Covid will not relent and too many are in denial. On Christmas day, the Montreal police force was making sure regulations were observed. There is a vaccine, but vaccinating everyone will take a long time and the very humble will be the last to be protected. Moreover, there are individuals who will refuse the vaccine. I hope the citizens of the United States will receive their stimulus cheques as soon as possible. This money buys food and keeps a roof over people’s head. No government has the right to neglect its citizens. People pay taxes in order to be safe. It’s the social contract. Besides, if there is money to launch rockets, there is money to keep everyone fed and housed. We must also prepare for other catastrophic events. Losing one’s income is tragic.
We are at the court of Henri II (1519-1559) of France, a Valois king. He and Catherine de’ Medici have three sons, which should have ensured the House of Valois’s survival. The video I showed in an earlier post mentions a second François. This second François is François de France (1555-1584). He was the last child born to Henri II and Catherine de’ Medici. He died of tuberculosis in 1584, five years before Henri III’s assassination, King of Poland and France, the last of Henri II’s three heirs. As you know, French King Henri III’s death ended the rule of the House of Valois, a cadet branch of the House of Bourbon. Henri and Catherine de’ Medici had daughters. One of their daughters is Marguerite de Valois. She marries Henri III of Navarre, whose father is a Bourbon. Henri III de Navarre is the future Henri IV of France. However, the Salic Law prevented a woman from ascending the throne of France. Marguerite de Valois is Alexandre Dumas père‘s Reine Margot. Her marriage to Henri IV was annulled. She could not have children. Henri II’s mistress is Diane de Poitiers also called Madame de Valentinois or Duchesse de Valentinois.
La Magnificence et la Galanterie
The novel begins with a praise of Henri II’s court. It is described as magnificent and is also characterized by galanterie. This is where Madame de Chartres has taken her 16-year old daughter who has reached an age when, in 17th-century France, a young woman looked for a husband.
La magnificence et la galanterie n’ont jamais paru en France avec tant d’éclat que dans les dernières années du règne de Henri second. Ce prince était galant, bien fait et amoureux ; quoique sa passion pour Diane de Poitiers, duchesse de Valentinois, eût commencé il y avait plus de vingt ans, elle n’en était pas moins violente, et il n’en donnait pas des témoignages moins éclatants. (Gutenberg’s eBook #18797) [Grandeur and gallantry never appeared with more lustre in France, than in the last years of Henry the Second’s reign. This Prince was amorous and handsome, and though his passion for Diana of Poictiers [sic], duchess of Valentinois, was of above twenty years standing, it was not the less violent, nor did he give less distinguishing proofs of it.] (Wikisource, first line)
La Princesse de Clèves
le Prince de Clèves falls in love with Mademoiselle de Chartres
le Chevalier or Duc de Guise is his rival
The Prince of Cleves first meets Mademoiselle de Chartres at an Italian jeweller’s. He has never seen her. However, the King’s sister, Madame sœur du roi, guesses that he has met Mlle de Chartres and invites him to return in the morning. Mademoiselle de Chartres is a young woman he has met. He is delighted to realize that her beauty matches her rank.
Meeting her was le coup de foudre, love at first sight. Le Prince de Clèves wishes to marry Mlle de Chartres, but his father will not agree to this union. He is not the first-born son, which constitutes a disadvantage. As well, the Prince has a rival. The Duc de Guise has also fallen in love with Mademoiselle de Chartres, but his brother, le Cardinal de Lorraine, will not let him marry Mlle de Chartres. Once again, not being the firstborn is an obstacle. Therefore, it occurs to Madame de Chartres that her daughter should marry a prince of the blood. She would be above the Prince de Clèves and the chevalier de Guise. The Prince de Montpensier shows interest in such an alliance, but Diane de Poitiers, the King’s mistress, tells the King to forbid a marriage between Mlle de Chartres and the Prince de Montpensier.
The court may scintillate, but ambition and galanterie undermine all relationships. Rank is often put into the service of ambition and not so noble galanterie. Diane de Poitiers is very ambitious.
L’ambition et la galanterie étaient l’âme de cette cour, et occupaient également les hommes et les femmes. Il y avait tant d’intérêts et tant de cabales différentes, et les dames y avaient tant de part, que l’amour était toujours mêlé aux affaires, et les affaires à l’amour. Personne n’était tranquille, ni indifférent; on songeait à s’élever, à plaire, à servir ou à nuire; on ne connaissait ni l’ennui, ni l’oisiveté, et on était toujours occupé des plaisirs ou des intrigues. (Gutenberg’s eBook #18797) [Ambition and gallantry were the soul of the court, and employed both sexes equally; there were so many different interests and so many cabals, and the ladies had so great a share in them, that love was always mixed with business, and business with love.] (Wikisource )
Although the Prince of Cleves is very much in love with Mlle de Chartres, having a private conversation with her is difficult. Mlle de Chartres has entered a court teeming with courtiers. But the Prince de Clèves is so enamoured that he succeeds in speaking with her. He tells her not to marry him simply to obey her mother.
Il ne la voyait que chez les reines, ou aux assemblées; il était difficile d’avoir une conversation particulière. Il en trouva pourtant les moyens, et il lui parla de son dessein et de sa passion avec tout le respect imaginable; il la pressa de lui faire connaître quels étaient les sentiments qu’elle avait pour lui, et il lui dit que ceux qu’il avait pour elle étaient d’une nature qui le rendrait éternellement malheureux, si elle n’obéissait que par devoir aux volontés de madame sa mère. (Gutenberg’s eBook #18797) ([…) he had no opportunity of seeing her but at court or public assemblies, so that it was very difficult for him to get a private conversation with her; at last he found means to do it, and informed her of his intention and of his love, with all the respect imaginable.] (Wikisource )
Mlle de Chartres is grateful for the manner in which he has spoken to her and he dares to hope that she loves him.
Comme mademoiselle de Chartres avait le cœur très noble et très bien fait, elle fut véritablement touchée de reconnaissance du procédé du prince de Clèves. Cette reconnaissance donna à ses réponses et à ses paroles un certain air de douceur qui suffisait pour donner de l’espérance à un homme aussi éperdument amoureux que l’était ce prince: de sorte qu’il se flatta d’une partie de ce qu’il souhaitait. (Gutenberg’s eBook #18797) [As Mademoiselle de Chartres had a noble and generous heart, she was sincerely touched with gratitude for the prince of Cleves’s behaviour; this gratitude gave a certain sweetness to her words and answers, sufficient to furnish hopes to a man so desperately enamoured as the prince was so that he flattered himself in some measure that he should succeed in what he so much wished for.] (Wikisource )
La Princesse reports the Prince de Clèves’ words to her mother. Madame de Chartres tells her daughter that if she is inclined to marry the Prince of Cleves, she would consent to this marriage. However, in no way does she press her daughter to marry the prince.
Elle rendit compte à sa mère de cette conversation, et madame de Chartres lui dit qu’il y avait tant de grandeur et de bonnes qualités dans monsieur de Clèves, et qu’il faisait paraître tant de sagesse pour son âge, que, si elle sentait son inclination portée à l’épouser, elle y consentirait avec joie. Mademoiselle de Chartres répondit qu’elle lui remarquait les mêmes bonnes qualités, qu’elle l’épouserait même avec moins de répugnance qu’un autre, mais qu’elle n’avait aucune inclination particulière pour sa personne. [She gave her mother an account of this conversation; and Madam de Chartres told her, that the prince of Cleves had so many good qualities, and discovered a discretion so much above his years, that if her inclination led her to marry him, she would consent to it with pleasure. (Wikisource )
Mlle de Chartres response is baffling. She decides to marry the prince “with less reluctance” than another man and having “no particular affection to his person.”
Mademoiselle de Chartres répondit qu’elle lui remarquait les mêmes bonnes qualités, qu’elle l’épouserait même avec moins de répugnance qu’un autre, mais qu’elle n’avait aucune inclination particulière pour sa personne. (Gutenberg’s eBook #18797) [Mademoiselle de Chartres made answer, that she observed in him the same good qualities; that she should have less reluctance in marrying him than any other man, but that she had no particular affection to his person.] (Wikisource )
So Mlle de Chartres marries the prince willingly, but she remains as she was before the wedding: cold. Madame de La Fayette writes that the Prince the Clèves will continue to love the Princesse because he has something to wish for.
Cela fit aussi que pour être son mari, il ne laissa pas d’être son amant, parce qu’il avait toujours quelque chose à souhaiter au-delà de sa possession; et, quoiqu’elle vécût parfaitement bien avec lui, il n’était pas entièrement heureux. (Gutenberg’s eBook #18797) [(…) hence it was, that though he was her husband, he did not cease to be her lover, because he had always something to wish beyond what he possessed; and though she lived perfectly easy with him, yet he was not perfectly happy.] Wikisource 
Mlle de Chartres, who has been taken to court by her widowed mother so she can find a husband. She is sixteen and has not discovered passion. She will marry le prince de Clèves, but he will find no change in her after they marry. In the following quotation, she is still unmarried, but she does not know life, let alone love. Mlle de Chartres is sixteen. She marries the Prince of Cleves who is less repulsive (avec moins de répugnance) than other men.
The Prince of Cleves senses that she does not love him:
Est-il possible, lui [le prince de Clèves] disait-il, que je puisse n’être pas heureux en vous épousant? Cependant il est vrai que je ne le suis pas. Vous n’avez pour moi qu’une sorte de bonté qui ne peut me satisfaire; vous n’avez ni impatience, ni inquiétude, ni chagrin; vous n’êtes pas plus touchée de ma passion que vous le seriez d’un attachement qui ne serait fondé que sur les avantages de votre fortune, et non pas sur les charmes de votre personne. (Le Prince de Clèves) (Gutenberg’s eBook # 18797) [Is it possible, says he, that I should not be happy in marrying you? and yet it is certain, I am not. You only show me a sort of civility which is far from giving me satisfaction; you express none of those pretty inquietudes, the concern, and impatience, which are the soul of love; you are no further affected with my passion, than you would be with one which flowed only from the advantage of your fortune, and not from the beauty of your person. (Wikisource )
Mademoiselle de Chartres ne savait que répondre, et ces distinctions étaient au-dessus de ses connaissances. Monsieur de Clèves ne voyait que trop combien elle était éloignée d’avoir pour lui des sentiments qui le pouvaient satisfaire, puisqu’il lui paraissait même qu’elle ne les entendait pas. (Gutenberg’s eBook # 18797) [Mademoiselle de Chartres did not know what to answer; these distinctions were above her comprehension. The prince of Cleves plainly saw she was far from having that tenderness of affection for him, which was requisite to his happiness; it was manifest she could not feel a passion which she did not understand.] (Wikisource )
Mlle de Chartres will discover passion after she marries the Prince de Clèves. She will be invited to a ball, le bal du Maréchal de Saint-André. She has been told about the Duc de Nemours:
Mais ce prince était un chef−d’œuvre de la nature ; ce qu’il avait de moins admirable était d’être l’homme du monde le mieux fait et le plus beau. [The duke de Nemours was a masterpiece of nature; the beauty of his person, inimitable as it was, was his least perfection; what placed him above other men, was a certain agreeableness in his discourse, his actions, his looks, which was observable in none beside himself: he had in his behaviour a gaiety that was equally pleasing to men and women; in his exercises he was very expert; and in dress he had a peculiar manner, which was followed by all the world, but could never be imitated: in fine, such was the air of his whole person, that it was impossible to fix one’s eye on anything else, wherever he was.] (Wikisource 
She knows who he is when she sees him at the ball. It will be the coup de foudre.
Madame de Clèves acheva de danser et pendant qu’elle cherchait des yeux quelqu’un qu’elle avait dessein de prendre, le roi lui cria de prendre celui qui arrivait. Elle se tourna, et vit un homme qu’elle crut d’abord ne pouvoir être que monsieur de Nemours, qui passait par-dessus quelques sièges pour arriver où l’on dansait. Ce prince était fait d’une sorte, qu’il était difficile de n’être pas surprise de le voir quand on ne l’avait jamais vu, surtout ce soir-là, où le soin qu’il avait pris de se parer augmentait encore l’air brillant qui était dans sa personne; mais il était difficile aussi de voir madame de Clèves pour la première fois, sans avoir un grand étonnement. (Gutenberg’s eBook # 18797) [She had finished her dance, and as she was casting her eyes round to single out some other person, the king desired her to take him who came in last; she turned about, and viewing him as he was passing over the seats to come to the place where they danced, she immediately concluded he was the duke of Nemours. The duke’s person was turned in so delicate a manner, that it was impossible not to express surprise at the first sight of him, particularly that evening, when the care he had taken to adorn himself added much to the fine air of his carriage. It was as impossible to behold the princess of Cleves without equal admiration.] (Wikisource )
Madame de La Fayette, born Marie-Madeleine Pioche de La Vergne, is the author of La Princesse de Clèves, published anonymously in 1678. Madame de La Fayette married an older gentleman, François Motier, Comte de La Fayette and bore him two sons. The Comte de La Fayette preferred to live at one of his country estates in Auvergne and the Bourbonnais, but Madame de La Fayette was born in Paris and remained her native city.
La Princesse de Clèves is Madame de La Fayette’s third novel. In 1662, she published La Princesse de Montpensier, anonymously, and is also believed to be the author of Zaïde which appeared under the name of Academician Jean Regnault de Segrais. Writing was not considered an appropriate occupation for a woman “of quality.” Yet, in Salons of the first half of the 17th century, love was forever discussed and writing was a favourite pastime.
The action of La Princesse de Clèves is set in 16th-century France, during the French Wars of Religion. It is considered a historical novel, a form of ailleurs (elsewhere), hence more fictional. We are at the court of Henri II, the second son of François 1er of France. François is married to Catherine de Médicis, but his mistress is Diane de Poitiers. Henri II died accidentally, jousting in 1559. His three sons would reign. Francis II reigned very briefly. He was King of France for a year and five months. He developed and ear abcess that killed him. He was sixteen and had reigned for about 17 months. Charles IX died of tuberculosis in 1574, and Henri III, King of Poland and King of France, who was assassinated, and had not produced a heir to the throne. The death of Henri II’s male children ended the House of Valois. Henri IV, King of Navarre and a Bourbon king, converted to Catholicism and became Henri IV, King of France and Navarre. He took an interest in New France and inspired Voltaire‘s Henriade. Henri IV is the father of Louis XIII.
A Psychological Novel
Madame de La Fayette’s Princesse de Clèves is also, and mainly, a psychological novel. There may have been a co-author, François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld. He and Madame de La Fayette met daily when she was writing her Princesse de Clèves. But François was writing his Maximesdenouncing human behaviour which, in his opinion, was steeped in self-interest, including virtue. One suspects the influence of Jansenism, which suggests that if one cannot atone for the original sin during one’s life, one may expect a pitiless and eternal afterlife.
La Princesse de Clèves was Madame de La Fayette’s third novel and it is about love, but love impossible. The main notion underlying Madame de La Fayette’s portrayal of love is that love is in no way possible if it is reciprocated. Madame de Clèves’ husband dies of jealousy. He loves her, but she does not love him. One therefore indulges in petits plaisirs.
Once Dom Juan has seduced a woman, he no longer loves her. If a father is killed avenging his daughter, God strikes.
Ten thousand persons lived at Versailles in the days of Louis XIV. Nobles living away from Paris wanted to be noticed by Louis XIV. However, Louis could not house his country cousins who had difficulty finding lodging in Paris, which hasn’t changed. If they had a fortune, aristocrats owned a fine home in Paris as well as a horse and carriage. Blaise Pascal helped poorer courtiers by introducing the chaise à porteurs. It was the first public transit system. The chaises à porteurs were like taxis. One paid a fee.
As for the not so wealthy, they sometimes spent years courting Louis in the hope of living at Versailles. Louis could not help courtiers significantly because of the cost of Versailles. Louis XIV wanted the King of France to live in as grand a castle as Fouquet‘s Vaux-le-Vicomte, but Versailles cost a fortune.
Hundreds of country cousins praised Louis in the hope of being given a room at Versailles. Therefore, what Molière wrote about “hangers-on” is true. In his remarkable Splendid Century, W. H. Lewis writes the following:
So a new courtier has arrived at Versailles. Not of course to live in the château, for many weary years will have to pass before he is even considered for a vacant attic; unless some lucky accident befall him such as happened to the Marquis de Dangeau when impromptu verse making was in fashion. The King one day jokingly offered him a room if he could fill in a set of verses on the spot; Dangeau did so, and Louis, who never broke a promise, gave him the coveted room.
The Splendid Century by W. H. Lewis (New York: Double Day Anchor Books, 1957) p. 38.
W. H. Lewis also tells about the cherchemidis, courtiers who searched for a place to dine. Dinner was at noon (midi), and the evening meal was supper, le souper.
If he had no luck in town there was always his patron’s table to fall back on, or he may insinuate himself into a seat at that of the King’s gentleman-servitors, who were among the five-hundred-odd people who ate at Versailles daily at the King’s expense, and for whom he kept a special kitchen, the cuisine de commun.
The Splendid Century by W. H. Lewis (New York: Double Day Anchor Books, 1957) p. 49.
W. H. Lewis was a soldier and an historian. However, he was also C. S. Lewis‘ brother, the author of fantasy literature, such as The Chronicles of Narnia. Both were fine writers, but C. S. Lewis’ fantasy books were so popular that he needed help and found a colleague in his brother, W. H. Lewis. They lived at Oxford.
The Splendid Century is an Internet Archive publication. The book was first published by William Sloane Associates, in 1953.
In L’Impromptu de Versailles, 3, I included a quotation that prefigures Le Misanthrope. Alceste, the Misanthrope, depicts the court. A courtier swears he will do everything for another courtier, but it is mere politeness. Minutes later, he will be backbiting.
I suggested skipping this quotation because of its length. However, I decided to shorten the quotation and include it in full in a separate post. In this quotation, Molière, the director, le metteur en scène, is giving directions to the actor who will play Molière in the comedy the King commissioned, but he denigrates court as Alceste would. The fictitious Molière speaks as will Alceste two years later. The material of this post is the full quotation and its translation by Henri van Laun. Molière’s words as director are coloured.
Attendez, il faut marquer davantage tout cet endroit, écoutez-le-moi dire un peu. « Et qu’il ne trouvera plus de matière pour… — Plus de matière! Hé, mon pauvre Marquis, nous lui en fournirons toujours assez, et nous ne prenons guère le chemin de nous rendre sages pour tout ce qu’il fait et tout ce qu’il dit. Crois-tu qu’il ait épuisé dans ses comédies tout le ridicule des hommes? Et sans sortir de la cour, n’a-t-il pas encore vingt caractères de gens où il n’a point touché? N’a-t-il pas, par exemple, ceux qui se font les plus grandes amitiés du monde, et qui le dos tourné font galanterie de se déchirer l’un l’autre? N’a-t-il pas ces adulateurs à outrance, ces flatteurs insipides qui n’assaisonnent d’aucun sel les louanges qu’ils donnent, et dont toutes les flatteries ont une douceur fade qui fait mal au cœur à ceux qui les écoutent? N’a-t-il pas ces lâches courtisans de la faveur, ces perfides adorateurs de la fortune, qui vous encensent dans la prospérité, et vous accablent dans la disgrâce? N’a-t-il pas ceux qui sont toujours mécontents de la cour, ces suivants inutiles, ces incommodes assidus, ces gens, dis-je, qui pour services ne peuvent compter que des importunités, et qui veulent que l’on les récompense d’avoir obsédé le prince dix ans durant? N’a-t-il pas ceux qui caressent également tout le monde, qui promènent leurs civilités à droite et à gauche, et courent à tous ceux qu’ils voient avec les mêmes embrassades, et les mêmes protestations d’amitié? “Monsieur votre très humble serviteur. — Monsieur je suis tout à votre service. — Tenez-moi des vôtres, mon cher. — Faites état de moi, Monsieur, comme du plus chaud de vos amis. — Monsieur, je suis ravi de vous embrasser. — Ah! Monsieur, je ne vous voyais pas. Faites-moi la grâce de m’employer, soyez persuadé que je suis entièrement à vous. Vous êtes l’homme du monde que je révère le plus; il n’y a personne que j’honore à l’égal de vous. Je vous conjure de le croire; je vous supplie de n’en point douter. — Serviteur. — Très humble valet”. Va, va, Marquis, Molière aura toujours plus de sujets qu’il n’en voudra, et tout ce qu’il a touché jusqu’ici n’est rien que bagatelle, au prix de ce qui reste. » Voilà à peu près comme cela doit être joué. Molière (Sc. iv) [You must be more emphatic with this passage. Just listen to me for a moment. “And that he will find no more subjects for . . . No more subjects? Ah, dear Marquis, we shall always go on providing him with plenty, and we are scarcely taking the course to grow wise, for all that he can do or say. Do you imagine that he has exhausted in his comedies all the follies of men; and without leaving the Court, are there not a score of characters which he has not yet touched upon? For instance, has he, not those who profess the greatest friendship possible, and who, when they turn their backs, think it a piece of gallantry to tear each other to pieces? Has he not those unmitigated sycophants, those vapid flatterers, who never give a pinch of salt with their praises, and whose flatteries have a sickly sweetness which nauseate those who hear them? Has he not the craven courtiers of favourites, the treacherous worshippers of fortune, who praise you in prosperity, and run you down in adversity? Has he not those who are always discontented with the Court, those useless hangers on, those troublesome, officious creatures, those people who can count up no services except importunities, and who expect to be rewarded for having laid a ten years’ siege to the King? Has he not doubt Molière had much ado to keep himself out of an endless series of those who fawn on all the world alike, who hand their civilities from left to right, who run after all whom they see, with the same salutations, and the same professions of friendship? ‘Sir, your most obedient. Sir, I am entirely at your service. Consider me wholly yours, dear sir. Reckon me, sir, as the warmest of your friends. Sir, I am enchanted to embrace you. Ah! sir, I did not see you. Oblige me by making use of me; be assured I am wholly yours. You are the one man in the world whom I most esteem. There is no one whom I honour like you. I entreat you to believe it. I beg of you not to doubt it. Your servant. Your humble slave.’ Oh, Marquis, Marquis, Moliere will always have more subjects than he needs; and all that he has aimed at as yet is but a trifle to the treasure which is within his reach.”] Molière (Sc. 3, pp. 204-205)
DRAMATIS PERSONSÆ MOLIERE, a ridiculous Marquis, BRECOURT, a man of Quality. LA GRANGE, a ridiculous Marquis. Du CROISY, a poet. LA THORILLIERE, a fidgety Marquis. BEJART, a busybody. FOUR BUSYBODIES. Mademoiselle DUPARC, 6 a ceremonious Marchioness. Mademoiselle BEJART, a prude. Mademoiselle DEBRIE, a sage coquette. Mademoiselle MOLIERE, a satirical wit. Mademoiselle Du CROISY, a whining plague. Mademoiselle HERVE, a conceited chambermaid. Scene. VERSAILLES, IN THE KING’ S ANTECHAMBER
L’Impromptu de Versailles features Molière playing Molière and his troupe playing their role. They are characters in a play within a play, le théâtre dans le théâtre. Louis XIV has commissioned this short play because he wants Molière to defend himself against his accusers.
In Scene One, after his actors oppose performing a play, they have yet to rehearse and tell Molière that he is fortunate. He knows the play. But Molière bemoans his role, not to mention the power of a king. The play was performed on 14 October 1663, at Versailles. Molière and his actors knew the play Molière had written despite a script, L’Impromptu, according to which Molière knew the play, but his actors did not. L’Impromptu was performed at the Palais-Royal on 4 November 1663.
We know that Molière wanted to please an audience, but he also had to please, or not earn a living, or money to support his actors. So, they often rehearsed very quickly a play Molière had written in a matter of days. Louis XIV was aware of Molière’s self-ambition and named Lully “director of the Académie Royale de Musique” (1873-1887). (See Lully, Wikipedia.) Molière fell out with Jean-Baptiste Lully in 1672. His composer would be Marc-Antoine Charpentier. History would prove Molière the more remarkable genius. Moreover, Molière, not Lully, created the comédie-ballet. Moreover, the French court sought constant divertissements. It danced, and it sang. Therefore, Molière worried and said so. As a playwright, chef de troupe and actor, he worked to death. Molière died at the age of 51.
Et n’ai-je à craindre que le manquement de mémoire? Ne comptez-vous pour rien l’inquiétude d’un succès qui ne regarde que moi seul? Et pensez-vous que ce soit une petite affaire, que d’exposer quelque chose de comique devant une assemblée comme celle-ci? que d’entreprendre de faire rire des personnes qui nous impriment le respect, et ne rient que quand ils veulent? Est-il auteur qui ne doive trembler, lorsqu’il en vient à cette épreuve? Et n’est-ce pas à moi de dire que je voudrais en être quitte pour toutes les choses du monde? Molière (Sc I. i) [And have I nothing to fear but want of memory? Do you reckon the anxiety as to our success, which is entirely my own concern, nothing? And do you think it a trifle to provide something comic for such an assembly as this; to undertake to excite laughter in those who command our respect, and who only laugh when they choose? Must not any author tremble when he comes to such a test? Would it not be natural for me to say that I would give everything in the world to be quit of it.] Molière (Sc. I. 1, p. 192)
Mon Dieu, Mademoiselle, les rois n’aiment rien tant qu’une prompte obéissance, et ne se plaisent point du tout à trouver des obstacles. Les choses ne sont bonnes que dans le temps qu’ils les souhaitent ; et leur en vouloir reculer le divertissement est en ôter pour eux toute la grâce. Ils veulent des plaisirs qui ne se fassent point attendre, et les moins préparés leur sont toujours les plus agréables, nous ne devons jamais nous regarder dans ce qu’ils désirent de nous, nous ne sommes que pour leur plaire ; et lorsqu’ils nous ordonnent quelque chose, c’est à nous à profiter vite de l’envie où ils sont. Il vaut mieux s’acquitter mal de ce qu’ils nous demandent, que de ne s’en acquitter pas assez tôt ; et si l’on a la honte de n’avoir pas bien réussi, on a toujours la gloire d’avoir obéi vite à leurs commandements. Mais songeons à répéter s’il vous plaît. Molière (Sc. i) [Oh! Mademoiselle, Kings like nothing better than a ready obedience, and are not at all pleased to meet with obstacles. Things are not acceptable, save at the moment when they desire them; to try to delay their amusement is to take away all the charm. They want pleasures that do not keep them waiting; and those that are least prepared are always the most agreeable to them. We ought never to think of ourselves in what they desire of us; our only business is to please them; and, when they command us, it is our part to respond quickly to their wish. We had better do amiss what they require of us, than not do it soon enough; if we have the shame of not succeeding, we always have the credit of having speedily obeyed their commands. But now, pray, let us set about our rehearsal.] Molière (Sc. 1, p. 193)
Scene Three provokes a strange feeling, which is consistent with works of fiction. They may seem real. Roland Barthes has given a name to this phenomenon: l’effet de réel, which, in L’Impromptu de Versailles reaches dizzying heights. Molière protrayed his century and did so because he wrote “d’après nature.” He observed carefully, which led to the Querelle de l’École des femmes. On 4 June 1664, his realism unleashed fury. His Tartuffe was condemned and, to a certain extent members of la Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement could be fooled. They could see a real dévot, in a faux dévot. Molière rewrote his play until it could be performed with producing a scandal.
L’effet de réel also generates feelings. Form and feelings are not easily dissociated. Susanne K. Langer‘s Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art (1953) is very convincing. When the play begins, we are in the “green” room. For instance, Molière says that he does not want to be Molière and denies having played the marquis ridicule in La Critique de l’École des femmes, but a little further down the page, he admits having played the marquis ridicule. However, La Grange wants to bet, cent (a hundred) pistoles that Molière was the marquis ridicule and Brécourt has just arrived and says that both are “fools.” Suddenly, we remember Perrin Dandin.
Brécourt as umpire says that both Molière and La Grange are “fools,” which takes us back to La Critique’s Uranie who suggests that characters presented on the stage are “miroirs publics” (public mirrors) and “une thèse générale,” generalities. Molière does not attack anyone in particular, he depicts a group.
Comme l’affaire de la comédie est de représenter en général tous les défauts des hommes, et principalement des hommes de notre siècle; il est impossible à Molière de faire aucun caractère qui ne rencontre quelqu’un dans le monde; et s’il faut qu’on l’accuse d’avoir songé toutes les personnes ou l’on peut trouver les défauts qu’il peint, il faut sans doute qu’il ne fasse plus de comedies. Brécourt (Sc. iv) [As the business of comedy is to represent in a general way all the faults of men, and especially of the men of our day, it is impossible for Moliere to create any character not to be met with in the world; and if he must be accused of thinking of everyone in whom are to be found the faults which he delineates he must, of course, give up writing comedies.] Brécourt (Sc. iii, p. 203)
Moreover, Molière is not running out of material. The following quotation names all kinds of courtiers he could depict as hypocrites. They greet one another politely, only to indulge in backbiting. This tirade, a soliloquy, is a prelude to the Misanthrope, which would not be performed until 4th June 1666. Molière still has everything to say. A tirade follows, but it is too long to quote in its entirety. The full quotation has become a post entitled L’Impromptu, Sc. iv.
Attendez, il faut marquer davantage tout cet endroit, écoutez-le-moi dire un peu. «Et qu’il ne trouvera plus de matière pour… — Plus de matière! Hé, mon pauvre Marquis, nous lui en fournirons toujours assez, et nous ne prenons guère le chemin de nous rendre sages pour tout ce qu’il fait et tout ce qu’il dit. Crois-tu qu’il ait épuisé dans ses comédies tout le ridicule des hommes? Et sans sortir de la cour, n’a-t-il pas encore vingt caractères de gens où il n’a point touché? N’a-t-il pas, par exemple, ceux qui se font les plus grandes amitiés du monde, et qui le dos tourné font galanterie de se déchirer l’un l’autre? Voilà à peu près comme cela doit être joué. Molière (Sc. iv) [You must be more emphatic with this passage. Just listen to me for a moment. “And that he will find no more subjects for . . . No more subjects? Ah, dear Marquis, we shall always go on providing him with plenty, and we are scarcely taking the course to grow wise, for all that he can do or say. Do you imagine that he has exhausted in his comedies all the follies of men; and without leaving the Court, are there not a score of characters which he has not yet touched upon? For instance, has he not those who profess the greatest friendship possible, and who, when they turn their backs, think it a piece of gallantry to tear each other to pieces?] Molière (Sc. 3, pp. 204-205)
In Scene Five, all members of Molière’s troupe are delighted because authors have got together to write a play against Molière, entitled Le Portrait du peintre. Vengeance is expected on Molière’s part. We suspect, first, that others attack him because they see themselves in the ridiculous characters his plays depict. What we see and hear is unlikely to correspond to what is said. Second, Molière was the better playwright.
Brécourt feels that a new play, a superior play, is the appropriate response.
Molière describes the society of his century “d’après nature.” In other words, he depicts his society realistically, which is the source of the querelle de l’École des femmes and will also be the source of Tartuffe‘s condemnation. Molière’s knowledge of human nature brings to mind humanists such as Montaigne, l’humayne condition, and Rabelais‘ various characters.
The End of a Project
I have now written posts on every play Molière wrote. Some posts are less bilingual than others which can be remedied. I do not think, however, that I can write a full book on Molière. I no longer live near a research library and my memory is failing me. I forget the spelling of words. But my posts will be my contribution to Molière scholarship, other than articles I have written. I am glad Internet Archives published Henri van Laun’s translation of every play Molière wrote.
I have chosen music composed by Louis XIII. Louis XIII did not live with his wife, yet he fathered two children. The kings of France loved entertainment.
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 criticized is an Internet Archive publication. Our translator is Henri van Laun. Wikipedia: various entries. The Encyclopædia Britannica: various entries.
I tried to indicate the scenes of L’Impromptu de Versailles in a manner other than copying from the PDF version. It was not possible. The toutmolière.net site divides Molière’s plays into acts and scenes, but one must copy the text from the PDF version. The PDF versions, French and English, are paginated.
Also, Scene v was included in yesterday’s L’Impromptu de Versailles.2. It was removed without my noticing. I reinserted its skeletal version before retiring last night. It is short, but it completes the narrative. From Scene vi to Scene x, Molière is asked to go on stage and perform. In Scene xi, the King relieves him and asks that a play the comedians know well be performed.
How does one indent in the Block Editor and where are symbols and characters located? I have tried everything, but failed miserably.
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. MADEMOISELLE BÉJART, prude. MADEMOISELLE DE BRIE, sage coquette. MADEMOISELLE MOLIÈRE, satirique spirituelle. MADEMOISELLE DU CROISY, peste doucereuse. MADEMOISELLE HERVÉ, servante précieuse.
La scène est à Versailles dans la salle de la Comédie. The scene is at Versailles in the room used for plays.
L’Impromptu de Versailles presents a problem. Scenes are uneven. I, therefore, consulted Jacques Schérer’s La Dramaturgie classique en France. Schérer’s book is the standard reference on form in seventeenth-century French drama and other dramatic works. One can combine short scenes and long scenes. First, a scene is not an act. There is no entr’acte or intermission in a one-act plays. Scene One is very long, but Scene Two is shorter. A bore, un fâcheux, whose name is La Thorillière wants to know everything about a play that is not ready. He wants to know the name of the play and if it was commissioned by Louis XIV. He knows the King has commissioned the play, but he asks. Bores will waist anyone’s time. He tells Mademoiselle du Croisy that she is lovely and that without her the comedy would be worthless:
Sans vous la comédie ne vaudrait pas grand’chose. [Without you, the comedy would not be worth much.] La Thorillière to Mademoiselle du Croisy (I. ii, p. 8) (I. 2, p. 200)
Molière then asks his actresses to chase away La Thorillière Monsieur nous avons ici quelque chose à répéter ensemble. Mademoiselle de Brie à La Thorillière But … Mademoiselle de Brie to La Thorillière (I. 2, p. 200)
Before leaving La Thorillière says that he will tell the King that Molière and his comedians are ready.
If we return to Scene One, where Mademoiselle Béjart reminds Molière that he once wanted to write a comedy about comedians. Why didn’t he? He could have mocked actors from l’Hôtel de Bourgogne at that time. Molière had something else in mind:
J’avais songé une comédie, où il y aurait eu un poète que j’aurais représenté moi… I thought of a comedy in which there should have been a poet, whose part I would have taken myself, Molière à ses comédiens ( I. i, p. 4) (I. 1, p. 194)
What Molière had in mind was being asked if he had comedians who could do justice to a script, which is what he has done his entire life as chef de troupe. As of this comment, we know that much of the comedy will be about Molière who will again be pressed, as he has always been.
Molière is then asked to imitate the actors of l’Hôtel de Bourgogne, his rivals. Their schedule is the same, so he has not seen them sufficiently to imitate them, which he goes on to do: Montfleury, Mademoiselle Beauchâteau, Hauteroche, Villiers …
In Sc. iii, Molière tells Molière tells La Grange that he does not want to play Molière.
Cela est bon pour toi, mais pour moi je ne veux pas être joué par Molière. [That may do for you; but I do not wish Moliere to take me off.] Molière à La Grange (iii, p.10) (3, p. 202)
He claims he did not play the Marquis ridicule in La Critique, which he did according to La Grange.
Quoi! tu veux soutenir que ce n’est pas toi qu’on joue dans le marquis de La Critique [Yet I think, Marquis, that it is you he takes off in The School for Wives criticised.] La Grange à Molière (iii, p.10/) (3, p. 202)
In the end, he admits that he indeed played the marquis ridicule. A large group of marquis ridicule are featured in Molière’s plays. They are the courtiers depicted in the Misanthrope. Climène is Arsinoé who was Célimène earlier in life.
Il est vrai c’est moi. Détestable, morbleu, détestable! Tarte à la crème. C’est moi, c’est moi, assurément, c’est moi. [Just so; it is I. ‘Detestable; egad! detestable! Cream tart!’ Oh, it is I, it is I, assuredly it is I!] Molière à La Grange(iii, p.10) (3, p. 202)
Je gage cent pistoles que c’est toi. [I bet a hundred pistoles that it is you.] La Grange à Molière (iii, p. 10) (3, p. 202) Et moi cent pistoles que c’est toi. [And I bet a hundred it is you.] Molière à La Grange (iii, p. 10) (3, p. 202)
However, La Grange wants to ask an umpire to tell whether Molière played a marquis ridicule in La Critique. Brécourt will be the judge.
Brécourt tells La Grange and Molière that they are fools. He has heard Molière himself say that he did not depict individuals. Such is Uranie’s explanation in La Critique de l’École des femmes. Molière’s portraits are « miroirs publics » (sc. vi, near footnote 22).
Il disait que rien ne lui donnait du déplaisir, comme d’être accusé de regarder quelqu’un dans les portraits qu’il fait. Que son dessein est de peindre les mœurs sans vouloir toucher aux personnes; et que tous les personnages qu’il représente sont des personnages en l’air, et des fantômes proprement qu’il habille à sa fantaisie pour réjouir les spectateurs. [He said that nothing annoyed him so much as to be accused of animadverting upon anyone in the portraits he drew; that his design is to paint manners without striking at individuals, and that all the characters whom he introduces are imaginary phantoms, so to speak, which he clothes according to his fancy in order to please his audience …] Brécourt à La Grange et Molière (iv, p. 11 ) (I. 3, p. 203)
The above is a reiteration of Uranie’s thèse générale (sc vi, before footnote 24).
Molière then asks if perhaps Molière has not run of subject matter (la matière). There follows a litany of hypocritical exchanges worthy of a bilious Alceste (The Misanthrope). I will have to provide the tirade in a separate post. Molière (sc. iv, pp. 17-18) (sc. 3, pp. 204-205)
As Scene v begins, Mademoiselle de Brie introduces Lysidas (the pedant in La Critique) who will tell that a play has been written which les grands comédiens, actors working for l’Hôtel de Bourgogne, will perform. Molière knew, but he cannot remember the full name of the playwright. The name is Boursaut, says Du Croisy, but others have lent a hand. Since authors considered Molière their greatest enemy all have got together, including Lysidas I presume. Tout le Parnasse. Several authors have written the play, but they have hidden behind the name of yet unknown author.
In Scenes vi, vii, viii, ix and x, the nécessaire/Béjart/busybody ask Molière to begin the play. In Scene xi, Béjart tells all that Louis XIV has delayed the performance and that the comedians can play a comedy they know. He is a deus ex machina, which is an acceptable way of creating a happy ending.