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Zanni, oil painting after an engraving by Jacques Callot (Larousse)

Zanni, oil painting after an engraving by Jacques Callot (Vulgar Comedy)

JULIE, fille d’Oronte.
NÉRINE, femme d’intrigue (schemer).
LUCETTE, feinte (false) Gasconne.
ÉRASTE, amant de (in love with) Julie.
SBRIGANI, Napolitain, homme d’intrigue (schemer).

La scène est à Paris

Monsieur de Pourceaugnac

  • a scapegoat
  • aesthetically in the wrong
  • a comedy in reverse
  • an on-stage dramatist
  • pour rire / for the fun of it

A scapegoat

I have already noted that Monsieur de Pourceaugnac seems a scapegoat, or pharmakós.  which is not inconsistent with the role pharmakoi play in tragedies and comedies. Northrop Frye writes that the scapegoats, the pharmakós is “neither innocent nor guilty.”[1] 

Aesthetically in the wrong

There is no reason why Monsieur de Pourceaugnac should be victimised in Paris, “this country,” or elsewhere. Arranged marriages were common in 17th-century France. Besides, had Julie found Monsieur de Pourceaugnac repulsive, he may not have married her. Monsieur de Pourceaugnac’s only problem is his name and/or looks, which has to do with aesthetics. Let us read Nérine:

S’il a envie de se marier, que ne prend-il une Limosine, et ne laisse-t-il en repos les chrétiens ? Le seul nom de Monsieur de Pourceaugnac m’a mis dans une colère effroyable. J’enrage de Monsieur de Pourceaugnac. Quand il n’y aurait que ce nom-là, Monsieur de Pourceaugnac, j’y brûlerai mes livres, ou je romprai ce mariage, et vous ne serez point Madame de Pourceaugnac. Pourceaugnac ! Cela se peut-il souffrir ? Non, Pourceaugnac est une chose que je ne saurais supporter, et nous lui jouerons tant de pièces, nous lui ferons tant de niches sur niches, que nous renverrons à Limoges Monsieur de Pourceaugnac.
Nérine à Julie et Éraste (I. scène première)
[If he wishes to get married why does he not take a lady born at Limoges for a wife, instead of troubling decent Christians? The name alone of Monsieur de Pourceaugnac has put me in a frightful passion. I am in a rage about Monsieur de Pourceaugnac If it were nothing but his name, this Monsieur de Pourceaugnac, I would do everything to succeed in breaking off this marriage, rather than that you should be Madam de Pourceaugnac. Pourceaugnac! is it bearable? No, Pourceaugnac is something which I cannot tolerate; and we shall play him so many tricks, we shall practice so many jokes upon jokes upon him, that we shall soon send Monsieur de Pourceaugnac back to Limoges again.]
Nérine to Julie and Éraste (II. 3, p. 94)

In his analysis of Le Misanthrope and Dom Juan, Professor Jules Brody concluded that  Alceste and Dom Juan were “aesthetically in the wrong, but morally in the right” or vice versa. I am paraphrasing Professor Brody.[2] Arranged marriages were relatively common in 17th-century France, so Monsieur de Pourceaugnac cannot be faulted for “buying” a bride who will be provided with a generous dowry.

We should also note that, in Scene Two, Julie is not ready to oppose her father’s choice of a groom beyond entering a convent.

Je le menacerais de me jeter dans un convent
Julie à Éraste (I. ii)
[I would threaten him to bury myself in a convent.]
Julie to Éraste (I. 4, p. 95)

Éraste requests greater proof of her love, but Julie tells him she must await the course of events before allowing further opposition.

Mon Dieu, Éraste, contentez-vous de ce que je fais maintenant, et n’allez point tenter sur l’avenir les résolutions de mon cœur; ne fatiguez point mon devoir par les propositions d’une fâcheuse extrémité dont peut-être n’aurons-nous pas besoin; et s’il y faut venir, souffrez au moins que j’y sois entraînée par la suite des choses.
Julie à Éraste (I. ii)
[Good Heavens! Eraste, content yourself with what I am doing now; and do not tempt the resolutions of my heart upon what may happen in the future; do not make my duty more painful with proposals of annoying rashness, of which, perhaps, we may not be in need; and if we are to come to it, let me, at least be driven to it by the turn of affairs.]
Julie to Éraste (I. 4, p. 96)

Julie is quite right. She has agreed to batteries and machines that will allow people, schemers, to promote her marriage to act, but no one was to go to far. However, it turns out measures taken to let her be Éraste’s wife are too drastic. When Sbrigani is done, Monsieur de Pourceaugnac will stand accused of bigamy and, unless a schemer saves him, Sbrigani, he may be hanged. In Oronte eyes, having abandoned Lucette, Monsieur de Pourceaugnac is a méchant homme. Upon learning that Pourceaugnac abandoned Lucette, Oronte, Julie’s father, cannot prevent himself from crying. What irony!

Je ne saurais m’empêcher de pleurer. Allez, vous êtes un méchant homme.
Oronte (II. vii)
[I cannot help crying. (To Monsieur de Pourceaugnac). Go, you are a wicked man.]
Oronte (II. 8, p. 123)

When Pourceaugnac is being led away Oronte suggests that Pourceaugnac be hanged: 

Allez, vous ferez bien de le faire punir, et il mérite d’être pendu.
Oronte (II. viii)
[Come, you will do well to have him punished; and he deserves to be hanged.]
Oronte (II. 10, p. 125)

A comedy in reverse

Not only is Monsieur de Pourceaugnac humiliated because of his name, but Molière also rearranged the usual cast of comedies so that Monsieur de Pourceaugnac is treated like a tyrannical pater familias, Oronte’s role. As for the eirôn, the threatened lovers and their usual supporters: laquais, valet, suivante, confidante, an uncle or avuncular figure, such as Le Malade imaginaire’s Béralde, Argan’s brother, they are pitiless tricksters: Sbrigani and his crew who unleash uninterrupted attacks on an innocent man. The person who will marry his daughter to a man she may be attracted to or find repulsive, is Oronte. Oronte, therefore, is the blocking-character or alazṓn. However, the man who is left in the hands of doctors threatening enemas and other procedures, the man whose creditors will be repaid by Oronte, the bigamist or polygamist who should be hanged, is Monsieur de Pourceaugnac, Oronte’s prospective son-in-law. The first doctor claims Pourceaugnac as un meuble, his property. Moreover, we are in Paris, where the accused is hanged before the trial. The play is such a charivari, hullabaloo, that Julie, Éraste’s innamorata, finds Monsieur de Pourceaugnac attractive and follows him as he is led out of “this country,” which is seen as an enlèvement, by Oronte.

Ah ! Monsieur, ce perfide de Limosin, ce traître de Monsieur de Pourceaugnac vous enlève votre fille.
Sbrigani à Oronte (III. vi)
[Ah, Sir! this perfidious Limousin, this wretch of a Monsieur de Pourceaugnac abducts your daughter!]
Sbrigani à Oronte (III. 8, p. 133)

She who would not be forced into a marriage, must marry Éraste, whom, she suspects, created all these pièces, comedies:

Ce sont sans doute des pièces qu’on lui fait, et c’est peut-être lui [Éraste] qui a trouvé cet artifice pour vous en dégoûter.
Julie à Oronte (III. vii)
[They are, no doubt, tricks which have been played upon him, and (Pointing to Eraste) it is perhaps he who invented this artifice to disgust you with him.]
Julie to Oronte and Éraste (III. ix, p. 135)

An on-stage dramatist

Yes and no. Éraste did not oppose Sbrigani’s unacceptable tricks. Monsieur de Pourceaugnac is not a théâtre dans le théâtre,  but one could suggest that the dramatist is on stage and the play abundantly self-referential:

Je conduis de l’œil toutes choses, et tout ceci ne va pas mal. Nous fatiguerons tant notre provincial, qu’il faudra, ma foi, qu’il déguerpisse.
Sbrigani (II. vii)
[I am managing these things very nicely, and everything goes well as yet. We shall tire our provincial to such an extent that upon my word, he will be obliged to decamp.]
Sbrigani (II. 11, p. 125)

Julie knows about Éraste’s involvement in and provides a redressing of the comedy. She is the dutiful daughter who takes the husband her father chose for her:

They are no doubt tricks which have been played upon him, and (Pointing to Eraste) it is perhaps he who invented this artifice to disgust you with him.
Julie to Oronte (III. 9, p. 135)

Pour rire / for the fun of it

Although Monsieur de Pourceaugnac is cruel and machiavellian, it is for the main part an “all’s well that ends well.” But there are gradations within comedy. Monsieur de Pourceaugnac is a pour rire: for laughs, concocted one of the best among zanni: Sbrigani. In Monsieur de Pourceaugnac, wit prevails, and wit is ruthless. It is carnivalesque. My thesis director, Dr Harold C. Knutson, wrote a book entitled: The Triumph of Wit: Molière and Restoration Comedy.  I could not end on a better note.[3]


Sources and Resources

[1] Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 [1957]), p. 41.
[2] Brody, Jules. “Dom Juan and Le Misanthrope, or the Esthetics of Individualism in Molière, ” PMLA, 84, 1969.
[3] Knutson, Harold C. The Triumph of Wit: Molière and Restoration Comedy, Ohio State University Pres, 1988)

Love to everyone 💕

Sincere apologies for rebuilding my post. In theory, this computer was repaired, but it wasn’t. A friend and technician will take me to a store. We will buy the computer and he will set it up.


Monsieur de Pourceaugnac (see Pourceaugnac 2)

© Micheline Walker
31 January 2020