, , , , , , ,

Virtue and Virtue

L’Étourdi ou les Contretemps is a comédie d’intrigue. The plot dominates, rather than a portrayal of manners. L’Étourdi‘s plot could be described as an “all’s well that ends well,” which suggests a struggle. In most comedies, young lovers, such as the innamorati of the commedia dell’arte, overcome an obstacle to their marriage.

However, L’Étourdi differs from most comedies because Molière juxtaposed two forms of virtue one of which is standard virtue, and the other, a zanni or rogue virtue. For instance, in Act One, Lélie returns to Anselme a purse that fell to the ground. By doing so, he is morally in the right, by standard virtue. But he unknowingly lost the money Lélie and Mascarille needed to purchase Célie, which was virtue by Mascarille’s standards.

Mascarille calls “virtue” the devilish tricks, or stratagems, he uses in order to ensure the marriage of the young lovers of comedy. His stratagems are an upside-down morality, but they are the means that justify the end. To a certain extent, a zanni’s tricks border on Machiavellianism (see Machiavelli). But, ironically, in L’Étourdi, the young lover himself, Lélie, crosses so many of Mascarille’s plans that the dénouement, the happy ending of comedies, barely stems from the activity of clever characters undoing a pater familias or other blocking character. It stems instead from a largely theatrical anagnorisis, a recognition scene.

You may remember that, in Act One, Lélie, Pandolfe’s son, returned a lost purse, une bourse, to its owner, Anselme, thereby crossing Mascarille’s plan to use the money to purchase Célie, a slave to Trufaldin. Lelio has a rival, Léandre, a “fils de famille,” so matters are pressing.


Sous quel astre ton maître a-t-il reçu le jour? (Célie, v. 152)  Dessins par Lorentz, Jules David, etc. Gravures par les meilleurs artistes, Paris, Schneider, 1850. (fr.wikipedia)

Our dramatis personæ is:

LÉLIE, (Lelio, son of) fils de Pandolphe/Pandolfe.
CÉLIE, (slave of) esclave de Trufaldin.
MASCARILLE, (servant to) valet de Lélie.
HIPPOLYTE, (daughter of) fille d’Anselme.
ANSELME, (an old man) vieillard.
TRUFALDIN, (an old man) vieillard.
PANDOLPHE/PANDOLFE, (an old man) vieillard.
LÉANDRE, (son) fils de famille.
ANDRÈS, (believed to be) cru égyptien.
ERGASTE, valet.

The scene is in Messina

Pandolfe’s feigned death

In Act Two of L’Étourdi, Mascarille’s plan is to make believe that Pandolfe has died. Pandolfe has been sent to his farm, where something has gone wrong. So Mascarille tells Anselme that Pandolfe has died and that Lélie needs money to bury his father appropriatly. The money is therefore lent to Lélie and Mascarille under false pretense. Pandolfe and Anselme are friends and Anselme doubts that Pandolfe is dead. Fearing trouble, he asks for a receipt from Lelio. Mascarille reports that Lélie’s grief is so overwhelming that he cannot provide a receipt. However, from the very moment he is told about Pandolfe’s unexpected death, Anselme suspects a ruse. 

Qui tôt ensevelit, bien souvent assassine,/ Et tel est cru défunt qui n’en a que la mine.
Anselme (II. ii)
[He who puts a shroud on a man too hastily very often commits murder; for a man is frequently thought dead when he only seems to be so.]
Anselme (II. 3, p. 24)

However, Pandolfe returns, scaring Anselme. Is Pandolfe a ghost?

Ah ! bon Dieu, je frémi !
Anselme (II. iv)
[Oh Heavens! how I tremble!]
Anselme (II. 5, p. 26)

Therefore, Anselme knows that he has been played and he is quite ashamed of himself:

Et moi, la bonne dupe, à trop croire un vaurien,/630 Il faut donc qu’aujourd’hui je perde, et sens, et bien? Il me sied bien, ma foi, de porter tête grise,/ Et d’être encor si prompt à faire une sottise!/ D’examiner si peu sur un premier rapport…/ Mais je vois…
Anselme, seul (II. iv)
[And I, like a ninny, believe a scoundrel, and must in one day lose both my senses and my money. Upon my word, it well becomes me to have these gray hairs and to commit an act of folly so readily, without examining into the truth of the first story I hear…! But I see…]
Anselme, alone (II. 5, p. 28)

Lélie returns his money to Anselme’s promptly, but foolishly, by a tricskter’s “virtue”. In order to be reimbursed, Anselme also uses a trick, a harmless trick. He claims that some of the money could be counterfeit. However, Lélie is delighted to return the money he and Mascarille had borrowed, and he doubts that any is counterfeit.

Vous me faites plaisir de les vouloir reprendre;
Mais je n’en ai point vu de faux, comme je croi.
Lélie à Anselme (II. v)
[I am very much obliged to you for being willing to take them back, but I saw none among them that were bad, as I thought.]
Lélie to Anselme (II. 6, p. 28)


In Act One, Lélie had returned the purse that had fallen to the ground to its owner, Anselme. Matters now differ albeit slightly. Mascarille has a plan. He and Lélie borrow money to bury Pandolfe respectfully which is a nasty ruse. But once the money is returned, Célie cannot be bought. Moreover, Anselme will not allow his daughter Hippolyte to marry Lélie, as previously arranged by their respective fathers. He is disillusioned at an early point in the comedy, except that, in Act One, Scene Seven, Pandolfe, Lélie’s father, told Mascarille, that he is disappointed with his son.

… À parler franchement,
Je suis mal satisfait de mon fils.
Pandolfe à Mascarille (I. vii)
[To tell you the truth, I am very dissatisfied with my son.]
Pandolfe to Mascarille (I. 9, p. 19)

But let us return to Act Two, Scene Five

Ma foi, je m’engendrais* d’une belle manière!/ Et j’allais prendre en vous un beau-fils fort discret./ Allez, allez mourir de honte, et de regret.
Anselme (II. v)
* from gendre (son-in-law)
[Upon my word, I was going to get a nice addition to my family, a most discreet son-in-law. Go, go, and hang yourself for shame and vexation.]
Anselme (II. 6. p. 29)

A Rogue’s Honour

As noted above, in L’Étourdi, Molière juxtaposes Lélie’s morally acceptable behaviour (by societal standards) and the frequently despicable rules of conduct that constitute a rogue’s honour.

Although they remain resourceful, Mascarille, a zanni, and Lélie, the young lover, are now penniless. However, as Mascarille is reprimanding his master, Léandre can be seen purchasing Lélie’s “divinity,” Célie. A clever Mascarille screams and claims to have been beaten by Lélie. He tells Léandre, he will no longer serve Lélie, which is a lie among a multitude of lies. However, all is not lost. Léandre has purchased Célie, but he cannot “collect” her, so to speak, until his father has consented to the marriage. Mascarille is delighted. He has a hiding place: a house where Célie will be “safe.”

Célie will therefore be taken “hors de la ville,” (II. viii), outside town, to a house where Lélie will get her back. Although Mascarille tells everyone he is working for them, he works for his master.

Vivat Mascarille, fourbum imperator!

In Act II, Scene Nine, Léandre is showing the ring Trufaldin must see before freeing Célie. Fearing Célie will be removed, Lélie has a courier deliver a letter to Trufaldin. According to the letter, Célie is the daughter of Dom Pedro de Gusman, from Spain, who will come to get his daughter back. Lélie ruined a perfect plan, so Mascarille is mortified. This episode, however, suggest that Célie may have a father.

Vous avez fait ce coup sans vous donner au diable?
Mascarille à Lélie (II. xi)
[And you did all this without the help of the devil?]
Mascarille to Lelio (II. 14, p. 35)



Moreau le Jeune et Jean-Baptiste Simonet (commons.wikimedia.org & BnF)

L'étourdi par Lalauze

L’Étourdi par Adolphe Lalauze (etching) (theatre-documentation.com)


In Act Three, Scene One, Mascarille wonders whether he should continue to serve a master who jeopardizes, or ruins, ploys that should be successful. He thinks matters over and decides that he will carry on, but that, henceforth, he will work for his glory, not his master’s.

915  Mais aussi, raisonnons un peu sans violence ;/ Si je suis maintenant ma juste impatience,/ On dira que je cède à la difficulté,/ Que je me trouve à bout de ma subtilité ;/ Et que deviendra lors cette publique estime,/ Qui te vante partout pour un fourbe sublime, /Et que tu t’es acquise en tant d’occasions, À ne t’être jamais vu court d’inventions ? L’honneur, ô Mascarille, est une belle chose;/ À tes nobles travaux ne fais aucune pause./Et quoi qu’un maîtrepour te faire enrager,/ Achève pour ta gloire, et non pour l’obliger.
Mascarille (III. i)
[But let us argue the matter a little without passion; if I should now give way to my just impatience the world will say I sank under difficulties, that my cunning was completely exhausted. What then becomes of that public esteem, which extols you everywhere as a first-rate rogue, and which you have acquired upon so many occasions, because you never yet were found wanting in inventions? Honour, Mascarille, is a fine thing; do not pause in your noble labours; and whatever a master may have done to incense you, complete your work, for your own glory, and not to oblige him.]
Mascarille (III. 1, pp. 36-37)

By now, Léandre has purchased Célie, but it turns out that he cannot “collect” her, so to speak. Trufaldin cannot release Célie without first seeing a ring and Léandre must first seek his father’s consent. He is a “fils de famille.” Not a problem! Mascarille can take Célie to a safe house. Léandre is duped. Once Clélie leaves Trufaldin’s house, she will be handed over to Lélie, Mascarille being Lélie’s servant, not Léandre’s.


In Act Three, Scene Two, Mascarille questions Célie’s integrity. Léandre, if he marries her, he will marry le bien public, public property.

Non, vous ne me croyez pas, suivez votre dessein,/ Prenez cette matoise, et lui donnez la main;/ Toute la ville en corps reconnaîtra ce zèle,/ Et vous épouserez le bien public en elle.
Mascarille à Léandre (III. ii)
[No, pray do not believe me, follow your own inclination, take the sly girl and marry her; the whole city, in a body, will acknowledge this favour; you marry the public good in her.]
Mascarille to Léandre (III. 2, p. 38)

Given that this information comes from Mascarille, whom he trusts, Léandre is inclined to believe that Célie is a loose woman. Lélie is furious. Mascarille confirms that he told Léandre that Célie was not as she appeared. However, Mascarille works for Lélie, not for Léandre. A rogue can do little unless he gains the confidence of the persons he plays. By Lélie’s standard, Léandre’s words are slanderous, whether or not they are Mascarille’s words. He is ready to beat Léandre, which does not surprise Léandre. Mascarille ran away from Lélie because his master, Lélie, was beating him, which was a lie.

Lélie/Lelio is so angry that Mascarille walks in and confirms that Léandre repeated his words, Mascarille’s words. False statements are his “industrie.”

Doucement, ce discours est de mon industrie.
Mascarille à Lélie (III. iv)
[(In a whisper to Lelio). Gently; I told him so on purpose.]
Mascarille to Lelio (III. 4, p. 40)

Lélie is sinning by a rogue’s standards and appeasing him is difficult. He even draws his sword. Léandre walks away and Mascarille cannot believe that Lélie could not see that that he had lied to Lélie’s benefit. Zanni lie. He defamed Célie, but his words were the means that could lead to a happy ending. “All’s well that ends well.” Mascarille is indignant.


Et vous ne pouviez souffrir mon artifice?/ Lui laisser son erreur, qui vous rendait service,/ Et par qui son amour s’en était presque allé?/1090 Non, il a l’esprit franc, et point dissimulé:/ Enfin chez son rival je m’ancre avec adresse,/ Cette fourbe en mes mains va mettre sa maîtresse;/ Il me la fait manquer avec de faux rapports;/ Je veux de son rival alentir les transports:/ 1095 Mon brave incontinent vient qui le désabuse,/ J’ai beau lui faire signe, et montrer que c’est ruse;/ Point d’affaire, il poursuit sa pointe jusqu’au bout,/ Et n’est point satisfait qu’il n’ait découvert tout:/ Grand et sublime effort d’une imaginative/ 1100 Qui ne le cède point à personne qui vive! C’est une rare pièce! et digne sur ma foi,/ Qu’on en fasse présent au cabinet d’un roi!
Mascarille à Lélie (III. iv)
[And you could not let the artifice pass, nor let him remain in his error, which did you good service, and which pretty nearly extinguished his passion. No, honest soul, he cannot bear dissimulation. I cunningly get a footing at his rival’s, who, like a dolt, was going to place his mistress in my hands, but he, Lelio, prevents me getting hold of her by a fictitious letter; I try to abate the passion of his rival, my hero presently comes and undeceives him. In vain I make signs to him, and show him it was all a contrivance of mine; it signifies nothing; he continues to the end, and never rests satisfied till he has discovered all. Grand and sublime effect of a mind which is not inferior to any man living!  It is an exquisite piece, and worthy, in troth, to be made a present of to the king’s private museum.]
Mascarille to Lélie (III. 5, p. 42)

Mascarille’s tirade provides insight in the difficult role zanni play, a role that may cause Mascarille to be jailed.  He changes the subject because he wants to know if Lelio has made peace with his father.

… C’est que de votre père il faut absolument./ Apaiser la colère.
Mascarille à Lélie (III. iv)
[You must, without delay, endeavour to appease your father’s anger.]
Mascarille to Lelio (III. 5, p. 44)

Mascarille has learned that Pandolfe is angry.

Il craint le pronostic [approaching death], et contre moi fâché,
On m’a dit qu’en justice il m’avait recherché :
Mascarille à Lélie (III. iv)
[The good sire, notwithstanding his age, is very fond of life, and cannot bear jesting upon that subject; he is alarmed at the prognostication, is so very angry that I hear he has lodged a complaint against me.]
Mascarille to Lelio (III. 5, p. 44)

Consequently, Mascarille could find himself in the confined “logis du Roi,” jail, and fears he may feel so comfortable that he could be there for a very long time:

J’ai peur, si le logis du Roi fait ma demeure,/ De m’y trouver si bien dès le premier quart d’heure,/ Que j’aye peine aussi d’en sortir par après : / Contre moi dès longtemps on a force décrets ;/ Car enfin, la vertu n’est jamais sans envie,/ Et dans ce maudit siècle, est toujours poursuivie./ Allez donc le fléchir.
Mascarille à Lélie (III. iv)
[I am afraid that if I am once housed at the expense of the king, I may like it so well after the first quarter of an hour, that I shall find it very difficult afterwards to get away. There have been several warrants out against me this good while; for virtue is always envied and persecuted in this abominable age. Therefore go and make my peace with your father.]
Mascarille to Lélio (III. 5, p. 44)

Mascarille’s virtue is a rogue’s virtue. It is upside down. It is not virtue as Lelio sees it. And it is dangerous. He has “killed,” as a joke, a man who is nearing death and who therefore fears his human condition: we die.

Je l’ai fait ce matin mort pour l’amour de vous;/ La vision le choque, et de pareilles feintes/ Aux vieillards comme lui sont de dures atteintes,/ Qui sur l’état prochain de leur condition/ Leur font faire à regret triste réflexion./ Le bonhomme, tout vieux, chérit fort la lumière/ Et ne veut point de jeu dessus cette matière;/ Il craint le pronostic, et, contre moi fâché,/ On m’a dit qu’en justice il m’avait recherché.
Mascarille à Lélie (III. iv)
[Yes, but I am not; I killed him this morning for your sake; the very idea of it shocks him. Those sorts of jokes are severely felt by such old fellows as he, which, much against their will, make them reflect sadly on the near approach of death. The good sire, notwithstanding his age, is very fond of life, and cannot bear jesting upon that subject; he is alarmed at the prognostication, and so very angry that I hear he has lodged a complaint against me.]
Mascarille to Lelio (III. 5,  p. 44)

Lélie will blunder again: the maskerades, the dinner at Trufaldin’s. He will also be beaten, disguised as an Armenian. Two Egyptian women will fight so vigorously that both will loose their wig. But one knows that Andrès, who is about to be seen, will be another rival, though briefly. It will be found that he and Célie are in fact Trufaldin’s long lost children. An anagnorisis, a theatrical device, will close the play. (to be continued)

Allow me to quote Mascarille again.

Car enfin la vertu n’est jamais sans envie,/ Et dans ce maudit siècle, est toujours poursuivie.
Mascarille (III. iv)
[… for virtue is always envied and persecuted in this abominable age.]
Mascarille (III. 5. p. 44)


Sources and Resources

Love to everyone 💕


Louis XIV and Molière par Jean-Léon Jérôme (commons. wikimedia.org)

© Micheline Walker
16 February 2020