, , , , ,

The Last Play

L’Étourdi is the last play by Molière that we are reading from beginning to end. I have written at least one or more post(s) on each of Molière’s plays. Titles are listed on my Molière page.

We have not read La Critique de l’École des femmes (1st June 1663) and L’Impromptu de Versailles. L’Impromtu de Versailles (14 October 1663) (see Britannica) is considered a théâtre dans le théâtre, a play within a play, in the broadest acceptation of the term. As for La Critique de l’École de femmes (see Britannica). It was an answer to criticism of l’École des femmesThe plays we have not read in their entirety will be revisited in the light of our recent rereading of all of Molière’s plays.

L’Étourdi ou les Contretemps is known as the very first play Molière wrote. He may have written other plays during the years he toured the provinces of France, from 1645 to 1658. It was written between 1653 and 1655.

Given our circumstances, a pandemic, I did not finish l’Étourdi, but I wish to live as normally as possible. We will therefore finish reading Molière. However, we will concentrate on shorter passages.

He wrote it in approximately 1653 – 1655. Given our circumstances, the pandemic, I did not finish l’Étourdi, but I would like life to remain as normal as possible, so we will finish reading Molière. However, we concentrate on shorter passages.



Dramatis Personæ (the cast)

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

Act Four, Scene Three

  • plots : a central plot and related stratagems
  • a view of the world

L’Étourdi is yet another comedy. Lélie loves Célie but so does Léandre. Therefore, as is the case with all comedies, Lélie has a rival who can buy Célie, Trufaldin’s slave. That is an obstacle to Lélie marrying his “divinity.” Pandolfe, Lélie’s father is also an obstacle. His son Lélie does not have financial independence. Lélie must therefore ask his valet to help secure the woman is love.

… Monsieur votre père/ est un autre qui ne vous laisse pas/ Comme vous voudriez bien, manier ses ducats …
Mascarille à Lélie (I.ii, v 100 …)
[That your father is just as covetous an old hunk,
who does not allow you to handle his ducats, …]
Mascarille to Lélie (I. 3, p. 10)

Inside this frame plot, are a series of attempts, stratagems, Mascarille devises to capture Célie, but these are foiled by Lélie himself. Therefore, Lélie seems his own worst enemy, which he is but not entirely.  He is virtuous to the point of refusing to hear that Clélie is a loose woman. He defends her and, in the process, pulls the rug from under Mascarille feet. He does not operate in the same manner as Mascarille whose virtue is to discourage Léandre from marrying Célie.  Mascarille tells him that Célie is a loose woman, which is a lie that serves Lélie. Lélie will not hear that Célie is anything other than his divinity. He will not allow Léandre to think otherwise. So Léandre learns that Mascarille has played him.

Mascarille’s Stratagems

Although l’Étourdi has a frame plot, we see several attempts, Mascarille’s stratagems, to capture Célie, all of which are spoiled by Lélie. Molière has once again made the “lover” his own worst enemy. Lélie seems a scatterbrain, a translation of l’Étourdi. But he and Mascarille are also the victims of destiny.

You may remember that two fathers Pandolfe and Anselme had arranged for Lélie, Panolfe’s son, to marry Hippolyte, Anselme’s daughter. After Mascarille and Lélie’s make believe Pandolfe has died, Anselme decides that his daughter Hippolyte will marry Léandre, the son of good parents who has a little money and could buy Célie.

Léandre’s Maskerade

  • reckless
  • humiliating

However, Léandre arranges a maskerade. His women (men disguised as women) will assault Trufaldin’s house and capture Célie. Trufaldin is forewarned and, in the English translation, he gives Léandre perfume (a cassolette in the original French). The perfume is not perfume. It stinks, which suggests that it contains Célie’s excrements.

Fi, cela sent mauvais, et je suis tout gâté./ Nous sommes découverts, tirons de ce côté.
Léandre à tous (III.ix)
[Faugh. This does not smell nicely. My clothes are all spoiled; we are discovered; let us be gone away.]
Leandre to all (III.13)

Anselme on Love

Anselme would love to be loved. He hears that Nérine loves him and wants to give money to Mascarille to sustain Nérine’s love. But in Act Four, Scene Three, he is a father to Léandre and, at the very beginning, the conversation is from man to man. The conversation is prompted by Léandre’s catastrophic assault on Trufaldin’s house

Je ne vous parle point en père de ma fille,/ En homme intéressé pour ma propre famille;/ Mais comme votre père ému pour votre bien …
Anselme à Léandre (IV.iii)
[I do not speak to you as the father of Hippolyta, as a man interested for my own family, but as your father, anxious for your welfare…]
Anselme to Léandre (IV. 4, p. 54)

Anselme’s “réplique,” a tirade, soon turns to the needs of his daughter, Hippolyte, and Anselme’ own needs. He has now made arrangements for her to marry Léandre. Hippolyte loves Léandre. In fact, Mascarille is also working for her.

Bref, comme je voudrais, d’un âme franche et pure,/ Que l’on fît à mon sang en pareil aventure.
Anselme (IV. iii)
[In short, openly and honestly, as I would wish a child of mine to be treated upon the like occasion.]
Anselme to Léandre (IV. 4, p. 54)

Anselme knows that people are laughing at his effort to capture Célie. In doing so, he is inviting laughter, which is the worst of punishment.

Savez-vous de quel œil chacun voit cet amour,/ Qui dedans une nuit vient d’éclater au jour?/ A combien de discours et de traits de risée/ Votre entreprise d’hier est partout exposée.
Anselme à Léandre (IV.iii)
[Do you know how everybody regards this amour of yours, which in one night has burst forth? How your yesterday’s undertaking is everywhere talked of and ridiculed?]
Anselme to Léandre (IV. 4, p. 54)

She is a “gypsy” to most, except Lélie

Anselme also criticizes Léandre’s choice of a gypsy. One doesn’t know Célie’s background and wisdom has it that we not seek far beyond what is in plain sight. Lélie knows Célie, but Léandre doesn’t.

J’en ai rougi pour vous, encor plus que pour moi,/ Qui me trouve compris dans l’éclat que je voi,/Moi, dis-je, dont la fille à vos ardeurs promise,/ Ne peut sans quelque affront souffrir qu’on la méprise./ Ah! Léandre, sortez de cet abaissement!
Anselme à Léandre (IV. iii)
[I really blushed for you, even more than I did for myself, who am also compromised by this public scandal. Yes, I am compromised, I say, I whose daughter, being engaged to you, cannot bear to see her slighted, without taking offence at it.]
Anselme  à Léandre (IV. 4, p. 54)

Ah! Léandre, sortez de cet abaissement; 1470 Ouvrez un peu les yeux sur votre aveuglement:/ Si notre esprit n’est pas sage à toutes les heures,/ Les plus courtes erreurs sont toujours les meilleures.
Anselme à Léandre (IV. iii)
[For shame, Leander; arise from your humiliation; consider well your infatuation; if none of us are wise at all times, yet the shortest errors are always the best.]
Anselme to Léandre (IV. 4, p. 54)

The above quotations describe the behaviour that is expected in l’Étourdi’s society. Hippolyte’s father does not want his daughter to marry someone who assaults a man’s house to capture a woman he does know. Léandre has fallen in love with a beautiful face. Beauty does not reveal the character of a woman. That belongs to the realm of appearances, which, as we have seen, are “trompeuses” according to Pascal (see Sources and Resources) and many 17th century writers and thinkers.

Léandre tells Mascarille that he has seen’s Célie’s face:

Vous pourriez l’épouser?
Mascarille à Léandre (III. ii)
[Would you marry her?]
… Je ne sais; mais enfin,/ Si quelque obscurité se trouve en son destin,/ Sa grâce et sa vertu sont de douces amorces,/ Qui pour tirer les cœurs sont d’incroyables forces.
Léandre à Mascarille (III.ii)
[I am not yet determined, but if her origin is somewhat obscure, her charms and her virtue are gentle attractions, which have incredible force to allure every heart.]
Léandre to Mascarille (III. 2, p. 38)

Lélie knows Célie’s cœur. Léandre doesn’t, which he must. Moreover, is the society of the play ready to accept Célie. In 17th France/Italy, society was mostly homogeneous. Besides, Léandre made a fool of himself by assaulting Trufaldin’s house with a masked brigade. He was humiliated by Trufaldin.

More importantly, passion does not last. Other bonds are created that unite a man and a woman. Marriage can be the most beautiful of commitments. Anselme’s view of love already reflects the view expressed in Madame de La Fayette‘s Princesse de Clèves (1678).  Jealousy keeps love alive. When a woman marries, she loses the love of the man she loves. Madame de Clèves will not marry Monsieur de Nemours, for fear he will no longer love her, which would cause her infinite pain. Le Prince de Clèves dies because his wife loves Monsieur de Nemours; grief kills him.

Moreover, it is true that a woman can divide a family. Prince Harry cannot travel to the UK to see sick and/or ageing family. Miseries can follow a marriage. One chooses well.

Quand on ne prend en dot que la seule beauté,/ Le remords est bien près de la solennité, 1475/ Et la plus belle femme a très peu de défense,/ Contre cette tiédeur qui suit la jouissance:/ Je vous le dis encor, ces bouillants mouvements,/ Ces ardeurs de jeunesse, et ces emportements,/ Nous font trouver d’abord quelques nuits agréables:/ 1480 Mais ces félicités ne sont guère durables,/ Et notre passion alentissant son cours,/ Après ces bonnes nuits donnent de mauvais jours./ De là viennent les soins, les soucis, les misères,/ Les fils déshérités par le courroux des pères.
Anselme à Léandre (IV. iii)
[When a man receives no dowry with his wife, but beauty only, repentance follows soon after wedlock; and the handsomest woman in the world; can hardly defend herself against a lukewarmness caused by possession. I repeat it, those fervent raptures, those youthful ardours and ecstacies, may make us pass a few agreeable nights, but this bliss is not at all lasting, and as our passions grow cool, very unpleasant days follow those pleasant nights; hence proceed cares, anxieties, miseries, sons disinherited through their fathers’ wrath.]
Anselme to Léandre (IV. 4, p. 54)


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)

On Hippolyte: the Good Wife

When Anselme changes his mind and replaces Lélie with Léandre, Hippolyte takes Léandre aside so she can tell him what could hurt him. She is an understanding woman which will serve her and her relationship with her husband. Her  father wants her to marry Léandre, so she will tell him as they walk, holding hands, toward the temple.

Je dois vous annoncer, Léandre, une nouvelle;/ Mais la trouverez-vous agréable, ou cruelle?
Hyppolyte à Léandre (II.viii)
[I have some news for you, Leander, but will you be pleased or displeased with it?]
Hippolyte to Léandre (II. 10, p.32)
Pour en pouvoir juger, et répondre soudain, Il faudrait la savoir.
Léandre à Hippolyte (II.viii)
[To judge of that, and make answer off-hand, I should know it.]
Léandre to Hippolyte (II. 10, p. 32)
Donnez-moi donc la main jusqu’au temple, en marchant je pourrai vous l’apprendre.
Hippolyte à Léandre (II.viii)
[Give me your hand, then, as far as the church, and I will tell it you as we go.]
Hippolyte to Léandre (II.10, p. 33)

The Good Wife is an archetypal figure.

Léandre tells Anselme that he has imagined all the consequences Anselme has discussed. Act Four, Scene Three reveals Molière’s knowledge of human nature. Anselme is one of Molière finest raisonneurs. Yet Léandre’s cœur will benefit from lessons life has taught Anselme. Léandre feels unworthy of so good a wife as Hippolyte.

1485 Dans tout votre discours, je n’ai rien écouté,/ Que mon esprit déjà ne m’ait représenté./ Je sais, combien je dois, à cet honneur insigne,/ Que vous me voulez faire, et dont je suis indigne,/ Et vois, malgré l’effort dont je suis combattu,/ 1490 Ce que vaut votre fille, et quelle est sa vertu:/ Aussi veux-je tâcher…
Léandre à Anselme (IV. iii)
[All that I now hear from you is no more than what my own reason has already suggested to me. I know how much I am obliged to you for the great honour you are inclined to pay me, and of which I am unworthy. In spite of the passion which sways me, I have ever retained a just sense of your daughter’s merit and virtue: therefore I will endeavour . . .
Léandre to Anselme (IV. 4, p. 54)

Somebody is opening this door; let us retire to a distance, lest some contagion spreads from it, which may attack you suddenly.]

Victor Hugo on l’Étourdi

In a footnote, Henri van Laun, our translator, writes that Victor Hugo looked upon L’Étourdi as the best written of Molière’s plays.

Victor Hugo appears to be of another opinion. M. Paul Stapfer, in his les Artistes juges et parties (2ième Causerie, the Grammarian of Hauteville House, p. 55), states: “the opinion of Victor Hugo about Moliere is very peculiar. According to him, the best written of all the plays of our great comic author is his first work, L’Etourdi. It possesses a brilliancy and freshness of style which still shine in le Depit amoureux, but which gradually fade, because Moliere, yielding unfortunately to other inspirations than his own, enters more and more upon a new way.” (p. 4)


Sources and Resources

Love to everyone 💕


Zanni Corneto, Harlequin & la Dona Lucretia

© Micheline Walker
2 April 2020