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L’Impromptu de Versailles par Edmond Hédouin (théâtre-documentation.com)
L’Impromptu de Versailles par Adolphe Lalauze (théâtre-documentation.com)

L’Impromptu de Versailles

Dramatis Personæ

MOLIÈRE, marquis ridicule.
BRÉCOURT, homme de qualité.
DE LA GRANGE, marquis ridicule.
DU CROISY, poète.
LA THORILLIÈRE, marquis fâcheux.
BÉJART, homme qui fait le nécessaire.
MADEMOISELLE DU PARC Marquise façonnière (mannerist).
MADEMOISELLE DE BRIE, sage coquette.
MADEMOISELLE MOLIÈRE, satirique spirituelle.
MADEMOISELLE DU CROISY, peste doucereuse.
MEDEMOISELLE HERVÉ, servante précieuse.

La scène est à Versailles dans la salle de la Comédie.
We are at Versailles in the hall where plays are performed.

L’Impromptu de Versailles FR (L’Impromptu de Versailles EN) is the second play Molière wrote in response to criticism of L’École des femmes. There was, in fact, a Querelle de l’École des femmes. We have read La Critique de l’École des femmes, the first play Molière wrote to defend himself. It premiered on 2nd June 1663. As for L’Impromptu de Versailles, the one-act play was commissioned by Louis XIV, and it was first performed at Versailles on 14th October 1663.

Molière’s two plays differ from one another quite drastically. Both are one-act plays, but L’Impromptu de Versailles is a form of théâtre dans le théâtre, a play within a play. Théâtre dans le théâtre are plays that may vary from one another. Therefore, I will say no more than the comedians who perform L’Impromptu de Versailles are mostly the same as the comedians featured in La Critique de l’École des femmes, but that they use their “real” name. Diderot‘s Paradoxe sur le Comédien (actor) is prefigured.

I will also note that the fil conducteur (the thread) of the play is the story of comedians who are pressed for time by King Louis XIV who commissioned the play. In scenes vii, viii, ix and x, of a total of eleven scenes, a nécessaire, played by Béjart, asks for the play to begin. However, in scene xi, a brief scene, Molière’s comedians are told by the nécessaire, that the King is postponing the performance of the play he commissioned. Molière’s troupe may perform a play they already know. So, Louis XIV’s demand is lifted by Louis XIV himself, now transformed into a deus ex machina, a plot device that allows the happy ending of comedy. The use of a deus ex machina suggests that the society of the play cannot resolve the problems it is facing. Innerness is suggested. In the case of L’Impromptu de Versailles, the use of a deus ex machina also points to the circularity of the plot.

Antiphanes was one of the device’s earliest critics. He believed that the use of the deus ex machina was a sign that the playwright was unable to properly manage the complications of his plot.

when they don’t know what to say
and have completely given up on the play
just like a finger they lift the machine
and the spectators are satisfied.”
(See Deus ex machina, Wikipedia)

Professor Georges Forestier[1] writes that Molière would be the dramatist, who would append a comédie to the tail end of (à la queue de) L’École des femmes. La queue (the tail) is part of the animal.

Puisque chacun en serait content, Chevalier [Dorante], faites un mémoire de tout, et le donnez à Molière que vous connaissez, pour le mettre en comédie.
Uranie à Dorante (I, vi)
[As every one is satisfied, Chevalier, write out our discussion, and give it to Moliere, whom you know, to work into a play.]
Uranie to Dorante (I. 7, p. 178)

Yet at some point, Molière says to Brécourt, one of his actors, that he will not play Molière and that he did not play the marquis ridicule of La Critique de l’École des femmes. In a play, one represents someone else for the duration of the play and one may play a character that doesn’t match one “real” self

A Théâtre dans le théâtre (a play within a play)

In Georges Forestier’s Théâtre dans le théâtre,[2] L’Impromptu de Versailles is number 21 of the plays considered plays within plays in the broadest acceptation of the term.

In scene one, Molière attempts to gather his actors so they may rehearse a play they do not know. Molière’s comment that actors are literally “strange animals to drive” (conduire) is Molière’s. He is chef de troupe and gathering his comedians.

Ah ! les étranges animaux à conduire que des comédiens.
Molière (I, i. p. 2) (I. 1, p. 192)
[Oh, what an awkward team to drive are actors! {Enter Mesdemoiselles Bejart, Duparc, Debrie, Molière, Du Croisy, and Hervé}.]
Molière (I, i. p. 2) (I. 1, p. 192)

All complain.

Le moyen de jouer ce qu’on ne sait pas?
[How are we to play what we do not know?]
La Grange (I, i. p. 2) (I. 1, p. 192)
Pour moi, je vous déclare que je ne me souviens pas d’un mot de mon personnage.
[As for me, I declare that I do not remember a word of my part.]
Mademoiselle du Parc (I, i. p. 2) (I. 1, p. 192)
Je sais bien qu’il me faudra souffler le mien, d’un bout à l’autre.
[I am sure I shall have to be prompted from beginning to end.]
Mademoiselle de Brie (I, i. p. 2) (I. 1, p. 192)
Et moi, je me prépare fort à tenir mon rôle à la main
[And I just mean to hold mine in my hand.]
Mademoiselle Béjart (I, i. p. 2) (I. 1, p. 192)
Et moi aussi.
[So do I.]
Mademoiselle Molière (I, i. p. 2) (I. 1, p. 192)
Pour moi, je n’ai pas grand’chose à dire.
[For my part, I have not much to say.]
Mademoiselle Hervé (I, i. p. 2) (I. 1, p. 192)
Ni moi non plus, mais avec cela je ne répondrais pas de ne
point manquer.

[Nor I either; but, for all that, I would not promise not to make a slip.]
Mademoiselle du Croisy (I, i. p. 2) (I. 1, p. 192)
J’en voudrais être quitte pour dix pistoles.
[I would give ten pistoles to be out of it.]
Du Croisy (I, i. p. 2) (I. 1, p. 192)
Et moi pour vingt bons coups de fouet, je vous assure.
[I would stand a score of good blows with a whip to be the same, I assure you.]
Brécourt (I, i. p. 2) (I. 1, p. 192)

Having complained, they start imitating the actors who have criticized them. Most are employed by l’Hôtel de Bourgogne. In the meantime, Molière has a play in mind and distribute the roles each will play.

According to Britannica, Molière

made theatre history by reproducing with astonishing realism the actual greenroom, or actors’ lounge, of the company and the backchat involved in rehearsal.


The Dialogue

The realism of L’Impromptu is such that we do not think the actors are already on the stage. Molière gave a short one-line comment to each character objecting to performing a play they do not have the time to prepare. So, as the characters say that they are not ready to perform a play they do not know, the rapid sequence of répliques (retorts) emphasizes haste. The rapid succession of répliques is a figure of speech called stichomythia.

I will pause here leaving out elements that can be addressed separately.

Page on Molière
La Critique de l’École des femmes: pleasure (20 November 2020)
La Critique de l’École des femmes: details (15 November 2020)
La Critique de l’École des femmes (10 November 2020)
Destiny in L’École des femmes (1st November 2020) (no 62)

Sources and Resources
L’Impromptu de Versailles is a toutmolière.net publication
L’Impromptu de Versailles is an Internet archive publication
La Critique de l’École des femmes is a toutmolière.net publication
The School for Wives criticised is an Internet Archive publication
Our translator is Henri van Laun
Images belong to théâtre-documention.com (BnF)
Wikipedia: various entries
The Encyclopædia Britannica: various entries

[1] Georges Forestier, Le Théâtre dans le Théâtre (Genève: Droz, 1996), pp. 150…
[2] Georges Forestier, op. cit. , p. 352.

Jean Rondeau & Thomas Dunford record “Les Baricades Mïstérieuses” by François Couperin
Afficher l’image source
François Couperin (Bing images)

© Micheline Walker
30 November 2020