a Comedy of Manners, Épigramme, Divertissement, le Théâtre dans le théâtre, Martial, play within a play
I have added a short conclusion to my last post, Molière’s Comtesse d’Escarbagnas, and have referred to allusions to comedy as self-referential. As for the comedy the Vicomte is offering the Comtesse, it is not a play-within-a-play (un théâtre dans le théâtre). We do not see the play and it is not over when the curtain falls. However, allusions to this comedy do take us from one scene to another. In other words, they function as a fil conducteur, or leading thread, thereby contributing to the coherence of the play. Guests arrive one at a time: Jeannot carrying pears on behalf of Monsieur Tibaudier, Monsieur Tibaudier himself, Monsieur Bobinet and, when the play-as-gift has begun, Monsieur Harpin.
The editor of my very 1956 Pléiade edition of Molière points to four main types constituting La Comtesse d’Escarbagnas: Monsieur Bobinet, Monsieur Tibaudier, Monsieur Harpin, a tax-farmer, and la Comtesse: Monsieur Bobinet is described as an out-and-out prig: “cuistre fieffé.” Monsieur Tibaudier, a councellor-at-law, is a “robin pédant et galant,” a pedantic noble of the robe. Monsieur Harpin swears and does not know that le Vicomte is no longer a rival. As for the Comtesse, she has been described or has described herself in her conversation with Julie, which takes place in Scene II. However, in as light a comedy as La Comtesse d’Escarbagnas, Messieurs Tibaudier, Bobinet, and Harpin are mostly sketched. None are a Tartuffe.
The Épigrammes & poet Martial
This scene is precious. Monsieur Tibaudier has written épigrammes for the Comtesse. This form was popular in 17th-century French salons.
When the Vicomte admires Monsieur Tibaudier’s poetry and says that he, a Vicomte, has been outranked, supplanté, the Comtesse suspects he is mocking Monsieur Tibaudier whom she admires and will marry.
Comment, Madame, me moquer ? Quoique son rival, je trouve ces vers admirables, et ne les appelle pas seulement deux strophes, comme vous, mais deux épigrammes, aussi bonnes que toutes celles de Martial.
Le Vicomte à la Comtesse (Scene V)
[How, Madam, to sneer? Though his rival, I think these verses admirable, and not only call them two strophes, but two epigrams, as good as all those of Martial.]
The Viscount to the Countess (Scene Sixteen, 76)
The Comtesse thinks Martial is a local person who makes gloves:
Quoi, Martial fait-il des vers, je pensais qu’il ne fît que des gants?
La Comtesse au Vicomte à la Comtesse (Scene V)
[What! does Martial make verses? I thought he made nothing but gloves.]
The Countess to the Viscount (Scene Sixteen, p. 76)
Monsieur Tibaudier corrects her gently. It is not that Martial, says Monsieur Tibaudier, but a man who lived thirty to forty years ago.
Ce n’est pas ce Martial-là, Madame, c’est un auteur qui vivait il y a trente ou quarante ans.
Monsieur Tibaudier à la Comtesse (Scene V)
[It is not that Martial, Madam; it is an author who lived about thirty or forty years ago.]
Monsieur Tibaudier to the Countess (Scene Sixteen, p. 77)
That is another mistake. Latin poet Martial (see Épigrammes) lived in the 2nd-century CE. Poet Martial wrote fifteen books of Épigrammes. So, both the Comtesse and Monsieur Tibaudier are wrong, but should Le Vicomte correct Monsieur Tibaudier, the man who so praises la Comtesse and whom she loves? No, Monsieur Tibaudier would be humiliated and the riposte would not be consistent with the spirit of La Comtesse d’Escarbagnas.
La Comtesse d’Escarbagnas was part of the Ballet des ballets. The music, by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, has come down to us, and so have the nine scenes of a short comedy of manners. In a comedy of manners, one interjects elements that will keep the spectators laughing. However, La Comtesse d’Escarbagnas is a very light comedy of manners and part of a divertissement (entertainment) called Le Ballet des ballets. Monsieur Tibaudier is a counsellor-at-law and he grows pears. So, it is unlikely that he would know much about Latin poets, but Molière is rather kind to his characters. However, it is true that the Martial le Vicomte mentions does not make gloves.
Such lines could be compared to a lazzo of the commedia dell’arte.
Le Théâtre dans le Théâtre
Molière did enter his comedies. I think several moliéristes would agree that the Vicomte’s description of the play can be seen as a brief intrusion by the dramatist of his Comtesse d’Escarbagnas. As well, one wonders why so much of Scene One is devoted to a depiction of a fâcheux (a bore). My readers who know French will find the Notice to La Comtesse d’Escarbagnas very informative. For instance, the description of a fâcheux (a bore), at the very beginning of the play, is looked upon as “fort curieuse,” very curious (see Notice).
Georges Forestier, the current authority on this subject, does not list La Comtesse d’Escarbagnas as a théâtre dans le théâtre, at least not as a whole. The théâtre dans le théâtre  would have been inserted in the missing Pastoral, between Scenes VIII and IX.
Two comedies from now, we will read La Critique de l’École des femmes (1 June 1663) and L’Impromptu de Versailles (14 October [Versailles] and 4 November 1663 [Théâtre du Palais-Royal]]. L’Impromptu de Versailles is considered a théâtre dans le théâtre.
- Molière’s “La Comtesse d’Escarbagnas” (6 January 2020)
- Molière’s “La Comtesse d’Escarbagnas,” nearly all (31 December 2019)
- Molière page
Sources and Resources
- La Comtesse d’Escarbagnas is a toutmoliere.net publication
- The Countess of Escarbagnas is an internet archive publication
- Henri van Laun is our translator
- La Comtesse d’Escarbagnas is Gutenberg’s [EBook #7451]
- Charles Heron Wall is Gutenberg’s translator
- The Notice is borrowed from toutmoliere.net
- Bold characters are mine
- Video credit: wiki2.org
 Georges Forestier, Le Théâtre dans le théâtre (Genève: Librairie Droz, 1996), p. 353.
With kind regards 💕
We are nearly finished reading Molière. Some of these posts took days to prepare. So, I am switching to shorter posts. I’m exhausted.
© Micheline Walker
8 January 2020