As a child, Joseph Haydn was a chorister at Saint-Étienne, in Vienna. However, he spent much of his life at Esterháza, the home of the Esterházy who were Hungarian aristocrats. Mozart performed at Esterháza. I so love this Serenade by Joseph Haydn.
L’Impromptu de Versailles is a play by Molière. None are easy.
I apologize for not posting more frequently. First, someone is reading my posts as I write them. He or she may have the best intentions. Still, I have always worked alone. Although I have read and continue to read books and articles on Molière and insert quotations in learned articles, I usually present a significantly personal analysis of Molière.
It seems, however, that I may henceforth publish shorter posts. Last Wednesday, I tried to do some online banking. However, the company has created a new and safer version of its online tools. I followed the instructions, and a message appeared confirming that all was well. However, I could not log in.
So I phoned the company and waited for a few minutes until someone was available, but I started to cry when a young man answered. Technologies are a genuine obstacle, and technical problems may trigger a vulnerability. At any rate, within a few minutes, two large policemen were inside my apartment. I put on my mask, and we spoke.
I mentioned that my cat had died on 29 November 2019 and that it would soon be a year since he died. Moreover, I had been inside my apartment since March, avoiding the coronavirus. As well, in the space of three years, I had failed to settle in my apartment. Finally, Sherbrooke is now a red zone. One cannot call a carpenter, until a degree of safety has been reached. Who would help during a pandemic?
One of the policemen suggested I adopt a cat, and one offered to remove a heavy box from the hallway. They were good persons. I thanked them because I felt much better. It had been an accident.
One returns to life as usual, a narrower life because of Covid-19, but life.
However, I reflected that in the days of the coronavirus, if a citizen of Sherbrooke, Quebec, feels distraught, his or her best help could be the police. They are available twenty-four hours a day and they make house calls.
URANIE (hostess). ÉLISE (her cousin). CLIMÈNE (a prude). GALOPIN, laquais. LE MARQUIS. DORANTE ou LE CHEVALIER. LYSIDAS, poète.
In Scene v of La Critique de l’École des femmes, Dorante enters Uranie’s salon. She has been expecting him. Dorante wants everyone to continue discussing L’École des femmes.
… et jamais on n’a rien vu de si plaisant, que la diversité des jugements, qui se font là-dessus. Car enfin, j’ai ouï condamner cette comédie à certaines gens, par les mêmes choses, que j’ai vu d’autres estimer le plus. Dorante à tous (I. v) [You are on a subject which, for four days, has been the common talk of Paris; and never was anything more amusing than to hear the various judgments that are passed upon it.] Dorante to all (I. 6, 162)
So, one wonders just how our characters will walk towards the dining-room laughing and read L’École des femmes after dinner. The change may begin when Dorante says to the Marquis that he is not talking about him. He turns the matter into a miroir public:
Parbleu ! Chevalier Dorante, tu le prends là… Le Marquis à Dorante (I, v) [Egad, sir, you are carrying this . . .] Le Marquis to Dorante (I. 6, p. 164) Mon Dieu, Marquis, ce n’est pas à toi que je parle ; c’est à une douzaine de Messieurs qui déshonorent les gens de cour par leurs manières extravagantes, et font croire parmi le peuple que nous nous ressemblons tous. Dorante au Marquis (I, v) [Why, Marquis, I am not speaking to you. I am addressing a round dozen of those gentries who disgrace courtiers by their nonsensical manners, and make people believe we are all alike.] Dorante to the Marquis (I. 6, p.164)
Dorante says later that prudes use a defence mechanism. They have lost their charm, so their refuge is prudery. They are vain, as are most characters Molière berates. They love the world, and they love attention. They will not sit apart from others. Note, moreover, that the prude Dorante mentions is not Climène. It is la marquise Araminte. The society of the play would not allow Climène to be attacked. In his descriptions, Dorante, lechevalier, uses what will be called miroirs publics (I, vi).
In fact, the society of the play ends up disagreeing with considerable pleasure. No one changes, but all start laughing at themselves. Before they walk to the dining-room, Uranie suggests that they should write a comedy.
Il se passe des choses assez plaisantes dans notre dispute. Je trouve qu’on en pourrait bien faire une petite comédie, et que cela ne serait pas trop mal à la queue de L’École des femmes. Uranie à tous (I. vi) [There are many funny things in our discussion. I fancy a little comedy might be made out of them, and that it would not be a bad wind-up to The School for Wives.] Uranie to everyone (I. vii, p. 177)
To emphasize that Agnès accepts the pleasure that falling in love has brought to her life, I added to La Critique de l’École des femmes:Details, the line where Agnès says:
Le moyen de chasser ce qui fait du plaisir. Agnès à Arnolphe (V, iv). [But do we drive away what gives us pleasure?] Agnès to Arnolphe (V. 4, p. 136)
Ironically by not educating Agnès, Arnolphe has created a character who is not burdened by préventions, and can accept pleasure, as do spectators who have liked the play. She has no use for the Maximesdu mariage and would not be a précieuse ridicule. Magdelon is horrified at the thought of sleeping next to a nude male.
Pour moi, mon oncle, tout ce que je vous puis dire c’est que je trouve le mariage une chose tout à fait choquante. Comment est-ce qu’on peut souffrir la pensée de coucher contre un homme vraiment nu ? Cathos à Gorgibus (I, iv, Les Précieuses ridicules) [As for me uncle, all I can say is that I think marriage is a very shocking business. How can one endure the thought of lying by the side of a man, who is truly naked?] Cathos to Gorgibus (I. 4, p. 148, The Pretentious Young Ladies)
Agnès is a woman and she is a very intelligent woman. She perhaps speaks with the voice of an innocent young girl, but this young girl is a grown woman. She does not even try to spare Arnolphe because she speaks “sans prévention.”1She does not have prejudices (préventions) or idées reçues, but her instinct does not fail her. She speaks d’après nature.
Comedy has rules, one of which is decorum, bienséances, but Dorante would like to know if the rule of all rules isn’t to please:
Je voudrais bien savoir si la grande règle de toutes les règles n’est pas de plaire ; et si une pièce de théâtre qui a attrapé son but n’a pas suivi un bon chemin. Dorante à tous (I, vi) [I should like to know whether the great rule of all rules is not to please; and whether a play which attains this has not followed a good method?] Dorante to all (I. 7, p. 173)
Hence, how do we drive away what gives us pleasure and the rule of all rules: to please … and to be pleased.
A few weeks ago, a PDF article on L’École des femmes appeared on my computer screen. I saw the word “pleasure” in the title. I will have to find the article and read it.
Dorante also says that Molière’s narratives are action, and that this action occurs in the dialogue, which Gabriel Conesa has illustrated convincingly in his Dialogue moliéresque.
1 The meaning of the word “prévention” has changed. It is no longer associated with prejudices.
_________________________ Bourbeau-Walker, Micheline. « L’échec d’Arnolphe : loi du genre ou faille intérieure », in Papers on French Seventeenth Century Literature, (Seattle-Tübingen, 1984, Vol. XI, No 20), pp. 79-92. ISSN 0343-0758
Oui, mais qui rit d’autrui, Doit craindre, qu’en revanche, on rie aussi de lui. Arnolphe à Chrysalde (I, i) [Yes; but he who laughs at another must beware, lest he inturn be laughed at himself.] Arnolphe to Chrysalde (I. 1, p. 96)
Irony is the literary device underlying L’École des femmes. In Act One, scene one, Arnolphe (see toutmolière.net) describes Agnès to Chrysalde. Agnès is innocent to the point of making him laugh:
La vérité passe encor mon récit./ Dans ses simplicités à tous coups je l’admire,/160 Et parfois elle en dit, dont je pâme de rire./ L’autre jour (pourrait-on se le persuader)/ Elle était fort en peine, et me vint demander,/ Avec une innocence à nulle autre pareille,/ Si les enfants qu’on fait, se faisaient par l’oreille. Arnolphe à Chrysalde (I. i) [What I have told you falls even short of the truth: I admire her simplicity on all occasions; sometimes she says things at which I split my sides with laughing. The other day would you believe it? she was uneasy, and came to ask me, with unexampled innocence, if children came through the ears.] Arnolphe to Chrysalde (I. 1, p. 99)
There can be no doubt that laughing at others will cause others to laugh at Arnolphe when and if he is cuckolded. But, worse, Arnolphe will be cuckolded before he marries.
Climène the prude
Lysidas, the poet
As you know, communication cannot occur when an interlocuteur hears and sees what he expects to hear and see, which is irony. The Marquis, who has not even seen L’École des femmes, cannot say a word about it. Yet he maintains that the play is détestable. When Dorante asks him to say why the play is “détestable,” he cannot substantiate his “détestable.” All he can say is that the play is détestable because it is détestable, which is not an answer. He cannot dislike a play he hasn’t see, but he can dislike having been squeezed and frippé by the crowd at the entrance to the theatre. He has also heard laughter, which in his eyes is proof positive that the play is a flop, when in fact laughter proves that the play is enormously successful.
In other words, the Marquis has been told that the play is a flop, and expects to see a flop. In fact, laughter has caused him not to pay any attention to the play. He is, therefore, undone.
As for the poet Lysidas, he liked the play but says that the connoisseurs have not. So, he claims that L’École des femmes does not respect the rules of classical theatre, which it does. His response and the Marquis’s response have been conditioned by the attacks Molière faces and which he addresses by writing La Critique de l’École des femmes. Truth be told, the prude, the Marquis, and the poet reject The School for Wives because their judgement is flawed by “noise.” They see and hear what they have been told to see and hear. Spectators and readers will laugh honestly, but not a précieuse, a Marquis, or a poet.
In L’École des femmes, however, the main irony resides in Arnolphe’s failure to defeat Horace. Arnolphe has done the utmost to make sure Agnès knows no more than where to put the tarte à la crème, the cream tart. Moreover, young Horace, who does not know that Arnolphe is Monsieur de la Souche, tells Arnolphe, whom he trusts, all the stratagems he will use to take Agnès away from Monsieur de la Souche’s house, a doubling. Yet, although he is armed to the teeth, Arnolphe loses Agnès.
But an unforeseen event, the fortuitous return of a father, may prevent Horace and Agnès from marrying, despite their own stratagems. Oronte, Horace’s father, wants Horace to marry Enrique’s long-lost daughter. So, ironically, Oronte’s son Horace goes to Arnolphe to tell his woes and then asks our jaloux to protect him by keeping Agnès.
Jugez, en prenant part à mon inquiétude,/ S’il pouvait m’arriver un contre-temps plus rude;/ Cet Enrique, dont hier je m’informais à vous,/1635 Cause tout le malheur dont je ressens les coups;/ Il vient avec mon père achever ma ruine,/ Et c’est sa fille unique à qui l’on me destine. Horace à Arnolphe (V, vi) [Feel for my anxiety and judge if a more cruel disappointment could happen to me. That Enrique, whom I asked you about yesterday, is the source of all my trouble. He has come with my father to complete my ruin; it is for his only daughter that I am destined.] Horace to Arnolphe (V. 6. p. 139)
Fate may harm an authoritarian pater familias, but it is kind to young lovers and will not let the trompeur deceive anyone. It so happens, ironically, that Enrique’s daughter is Agnès and that he has returned much enriched. So, we have an anagnorisis. Horace had asked Arnolphe to hide Agnès so he would not lose her, which is the height of irony, Arnolphe being his rival. However, Agnès is Enrique’s daughter and the bride Oronte has chosen for his son. Moreover, Enrique is opposed to forced marriages and if there is a marriage, he will repay Arnolphe the full cost of bringing up Agnès. Agnès will owe nothing. Comedy may at times border on fairy tales. The young couple will marry. But, as mentioned above:
Oui, mais qui rit d’autrui, Doit craindre, qu’en revanche, on rie aussi de lui. Arnolphe à Chrysalde (I, i) [Yes; but he who laughs at another must beware, lest he inturn be laughed at himself.] Arnolphe to Chrysalde (I. 1, p. 96)
The play seems an exemplum (an example that illustrates a moral), as in a sermon or a fable. Comedy favours the marriage of a young couple. In Act Three, scene two of L’École des femmes, Arnolphe has Agnès read: Les Maximes du Mariage ou Les Devoirs de la femme mariée. Act Three, scene two pp. 37-40. Pleasure rules.
Le moyen de chasser ce qui fait du plaisir ? Agnès à Arnolphe (V, iv) [How can we drive away what gives us pleasure?] Agnès to Arnolphe (V. 4. p, 137)
If obscénité there is in L’École des femmes and La Critique, it resides in the mind of prudes and it is the role some women choose to make up for their evanescent youth and beauty. They play a new role, but they are still on stage. The Marquis proves that the play is immensely successful. People were laughing. As noted above, Molière is way ahead of himself. This isthéâtre de l’absurde (the Theatre of the Absurd). Yet, it isn’t. Molière depicts humans “d’après nature,” as they are. But by doing so, he illustrates flaws in information and communication that now constitute a theory (“noise” in Information Theory).
I will leave you to read whatever information I have had to leave out.
L’École des femmes is a five-act play written at a relatively early date after Molière’s return to Paris. Molière had fled Paris after his first troupe, l’Illustre Théâtre, faced bankruptcy. L’Illustre Théâtre was founded on 30 June 1643 but, in August 1645, Molière was imprisoned briefly. After his release, he changed his name and left Paris. While touring the provinces, he was based in Pézenas, until he returned to Paris, in the late 1650s.
L’École des femmes was first performed on 26 December 1662. It is a mature play, written in alexandrine verses, which suggests Molière may have written plays while touring the provinces. A story about a suitcase has long circulated, but the suitcase has yet to be found. L’École des femmes premièred at the Palais-Royal when Molière and his comedians were la troupe de Monsieur Frère Unique du Roi, Louis XIV’s only brother, known as Monsieur. Molière’s Précieuses ridicules, first performed on 18 November 1659, was enormously successful, but L’École des femmes caused a scandal, albeit minor compared to the storm unleashed by Tartuffe ou l’Imposteur (1664). There was uneQuerelle de l’École des femmes.
Molière chose to respond to objections concerning l’École des femmes by writing La Critique de l’École des femmes, which premièred on 1st June 1663. The play was followed by L’Impromptu de Versailles, first performed on 14th October 1663. Both are single-act plays that Britannica calls “discussions.” In other words, neither play features a young couple or young couples whose marriage is threatened by a blocking-character.
URANIE. ÉLISE. CLIMÈNE. GALOPIN, laquais. LE MARQUIS. DORANTE ou LE CHEVALIER. LYSIDAS, poète.
We are at Uranie’s house. She and her cousin Élise have been alone for hours. Élise is visiting. Both Uranie and Élise have seen Molière’s L’École des femmes (The School for Wives). It would appear that the persons they know are attending a performance of Molière’s play. However, someone is at the door. It is Climène, a précieuse, and la plus grande façonnière (mannerist) du monde.
Galopin lets Climène, our précieuse, into the house. Uranie does not want to see her, but it is too late. She is still outdoors but she knows Uranie is at home.
Uranie and Élise have also seen L’École des femmes, but they have liked the play.
“Je ne suis pas si délicate, Dieu merci; et je trouve pour moi, que cette comédie serait plutôt capable de guérir les gens, que de les rendre malades.” Uranie à Climène et Élise (Scène iii) [I am not so delicate, thank Heaven! For my part, I fancy that this comedy would be more likely to cure folks, than to make them sick.] Uranie to Climène and Élise (Scene 3)
Later, she will stay that:
“L’honnêteté d’une femme n’est pas dans les grimaces; et je ne vois rien de si ridicule, que cette délicatesse d’honneur, qui prend tout en mauvaise part ; donne un sens criminel aux plus innocentes paroles ; et s’offense de l’ombre des choses.” Uranie à Climène (Scène iii) [A woman’s modesty (honnêteté) does not consist in grimacing. It ill becomes us to be overwise. Affectation of this kind is worse than anything; and I see nothing more ridiculous than that delicate honour which takes everything amiss, gives a bad meaning to the most innocent words, and is startled at shadows.] Uranie à Climène (Scene 3)
“Ah ! ruban, tant qu’il vous plaira; mais ce, le, où elle s’arrête, n’est pas mis pour des prunes. Il vient sur ce, le, d’étranges pensées. Ce, le, scandalise furieusement ; et quoi que vous puissiez dire, vous ne sauriez défendre l’insolence de ce, le.” Climène à Uranie (Scene iii) [Oh yes, the ribbon! But that “the,” when she checks herself, is not put there for nothing. Odd ideas are suggested by this “the.” That “the” is tremendously scandalous.] Climène to Uranie (Scene 3)
The Marquis arrives. He has attended a performance of L’École des femmes which he considers
“…la plus méchante chose du monde. Comment, diable! à peine ai-je pu trouver place. J’ai pensé être étouffé à la porte, et jamais on ne m’a tant marché sur les pieds. Voyez comme mes canons et mes rubans en sont ajustés, de grâce.” Le Marquis à tous (Scène IV) [The most wretched piece imaginable. What the deuce! I could hardly get a seat. I thought I should have been crushed to death at the door, and I was never so trampled upon. Pray see what a state my rolls and ribbons are in!] The Marquis to everyone (Scene 4)
If he found himself trampled by a crowd, Molière’s play is one the public wishes to see. It is not the most wretched piece imaginable. It is a success. Irony is Molière’s main weapon is La Critique.
When Dorante, an ancestor to Philinte, the Misanthrope‘s raisonneur, finally joins the group, le Marquis cannot substantiate his accusation. He cannot say why the play is “détestable.”
“Elle est détestable parce qu’elle est détestable.” Le Marquis à tous (Scène v) [It is detestable because it is detestable.] Le Marquis to everyone (Scene 6)
The Marquis’ opinion is based on his not being able to enter the theatre. There was a crowd at the door. But worse is the laughter he heard. It cripples the play:
“Il ne faut que voir les continuels éclats de rire que le parterre y fait. Je ne veux point d’autre chose pour témoigner qu’elle ne vaut rien.” Le Marquis (Scène V) [You have only to mark the continual bursts of laughter from the pit. I wish no more to prove its utter worthlessness.] Le Marquis (Scene 6)
Worse still, the Marquis has not “listened to the play.”
“Que sais-je moi ? je ne me suis pas seulement donné la peine de l’écouter. Mais enfin je sais bien que je n’ai jamais rien vu de si méchant, Dieu me damne; et Dorilas, contre qui j’étais a été de mon avis.” Le Marquis (Scène V) [How can I ? I did not so much as give myself the trouble to listen to it. But yet I assure you I never saw anything so wretched, as I hope to be saved ; and Dorilas, who sat opposite to me, was of my mind.] Le Marquis to Dorante (Scene 6)
Laughter is what Molière wants to generate. L’École des femmes is a comedy. Therefore, the Marquis’ statement is extremely ironic. The Marquis is like the balloon one pricks. He is totally deflated. He will walk away saying cream tart, cream tart… Arnolphe tells Chrysalde that knowing where one uses cream tart, une tarte à la crème, is the only knowledge Agnès requires.
The poet Lysidas enters the conversation. He has liked the play, la comédie, he just saw.
“Je la trouve fort belle.” Lysidas à tous (Scène VI) [I think it very fine.] Lysidas to everyone (Scene 7)
THE RULES: THE UNITIES, ETC.
Not to shock the company, Lysidas reverses his statement slighty, but convincingly. Connaisseurs do not approve of L’École des femmes. Yet, rules are not broken. Nor are they in La Critique. There is one plot, all happens in Uranie’s salon, one place, and everything happens in less than twenty-four hours. The three unities are the chief rules. They make the play credible (vraisemblance) and obscenity is in the mind of the audience (bienséances).
“Il est vrai qu’elle n’est approuvée par les connaisseurs.” Lysidas à tous (Scene VI) True, it is not admired by connoisseurs. Lysidas to every one (Scene 7)
He ends up thinking it is “misérable” (wretched).
“Parbleu! tous les autres comédiens qui étaient là pour la voir en ont dit tous les maux du monde.” (Scene VI) [Gad, all the other actors who went to see it spoke all the ill they could of it.] Lysidas (Scene 7)
Molière does not target one person in his satires, says Uranie. His depictions are public mirrors.
“Ce sont miroirs publics où il ne faut jamais témoigner qu’on se voie, et c’est se taxer hautement d’un défaut que se scandaliser qu’on le reprenne.” Uranie à tous (Scène vi) [They are public mirrors, in which we must never pretend to see ourselves. To bruit it about that we are offended at being hit, is to state openly that we are at fault.] Uranie to everyone (Scene 7)
TRAGEDY AND COMEDY COMPARED
“Lorsque vous peignez des héros, vous faites ce que vous voulez; ce sont des portraits à plaisir, où l’on ne cherche point de ressemblance; et vous n’avez qu’à suivre les traits d’une imagination qui se donne l’essor, et qui souvent laisse le vrai pour attraper le merveilleux. Mais lorsque vous peignez les hommes, il faut peindre d’après nature; on veut que ces portraits ressemblent; et vous n’avez rien fait si vous n’y faites reconnaître les gens de votre siècle.” Dorante à tous (Scène vi) [These are fancy portraits, in which we do not look for a resemblance ; you have only to follow your soaring imagination, which often neglects the true in order to attain the marvellous. But when you paint men, youmust paint after nature. We expect resemblance in these portraits ; you have done nothing, if you do not make us recognise the people of your day. In a word, in serious pieces, it suffices, to escape blame, to speak good sense, and to write well. But this is not enough in comedy.] Dorante to everyone (Scene 7)
But making gentlefolk laugh is a “strange undertaking.”
“… et c’est une étrange entreprise que celle de faire rire les honnêtes gens.” Dorante (Scène vi) [You must be merry ; and it is a difficult undertaking to make gentle folk laugh.] Dorance (Scene 7)
THE RULE OF RULES: TO PLEASE AND TO BE PLEASED
The great rule, the rule of rules, is to please an audience. The Marquis and Lysidas have seen people laugh.
“Je voudrais bien savoir si la grande règle de toutes les règles n’est pas de plaire; et si une pièce de théâtre qui a attrapé son but n’a pas suivi un bon chemin?Veut-on que tout un public s’abuse sur ces sortes de choses, et que chacun n’y soit pas juge du plaisir qu’il y prend? ” Dorante à tous (Scène vi) [I should like to know whether the great rule of all rules is not to please; and whether a play which attains this has not followed a good method ? Can the whole public be mistaken in these matters, and cannot everyone judge what pleases him?] Dorante to everyone (Scene 7)
The rule of rules is to please. So, to appreciate a comedy, one yields to the pleasure it provides. The great rule is not only to please, but also to allow oneself to be pleased.
“Laissons-nous aller de bonne foi aux choses qui nous prennent par les entrailles, et ne cherchons point de raisonnements pour nous empêcher d’avoir du plaisir.” Dorante à tous (Scène vi) [Let us give ourselves up honestly to whatever stirs us deeply, and never hunt for arguments to mar our pleasure.] (Scene 7)
I am nearly done, so please be patient. La Critique de L’École des femmes is an extraordinary play but life has slowed me down. Moreover, confinement takes its toll. I have been indoors since early March.
The American Presidential Election has also been on my mind. It was a close race, but I am proud of the American people. We need to put an end to the pandemic. Wearing a mask is essential. Gatherings are out of the question, and one must wash one’s hands.
So I return to my post. Whoever is reading my post must not delete paragraphs to make it shorter. I can delete what is not essential, but we are reading the play. A mere description will not yield good results. The quality of La Critique de L’École des femmes stems mainly from its dialogues.
In Le Tartuffe, Molière depicted his faux dévot “d’après nature.” However, the play was banned because Tartuffe, who feigned devotion, acted very much like a devout person, which offended the dévots of Paris: la Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement.
As for L’École desfemmes, it was criticized because of details mainly. For instance, one person found the manner Arnolphe questions Agnès rather crude. Arnolphe wants to know if Horace took anything from her other than her hands and arms, which he caressed. She hesitates to tell that he took the ribbon Arnolphe had given her. She says “le” and this “le” was obscene according to Climène, a précieuse.
“Ah ! ruban, tant qu’il vous plaira ; mais ce, le, où elle s’arrête, n’est pas mis pour des prunes. Il vient sur ce, le, d’étranges pensées. Ce, le, scandalise furieusement ; et quoi que vous puissiez dire, vous ne sauriez défendre l’insolence de ce, le.” Climène (I, 3) La Critique de l’École des femmes [Oh yes, the ribbon! But that “the,” when she checks herself, is not put there for nothing. Odd ideas are suggested by this “the.” That the is tremendously scandalous.]
The “le” (the) was not only offensive, but it was not there for nothing: “pour des prunes[.]” “Il y a une obscénité qui n’est pas supportable.” Climène (I, 3) La Critique de l’École des femmes [Its obscenity is unbearable.] Climène (I. 3)
“Les récits eux-mêmes y sont des actions suivant la constitution du sujet.” Dorante (I, 6) La Critique de l’École des femmes [There is a good deal of action in it, passing on the stage; the narratives are themselves actions, according to the constitution of the piece, …] Dorante (I, 7) The School for Wives Criticized
These were indeed part of the action because Arnolphe could not tell anyone, not even Chrysalde, the play’s raisonneur, about the “star […] bent on driving [him] to despair” (The School for Wives, p. 21). Arnolphe was a star-crossed barbon.
The Dramatic Action
In L’École des femmes, the dramatic action is triggered by a doubling of the identity of the blocking character. Horace, our young lover, does not know that Arnolphe, his father’s friend, is Monsieur de la Souche and that in confiding to Arnolphe, he is in fact confiding to his rival. When Arnolphe learns that young Horace has fallen in love with Agnès who is kept sequestered by a very jealous Monsieur de la Souche, he must conceal his grief and bewilderment. He speaks to himself and, if he didn’t, there would be gaps in the dramatic action. There has to be a dialogue, which there is.
“Oh ! que j’ai souffert durant cet entretien ! Jamais trouble d’esprit ne fut égal au mien. Avec quelle imprudence et quelle hâte extrême Il m’est venu conter cette affaire à moi-même !” Arnolphe (I, 4, v. 357-360) L’École des femmes [Oh, what I have endured during this conversation! Never was trouble of mind equal to mine! With what rashness and extreme haste did he come to tell me of this affair!] The School for Wives, p. 9.
Destiny plays a key role in L’École des femmes and Arnolphe blames destiny throughout the play:
In scene IV, 7 Arnolphe speaks about the above-mentioned “star which is bent on driving [him] to despair,” and remains defiant.
“Quoi ? l’astre qui s’obstine à me désespérer, Ne me donnera pas le temps de respirer, Coup sur coup je verrai par leur intelligence, De mes soins vigilants confondre la prudence, D’une jeune innocente, et d’un jeune éventé ?” Arnolphe (IV, 7, v. 1182-1186) p. 56 [What, will the star which is bent on driving me to despair allow me no time to breathe? Am I to see, through their mutual understanding, my watchful care and my wisdom defeated one after another? Must I, in my mature age, become the dupe of a simple girl and a scatter−brained young fellow?] The School for Wives, p. 21.
Destiny is so cruel to Arnolphe that it brings in a “real” father. When Enrique, Agnès’ biological father, arrives, Agnès ceases to be Arnolphe’s ward, which she has been for 13 years. Arnolphe is so perturbed that, having expressed himself quite fluently in several soliloquies and asides, he suddenly loses his ability to speak. In an aparté, Chrysalde tells Arnolphe, who is returning to his house, that, given his fear of cuckolding, it is best for him not to marry. Arnolphe is indeed spared cuckolding, but he has been crushed by destiny.
Life as a game of dice: “un jeu de dés”
Destiny is so powerful that in Act IV, Scene 8, Chrysalde, the raisonneur himself, suggests that all Arnolphe can do, if betrayed by “cursed fate,” is to select an appropriate response to this “accident.” Destiny is an indomitable force that can strike anyone at any time. In fact, Chrysalde tells Arnolphe that cocuage is what one makes of it: “Le cocuage n’est que ce que l’on le fait.” (Chrysalde, IV, 8, v. 1285). Destiny (le sort) gives men a wife and life is a jeu de dés, a game of dice. One corrects such accidents as cocuage though “good management,” une bonne conduite:
“Quoi qu’on en puisse dire, enfin, le cocuage Sous des traits moins affreux aisément s’envisage; Et, comme je vous le dis, toute l’habileté Ne va qu’à le savoir tourner du bon côté.” Chrysalde (IV, 8, v. 1270-1273) L’École des femmes [In short, say what you will, cuckolding may easily be made to seem less terrible; and, as I told you before, all your dexterity lies in being able to turn the best side outwards.] The School for wives, p. 22.
“Mais comme c’est le sort qui nous donne une femme, Je dis que l’on doit faire ainsi qu’au jeu de dés, Il faut jouer d’adresse et d’une âme réduite, Corriger le hasard par la bonne conduite.” Chrysalde (IV, 8, v. 1282-1285) L’École des femmes [But as fortune gives us a wife, I say that we should act as we do when we gamble with dice, when, if you do not get what you want, you must be shrewd and good−tempered, to amend your luck by good management.] The School for wives, p. 22.
Given the power he associates with destiny, Arnolphe’s obsessive fear of cuckolding is in his nature. This immutability of nature is a premise in Molière. Arnolphe is as he is and Agnès is as she is. For instance, she can tell Horace that she is kept by a very jealous man. Agnès may be an ignorant girl, but she knows about jealousy. She also knows about the game of dice.
Agnès and Horace
In L’École des femmes, the laws of comedy are pushed to an extreme. After Agnès escapes Monsieur de la Souche, which could be the resolution of the play, Horace asks Arnolphe to house and guard Agnès so her reputation is protected.
Moreover, it is barely credible that Agnès’ biological father should arrive the moment his daughter is being led away by Arnolphe. It is also barely credible that Agnès should have fallen in love with the young man her father wanted her to marry. Molière doubles the father figure: Monsieur de la Souche and Enrique, who has decided his daughter would marry Horace. Were it not for Chrysalde’s intervention, and the power of destiny, Horace’s marriage may have been a mariage
Such words as “hasard” (chance) and “le Ciel,” (heaven) reveal a view of the world according to which destiny controls mankind. L’École des femmes may therefore reflect Jansenism, but the word Jansenism is not used.
“Allons dans la maison débrouiller ces mystères, Payer à notre ami ses soins officieux, Et rendre grâce au Ciel qui fait tout pour le mieux.” Chrysalde (V, 9, v. 1775 -1765) L’École des femmes [Let us go inside, and clear up these mysteries. Let us shew our friend some return for his great pains, and thank Heaven, which orders all for the best.] The School for Wives, p. 29.
In Tartuffe, there is a reference to casuistry. Tartuffe knows how to “pacify scruples:”
“Je sais l’art de lever [to lift] des scrupules.” Tartuffe (IV, 4, v. 1486) [I know the art of pacifying scruples.] Tartuffe
However, Molière does not associate L’École des femmes with an ideology. We know that Molière borrowed his subject matter from Paul Scarron‘s translation of a Spanish novella by Doña Maria de Zayas y Sotomayor, which Scarron entitled La Précaution inutile. We also know that L’École des femmes has Italian antecedents. It could be, therefore, that ancestors to L’École des femmes gave destiny an important role. Yet, it seems unlikely that they gave destiny as decisive a role as Molière did.
Jansenists maintained that only those whom God had chosen would be saved. This notion was referred to as the theory of predestination, a theory associated with Saint Augustine, or Augustine of Hippo (13 November 354 CE – 28 August 430 CE).
Molière did not have to refer to an ideology when writing L’École des femmes. He did not need to. Comedy promotes the success of the young lovers. Yet seldom has destiny countered a barbon‘s wishes as imperatively. Dismissing predestination is somewhat difficult because of the central role given soliloquies. Arnolphe must hide from Horace that he is Monsieur de la Souche, until Chrysalde says:
“(…) Ce nom l’aigrit ; C’est Monsieur de la Souche, on vous l’a déjà dit.” Chrysalde (V, 7, v. 1712-1703) [That name annoys him. He is Monsieur de la Souche, as you were told before.] The School for Wives, p. 28.
As noted above, in L’École des femmes, life is compared to a jeu de dés [dice]. Gambling is also invoked by Agnès herself.
However, I will not conclude that L’École des femmes reflects Jansenism, except marginally. The laws of comedy promote the marriage of the young lovers and farces do not tolerate boasting. Moreover, jealousy is a topos, a lieu commun.
 Gabriel Conesa, Le Dialogue moliéresque (Paris: SEDES-CDU, 1992), p. 30. Roxanne Lalande, “L’École des femmes: matrimony and the laws of chance,” in David Bradby and Andrew Calder (editors), The Cambridge Companion to Molière (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 165-176.  “casuistry”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia _________________________ Bourbeau-Walker, Micheline. « L’échec d’Arnolphe : loi du genre ou faille intérieure », in Papers on French Seventeenth Century Literature, (Seattle-Tübingen, 1984, Vol. XI, No 20), pp. 79-92.
I have made small changes to yesterday’s post because it could be misinterpreted. I would not encourage a woman to have an abortion, even if a pregnancy would kill her. That would be her decision.
Second, Presidential candidates take a “pro-life” stand to look morally superior and earn votes. It is, in many cases, a mere ploy, but it offends women. It makes them look irresponsible and less credible then men.
I deeply resented being considered a “cutie pie” by a Dean who asked that the minutes of departmental meetings be taken to him by a man, not a woman, me. When I tried to return to work, a Vice-President told me he would not let me re-enter a classroom. He doubted my sanity.
Yet, I was expected to fill gaps in the programme and prepare courses in areas I had never studied, or leave. It was also reported that I discussed personal issues in the classroom. My students knew I had a little cat named Mouchette. They otherwise knew very little about me.
What about environmental concerns? We’ve hurt the planet. Poverty is spreading. Gunmen shoot children and the Black. The cost of medical care and medications is much too high, etc.
A Presidential candidate’s moral superiority does not depend on whether he states that he will not tolerate abortions. Decriminalising abortions does not translate into the advocacy of abortions. Moreover, being pro-life does not guarantee that a candidate is morally fit for the Presidency of the United States. However, it most certainly sheds suspicion on the behaviour and character of women.
The choice of a President of the United States may be based on such issues as abortion.
The health of a woman should not be used to sway voters. Besides, women are being insulted. They are full-fledged citizens of the United States and they know right from wrong. They are responsible individuals and cannot be looked upon as frivolous.
Abortion and birth control are not a clear “yes” or “no” issue. A person may be against abortions, but find herself needing an abortion. There are women whose health and life preclude a pregnancy, and women who are taking medications that may endanger the health and life of a fetus. The fate of these woman and the fetus is not for the White House to determine. Nor should Washington interfere with a doctor’s duties towards his patients.
Millions of women would like to have a child, but cannot conceive. As for women who are fertile, they have a right to control their fertility.
Our society has given abortions a bad name, which is very wrong. Our society has also been intolerant of sexual orientation. As long as no one is forced into sexual intercourse, and children are protected, sexual intercourse is a gift to mankind. It must be consensual, even in marriage, but it is pleasurable, comforting, and it allows a woman to bear and give birth to little ones.
It is very painful not to have the child one thought one would have. Childless persons do not have a family.
Canada has decriminalized abortions. Women were resorting to the use of coat hangers or went to charlatans who could cause their death and whose fees were unacceptably high. They had turned the government’s failure to protect its citizens into a lucrative but secret industry. That is unacceptable. Women also committed suicide.
The time has come for governments around the world to look upon women as responsible citizens who would not resort to frivolous abortions. It is a matter of education. At this rather late day, women are on the same footing as men.
President Trump and Moral Issues
President Donald Trump downplayed the novel coronavirus. He had to listen to Dr. Fauci and other experts in epidemiology. He didn’t. He also kicked the WHO, the World Health Organization, out of the United States. I hope he will pick up hospital bills as well as funeral costs. He was not there when he should have been and he let thousands of Americans be infected .
In short, politicians who use their stand on abortion are seeking votes and, in the case of Mr. Trump, this stand does not represent his genuine feelings. Politicians are merely using women. They are not qualified to decide whether a pregnancy is physically and emotionally safe or unsafe. Most are not medical doctors and they are not one’s personal medical doctors. Besides, if one candidate to the presidency uses his stand on abortion to gain a vote, first, he may be lying and, second, he may be forcing an opponent to take a stand on a medical and very private issue.
I lost fourteen brothers and sisters to a congenital blood disease. My mother was pregnant knowing the child she bore was unlikely to survive. Religion was a factor. I have always wondered whether giving birth to children who would die was morally right or wrong.
When one of his sons died, I saw my father collapse. His friends, both medical doctors and dear friends, led him out of the room. He never recovered.