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Our dramatis personæ is
Jupiter.
Venus.
Love (Cupid).
Zephyr.
Aegiale and Phaëne, two Graces.
The King.
Psyche.
Aglaura (sister to Psyche).
Cidippe (sister to Psyche).
Cleomenes and Agenor, two princes, Psyche’s lovers.
Lycas, captain of the guards.
A River God
Two Cupids.

ACT TWO

Act Two, Scene One
LE ROI, PSYCHÉ, AGLAURE, CIDIPPE, LYCAS, SUITE.

Psyche is to be taken to the top of a hill where a monster-serpent will kill her. But in Act Two, Scene One, she is with her father, the king, who very much regrets losing a daughter. He and Psyche know that one cannot escape one’s fate or destiny. Once the Oracle has spoken, Psyche’s fate is sealed. However, she says that she does not deserve to await a monster-serpent. She wishes her father could oppose the oracle’s requests. We sense resistance.

Je ne mérite pas cette grande douleur: / Opposez, opposez un peu de résistance /Aux droits qu’elle prend sur un cœur 605 /Dont mille événements ont marqué la puissance./ Quoi? faut-il que pour moi vous renonciez, Seigneur,/ À cette royale constance,/ Dont vous avez fait voir dans les coups du malheur/ Une fameuse expérience?
Psyché à son père (II. ii, p. 26)
[I deserve not this violent grief. Seek, I pray, to resist the claims it asserts over your heart, whose might a thousand events have marked. What! for me, my Lord, you must abandon that kingly firmness of which, under the blows of misfortune, you have shown such perfect proofs?]
Psyche to her father (II. 1)

In Scene One, the king bemoans losing what was a gift to him. Psyche’s beauty was a gift from kind gods. Psyche’s beauty is divine, which is an affront to Venus.

Pour m’ôter leur présent, leur fallait-il attendre/ Que j’en eusse fait tout mon bien? 700 /Ou plutôt, s’ils avaient dessein de le reprendre, /N’eût-il pas été mieux de ne me donner rien?
Le roi à Psyché (II. i, p. 28)
[To withdraw their gift, have they not waited till I had made it my all? Rather, if it was their purpose to remove it, had it not been better to give me nothing?]
The king to Psyche (II. 1)

The gods are fickle. Not that Jansenism (predestination) exerted much influence on Molière, but that Molière always described his century, “les mœurs de son siècle.”  Moral issues divided 17th-century France. Tartuffe (1664) is a casuiste, a 17th-century heresy. Yet, given the role played by destiny, one could suggest a link between Jansenism and Psyche’s demise.

As we know, Psyche will not be the victim of a venomous monster-serpent, which would have pleased a jealous Venus, Psyche’s jealous sisters, and, perhaps, a jealous Cupid, Venus’ son is a god. I noted an element of magic(al) realism in Molière’s Psyché. Gods and mortals share the stage. They also share such attributes as a jealous heart. At one level, her beauty, Psyche is divine, which is not altogether the case. She is also a mortal. In fact, not only is Venus jealous, but so is Cupid. In Psyché, the gods of mythology share faults with mere mortals.

Psyche climbs to the top of the hill, asking her jealous sisters, whose jealousy she fails to notice, to look after the king, their grieving father. As for her lovers, Cléomène and Agénor, they also follow her and believe they can kill the serpent.

Act Two, Scene Five
PSYCHE, CLÉOMÈNE, AGÉNOR

They can’t. An unconscious Psyche is carried away by two Zephirs before their very eyes. Cupid was to kill Psyche, but saved her. However, all is not well. Psyche awakens in a castle quickly built by Vulcan (Vulcain), the god of fire. The Oracle could be a jealous Cupid:

Allez mourir, rivaux d’un dieu jaloux, / Dont vous méritez le courroux,/ Pour avoir eu le cœur sensible aux mêmes charmes./ Et toi, forge, Vulcain, mille brillants attraits/ Pour orner un palais,/ Où l’amour de Psyché veut essuyer les larmes,/ 905 Et lui rendre les armes.
Cupid (II. v, pp. 35-36)
[Die, then, rivals of a jealous god, whose wrath you have deserved, since your heart was sensible to the same charms. And thou, Vulcan, fashion a thousand brilliant ornaments to adorn the palace where Love will dry Psyche’s tears, and yield himself her slave.]
Cupid (II. 5)

ACT THREE

Act Three, Scene One
CUPID AND ZEPHIR

In Act Three, Scene One, Cupid, the venomous-serpent, confides to Zephir (Molière’s role) that he fears Venus, his mother. Venus wanted Psyche killed by her son Cupid, the god of Love, but Cupid did not eliminate his mother’s rival. There is a hierarchy among gods and goddesses, and they may be jealous.

Cupid, a god, tells Zephir that he wonders what his mother will do. Moreover, Cupid has also changed his appearance. He now seems an adult.

970 Ce changement sans doute irritera ma mère.
[This change will, no doubt, vex my mother.]
Cupid to Zephir (II. i, p. 38 ; II, 1)

Act Three, Scene Two
PSYCHE

As Act Three, Scene One is closing, Zephir asks Cupid to end Psyche’s “martyrdom.” What is Psyche to think? She may be divinely beautiful, but she is a human being who still awaits her death:

Si le Ciel veut ma mort, si ma vie est un crime,/ De ce peu qui m’en reste ose enfin t’emparer,/ Je suis lasse de murmurer/ Contre un châtiment légitime, 1030/ Je suis lasse de soupirer:/ Viens, que j’achève d’expirer.
Psyché (II. ii, p. 40)
[If heaven wills my death, if my life be a crime, dare at length to seize whatever little remains of it; I am tired of murmuring against a lawful penalty; I am weary of sighs; come, that I may end the death I am dying.]
Psyche (II. 2)

Act Three, Scene Three
CUPID AND PSYCHE

In Scene Three, Love (Cupid) appears and says that he is the monster-serpent. A serpent tempted Eve.

C’est l’amour qui pour voir mes feux récompensés/ Lui-même a dicté cet oracle,/ Par qui vos beaux jours menacés/ D’une foule d’amants se sont débarrassés,/ Et qui m’a délivré de l’éternel obstacle/ 1140 De tant de soupirs empressés,/ Qui ne méritaient pas de vous être adressés.
Amour à Psyché (III. iii. p. 43)
[It was Love who, to reward my passion, dictated this oracle, by which your fair days that were threatened have been released from a throng of lovers; and which has freed me from the lasting obstacle of so many ardent sighs that were unworthy of being addressed to you.]
Love to Psyche (III. 2)

But Cupid would prefer not to tell his identity.

Ne me demandez point quelle est cette province,/ Ni le nom de son prince,/ Vous le saurez quand il en sera temps: / 1145 Je veux vous acquérir, mais c’est par mes services,/ Par des soins assidus, et par des vœux constants,/ Et bien que souverain dans cet heureux séjour,/ Je ne vous veux, Psyché, devoir qu’à mon amour./ Par les amoureux sacrifices/ De tout ce que je suis,/ De tout ce que je puis,/ 1150 Sans que l’éclat du rang pour moi vous sollicite,/ Sans que de mon pouvoir je me fasse un mérite,/Et bien que souverain dans cet heureux séjour,/ Je ne vous veux, Psyché, devoir qu’à mon amour.
Amour à Psyché (III. iii, p. 43)
[Ask not of me what this region be, nor the name of its ruler; you shall know it in time. My object is to win you; but I wish to do so by my services, my assiduous care, my constant vows, by a lover’s sacrifice of all that I am, of all my power can effect. The splendour of my rank must not solicit you for me, neither must I make a merit of my power; and though sovereign lord of this blissful realm, I wish to owe you, Psyche, to nothing but my love.]
Cupid to Psyche (III. 3)

Cupid wants to be loved for what he is. Rank is secondary and might prevent him from knowing that he is Psyche’s beloved. I hear Alceste telling Philinte that he wants to be certain that praise addressed to him is genuine, that he is “singled out.”[1]  

ACT FOUR

Act Four, Scene One
AGLAURE, CIDIPPE

Although she is very happy, Psyche would like to relieve her father and her sisters. They do not know that she was not killed. Zephyr is asked to fetch Psyche’s sisters.

N’en parlons plus, ma sœur, nous en mourrions d’ennui,/ Songeons plutôt à la vengeance,/ Et trouvons le moyen de rompre entre elle et lui/ Cette adorable intelligence./ 1350 La voici. J’ai des coups tous prêts à lui porter,/ Qu’elle aura peine d’éviter.
Aglaure à Cidippe (IV. i, p. 50)
[No more of this, my sister; the thought of it would kill us; let us rather think of revenge; let us find means of breaking the spell that fosters this affection between her and him. She comes; I have darts ready, such as she shall find difficult to parry.]
Aglaure to Cidippe (IV, 1)

1316 La jalousie est assez fine,/ Et ces délicats sentiments/ Méritent bien qu’on s’imagine/ Que celui qui pour vous a ces empressements,/ Passe le commun des amants./ 1365 Je vous en parle ainsi faute de le connaître./ Vous ignorez son nom, et ceux dont il tient l’être,/ Nos esprits en sont alarmés:/ Je le tiens un grand prince, et d’un pouvoir suprême/ Bien au-delà du diadème/, 1370 Ses trésors sous vos pas confusément semés/ Ont de quoi faire honte à l’abondance même,/ Vous l’aimez autant qu’il vous aime,/ Il vous charme, et vous le charmez;/ Votre félicité, ma sœur, serait extrême,/ 1375 Si vous saviez qui vous aimez.
Aglaure à Psyché (IV. ii, pp. 50-51)
[Jealousy is very keen, and these nice sentiments well deserve that he who shows such tenderness for you should be considered above the generality of lovers. I speak thus because I do not know him; nor do you know his name, or that of those to whom he owes the light. This alarms us. I hold him to be a mighty prince, whose power is extreme, far above kingly sway. His treasure which he has strewn beneath your feet would put Abundance herself to the blush. Your love for him is as keen as his for you; you are his delight, he is yours; your happiness, my sister, would be perfect if you but knew whom you love.]
Aglaure to Psyche (IV. 2)

Psyche loves her sisters, but her sisters are jealous of her, which Psyche does not know. They will use Cupid’s wish not to reveal his identity as reason for Psyche to believe she may be the victim of an enchantment. So, they instill in Psyche fear that she is not loved.

Je n’ai plus qu’un mot à vous dire./ 1405 Ce prince qui vous aime, et qui commande aux vents,/ Qui nous donne pour char les ailes du Zéphire,/ Et de nouveaux plaisirs vous comble à tous moments,/ Quand il rompt à vos yeux l’ordre de la nature,/ Peut-être à tant d’amour mêle un peu d’imposture,/ 1410 Peut-être ce palais n’est qu’un enchantement,/ Et ces lambris dorés, ces amas de richesses/ Dont il achète vos tendresses,/ Dès qu’il sera lassé de souffrir vos caresses,/ Disparaîtront en un moment./ 1415 Vous savez comme nous ce que peuvent les charmes.
Aglaure à Psyché (IV. ii, p. 52)
[I have but one word more to say. This prince who loves you, sways the winds, gives us Zephyr’s wings for a chariot, and every moment lavishes on you new pleasures, when he thus openly breaks the order of nature, may perhaps mingle some little imposture with so much love. Perhaps this palace is nothing more than an enchantment; these gilt ceilings, these mountains of wealth, with which he buys your affection, so soon as he shall be weary of your caresses, will vanish in a moment. You know as well as ourselves what power lies in spells.]
Aglaure to Psyche (IV. 2)

Ma sœur, vous me faites trembler.
Juste Ciel! pourrais-je être assez infortunée…
Psyche (IV. ii, p. 51)
[In my turn, what cruel alarms I feel.]
Psyche (IV. 2)

Act Four, Scene Three
CUPID, PSYCHE

Cupid senses a change in Psyche. She is worried.

1445 Mais d’où vient qu’un triste nuage/ Semble offusquer l’éclat de ces beaux yeux?/ Vous manque-t-il quelque chose en ces lieux?/ Des vœux qu’on vous y rend dédaignez-vous l’hommage?
Amour à Psyché (IV. iii, p. 53)
But wherefore does a cloud of sadness seem to dim the brightness of those beautiful eyes? Is there aught which you can want in these abodes? Scorn you the homage of the vows here paid to you?
Cupid to Psyche (IV.3)

She wishes to know his identity, which he reveals reluctantly and to Psyche’s detriment. He is the god of Love and he has come of age.

1540 Vous me forcez vous-même à vous quitter,/ Vous me forcez vous-même à vous ôter/ Tout l’effet de votre victoire:/ Peut-être vos beaux yeux ne me reverront plus,/ Ce palais, ces jardins, avec moi disparus/ 1545 Vont faire évanouir votre naissante gloire;/ Vous n’avez pas voulu m’en croire,/ Et pour tout fruit de ce doute éclairci,/ Le Destin sous qui le Ciel tremble,/ Plus fort que mon amour, que tous les Dieux ensemble,/ 1550 Vous va montrer sa haine, et me chasse d’ici.
Amour à Psyché (IV. iii, p. 57)

Psyche is transported to a river.

Comment

Is it fate, or is it jealousy? At this point, we could say jealousy. We will learn that Psyche’s lovers committed suicide. She speaks to their ghostly selves. As for Psyche’s jealous sisters, Psyche’s lovers tell her that they were brutally killed for suggesting that their sister may be the victim of an illusion. It is as though only gods remained. Remember that we are looking at two frames, mortals and gods, that Molière is retelling a myth, and that the myth of Psyché is an “all’s well that ends well” narrative.

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Sources and Resources

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[1]
The following quotation reveals Alceste’s vanity and fear.

Je veux qu’on me distingue, et pour le trancher net,
L’ami du genre humain n’est point du tout mon fait.

Alceste à Philinte (I. i, p. 3)
[I must be singled out; to put it flatly,
The friend of all mankind’s no friend for me.]
Alceste to Philinte (I. 1) (Le Misanthrope [1666])


Love to everyone
💕

Psyché  — Jean-Baptiste Lully LWV 56 

© Micheline Walker
12 September 2019
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