer.
Sources and Resources
Sganarelle or the Self-Deceived Husband is [eBook #6681]
Molière’s Sganarelle ou le Cocu imaginaire was staged in the wake of his very successful Précieuses ridicules, which had premièred on 18 November 1659. Molière’s Précieuses ridicules earned his troupe considerable notoriety. Although Sganarelle, ou le Cocu imaginaire was not as successful as Les Précieuses ridicules, Sganarelle as a type is one of Molière’s perplexing characters: Arnolphe (The School for Wifes), Tartuffe‘s Orgon, The Misanthrope‘s Alceste, L’Avare‘s miser, The Imaginary Invalid‘s Argan and, above all, the jaloux among them. According to scholar Paul Bénichou, these characters, the jaloux above all, blend in almost equal proportions vanity and insecurity: vanité et inquiétude.
 Paul Bénichou, Morales du Grand Siècle (Paris: Gallimard, 1948), pp. 295-296.
Molière as Sganarelle (Wiki2.org)
Sganarelle ou le Cocu imaginaire has been associated with Boisrobert’s Les Apparences trompeuses (1656) and Scarron’s La Fausse Apparence (1657). Deceptive appearances are a familiar theme in 17th-century French literature. In his Pensées, Blaise Pascal writes that human beings are at the mercy of puissances trompeuses, deceptive powers, one of which is imagination. Sganarelle is an imaginaire, thirteen years before Le Malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid).
Therefore, although appearances may be deceptive, in Le Cocu imaginaire, Sganarelle is an imaginaire whose jealousy so thwarts reality that seeing his wife admiring the finely encased portrait of a good-looking young man triggers a series of misunderstandings, quiproquos, to which there does not seem to be an end.
It remains that Sganarelle ou le Cocu imaginaire‘s comedic plot formula is the usual all’s well that ends well, le tout est bien qui finit bien. However, the main obstacle to the young lover’s marriage does not appear to be Célie’s tyrannical father, a pater familias, but the imbroglio in which the self-deceived Sganarelle ensnares most members of the society of the play.
Given its depiction of jealousy, the play is a comedy of manners, but its numerous péripéties, twists and turns, also make it a comedy of intrigue. In fact, the mess is such that Célie’s suivante calls it a galimatias, a shemozzle. Célie’s suivante is the zanni of the comedy.
GORGIBUS, a citizen of Paris.
LELIO, in love with Celia. (Lélie) SGANARELLE, a citizen of Paris and the self-deceived husband.
VILLEBREQUIN, father to Valère.
GROS-RENÉ, servant to Lelio. A RELATIVE OF SGANARELLE’S WIFE. CELIA, daughter of Gorgibus.(Clélie) SGANARELLE’S WIFE.
A PUBLICK PLACE IN PARIS.
A Pater Familias
As the curtain lifts, Clélie is crying because her father wishes to force a marriage with a man she does not love. Clélie loves Lélie:
Ah ! n’espérez jamais que mon cœur y consente Clélie à Gorgibus (I. i.) [Ah! never expect my heart to consent to that.] Clélie to Gorgibus (I. 1) or Sganarelle, p. 47 Que marmottez-vous là, petite impertinente ?
Vous prétendez choquer ce que j’ai résolu ? Je n’aurai pas sur vous un pouvoir absolu ? Et par sottes raisons, votre jeune cervelle Voudrait régler ici la raison paternelle ? Gorgibus à Clélie (I. i) (Sganarelle)
[What do you mutter, you little impertinent girl? Do you suppose you can thwart my resolution? Have I not absolute power over you? And shall your youthful brain control my fatherly discretion by foolish arguments?] Gorgibus to Clélie (I. 1)
It turns out, however, that Gorgibus has already agreed to a marriage between his daughter Célie and Lélie, a promise he cannot break on a whim.
J’aurais tort si, sans vous, je disposais de moi ;
Mais vous-même à ses vœux engageâtes ma foi. Clélie à Gorgibus (I. i)
[Do you suppose, dear father, I can ever forget that unchangeable affection I owe to Lelio? I should be wrong to dispose of my hand against your will, but you yourself engaged me to him.] Clélie to Gorgibus (I. 1).
After Célie’s conversation with Gorgibus and her suivante‘s comment to the effect that Lélie has been away too long, Célie faints and drops her portrait of Lélie. Sganarelle helps Célie.
Votre Lélie aussi, n’est ma foi qu’une bête, Puisque si hors de temps son voyage l’arrête, Et la grande longueur de son éloignement Me le fait soupçonner de quelque changement Suivante à Célie (I. ii)
[Upon my word, your Lelio is a mere fool to stay away the very time he is wanted; his long absence makes me very much suspect some change in his affection.] Suivante à Lélie (I. 2)
Et cependant il faut… ah ! soutiens-moi. Laissant tomber le portrait de Lélie. Célie à sa suivante (I. ii) [And yet I must—Ah! support me.]
(She lets fall the portrait of Lelio.) Célie (I. 2)
Sganarelle’s Wife and the Portrait
Sganarelle’s wife suspects he is unfaithful. She has seen him help Célie when she fainted next to her suivante.
However, it so happens that she picks up the exquisitely encased, a jewel, portrait of a fine-looking young man and comments, aloud, that she has never seen anything more beautiful, praising both the workmanship and the young man’s likeness:
(En ramassant le portrait que Célie avait laissé tomber.)
Mais quel est ce bijou que le sort me présente,
L’émail en est fort beau, la gravure charmante,
Ouvrons. Femme de Sg. (I. v) (p. 5) (Taking up the picture which Celia had let fall.) But what a pretty thing has fortune sent me here; the enamel of it is most beautiful, the workmanship delightful; let me open it?) Sg’s wife (I. 5)
…, sans l’apercevoir, continue.
Jamais rien de plus beau ne s’offrit à ma vue. Le travail plus que l’or s’en doit encor priser. Hon que cela sent bon. Femme de Sg. (I. vi) (p. 6) [(Not seeing her husband). I never saw anything more beautiful in my life! The workmanship is even of greater value than the gold! Oh, how sweet it smells!] Sg’s wife (I. 6)
Now, Sganarelle is furious. This must be the portrait of the man cuckolding him:
Tu ne m’entends que trop, Madame la carogne ; Sganarelle, est un nom qu’on ne me dira plus, Et l’on va m’appeler seigneur Cornelius : J’en suis pour mon honneur ; mais à toi qui me l’ôtes, Je t’en ferai du moins pour un bras ou deux côtes. Sg à sa femme (I. vi)
[(Snatching the portrait from her.) What, hussey! have I caught you in the very act, slandering your honourable and darling husband? According to you, most worthy spouse, and everything well considered, the husband is not as good as the wife?) Sg to his wife (I. 6)
Meanwhile, having been detained, Lélie and Gros-René are rushing back to Paris because rumours have arisen concerning Lélie’s marriage to Célie. It could be endangered, which it is. The first person he sees is Sganarelle who soon recognizes him. Sganarelle has Lélie’s portrait, a pledge given to Célie. Sganarelle is holding a portrait which, is a portrait of him given as a gage, a pledge to Célie.
Je ne m’abuse point, c’est mon portrait lui-même. Lélie, seul (I. ix)
[Heavens! what do I see? If that be my picture, what then must I believe?] What do you say? She from whom you received this pledge… Lélie to Sganarelle (I. 9)
Puis-je obtenir de vous, de savoir l’aventure, Qui fait dedans vos mains trouver cette peinture. Lélie à Sg. (I. ix) (p. 10)
[Will you inform me by what accident that picture came into your hands?] Lélie to Sg. (I. 9)
(À part) D’où lui vient ce désir ; mais je m’avise ici… Ah ! ma foi, me voilà de son trouble éclairci,
Sa surprise à présent n’étonne plus mon âme, C’est mon homme, ou plutôt c’est celui de ma femme. Lélie à Sg. (I. ix) ou (p.10 toutmolière.net))
[(Aside). Why does he wish to know? But I am thinking… (Looking at Lelio and at the portrait in his hand). Oh! upon my word, I know the cause of his anxiety; I no longer wonder at his surprise. This is my man, or rather, my wife’s man.] Sganarelle, alone (I. 9) Retirez-moi de peine et dites d’où vous vient… [Pray, relieve my distracted mind, and tell me how you come by…] Lélie à Sganarelle (I. ix)
…Mais faites-moi celui [l’honneur] de cesser désormais
Un amour qu’un mari peut trouver fort mauvais,
Et songez que les nœuds du sacré mariage… Sg à Lélie (I. ix)
[… but henceforth, be kind enough to break off an intrigue, which a husband may not approve of; and consider that the holy bonds of wedlock…] Sg to Lelio (I. 9) Quoi, celle dites-vous dont vous tenez ce gage. Lélie à Sg. (I. ix) [What do you say? She from whom you received this pledge…] Sg to Lélie (I. 9) Est ma femme, et je suis son mari. [Is my wife, and I am her husband.] Sg to Lélie (I. 9)
Sganarelle needs a witness. In a scene reminiscent of George Dandin, he runs to fetch a relative, leaving behind a puzzled Lélie.
Ah ! que viens-je d’entendre ? On me l’avait bien dit, et que c’était de tous L’homme le plus mal fait qu’elle avait pour époux. Lélie, seul (I. x) (pp. 12-23)
Alas! what have I heard! The report then was true that her husband was the ugliest of all his sex.
Lélie, alone (I. 10)
So astonished is Lelio that he nearly faints. As Sganarelle leaves, his wife looks after a distressed Lélie.
Sganarelle’s relative has good advice, but our jaloux thinks he has caught his wife, “in the act.” She is with Lélie.
Tâchons donc par nos soins… Ah ! que vois-je, je meure, Il n’est plus question de portrait à cette heure, Voici ma foi la chose en propre original. Sg seul (I. xiv) (p. 14) [Aside seeing them. Ha! what do I see? Zounds! there can be no more question about the portrait, for upon my word here stands the very man, in propria persona.] Sg alone (I. 14)
Lélie is at his wit’s end. Destiny has betrayed him:
Ah ! mon âme s’émeut et cet objet m’inspire… Mais je dois condamner cet injuste transport, Et n’imputer mes maux qu’aux rigueurs de mon sort. Envions seulement le bonheur de sa flamme.
(Passant auprès de lui, et le regardant.) Oh ! trop heureux d’avoir une si belle femme. Lélie seeing Sg. (I. xv) (pp. 14-15)
[Oh! my soul is moved! this sight inspires me with … but I ought to blame this unjust resentment, and only ascribe my sufferings to my merciless fate; yet I cannot help envying the success that has crowned his passion. (Approaching Sganarelle). O too happy mortal in having so beautiful a wife.] Lélie, to himself, seeing and looking at Sg. (I. 15)
Célie has seen and heard Lélie, but he has not visited her. She decides to speak to Sganarelle and asks whether Sganarelle knows him.
Quoi, Lélie a paru tout à l’heure à mes yeux,
Qui pourrait me cacher son retour en ces lieux. Clélie (I. xvi) (p. 15)
[Who can that be? Just now I saw Lelio.
Why does he conceal his return from me?] Célie (I. 16)
Celui qui maintenant devers vous est venu Et qui vous a parlé, d’où vous est-il connu ? Célie à Sganarelle(I. xvi) (p. 15)
[Pray, sir, how came you to know this gentleman who went away just now and spoke to you?] Célie to Sganarelle (I. 16)
Sgnarelle says he doesn’t him, but that his wife does. The young man is cuckolding him. Célie probes further. Why does Sganarelle look so sad?
Si je suis affligé, ce n’est pas pour des prunes
Et je le donnerais à bien d’autres qu’à moi
De se voir sans chagrin au point où je me voi.
Des maris malheureux, vous voyez le modèle,
On dérobe l’honneur au pauvre Sganarelle ;
Mais c’est peu que l’honneur dans mon affliction
L’on me dérobe encor la réputation. Sganarelle à Célie (I. xvi)
[If I am sad it is not for a trifle: I challenge other people not to grieve, if they found themselves in my condition. You see in me the model of unhappy husbands. Poor Sganarelle’s honour is taken from him; but the loss of my honour would be small—they deprive me of my reputation also.] Sg to Célie (I. 16)
Célie is very disturbed. Being in love with Sganarelle’s wife could explain Lélie’s secret return. She says that she was right!
Ah ! j’avais bien jugé que ce secret retour
Ne pouvait me couvrir que quelque lâche tour,
Et j’ai tremblé d’abord en le voyant paraître,
Par un pressentiment de ce qui devait être. Célie (I. xvi)
[Ah! I find I was right when I thought his returning secretly only concealed some base design; I trembled the minute I saw him, from a sad foreboding of what would happen.] Célie (I. 16)
Sganarelle bares his grief, in a soliloquy. However, he realizes that he is not the only husband to have been betrayed and that his affliction it is not worth dying for.
La bière [the grave] est un séjour par trop mélancolique
Et trop malsain pour ceux qui craignent la colique,
Et quant à moi je trouve, ayant tout compassé, Qu’il vaut mieux être encor cocu que trépassé[.] Sganarelle, seul (I. xvii)
[The grave is too melancholy an abode, and too unwholesome for people who are afraid of the colic; as for me, I find, all things considered, that it is, after all, better to be a cuckold than to be dead.] Sganarelle, alone (I. 17)
But he is resentful and to avenge himself, he will tell everyone that his wife lies with Lélie. Morever, his bile is making him consider “some manly action.” He will return bearing arms, he will be incapable of using (scene 21).
Je me sens là, pourtant remuer une bile Qui veut me conseiller quelque action virile[.] Sganarelle, seul (I. xvii) (p. 18)
[I feel, however, my bile is stirred up here; it almost persuades me to do some manly action.] Sganarelle, alone (I. 17)
Meanwhile, a spiteful Célie, dépit amoureux, tells her father that she will do her duty and marry Valère.
Faites quand vous voudrez signer cet hyménée, À suivre mon devoir je suis déterminée, Je prétends gourmander mes propres sentiments Et me soumettre en tout à vos commandements. Célie à Gorgibus (I. xviii) (p. 19-20)
[…I will sign the marriage contract whenever you please, for I am now determined to perform my duty. I can Célie to Gorgibus command my own inclinations, and shall do whatever you order me.] Célie to Gorgibus (I. 18)
Lélie thinks mistakenly that Célie loves Sganarelle. Sganarelle thinks mistakenly that Lélio loves his wife. Sganarelle has returned bearing arms. Why is Lélie being attacked? Célie’s suivante is perplexed.
Ce changement m’étonne. Suivante (I. xix) (p. 21)
[This change surprises me.] Suivante (I. 19) Et lorsque tu sauras
Par quel motif j’agis tu m’en estimeras. Suivante à Célie (I. xix) [When you come to know why I act thus, you will esteem me for it.] Suivante à Célie (I. 19) Apprends donc que Lélie,
A pu blesser mon cœur par une perfidie,
Qu’il était en ces lieux sans… Célie à sa suivante (I. xix)
[Know then that Lelio has wounded my heart by his treacherous behaviour, and has been in this neighbourhood without…] Célie to her suivante (I. 19)
Lélie asks Célie to remain where she is. (I. xx) (I. 20)
In Scene 21 Sganarelle returns bearing arms.
entre armé. Guerre, guerre mortelle, à ce larron d’honneur Qui sans miséricorde a souillé notre honneur. Sganarelle (I. xxi) (p. 20)
[I wage war, a war of extermination against this robber of my honour, who without mercy has sullied my fair name.]
À qui donc en veut-on?
(Turning round). Against whom do you bear such a grudge? Lélie (I. xxi) (p. 20)
In scene 22, Sganarelle’s wife is angry at Célie, whom she suspects is her husband’s lover. But finally, Célie’s suivante decides to clear up the misunderstanding. Lélie and Célie are undeceived, but Célie has accepted to marry Valère. Lélie comforts her. Her father will keep his word, which Gorgibus is not ready to do. (I. 23)
But in scene 24, the last scene, Villebrequin, Valère’s father, comes to announce that Valère has married secretly, which frees Célie and Lélie.
So, all’s well that ends well. A “bonheur éternel” (eternal bliss) awaits our young lovers.
Molière seldom signed documents, but this dénouement is Molière’s signature. No one suffers and nearly everyone has been blinded. Molière is not punitive. All are preparing for the forthcoming wedding.
As for Sganarelle, he is not the only character to have been deceived. He gives the entire adventure a moral, as though the play were a moralité.
A-t-on mieux cru jamais être cocu que moi. Vous voyez qu’en ce fait la plus forte apparence Peut jeter dans l’esprit une fausse créance : De cet exemple-ci, ressouvenez-vous bien, Et quand vous verriez tout, ne croyez jamais rien. Sganarelle, à part [Was there ever a man who had more cause to think himself victimized? You perceive that in such matters the strongest probability may create in the mind a wrong belief. Therefore remember, never to believe anything even if you should see everything.] Sganarelle, aside
Sources and Resources
Sganarelle or the Self-Deceived Husband is [eBook #6681]
My computer is working, but I am feeling rather fragile. You will find errors in this post and it is very long, due mainly to the bilingual translations. I apologize. Further articles on Molière will be shorter.
_________________________  Paul Bénichou, Morales du Grand Siècle (Paris: Gallimard, 1948), pp. 295-296.
I did not intend to write an article today. But I just realized that today is the anniversary of D-Day, and I have a story to tell. In fact, it is a story I have already told, but …
One of my uncles survived D-Day for reasons he cannot understand. He then went north to Holland where he was asked to accompany prisoners of war who were being transported. They were seated at the back of a truck. All was well.
Out of the blue, one of the prisoners leaped from his seat and lowered my uncle’s body. My uncle nearly fell and he lost his rifle. The prisoner of war then helped him get up and retrieved the rifle. My uncle could not understand what had happened. So, the soldier showed him a metal wire the truck had just driven past. It would have decapitated my uncle had this “enemy” not seen it and acted promptly.
This was a moment of grace and innocence. It was a moment so precious that my uncle never forgot. In peacetime, the two young men would have enjoyed a long conversation over coffee. War had separated them.
It has been seventy-five years. Yet, tears still come to my uncle’s eyes when he remembers.
Schubert, Trio op. 100 – Andante con moto Par le Trio Wanderer (Voyage d’hiver 2007 – Carte Blanche au Trio Wanderer, réalisation Jean-Pierre Barizien – CLC Productions)
There have been many Dandins. I remember François Rabelais‘ Perrin Dandin (Pantagruel, Third Book XLI), perhaps an early Dandin. Given the oral tradition, this Perrin Dandin may not be the first.
However, there is a Perrin Dandin in Racine’s Les Plaideurs (1668) and in La Fontaine’s “L’Huître et les Plaideurs” (“The Oyster and the Litigants”). La Fontaine’s “Oyster and the Litigants” was published in his second volume of fables (1678), but may date back to the early 1670s.
Perrin Dandin is a simple citizen in the “Pantagruel” of Rabelais, who seats himself judge-wise on the first stump that offers, and passes off hand a sentence in any matter of litigation; a character who figures similarly in a comedy of Racine’s, and in a fable of La Fontaine’s.
Ironically, Jean Racine‘s Les Plaideurswas first performed in November 1668, at l’Hôtel de Bourgogne, Paris’ most prominent venue. It therefore premiered, in Paris, the same month as Molière’s George Dandin. Molière’s George Dandin is not a judge, but whenener he runs to his in-laws, he brandishes a contract. I have pointed out that in Paris, George Dandin was no longer a comédie-ballet and pastoral. It was a three-act farce in which a peasant lived the consequences of a marriage which, he thought, would elevate him to gentilhommerie. George Dandin’s Gentilhommerie is the Sotenvilles. “Sot” means stupid (and related adjectives).
A sotie is classified as a medieval farce and morality. Some argue, however, that it is a separate genre. Marrying Angélique, whom he had not courted (galanterie), was unesottise (foolish or silly) on the part of George Dandin. Could he not see sot in her parents’ name? They are Monsieur and Madame de Sotenville (from sot), and Madame de Sotenville was born a La Prudoterie, from prude. In Molière’s Le Misanthrope, Arsinoé is the opposite of Célimène. The prude is the opposite of the mondaine. Moreover, names such as Sotenville do not seem real. They seem and may be allegorical.
Whereas the characters in a farce would be distinguished individuals with proper names, the characters in the soties were pure allegories. The characters had names such as “First Fool” and Second Fool”, or “Everyman”, “Pilgrim” etc. Sometime there would be a leader of the fools, called “Mother Fool” (Mère Sotte).
(See Sotie, Wikipedia.) Mère Sotte was the papacy. Soties were banned.
The above Dandin is not Molière’s George Dandin. It is Jean Racine’s Perrin Dandin featured in Les Plaideurs (1668). Racine’s Dandin is a besotted judge who has to judge at all times. While judging dogs, he allows his son Léandre to marry Chicanneau’s daughter Isabelle.
DANDIN : judge, LÉANDRE : son of Dandin, fils de Dandin. CHICANNEAU : bourgeois. ISABELLE : Chicanneau’s daughter, fille de Chicanneau (chinanery). LA COMTESSE. PETIT JEAN : portier. L’INTIMÉ : secrétaire. LE SOUFFLEUR (prompt).
L’Huître et les Plaideurs
In my opinion, the best-known Dandin is Jean de La Fontaine’s. He is featured in L’Huître et les Plaideurs (The Oyster and the Litigants). Two pèlerins find an oyster. They both claim ownership of the oyster. Perrin Dandin walks by our pèlerins who decide he should judge who is the owner of the oyster. Perrin Dandin eats the oyster and takes our pilgrims’ money.
Un jour deux Pèlerins sur le sable rencontrent Une Huître que le flot y venait d’apporter : Ils l’avalent des yeux, du doigt ils se la montrent ; A l’égard de la dent il fallut contester. (read more)
Pendant tout ce bel incident, Perrin Dandin arrive : ils le prennent pour juge. Perrin fort gravement ouvre l’Huître, et la gruge, Nos deux Messieurs le regardant. Ce repas fait, il dit d’un ton de Président : Tenez, la cour vous donne à chacun une écaille Sans dépens, et qu’en paix chacun chez soi s’en aille. Mettez ce qu’il en coûte à plaider aujourd’hui ; Comptez ce qu’il en reste à beaucoup de familles ; Vous verrez que Perrin tire l’argent à lui, Et ne laisse aux plaideurs que le sac et les quilles.
JEAN DE LA FONTAINE
Livre 9, fable 9
Two pilgrims on the sand espied
An oyster thrown up by the tide.
In hope, both swallowed ocean’s fruit;
But before the fact there came dispute.
Amidst this sweet affair, Arrived a person very big, Ycleped Sir Nincom Periwig.
They made him judge, to set the matter square.
Sir Nincom, with a solemn face,
Took up the oyster and the case:
In opening both, the first he swallowed,
And, in due time, his judgment followed.
“Attend: the court awards you each a shell
Cost free; depart in peace, and use them well.”
Foot up the cost of suits at law,
The leavings reckon and awards,
The cash you’ll see Sir Nincom draw,
And leave the parties—purse and cards. JEAN DE LA FONTAINE
Book 9, Fable 9
L’Huître et les Plaideurs (Commons Wikimedia)
I wrote that comedy has redeeming mechanisms, such as the deceiver deceived, or trompeur trompé. In l’École des femmes, despite raising a wife, Agnès, Arnolphe loses her when she meets young Horace. Her instinct leads Agnès to fall in love with Horace and find safety in his presence. Yet, one sympathizes with Arnolphe. He loves Agnès, but he doesn’t know galanterie. The comedy ends in the traditional marriage. But comedy has more than one plot formula. Farces are circular. Dandin will forever plead his cause, but what if he had opened the bolted door when Angélique was desperate, and comforted her. Beauty loves Beast.
But suddenly I remembered the medieval soties, not to mention Reynard the Fox, its comic trial and Bruin losing the skin of his nose when it gets wedged in an opening in a log. But it’s “no skin off my nose,” as it grows back. It’s like a cartoon. Jill Mann, who translated the Ysengrimus, the birthplace of Reynard the Fox, into English, compares this phenomenon to the flattened cat of cartoons who fluffs up again. In the world of cartoons, injuries may be reversible.
George Dandin lived before cartoons, but Molière knew the sotie and the cartoonish Reynard the Fox (Le Roman de Renart).
The Wikipedia entry on sotie compares the genre to carnivals. Mikhail Baktin, who studied Rabelais, identified the carnivalesque in Rabelais, a world upside down. Molière has not broken any rule. The carnivalesque is a constante in literature. However, Molière has a way of humanizing fools and vice versa. The Misanthrope is the epitome in this æsthetics.
I will make these words, my last words on George Dandin who is both right and wrong. But he is less a fool than the Sotenvilles, or is it the reverse?
By the way, “se dandiner” means to waddle and Dandin is a family name. George Dandin’s name is not allegorical.
____________________ Mère Sotte was the papacy. Soties were banned. Jill Mann, “The Satiric Fiction of the Ysengrimus,” in Kenneth Varty (ed.), Reynard the Fox: Social Engagement and Cultural Metamorphoses in the Beast Epic from the Middle Ages to the Present (New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2000), p. 11.