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Les Fourberies de Scapin

Terence lived from c. 195/185 – c. 159? BCE and
Plautus from c. 254 – 184 BCE

Legend has it that Molière’s grandfather took him to see the Italians, and we know that Molière’s only teacher was Scaramouche (Scaramuccia). Therefore, despite links with Terence and Plautus and their source, Greek New Comedy, the plays of Menander chiefly, Molière was also inspired by his French contemporaries: Cyrano de Bergerac (Le Pédant joué), Jean Rotrou (La Sœur), and others.

Molière’s Les Fourberies de Scapin premièred at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal, on 24 May 1671. It was not as successful as expected when it was first performed, but it became and remained a popular play after Molière’s death, on 17 February 1673. Molière used many registres (levels), so Boileau wrote that he could no longer recognize the author of the Misanthrope in Les Fourberies de Scapin.

Dans ce sac ridicule où Scapin s’enveloppe,
Je ne reconnais plus l’auteur du Misanthrope
Art poétique, chant III, v. 395-400.
Toutmolière.net, Notice

The Plot

  • reversal
  • doublings
  • lazzi
  • anagnorisis

However, do not expect a clear barbon-berne-blondin plot, a straightforward “all’s well that ends well.” When this comedy begins, one of the two young couples has married without seeking the approval of the pater familias. Such approval will be sought and the young couples helper will be Scapin. Moreover, the play is a series of lazzi, tricks played by Scapin.

Our dramatis personæ is

ARGANTE, father to OCTAVE and ZERBINETTE.
GÉRONTE, father to LÉANDRE and HYACINTHA.
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.
HYACINTHA, daughter to GÉRONTE.
SCAPIN, servant to LÉANDRE.
SILVESTRE, servant to OCTAVE.
NÉRINE, nurse to HYACINTHA.
CARLE, a trickster.
TWO PORTERS.

The scene is at NAPLES.

Doublings

  • two fathers: Argante and Géronte,
  • two sons: Octave and Léandre,
  • two ingénues: Zerbinette1 and Hyacinthe2
  • Scapin (servant to Léandre)
  • Sylvestre (servant to Octave)

1 Argante’s daughter
2 Géronte’s daughter

Ironically, Argante wants his son Octave to marry Hyacinthe. As for Géronte, he wants his son Léandre to marry Zerbinette, Argante’s daughter. We may expect recognition scenes (anagnorisis). 

ACT ONE

In Act One, Scene One, we learn that Octave’s father has returned from a trip and that his plans are for Octave to marry Géronte’s daughter. In the meantime, Octave has married Hyacinthe, a poor girl.

In Scene Two, Octave tells Scapin that he is desperate. Scapin isn’t.

À vous dire la vérité, il y a peu de choses qui me soient impossibles, quand je m’en veux mêler. J’ai sans doute reçu du Ciel un génie assez beau pour toutes les fabriques de ces gentillesses d’esprit, de ces galanteries ingénieuses à qui le vulgaire ignorant donne le nom de fourberies ; et je puis dire sans vanité, qu’on n’a guère vu d’homme qui fût plus habile ouvrier de ressorts et d’intrigues ; qui ait acquis plus de gloire que moi dans ce noble métier : mais, ma foi, le mérite est trop maltraité aujourd’hui, et j’ai renoncé à toutes choses depuis certain chagrin d’une affaire qui m’arriva.
Scapin à Octave  (I. ii)
To tell you the truth, there are few things impossible to me when I once set about them. Heaven has bestowed on me a fair enough share of genius for the making up of all those neat strokes of mother wit, for all those ingenious gallantries to which the ignorant and vulgar give the name of impostures; and I can boast, without vanity, that there have been very few men more skillful than I in expedients and intrigues, and who have acquired a greater reputation in the noble profession. But, to tell the truth, merit is too ill rewarded nowadays, and I have given up everything of the kind since the trouble I had through a certain affair which happened to me.
Scapin to Octave (I. 3)

In Scene Three, Hyacinthe says she fears losing Octave:

J’ai ouï dire, Octave, que votre sexe aime moins longtemps que le nôtre, et que les ardeurs que les hommes font voir, sont des feux qui s’éteignent aussi facilement qu’ils naissent.
Hyacinthe à Octave (I. iii)
[I have heard say, Octave, that your sex does not love so long as ours, and that the ardour men show is a fire which dies out as easily as it is kindled.
Hyacinthe to Octave (I. 3)

In Scene Three/Four, Scapin wants Octave to prepare for “firmness’
In Scene Three/Five, Octave runs off and Scapin says: “Leave it to me.”

Reason, Destiny, Age and Fear

In Scene Four/Six, Argante enters. He knows about Octave’s marriage and is angry. Scapin does not disagree. He too was angry, but he submitted to reason. As for Octave, he is young. Wouldn’t Argan have done the same in earlier years? Finally, Hyacinthe’s family expected him to respect Hyacinthe’s reputation:

Si fait, j’y ai d’abord été, moi, lorsque j’ai su la chose, et je me suis intéressé pour vous, jusqu’à quereller votre fils. (…) Mais quoi, je me suis rendu à la raison, et j’ai considéré que dans le fond, il n’a pas tant de tort qu’on pourrait croire.
Scapin à Argante (I. iv)
[Quite so. I was angry myself when I first heard it; and I so far felt interested in your behalf that I rated your son well. (…) But what of that? I submitted to reason, and considered that, after all, he had done nothing so dreadful.]
Scapin to Argante (I. 6)

Ah, ah, voici une raison la plus belle du monde. On n’a plus qu’à commettre tous les crimes imaginables, tromper, voler, assassiner, et dire pour excuse, qu’on y a été poussé par sa destinée.
Argante à Scapin (I. iv)
Oh, oh! You give me there a fine reason. One has nothing better to do now than to commit the greatest crime imaginable—to cheat, steal, and murder—and give for an excuse that we were urged to it by destiny.
Argante à Scapin (I. 6)

Voulez-vous qu’il soit aussi sage que vous ? Les jeunes gens sont jeunes, et n’ont pas toute la prudence qu’il leur faudrait, pour ne rien faire que de raisonnable[.]
Scapin à Argante (I. iv)
[Do you expect him to be as wise as you are? Can you put an old head on young shoulders, and expect young people to have all the prudence necessary to do nothing but what is reasonable?] (I. 6)

Eussiez-vous voulu qu’il se fût laissé tuer ? Il vaut mieux encore être marié, qu’être mort.
Scapin à Argante (I. iv)
[Would you have him suffer them to murder him?] It is still better to be married than to be dead.]
Scapin to Argante (I. 6)

Sylvestre, Octave’s valet, adds that Octave was married against his wish.

A Father’s Love

We are then treated to a lovely dialogue Argante says he will use punitive measures, against his son, i. e. break the contract and disinherit him. Scapin responds that he will not because he loves his son.

ARGANTE. Hoy. Voici qui est plaisant. Je ne déshériterai pas mon fils.
SCAPIN. Non, vous dis-je.
ARGANTE. Qui m’en empêchera ?
SCAPIN. Vous-même.
ARGANTE. Moi ?
SCAPIN. Oui. Vous n’aurez pas ce cœur-là.
Argante et Scapin (I. iv, pp. 14-15)
[ARG. Well! This is really too much! I shall not disinherit my son!
SCA. No, I tell you.
ARG. Who will hinder me?
SCA. You yourself.
ARG. I?
SCA. Yes; you will never have the heart to do it.]
Argante and Scapin (I. 6)

In Scene Five/Seven, Scapin enlists Sylvestre’s support. He knows how to disguise a face and a voice.

ACT TWO

  1. Géronte tells Argante that his son may not be innocent. Scapin talked.
  2. Argante meditates.
  3. Léandre is angry at Scapin. They nearly fight. Léandre has a sword. Octave intervenes.
  4. Gypsies capture Zerbinette. She must be bought back.
  5. Scapin will seek help from Hyacinthe’s ‘brother’ Sylvestre. He does not want Argante to go to court.

DETAILS AND CONTINUATION

In Scene One, Géronte and Argante are together. Géronte suggests to Argante that his son Léandre may not be innocent. Scapin spoke.

Cela veut dire, Seigneur Géronte, qu’il ne faut pas être si prompt à condamner la conduite des autres; et que ceux qui veulent gloser, doivent bien regarder chez eux, s’il n’y a rien qui cloche.
Argante à Géronte (II. i, pp. 17-18)
[I mean, Mr. Géronte, that we should never be so ready to blame the conduct of others, and that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.]
Argante to Géronte (II. 1)

Votre Scapin, dans mon dépit, ne m’a dit la chose qu’en gros; et vous pourrez de lui, ou de quelque autre, être instruit du détail. Pour moi, je vais vite consulter un avocat, et aviser des biais que j’ai à prendre. Jusqu’au revoir.
Argante à Géronte (II. i, p. 18)
[Your servant Scapin, in his vexation, only told me the thing roughly, and you can learn all the particulars from him or from some one else. For my part, I will at once go to my solicitor, and see what steps I can take in the matter. Good-bye.]
Argante to Géronte (II. 1)

In Scene Two, Géronte meditates. What could his son have done?

In Scene Three, Léandre who is delighted to see his father, learns that Scapin has spoken about him.

Géronte. Scapin pourtant a dit de vos nouvelles.
Léandre. Scapin!
(II. ii, p.19)
Géronte. And yet Scapin has told me all about you.
Léandre. Scapin!
(II. 3)

In Scene Three/Four, Léandre feels betrayed by Scapin.

Me trahir de cette manière! Un coquin, qui doit par cent raisons être le premier à cacher les choses que je lui confie, est le premier à les aller découvrir à mon père. Ah! je jure le Ciel que cette trahison ne demeurera pas impunie.
Léandre à Octave ([I.iii, p. 20)
[To betray me after that fashion! A rascal who for so many reasons should be the first to keep secret what I trust him with! To go and tell everything to my father! Ah! I swear by all that is dear to me not to let such villainy go unpunished.]
Léandre to Octave (I. 4)

Léandre picks up a sword.

Léandre. Ah, ah, vous voilà. Je suis ravi de vous trouver, Monsieur le coquin.
Scapin. Monsieur, votre serviteur. C’est trop d’honneur que vous me faites.
Léandre (en mettant l’épée à la main.)  Vous faites le méchant plaisant. Ah! je vous apprendrai…
Scapin (se mettant à genoux.) Monsieur.
Octave (se mettant entre-deux, pour empêcher Léandre de le frapper.) Ah, Léandre. Non, Octave, ne me retenez point, je vous prie.
Léandre et Scapin (1.iii, p. 20)

Léandre. Ah, ah! here you are, you rascal!
Scapin. Sir, your servant; you do me too much honour.
Léandre. (drawing his sword). You are setting me at defiance, I believe…Ah! I will teach you how….
Scapin. (falling on his knees). Sir!
Octave. (stepping between them). Ah! Léandre.
Léandre. No, Octave, do not keep me back.
Scapin to Léandre. Eh! Sir.
Léandre and Scapin (II. 5)

Les fourberies de Scapin par Moreau le Jeune

Les Fourberies de Scapin par Moreau le Jeune  (théâtre-documentation.com)

Les fourberies de Scapin par Ed. Héd. (1)

Les Fourberies de Scapin par Edmond Hédouin (théâtre-documentation.com

Zerbinette enlevée, captured

In Scene Four/Six, Carle tells that Zerbinette has been captured. A ransom is needed within two hours.

Vos Égyptiens sont sur le point de vous enlever Zerbinette; et elle-même, les larmes aux yeux, m’a chargé de venir promptement vous dire, que si dans deux heures vous ne songez à leur porter l’argent qu’ils vous ont demandé pour elle, vous l’allez perdre pour jamais.
Carle (II. iv, p. 23)
[The gypsies are on the point of carrying off Zerbinette. She came herself all in tears to ask me to tell you that, unless you take to them, before two hours are over, the money they have asked you for her, she will be lost to you for ever.]
Carle (II, 6)

Scapin has been insulted, but he will help.  He must get the money from our two fathers.

Je veux tirer cet argent de vos pères. Pour ce qui est du vôtre, la machine est déjà toute trouvée: et quant au vôtre, bien qu’avare au dernier degré, il y faudra moins de façon encore; car vous savez que pour l’esprit, il n’en a pas grâces à Dieu grande provision, et je le livre pour une espèce d’homme à qui l’on fera toujours croire tout ce que l’on voudra. Cela ne vous offense point, il ne tombe entre lui et vous aucun soupçon de ressemblance; et vous savez assez l’opinion de tout le monde, qui veut qu’il ne soit votre père que pour la forme.
Scapin à tous (II. iv, p. 25)
[I must extract this money from your respective fathers’ pockets. (To OCTAVE) As far as yours is concerned, my plan is all ready. (To LÉANDRE) And as for yours, although he is the greatest miser imaginable, we shall find it easier still; for you know that he is not blessed with too much intellect, and I look upon him as a man who will believe anything. This cannot offend you; there is not a suspicion of a resemblance between him and you; and you know what the world thinks, that he is your father only in name.]
Scapin to Léandre and Octave (II. 7)

In Scene Five/Eight, Scapin seeks money from Argante. A ‘brother’ of Hyacinthe will fight.

J’ai donc été trouver le frère de cette fille qui a été épousée. C’est un de ces braves de profession, de ces gens qui sont tous coups d’épée ; qui ne parlent que d’échiner, et ne font non plus de conscience de tuer un homme, que d’avaler un verre de vin. Je l’ai mis sur ce mariage; (…) Enfin je l’ai tant tourné de tous les côtés, qu’il a prêté l’oreille aux propositions que je lui ai faites d’ajuster l’affaire pour quelque somme; et il donnera son consentement à rompre le mariage, pourvu que vous lui donniez de l’argent.
Scapin à Argante ([II. v, p. 27)
[The brother of the young girl whom your son has married. He is one of those fire-eaters, one of those men all sword-thrusts, who speak of nothing but fighting, and who think no more of killing a man than of swallowing a glass of wine. I got him to speak of this marriage; (…) I managed him so that at last he lent a ready ear to the propositions I made to him of arranging the matter amicably for a sum of money. In short, he will give his consent to the marriage being cancelled, provided you pay him well.]
Scapin to Argante (II. 8)

Sylvestre is Octave’s valet in disguise.

I am skipping part of Scene Five/Eight. Scapin pleads with Argante not to go to court.

ACT TWO, SCENE SIX

The following scene, Scene VI, is borrowed from Plautus. Sylvestre, who says to Scapin that he is Hyacinthe’s brother, wants to see Argante and kill him for wishing to annul Octave’s marriage to his sister Hyacinthe. Argante is standing behind, but Scapin insists the person Sylvestre sees is not Argante.

(Sylvestre is not a brother to Hyacinthe but Octave’s valet in disguise. His assistance has been requested. [See II. v, p. 27 ; II. 8]).

Que diable allait-il faire dans cette galère?

In Act Two, Scene Seven, Scapin tells Géronte that his son Léandre is being held for ransom on a Turkish boat.  It is une fourberie, a trick, a lazzi, but Géronte must provide money.

This scene is famous because it is the source of an expression that is still used. As Géronte puts together the money the Turks want, Géronte keeps saying:

Que diable allait-il faire dans cette galère?
[What the deuce did he want to go in that galley for?]

geronte-scapin

Géronte et Scapin  (Gallica)

In Act Two, Scene Eight

Scapin gives back to Octave the money he took from his father Argante. He then gives Léandre the money he needs to purchase Zerbinette.

Conclusion

I must close. We know there will be a recognition scene (anagnorisis). Argante and Géronte do not know their sons have found the very wife they had chosen from them. Hyacinthe has married Octave, but Zerbinette hasn’t married.

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Sources and Resources

Love to everyone 💕

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L’Humaine comédie, Estienne Moulinié

Scapin (Les fourberies de Scapin) (2)

© Micheline Walker
27 August 2019
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