“Les Amants magnifiques” as a comédie-ballet


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The Interludes

In my last post, I noted that Les Amants magnifiques (The Magnificent Lovers) was a comédie-ballet héroïque. We discussed the comedy only. The interludes, I wrote, would be discussed separately. In fact, the video I showed was based on Les Amants magnifiques. Therefore, we saw a very short part of Apollo’s entrée, which follows the end of the “comedy.”  

I also mentioned that the interlude separating Act One and Act Two of the comedy was a long interlude featuring a pastorale, shepherds and shepherdesses, as well as a scene of dépit amoureux, “love-tiff.” I wondered whether one could find a translation into English of the interludes. One can. Henri van Laun’s translation of Dramatic Works of Molière (Volume 5) contains the relevant translation. It is an Internet Archive publication and very precious. For Henri van Laun, there are five interludes. In the Pléiade edition, there are six. 

According to toutmoliere.net, or members of the Molière 21 research group, Louis XIV did not dance in Molière’s Amants magnifiques. Therefore, if he fell, it could not have been at the very end of Act Five of the Amants magnifiques. In the video’s Apollo entrée and the divertissement, Apollo, was played by a person other than Louis XIV. The video I used is very short, but it encapsulates Louis XIV’s rather “inflated” opinion of himself: the Sun King. However, these words could be flattery. A divertissement royal was commissioned by the king and it provided a fine income. But the video’s message is clear. No one is God on this earth.

Les Fâcheux

Molière, with the participation of  Jean-Baptiste Lully and Pierre Beauchamp, introduced the comédie-ballet at Vaux-le-Vicomte. Molière’s Les Fâcheux was performed when Nicolas Foucquet, hosted France’s “who’s who,” including a very young Louis XIV. It was a fête no one could match easily and it included Molière’s Les Fâcheux. It was performed successfully and Molière had dedicated the play to Louis XIV, a very young Louis. Molière was one of Fouquet’s numerous protégés, as was Jean de La Fontaine, who would be a friend of Molière until the dramatist’s early death from tuberculosis.

Imitating Fouquet

You probably remember that Louis suspected embezzlement on the part of Fouquet and asked a musketeer to arrest him. Foucquet/Fouquet was tried, convicted, and spent the rest of his life, nineteen years, in the prison where the Man in the Iron Mask was also detained.

Louis’ Divertissements

Since Louis would not have a lesser castle than one of his subjects, he hired Foucquet’s architects and their teams, and had Versailles built. The event called for a divertissement royal, Les Plaisirs de l’Île enchantée. The fête occurred at an early point in the building of Versailles. Louis hoped he could outperform Fouquet’s fête, but he didn’t. We have also mentioned another divertissement royal which occurred after the period of mourning that followed the death of Anne d’Autriche. Isaac de Benserade‘s Ballet des muses included two plays by Molière, but a third was added and performed on 13 or 14 February 1667. It was Le Sicilien ou l’Amour peintre or Love makes the painter

Les Amants magnifiques was also part of a divertissement royal. It was so lavish a divertissement that performing it in Paris would be too expensive. Molière wrote the play and the interludes and did very well. He was a good imitator and I believe he rose to the occasion.

The Interludes (Les Intermèdes)

There are six interludes in the 2010 Pléiade edition of Molière’s Œuvres complètes. Henri van Laun’s translation has five interludes. 

Les Amants magnifiques

  1. opens to the sound of Lully’s music with lyrics by Molière. 
  2. A second intermède occurs at the end of Act One. The dancers were Messieurs Beauchamp, Saint-André and Favier.
  3. The third interlude, the longest, follows Act Two and consists of a Prologue introducing a pastoral featuring Lycaste, Ménandre and Tircis, and a scene of Dépit amoureux, translated as “love-tiff” by Henri van Laun.
  4. A fourth interlude follows Act Three, and
  5. a fifth separates Acts Four and Five.
  6. a sixth is the Jeux pythiens where Apollo is Louis XIV. The video at the foot of my last post forms part of the Amants magnifiques. It may be that Molière expected Louis to dance, but he didn’t (see the Notice in toutmolière.com).

At the end of Act Five, most, in not all, the play’s characters are on their way to the Pythian Games. I wrote most, because the two princes threatened vengeance. In fact, Cléonice had told Aristione that Anaxarque abused the princes.

Madame, je viens vous dire qu’Anaxarque a jusqu’ici abusé, l’un et l’autre
prince, par l’espérance de ce choix qu’ils poursuivent depuis longtemps, et qu’au bruit qui s’est répandu de votre aventure, ils ont fait éclater tous deux leur ressentiment contre lui, jusque-là que, de paroles en paroles, les choses se sont échauffées, et il en a reçu quelques blessures dont on ne sait pas bien ce qui arrivera. Mais les voici.
Cléonice to Aristione (V. i. p. 33)
[Madam, I am come to tell you that Anaxarchus had till now deceived both the princes, with the hope of favouring the choice upon which their souls were bent; and that, hearing what has taken place, they have both given way to their resentment against him, and things growing worse, he has received several wounds, from which it is impossible to say what may happen. But here they are both coming.]
Cléonice to Aristione (V. 3)

The following is a quotation from the very last part of Les Amants magnifiques, Apollo’s entrée:

Je suis la source des clartés,
Et les astres les plus vantés
Dont le beau cercle m’environne,
Ne sont brillants et respectés
Que par l’éclat que je leur donne.
Du char où je me puis asseoir
Je vois le désir de me voir
Posséder la nature entière,
Et le monde n’a son espoir
Qu’aux seuls bienfaits de ma lumière.
Bienheureuses de toutes parts,
Et pleines d’exquises richesses
Les terres où de mes regards
J’arrête les douces caresses.
(sixth interlude)
[I am the source of all delight ; And the most vaunted stars, Whose beauteous circle is around me,/ Are only brilliant and respected,/ By the splendour which I give them,/ From the car on which I sit,/ I see the wish to behold me/ Shared by the whole of nature;/ And the wide world has but its hope/ In the sole blessings of my light./ Very happy everywhere,/ And full of exquisite wealth,/ The lands on which I throw/ The sweet caresses of my glances.]
(Henri van Laun, p. 192)

Dormez, dormez,” a video inserted at the foot of this post, also quotes Les Amants magnifiques. Tirsis, Lycaste and Ménandre sing together while Caliste sleeps.

Tirsis, Lycaste and Ménandre
Dormez, dormez, beaux yeux, adorables vainqueurs,
Et goûtez le repos que vous ôtez aux cœurs,
Dormez, dormez, beaux yeux.
[Sleep on, sleep on, fair eyes, lovely conquerors; And taste that peace which you wrest from all hearts; Sleep on, sleep on, fair eyes.]

Silence, petits oiseaux,

Vents, n’agitez nulle chose,
Coulez doucement, ruisseaux,
C’est Caliste qui repose.
Intermède (III. iv, p. 19)
[Now silence keep, ye little birds; Ye winds, stir nought around ; Ye stream, run sweetly on: For Caliste is slumbering.]
(Henri van Laun, p. 171)


Reading from Molière by Jean-François de Troy (Paris 1679 – Rome 1752) c. 1728 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

La Princesse d’Élide

Our next play is La Princesse d’Élide, first performed at Versailles during Les Plaisirs de l’Île enchantée, is a divertissement royal.

I do not think Molière’s plays are now considered either farces or grandes comédies. Such was the case when I was a student. But we also have the divertissements. La Princesse d’Élide is une comédie galante. I may bring up the notion of “galant music.”  

We must also discuss love. Ériphile has been asked to choose a spouse. She loses this privilege, but the comedic “will,” ensures she marries the man she loves. It’s a form of destiny. But Anaxarque was plotting her demise and our “princes” knew. However, they did not know which prince Anaxarque, our charlatan “astrologer,” would choose. It was Iphicrate. 


Sources and Resources



Love to everyone 💕

Les Amants magnifiques – Lully/ Molière

Personne n’est Dieu sur cette terre. No one is God on this earth.

Eriphile (Les Amants magnifiques) (2)

© Micheline Walker
4 October 2019



Sorry, computer problems


Muse, perhaps Clio, reading a scroll (Attic red-figure lekythosBoeotia, c. 430 BC) (Wikipedia)

Yesterday’s posts exists. However my computer is broken and the post is no longer correct.

The post will have to be moved to new post and I need he humility to say that although it worked for several  weeks, I did not fix my computer.

The post is not lost. But it must be moved to a new location and I must purchase a new computer.

Apologies and much love to everyone.💕


Molière’s “Les Amants magnifiques”


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In this post, we read the comedy. However, the comedy has interludes written by Molière. Every stage effect was used to please the King and his Court. Excluding the intermèdes (interludes) seems inappropriate, but I felt we should read the comedy first.

In Les Amants magnifiques, we are in the Vale of Tempe, the location where the events of Mélicerte and La Pastorale comique take place. The location was suggested by Louis XIV and so was the subject: rival lovers. You may remember that these two plays were incomplete. Molière may have looked upon these plays as pièces de circonstances, or plays that would not be needed once the festivities were over. When the obligatory period of mourning for Anne d’Autriche, Louis’ mother, drew to a close, the Court moved to Saint-Germain-en-Laye, a royal residence. At the heart of festivities was Isaac de Benserade‘s Ballet des Muses FR. Molière’s contribution was the ballet’s third entrée. Mélicerte was played from 2 December 1666 to 5 January 1667 when La Pastorale comique was first performed. A third play, Le Sicilien, ou l’Amour peintre was staged on 13 or 14 February, at Saint-Germain. It was a late entry, the fourteenth. It would not be played for a wider audience until 10 June 1667. Molière had fallen ill.

Les Amants magnifiques, The Magnificent Lovers, is described as a five-act comédie héroïque and a comédie-ballet, in prose. It was part of a grand divertissement commissioned by Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. It was a pièce à machines that incorporated every stage effect. The play was meant to dazzle the audience.

Various members of the Court played roles in The Magnificent Princes‘ intermèdes: singers and dancers. They are named in La Pléiade‘s 1956 edition of Molière’s Œuvres complètes. Louis didn’t dance and would never dance again.

Until Les Amants magnifiques FR, the King had commissioned Isaac de Benserade to write divertissements. However, Isaac de Benserade had displeased Madame de Monstespan. So, considerable trust was invested in Molière. Les Amants magnifiques, including the interludes. was written by Molière to music by Jean-Baptiste Lully. The lavish play was too expensive to be performed in Paris. It premièred on 4 February 1670, at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, during Carnival season, and it closed after five performances. Linked to this play is La Princesse d’Élide (1664), written for another divertissement: Les Plaisirs de l’Île enchantée, festivities that took place early during the construction of Versailles.


par François Boucher (dessin) et Laurent Cars (gravure), 1734 (commons.wikimedia.org)

In short, Les Amants magnifiques is:

  • a comédie héroïque,
  • a comédie à machines,
  • and a comédie-ballet,
  • in five acts and in prose with intermèdes.
  • Its music was composed by Jean-Baptiste Lully.
  • It was first performed on 4 February 1670 at Saint-Germain,
  • before the King and his Court.

Our dramatis personæ is:

Iphicrates & Timocles, princes in love with Eriphyle.
Sostratus, a general, also in love with Eriphyle.
Anaxarchus, an astrologer.
Cleon, his son.
Chorœbus, in the suit of Aristione.
Clitidas, a court jester, one of the attendants of Eriphyle.
Aristione, a princess, mother to Eriphyle.
Eriphyle, a princess, daughter to Aristione.
Cleonice, confidante to Eriphyle.

Les Amants magnifiques par Edmond Hédouin (théâtre-documentation.com)
Les Amants magnifiques par Adolphe Lalauze  (théâtre-documentation.com)

The Plot

La Princesse Ériphile graces the image at the top of this post. Her mother, Princesse Aristione, has asked her to choose her own husband. Two princes are courting her: Iphicrate and Timoclès. They are the “amants magnifiques” (the magnificent lovers). She must choose between the two, which is impossible. Ériphile does not love the princes and would reject both. Her dilemma resembles Psyché’s who is also incapable of choosing between two princes. Choosing one would hurt the other. Moreover, neither Psyché nor Ériphile love their princes.


  • Sostrate tells Clitidas that he is in love
  • Rank: an obstacle
  • Sostrate is asked to find out which prince she has chosen

In Act One, Clitidas notices that Sostrate, a general in the army, is buried in his own thoughts. After much prying, on the part of Clitidas, Sostrate tells him that he loves Ériphile, but that his rank and fortune do not allow him to reveal his feelings and hope to marry her. How can he, a general, compete with two princes. Sostrate will therefore die without revealing his feelings:

Mourir sans déclarer ma passion.
Sostrates à Clitidas (I. i, p. 4)
[To die without telling my love.]
Sostrates to Clitidas (I. 1)

However, in Scene Two, Sostrate is asked by Aristione, Ériphile’s mother to see which of the two princes Ériphile loves, a source of irony. Sostrate would like to refuse, but must serve Aristione:

Puisque vous le voulez, Madame, il vous faut obéir, mais je vous jure que dans toute votre cour vous ne pouviez choisir personne qui ne fût en état de s’acquitter beaucoup mieux que moi d’une telle commission.
Sostrate à Aristione (I. ii, p. 7)
[Since it is your wish, Madam, I must obey; but I assure you that there is not one person in the whole of your court who would be less qualified for such a commission than myself.]
Sostrate à Aristione (I. 2)

Ériphile missed a divertissement planned by the one of the rival princes.

Madame, elle s’est écartée, et je lui ai présenté une main qu’elle a refusé d’accepter.
Timoclès à Aristione (l. ii, p. 6)
[She is gone away, Madam. I offered her my arm, which she refused to accept.
Timoclès to Aristione (I. 2)

Later, Cléonice, Ériphile’s confidante says:

On trouvera étrange, Madame, que vous vous soyez ainsi écartée de tout le monde.
Cléonice à Ériphile (I. v, p. 9)
[It will be thought strange, Madam, that you should keep away from everybody]
Cléonice to Ériphile (I. 6)

Sostrate also missed the entertainment. Why did Ériphile and Sostrate stay away?

Pour moi, Madame, connaissant son indifférence et le peu de cas qu’elle fait des devoirs qu’on lui rend, je n’ai voulu perdre auprès d’elle, ni plaintes, ni soupirs, ni larmes.
Sostrate à Aristione (I. ii, p. 6)
[For my part, Madam, knowing her indifference and the little value she sets upon the homage that is paid to her, I did not mean to waste either sighs or tears upon her.]
Sostrate to Aristione (I. 2)

So, from the beginning of the play, Ériphile shows little interest in her suitors. An interméde separate Act One and Act Two. It is a gift from Cléonice, Ériphile’s confidante, and it features three Pantomines.


  • Sostrate has placed Ériphile above everything.
  • marivaudage prefigured
  • the confession: no one and nothing is above Ériphile

In Act Two, Scene Two, Clitidas tells Ériphile that Sostrate has placed her above everything else and loves her:

Il m’a demandé si vous aviez témoigné grande joie au magnifique régale que l’on vous a donné; m’a parlé de votre personne avec des transports les plus grands du monde, vous a mise au-dessus du Ciel, et vous a donné toutes les louanges qu’on peut donner à la princesse la plus accomplie de la terre, entremêlant tout cela de plusieurs soupirs qui disaient plus qu’il ne voulait. Enfin, à force de le tourner de tous côtés, et de le presser sur la cause de cette profonde mélancolie, dont toute la cour s’aperçoit, il a été contraint de m’avouer qu’il était amoureux.
Clitidas à Eriphile (II. ii, p. 11)
[He asked me if you were very pleased with the royal entertainments that are offered to you. He spoke of your person with the greatest transports of delight, extolled you to the sky, and gave you all the praises that could be given to the most accomplished princess in the world, and with all this uttering many sighs which told me more than he thought. At last, by dint of questioning him in all kinds of ways, and pressing him to tell me the cause of his melancholy, which is noticed by everyone at court, he was forced to acknowledge that he is in love.]
Clitidas to Ériphile (II. 3)

Ériphile is miffed. This is marivaudage, a form of galanterie found in the works of Pierre de Marivaux. It governs the action of Marivaux’s Le Jeu de l’amour et du hasard. In fact, Ériphile is not miffed. Clitidas tricks her by changing his statement. Sostrate is in love with Arsinoé, not Ériphile. Clitidas realizes that Ériphile is not pleased. He has, therefore, elicited the truth by provoking jealousy.

Non, non, Madame, je vois que la chose ne vous plaît pas. Votre colère m’a obligé à prendre ce détour, et pour vous dire la vérité, c’est vous qu’il aime éperdument.
Licidas à Ériphile (II. ii, p. 11)
[No, no, Madam; I see that this offends you. Your anger forced me to make use of this subterfuge; and, to tell you the truth, it is you he loves to distraction.]
Licidas to Ériphile (II. 3)

In Act Two, Scene Three, Sostrate does as he has been told. He asks Ériphile which of the two princes she prefers.

Whom would Sostrate chose between her rival princes? Sostrate so loves Ériphile that only a god would qualify to marry Ériphile.

Si l’on s’en rapporte à mes yeux, il n’y aura personne qui soit digne de cet honneur. Tous les princes du monde seront trop peu de chose pour aspirer à vous; les Dieux seuls y pourront prétendre, et vous ne souffrirez des hommes que l’encens, et les sacrifices.
Sostrate à Ériphile (II. iii, p. 13)
[If I were to be judge, I should find no one worthy of that honour. All the princes of the world would be too mean to aspire to you; the gods alone can pretend to you, and you would have from men but incense and sacrifice.]
Sostrate to Ériphile (II. 4)

In short, it is for Ériphile to choose between the rival princes. As for Sostrate, although he loves Ériphile, he remains a mere general.

Acts Two and Three are separated by a rather long intermède that includes a lovely scene of dépit amoureux, spite between lovers, a pastoral shepherds and shepherdesses. The interludes also feature satyrs, dryads, fauns, nymphs, etc. It will be discussed separately.


Aristione chooses Sostrate to know which of the two princes she prefers.

J’estime tant Sostrate, que soit que vous vouliez vous servir de lui pour expliquer vos sentiments, ou soit que vous vous en remettiez absolument à sa conduite, je fais, dis-je, tant d’estime de sa vertu et de son jugement, que je consens de tout mon cœur à la proposition que vous me faites.
Aristione à tous (III. i, p. 24)
[I have such a high regard for Sostratus that, whether you mean to employ him to explain your feelings or to leave him entirely to decide for you, I consent heartily to this proposition.]
Aristione to all (III. 1)

Sostrate wishes to refuse, but he can’t. This request comes from a princess:

Par quelle raison donc, refusez-vous d’accepter le pouvoir qu’on vous donne, et de vous acquérir l’amitié d’un prince qui vous devrait tout son bonheur?
Timoclès à Sostrate (III. i, p. 24)
[For what reason could you have had, Sostratus, for refusing it?]
Timoclès to Sostrate (III. 4)
Par la raison que je ne suis pas en état d’accorder à ce prince ce qu’il souhaiterait de moi.
Sostrate à Timoclès (III. i, p. 24)
[The fear of not acquitting myself well.]
Sostrate to Timoclès (III. 4)

At this point, Anaxarque propose that Heaven, le Ciel, choose between the two suitors.

En est-il un meilleur, Madame, pour terminer les choses au contentement
de tout le monde, que les lumières que le Ciel peut donner sur ce mariage? J’ai commencé comme je vous ai dit, à jeter pour cela les figures mystérieuses que notre art nous enseigne, et j’espère vous faire voir tantôt ce que l’avenir garde à cette union souhaitée. Après cela pourra-ton balancer encore? La gloire et les prospérités que le Ciel promettra, ou à l’un, ou à l’autre choix, ne seront-elles pas suffisantes pour le déterminer, et celui qui sera exclus, pourra-t-il s’offenser quand ce sera le Ciel qui décidera cette préférence?
Anaxarque à tous (III. i, p. 25)

Both princes agree with Anaxarque, but Ériphile is suspicious. If le Ciel chooses her future husband, she will not be able to refuse. How can one oppose le Ciel? She will no longer be free to choose her husband, which was her mother’s wish and sensible.

Mais, Seigneur Anaxarque, voyez-vous si clair dans les destinées, que vous
ne vous trompiez jamais, et ces prospérités, et cette gloire que vous dites que le Ciel nous promet, qui en sera caution, je vous prie?
Ériphile to Anaxarque  (III. i, p. 25)

As for Sostrate, he disagrees with the proposed solution and Aristione, Ériphile’s mother is perplexed.


In Act Four, Scene One, Aristione would like her daughter to tell all. Ériphile cannot. The man she loves is of a rank her mother would deem acceptable. Ériphile knows that Sostrate is a man of merit, but a general, would not be considered a judicious choice by her mother. If le Ciel is to intervene, Ériphile requires a deus ex machina 

Parlez à cœur ouvert, ma fille, ce que j’ai fait pour vous mérite bien que vous usiez avec moi de franchise. Tourner vers vous toutes mes pensées, vous préférer à toutes choses, et fermer l’oreille en l’état où je suis, à toutes les propositions que cent princesses en ma place écouteraient avec bienséance, tout cela vous doit assez persuader que je suis une bonne mère, et que je ne suis pas pour recevoir avec sévérité les ouvertures que vous pourriez me faire de votre cœur.
Aristione to Ériphile (IV. i, p. 28)
[Speak openly, daughter; what I have done for you well deserves that you should be frank and open with me. To make you the sole object of all my thoughts, to prefer you above all things, to shut my ears, in the position I am in, to all the propositions that a hundred princesses might decently listen to in my place—all that ought to tell you that I am a kind mother, and that I am not likely to receive with severity the confidences your heart may have to make.]
Aristione to Ériphile (IV. 1)
Si j’avais si mal suivi votre exemple, que de m’être laissée aller à quelques sentiments d’inclination que j’eusse raison de cacher, j’aurais, Madame, assez de pouvoir sur moi-même pour imposer silence à cette passion, et me mettre en état de ne rien faire voir qui fût indigne de votre sang.
Ériphile to Aristione (IV. i, p. 28)
[If I had so badly followed your example as to have allowed an inclination I had reason to conceal to enter my soul, I should have power enough over myself to impose silence on such a love, and to do nothing unworthy of your name.]
Ériphile to Aristione (IV. 1)

In Act Four, Scene Two, a false Venus arrives in her chariot and decrees that Aristione should consider giving her daughter to the person who saves her life.

Princesse, dans tes soins brille un zèle exemplaire,/ Qui par les Immortels doit être couronné,/ Et pour te voir un gendre, illustre et fortuné,/ Leur main te veut marquer le choix que tu dois faire;/ Ils t’annoncent tous par ma voix,/ La gloire et les grandeurs, que, par ce digne choix,/ Ils feront pour jamais entrer dans ta famille,/ De tes difficultés termine donc le cours;/ Et pense à donner ta fille/ À qui sauvera tes jours./
Vénus à Aristione (IV. ii, p. 28-29)
[Princess, in you shines a glorious example, which the immortals mean to recompense; and that you may have a son-in-law both great and happy, they will guide you in the choice you should make. They announce by my voice the great and glorious fame which will come to your house by this choice. Therefore, put an end to your perplexities, and give your daughter to him who shall save your life.]
Vénus to Aristione (IV. 2)

In Act Four, Scene Three, we learn that Venus is a false Venus. Cléon and his father Anaxarque are arranging for men to capture Aristione. Iphicrate will save her.

Va-t’en tenir la main au reste de l’ouvrage, préparer nos six hommes à se bien cacher dans leur barque derrière le rocher; à posément attendre le temps que la princesse Aristione vient tous les soirs se promener seule sur le rivage, à se jeter bien à propos sur elle, ainsi que des corsaires, et donner lieu au prince Iphicrate de lui apporter ce secours, qui sur les paroles du Ciel doit mettre entre ses mains la princesse Ériphile.
Anaxarque à Cléon (IV. iii, p. 29)
[Be it your part to go and get our six men to hide themselves carefully in their boat behind the rock, and make them wait quietly for the time when the princess comes alone in the evening for her usual walk. Then they must suddenly attack her like pirates, in order to give the opportunity to Prince Iphicrates to rush to her rescue, and lend her the help which is to put Eriphyle in his hands according to the words of Venus.]
Anaxarque to Cléon (IV. iv)

In Act Four, Scene Four a dejected Ériphile fears destiny. What has she done to deserve attention from the Gods? She does not love the princes who are the only candidates.

Hélas! quelle est ma destinée, et qu’ai-je fait aux Dieux pour mériter les soins qu’ils veulent prendre de moi?
Ériphile à Cléonice et Sostrate (IV. iv, p. 30)
[Alas! how hard is my destiny! What have I done to the gods that they should interest themselves in what happens to me?]
Ériphile to Cléonice and Sostrate (IV. 5)


In Act Five, Scene One, we are told that Aristione was attacked by a boar, but was saved by Sostrate. Sostrate being a hero, he may marry Ériphile. Men were to attack Aristione, not a boar.

Anaxarque misused both princes. But Sostrate saved Aristione. So, ironically, he daughter will marry the man who saved her mother life. As false as Venus is,  Heaven has decided that Ériphile must marry her mother’s saviour, who is Socrates. Aristione forgives the princes and all, or most, go to the Jeux Pythiens.

Je pardonne toutes ces menaces, aux chagrins d’un amour qui se croit offensé, et nous n’en verrons pas avec moins de tranquillité la fête des jeux Pythiens. Allons-y de ce pas, et couronnons par ce pompeux spectacle cette merveilleuse journée.
Aristione aux princes (V. iv, p. 34)
[I forgive all these threats for the sake of the sorrow of a love which thinks itself insulted; and we will none the less go and see the Pythian Games in all peace. Let us go at once, and let us crown by the glorious spectacle this wonderful day.]
Aristione to the princes (V. 4)

Costumes for Les Amants magnifiques, Calvin University


The above is incomplete. In Les Amants magnifiques, the plot is embedded in mostly pastoral and mythological interludes. Louis XIV is Apollon. We are in the Vale of Tempe, an idyllic location, but a princess who seems “free” to choose her husband is not “free.” Rank and fortune preclude a marriage between Sostrate and Ériphile.

However, Aristione is attacked by a boar and Venus, albeit a false Venus, has decreed that Ériphile is to wed her mother’s saviour is Sostrate, The gods have spoken. and Ériphile must marry Sostrate.

So, once again, comedy, or destiny, is complicit with Ériphile and Sostrate, the young lovers of comedy. It’s an all’s well that ends well, but a complex tout est bien qui finit bien.

Obedience to parents is a matter Molière  raises in his plays. In Mélicerte. Myrtil will not let a father prevent his marrying a woman other than Mélicerte. But Venus has decreed that Ériphile would marry her mother’s saviour. Sostrate.

So, once again, comedy, or destiny, is complicit with Ériphile and Sostrate, the young lovers of comedy. It’s an all’s well that ends well, but an ambiguous tout est bien qui finit bien. After its Saint-Germain-en-Laye performances, Les Amants magnifiques was not performed, at least, not in Molière’s lifetime.



Love to everyone 💕


Sources and Resources


Love to everyone 💕

Entrée d’ApollonJean-Baptiste Lully
(Personne n’est Dieu sur cette terre. No one is God on this earth.)


Muse of comedy and idyllic poetryJean-Marc Nattier (Wikipedia)

© Micheline Walker
30 September 2019








Molière’s “Amphitryon”


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The above image shows Sosie finding his way to Amphitryon’s house. Amphitryon is his master. He has been dispatched to provide news of a battle to Amphitryon’s bride, Alcmène. He bumps into Mercure who looks like him. Mercure threatens to beat him and does so. Inside the house is Jupiter, an Amphitryon look-alike (un sosie), courting Alcmène. Amphitryon will be a cocu, but Jupiter being a “dead ringer” to Amphitryon, Alcmène doesn’t know she has been unfaithful to Amphitryon. Alcmène will give birth to Hercules. In Act Three, Jupiter says that Amphitryon has been honoured. Amphitryon is so angry that a complete reconciliation may not occur. It seems he will be a “husband,” not a “lover.”

Molière’s Amphitryon is

  • a three-act comédie poétique, in mixed verse.
  • It premièred on 13 January 1668 at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal.
  • Its third performance was played on 16 January 1668 at the Tuileries Palace, before the King and Court.
  • It is a pièce à machines (using stage machinery),
  • rooted in Plautus‘ Amphitryon, a burlesque play.
  • Sophocles wrote a tragedy on Amphitryon, a lost Theban play.
  • Molière’s Amphitryon was performed one hundred and thirty-eight times in 1668 and has remained a favourite.

Amphitryon is a mythological figure. Plautus’ Amphitryon was performed successfully until the Renaissance, at which point it inspired several Renaissance dramatists, “including three Spanish language plays, two Italian plays, and a comedy in Portuguese by Luís de Camões.” (See, Amphitryon, en-Wikipedia.org). In 1636, dramatist Jean Rotrou translated Plautus’ Amphitryon and wrote Les Deux Sosies. Rotrou’s play may have been a source Molière used, but Molière knew Plautus’ Amphitryon. It was the second ancient comedy to be translated into the English language.

Molière’s play consists of:

  • a Dédicace, by Molière to le Grand Condé (VOTRE ALTESSE SÉRÉNISSIME, Le très humble, très obéissant et très obligé serviteur, Molière
  • a Prologue (Mercure and the Night)
  • three acts

The Prologue is a conversation between Mercury, who says he is “las,” tired, and the Night. Machines are used and the Prologue tells much of the play. The God Mercure is a messenger and so is Sosie, his look-alike, or doppelgänger (un sosie). It is night and, therefore, dark, which suits Jupiter who can hide his visit with Alcmène.

1. François Boucher 2. Moreau Le Jeune
3. Hédouin 4. Lalauze

Our dramatis personæ is

LA NUIT (night).
JUPITER, sous la forme (looking alike) d’Amphitryon.
AMPHITRYON, général des Thébains.
ALCMÈNE, femme (wife of) d’Amphitryon.
CLÉANTHIS, suivante d’Alcmène et femme (wife of) de Sosie.
SOSIE, valet d’Amphitryon (Molière’s role)
NAUCRATÈS POLIDAS POSICLÈS capitaines thébains (Theban captains).

La scène est à Thèbes (ancient Egypt), devant la maison d’Amphitryon (in front of Amphitryon’s house).


  • Sosie meets Mercure
  • husband and lover
  • Sosie & Cléanthis, a couple

In Act One, Scene One, Sosie rehearses the message he is bringing Alcmène. In Scene Two, he is confronted by Mercure, his look-alike, who will not allow him to enter the house.

400 Ciel! me faut-il ainsi renoncer à moi-même;/ Et par un imposteur me voir voler mon nom?/ Que son bonheur est extrême,/ De ce que je suis poltron!/ Sans cela, par la mort…
Sosie à lui-même (I. ii, p. 19)
[Heavens! Must I thus renounce myself, and see my name stolen by an impostor. How lucky I am a poltroon! Or, by the death…!]
Sosie to himself (I. 2

N’importe, je ne puis m’anéantir pour toi;/ 425 Et souffrir un discours, si loin de l’apparence./ Être ce que je suis, est-il en ta puissance?/ Et puis-je cesser d’être moi/ S’avisa-t-on jamais d’une chose pareille!/ Et peut-on démentir cent indices pressants? 430 Rêvé-je? est-ce que je sommeille?/ Ai-je l’esprit troublé par des transports puissants?/ Ne sens-je pas que je veille?/ Ne suis-je pas dans mon bon sens? Mon Maître Amphitryon, n’a m’a-t-il pas commis,/ 435 À venir, en ce lieux, vers Alcmène sa femme/ Ne lui dois-je pas faire, en lui vantant sa flamme,/ Un récit de ses faits contre nos ennemis?
Sosie à Mercure (I. ii, p. 20)
[I can’t help it. I cannot annihilate myself for you, and endure so improbable a tale. Is it in your power to be what I am? Can I cease to be myself? Did any one ever hear of such a thing? And can you give the lie to a hundred clear indications? Do I dream? Do I sleep? Is my mind troubled by powerful transports? Do I not feel I am awake? Am I not in my right senses? Has not my master, Amphitryon, commanded me to come here to Alcmene his wife? Am I not, in commending his passion to her, to give her an account of his deeds against our enemies? Have I not just come from the harbour? Do I not hold a lantern in my hand? Have I not found you in front of our house?]
Sosie to Mercure (I. 2)

A “Husband” & a “Lover”
In Scene Three, Jupiter tells Alcmène that he does not wish to be known as a husband, but as a lover:

Ah! ce que j’ai pour vous d’ardeur, et de tendresse,/ Passe aussi celle d’un époux;/ Et vous ne savez pas, dans des moments si doux,/ Quelle en est la délicatesse./ 585 Vous ne concevez point qu’un cœur bien amoureux,/ Sur cent petits égards s’attache avec étude;/ Et se fait une inquiétude, De la manière d’être heureux./ En moi, belle, et charmante Alcmène,/590 Vous voyez un mari; vous voyez un amant;/ Mais l’amant seul me touche, à parler franchement; Et je sens près de vous, que le mari le gêne.
Jupiter à Alcmène (I. iii, p. 26)
[The love and tenderness which I have for you far exceeds a husband’s; in these sweet moments, you do not realise its delicacy; You do not understand that a heart deeply in love studiously attaches itself to a hundred little trifles, and is restless over the manner of being happy. In me, fair and charming Alcmene, you see a lover and a husband; but, to speak frankly, it is the lover that appeals to me; when near you, I feel the husband restrains him.]
Jupiter to Alcmène (I. 3)

Sosie and Cléanthis
In Scene Four, Cléanthis, Sosie’s wife, tells her husband that he was away for too long. She feels her husband has been unfaithful. Molière created Cléanthis. She does not form part of Plautus’ Amphitryon. In Molière’s play, we have an earthly couple and one we could call “divine.”


  • Sosie’s moi soliloquy
  • the Diamonds
  • the Sealed Box
  • the Bitter Truth

In Scene One, Amphitryon reprimands Sosie. What happened?

810 Faut-il le répéter vingt fois de même sorte?
Moi, vous dis-je; ce moi plus robuste que moi;
Ce moi, qui s’est de force emparé de la porte.
Ce moi, qui m’a fait filer doux:
Ce moi, qui le seul moi veut être:
815 Ce moi, de moi-même jaloux
Ce moi vaillant, dont le courroux,
Au moi poltron s’est fait connaître:
Enfin ce moi qui suis chez nous,
Ce moi qui s’est montré mon maître;
820 Ce moi qui m’a roué de coups.
Sosie à Amphitryon (II. i, pp. 36-37)
[Must I repeat the same thing twenty times? I, I tell you, this I who is more robust than I, this I who took possession of the door by force, this I who made me slope off, this I who wishes to be the only I, this I who is jealous of myself, this valiant I, whose anger made itself known to this poltroon of an I, in fact, this I who is at our house, this I who has shown himself to be my master, this I who has racked me with pain.]
Sosie to Amphitryon (II. 1)

Tous les discours sont des sottises,/ 840 Partant d’un homme sans éclat./ Ce seraient paroles exquises,/ Si c’était un grand qui parlât.
Sosie, à part (II. i, pp. 37-38)
[All talk is nonsense that comes from a man who is unknown. If a great man were to say it, it would be exquisite language.]
Sosie, aside (II. 1)

It appears credibility depends on rank.

In Scene Two, Alcmène says that Amphitryon has returned rather soon. She tells Amphitryon that she greeted him lovingly the night before.

885 Hier au soir, ce me semble, à votre heureux retour,/ On me vit témoigner une joie assez tendre;/ Et rendre aux soins de votre amour,/ Tout ce que de mon cœur, vous aviez lieu d’attendre.
Alcmène à Amphitryon (II. ii, p. 39)
[I think I showed a sufficiently tender joy last night, at your happy return; my heart responded by every means you could wish to the claims of your affection.]
Alcmène to Amphitryon (II. 2)

The Diamonds
Alcmène shows Amphitryon the diamonds he gave her.

950 S’il était vrai qu’on pût ne s’en souvenir pas;/ De qui puis-je tenir, que de vous, la nouvelle/ Du dernier de tous vos combats?/ Et les cinq diamants que portait Ptérélas, Qu’a fit, dans la nuit éternelle,/ 955 Tomber l’effort de votre bras?/  En pourrait-on vouloir un plus sûr témoignagne?
Alcmène à Amphitryon (II. ii, p. 43 )
[…but, if the thing were in need of proof, if it were true that such a thing could be forgotten, from whom, but from you, could I have heard the news of the latest of all your battles, and of the five diamonds worn by Pterelas, who was plunged into eternal night by the strength of your arm? Could one wish for surer testimony?]
Alcmène to Amphitryon (II. 2)

Quoi! je vous ai déjà donné/ Le nœud de diamants que j’eus pour mon partage,/ Et que je vous ai destiné? Le nœud de diamants que j’eus pour mon partage,/ Et que je vous ai destiné?
Amphitryon à Alcmène (II. ii, p. 43)
[What? I have already given you the cluster of diamonds which I had for my share, and intended for you?]
Amphitryon à Alcmène (II. 2)

The Sealed Box
The box is still sealed, but the diamonds have been removed.

Ma foi, la place est vide./ 970 Il faut que par magie on ait su le tirer:/ Ou bien que de lui-même, il soit venu sans guide,/ Vers celle qu’il a su qu’on en voulait parer.
Sosie, ayant ouvert le coffret
(II. ii, p. 44)
[Upon my word, the casket is empty. It must have been taken out by witchcraft, or else it came by itself a guide, to her whom it knew it was intended to adorn.]
Sosie (Having opened the casket.) (II. 2)

The Bitter Truth
Alcmène then reminds Amphitryon that they had a conversation, had supper and then went to bed:

 …Nous nous entrecoupâmes/ De mille questions, qui pouvaient nous toucher./ On servit. Tête à tête, ensemble nous soupâmes;/ Et le souper fini, nous nous fûmes coucher.
Alcmène à Amphitryon (II. ii, p. 46)
[…We interrupted each other with a thousand questions concerning each other. The table was laid. We supped together by ourselves; and, supper over, we went to bed.]
Alcmène to Amphitryon (II. 2)

As Scene Two ends, Alcmène is vexed. She has been faithful to her husband. As for Amphitryon, he is jealous, but he is also puzzled.

In Scene Three, Sosie’s wife Cléanthis also suspects her husband has been unfaithful.

In Scene Four, Jupiter/Amphitryon returns.  In Scene Five, Sosie wonders how, having been so angry,  Amphitryon should be “joyeux. Jupiter, the lover, has returned, not Amphitryon, the husband.

In Scene Six, Jupiter is with Alcmène who thinks he is Amphitryon. Once again, Jupiter blames the husband, the real Amphitryon, not the lover, Jupiter. He tells her he will commit suicide if she does not forgive him. She says that she cannot hate and will forgive him, but she doesn’t like herself.

Dire qu’on ne saurait haïr,/ N’est-ce pas dire qu’on pardonne?
Alcmène à Jupiter/Amphytrion (II. vi, p. 64)
[…is it not to say we pardon, when we say we cannot hate?]
Alcmène to Jupiter/Amphitryon (II. 6)


Jupiter tells Sosie (not Mercure) to gather officers for a dinner.


  • nature: the sosies (look-alikes)
  • Amphitryon insulted by Mercure
  • Amphitryon: a “frightful blow”
  • confused officers

In Scene One, a very jealous Amphitryon complains. He does not deserve to be cuckolded. However, he is starting to realize that something has gone wrong. To open a coffret, or cassette, one has to break the seal. Alcmène has the diamonds but the box has not been opened. As well, nature may…

1470 La nature parfois produit des ressemblances,/ Dont quelques imposteurs ont pris droit d’abuser:/ Mais il est hors de sens, que sous ces apparences/ Un homme, pour époux, se puisse supposer; / Et dans tous ces rapports, sont mille différences, 1475 Dont se peut une femme aisément aviser. 
Amphitryon, seul (III. i, p. 67)
[Nature oftentimes produces resemblances, which some impostors have adopted in order to deceive; but it is inconceivable that, under these appearances, a man should pass himself off as a husband; there are a thousand differences in a relationship such as this which a wife could easily detect.]
Amphitryon, alone (III. 1)

Amphitryon and Mercure
Amphitryon arrives at his house, but Mercure, not Sosie tells him he has been drinking. He also says that Amphitryon, i.e. Amphitryon/Jupiter is upstairs with Alcmène, and that he must not disturb them.

A “frighful blow”
In Scene Three, Amphitryon says his soul has been dealt a strange blow. What about his honour, what about his passion?

Ah! quel étrange coup m’a-t-il porté dans l’âme?/ 1560 En quel trouble cruel jette-t-il mon esprit?
Amphitryon, seul (III. iii, p. 72)
[Ah! What a frightful blow he has given me! How cruelly has he put me to confusion!]
Amphitryon, alone (III. 3)

In Scene Four, the guests, army officers, arrive. Sosie has invited them to a dinner on behalf of Amphitryon/Jupiter). Amphitryon wants to punish Sosie and perhaps kill him. Naucratès tells the officers to “restrain” Amphitryon’s “anger.” (III. 4) (Ah! de grâce, arrêtez. [III. iv. p. 73])

Matters are about to be more or less solved. Jupiter has heard the commotion and comes out of the house only to face his look-alike, the real Amphitryon. Naucratès cannot believe his eyes, nor can Amphitryon:

Mon âme demeure transie,/ 1620 Hélas! Je n’en puis plus; l’aventure est à bout:/ Ma destinée est éclaircie;/ Et ce que je vois, me dit tout.
Amphitryon à tous (III. v, p. 76)
[My soul is struck dumb. Alas! I cannot do anything more: the adventure is at an end; my fate is clear; what I see tells me all.]
Amphitryon to all (III. 5)

Confused Officers 
Naucratès says that the more he looks, the more he finds that Amphitryon and Amphitryon/Jupiter look alike:

Plus mes regards sur eux s’attachent fortement,/ Plus je trouve qu’en tout, l’un à l’autre est semblable.
Naucratès (III. v, p. 76)
[The more narrowly I watch them, the more I find they resemble each other.]
Naucratès (III. 5)

Amphitryon remains angry and wishes to kill his “entchanted” trickster (fourbe). Jupiter is an “imposteur” he wants to punish, sword in hand.

Punir, d’un imposteur, les lâches trahisons.
Amphitryon to Naucratés (III. v, p. 77)
[Punish the miserable treachery of an impostor.]
Amphitryon to Naucratès (III. 5)

Jupiter tells the truth. He and Amphitryon are mirror images. However, Amphitryon’s  officers dare not be too devoted to Amphitryon, as he may be Amphitryon/Jupiter.

À vous faire éclater notre zèle aujourd’hui,/ 1655 Nous craignons de faillir, et de vous méconnaître.
Naucratès à Amphitryon (III. v. p. 78)
[…If we were now to show towards you, we fear we might make a mistake, and not recognise you.]
Naucratès to Amphitryon (III. 5)

Amphitryon/Jupiter has tried to appease Alcmène, more or less successfully, and it is now his duty to end the confusion among officers.

C’est à moi de finir cette confusion;/ Et je prétends me faire à tous si bien connaître,/
Qu’aux pressantes clartés de ce que je puis être,/ Lui-même soit d’accord du sang qui m’a fait naître,/ 1685 Il n’ait plus de rien dire aucune occasion.
Jupiter (III. v, p. 79)
[It is for me to end this confusion. I intend to make myself so well known to all, that, at the overwhelming proofs I shall bring forward to show who I am, he himself shall agree concerning the blood from which I sprang, and he shall no longer have occasion to say anything.]
Jupiter (III. 5)

Sosie says (III. v, p. 79):

Le véritable Amphitryon/ Est l’Amphitryon où l’on dîne.
[ …the real Amphitryon is the Amphitryon who gives dinners.]

This sentence has remained famous.

As for Mercure, he will not live as Sosie. A sad Sosie will live with the saddened Amphitryon.

Suivons-en aujourd’hui l’aveugle fantaisie;/ Et par une juste union,/ Joignons le malheureux/ Joignons le malheureux Sosie,/ Au malheureux Amphitryon.
Sosie, seul (III. vi, p. 84)
[Let us today follow blind caprice, and join the unfortunate Sosie to the unfortunate Amphitryon: it is a suitable union. I see he is coming in good company.]
Sosie, alone (III. 6)

Scene Seven is ambiguous. Amphitryon cannot blame Alcmène from going to bed with a person who is identical to him, but he maintains that honour and love make matters unforgivable.

Si cette ressemblance est telle que l’on dit,/ Alcmène, sans être coupable…
Posiclès à tous (III. vii, p. 85)
[If this resemblance is such as is said, Alcmène, without being guilty…]
Posiclès to officers (III. 7)

Ah! sur le fait dont il s’agit,/ L’erreur simple devient un crime véritable, Et sans consentement, l’innocence y périt./ De semblables erreurs, quelque jour qu’on leur donne,/ Touchent des endroits délicats: 1825 Et la raison bien souvent les pardonne; Que l’honneur, et l’amour, ne les  pardonnent pas.
Amphitryon aux officiers (III. vii, p. 85)
[Ah! In this affair, a simple error becomes a veritable crime, and, though no way consenting, innocence perishes in it. Such errors, in whatever way we look at them, affect us in the most sensitive parts; reason often, often pardons them, when honour and love cannot.]
Amphitryon to officers (III. 7)

Argatiphontidas, an officer, wants Sosie to be punished, but in Scene Eight Amphitryon takes Sosie to Cléanthis, his wife. Cléanthis doesn’t know what to believe, Amphitryon/Jupiter is upstairs with Alcmène, but she is looking at Amphitryon. There are two Amphitryons.

In Scene Nine, Mercure flies into the clouds while Sosie tells him not to come back as he, Mercure, is the very devil.

In Scene Ten, Jupiter states, unconvincingly, that:

Un partage avec Jupiter,/ N’a rien du tout, qui déshonore:/ 1900 Et sans doute, il ne peut être que glorieux,/ De se voir le rival du souverain des Dieux.
Jupiter (III. iii, pp. 88-89
[A share with Jupiter has nothing that in the least dishonours, for doubtless, it can be but glorious to find one’s self the rival of the sovereign of the Gods.]
Jupiter (III. 3

He also tries to rehabilitate Alcmène, unconvincingly:

Que Jupiter, orné de sa gloire immortelle,
1910 Par lui-même, n’a pu triompher de sa foi;
Et que ce qu’il a reçu d’elle,
N’a, par son cœur ardent, été donné qu’à toi.
Jupiter à Amphitryon
(III.x. p. 89)
[Even Jupiter, clothed in his immortal glory, could not by himself undermine her fidelity; what he has received from her was granted by her ardent heart only to you.]
Jupiter to Amphitryon (III. 10)

As he is about to fly away, Jupiter tells Amphitryon that a son, Hercules, will be born in his home. In a sense, Alcmène has been “visited” by a god and will give birth to a god. Are we reading the Bible? 

Sosie thinks that, basically, all is well but that everyone should simply go home peacefully and not say a word about such “affaires” (matters). Indeed, matters should be forgotten. Amphitryon was the victim of a fourberie and some of his loyal officers no longer knew which Amphitryon was their commander.


Although Mercure and Jupiter both fly away, will the real Amphitryon overcome this blow to both his honour and his passion? Amphitryon is a jealous man and a cocu

Molière created Cléanthis, Sosie’s wife, doubling Amphitryon/Jupiter and Alcmène. It is in heaven as it is on earth. Cléanthis believes her husband has been unfaithful to her. 

Mercure and Jupiter both fly away. Yet, the events of the play are a fourberie. Amphitryon is cuckolded. Although Jupiter is a look-alike and a god, Amphitryon cannot change the truth. He has been cuckolded. Amphitryon/Jupiter also sent Sosie to invite the real Amphitryon’s officers to dine with Amphitryon/Jupiter, humiliating both the husband and the commander. Why let officers know their commander has been cuckolded? 

Fortunately, Molière’s Amphitryon is associated with the festive plays Molière wrote for the third entrée of Isaac de Benserade’s 1666 Ballet des Muses. Molière contributed three plays to Benserade’s Ballet des Muses:

These are divertissements, entertainment.

1941 Et que chacun chez soi, doucement se retire.
Sur telles affaires, toujours,
Le meilleur est de ne rien dire.
Sosie à tous (III. x, p. 90)
[But, nevertheless, let us cut short our speeches, and each one retire quietly to his own house. In such affairs as these, it is always best not to say anything.]
Sosie to all (III.

Jupiter is often seen as Louis XIV courting Madame de Montespan who would be maîtresse-en-titre, until l’Affaire des poisons (1677-1683). Could there be two moral standards? In lower circles, such liaisons were adulterous and, therefore, sinful. As for the Church, it stood mostly powerless. Until recently, kings did not choose their wives. Amphitryon has been looked upon as a criticism of the King (see, Amphitryon, en-Wikipedia), but Molière’s Amphitryon is rooted in Plautus’ Amphitryon and it is a divertissement as well as a pièce à machines. Moreover, jealousy and cuckolding are frequent farcical themes.


Sources and Resources


Love to everyone 💕
I apologize for the delay. It was unavoidable.

Estienne Moulinié – Concert de différents oyseaux
Claire Lefilliâtre, soprano
Vincent Dumestre
Le Poème harmonique 


Madame de Montespan anonymous (Wikipedia)

© Micheline Walker
24 September 2019



Molière: Nature vs Nurture


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Æsop‘s Venus and the Cat by Arthur Rackham

Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index type 2031C
The Perry Index (#050)
Æsop’s Fables: Venus and the Cat (The Project Gutenberg [EBook #11339])
Fables d’Ésope: La Chatte et Aphrodite
The Cat and Venus (fablesofaesop.com)
La Fontaine: La Chatte métamorphosée en femme (II. xviii) FR (site officiel)
La Fontaine: The Cat Changed into a Woman (II. xviii) EN (site officiel)
Photo credit (image above): The Project Gutenberg [EBook #25433] p. 46

Our next play is Molière‘s Amphitryon. In Amphitryon, we have people who look alike, which leads to cuckoldry. One character is named Sosie. In French, un sosie is a “dead ringer,” a look-alike. Amphitryon is cuckolded.


Æsop’s Cat and Venus by Walter Crane

“Nature exceeds nurture.

  • anagnorisis (recognition)
  • doublings
  • the deceiver deceived, le trompeur trompé
  • deus ex machina

However, before going further, I should point out, once again, that, in Molière, people seldom change. One could not talk Argan (The Imaginary Invalid) into thinking he is perfectly healthy. In The Miser, Harpagon remains a miser. The young couples marry because Molière brings in a second father, a doubling, who recognizes his children, (an anagnorisis, or recognition scene). He pays for the weddings. In l’École des femmes (The School for Wives), Arnolphe is so afraid his wife will be unfaithful that he adopts Agnès and has her brought up so she will know as little as possible. However, Agnès’ father, Enrique, returns suddenly and unexpectedly, an anagnorisis. He and Oronte, Horace’s father, were planning for Agnès and Horace to marry. 

Molière may also use a deus ex machina, which he does in Dom Juan. But Dom Juan is also “hoisted by his own petard,” a happy ending borrowed from the farce’s plot formula. Dom Juan will not be convinced that the freedom he gives himself will cause eternal damnation, which it does. He is a deceiver deceived, le trompeur trompé.

As for Psyché, Jupiter, the king of the gods, is a deus ex machina. Cupid cannot transform Psyché into a goddess because he is a lesser god. Venus could revive Psyché but she would not allow her son to marry a mortal. That would be a mésalliance. Therefore, Jupiter transforms a mortal being into an immortal, or a goddess. In Tartuffe, Orgon’s family would be ruined if a prince did not intervene. The prince, “un prince ennemi de la fraude,” knows that Tartuffe is a criminal and, although Orgon has given Tartuffe an incriminating cassette, a forgiving prince does not use it to Orgon’s detriment. Yet, to a large extent, Orgon is Tartuffe and Tartuffe is Orgon. Consequently, Tartuffe is a pharmakós.[1]

Given his theatrical, or formulaic, happy endings, Molière’s Weltanschauung (world view) resembles Jean de La Fontaine’s. A cat may be metamorphosed into a woman, but if the metamorphosed woman hears a mouse, she will jump out of bed and pursue the mouse. Therefore, in the 17th-century debate between nature & nurture, nature wins. (See The Cat and Venus.)

However, in 17th-century France, one could buy an office and become a bourgeois. Molière’s father was quite wealthy. So, in 1631, he bought an office for his son Jean-Baptiste. Poquelin would be “valet de chambre ordinaire et tapissier du Roi” (“valet of the King’s chamber and keeper of carpets and upholstery”). (See Molière, en-wikipedia.org). In 1641, Molière was, briefly, a valet de chambre ordinaire et tapissier du Roi, but he loved the theater, which led to his founding l’Illustre-Théâtre, on 30 June 1643. In August 1645, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin was imprisoned for bankruptcy. His father paid most of his debts,[2] La Troupe de Molière then left for the provinces and did not return to Paris until the late 1650s. As I mentioned in an earlier post, no one knows why Molière chose to call himself Molière. He never told. In 17th-century France, one could also become an honnête homme (a gentleman).


In short, Molière was a bourgeois and an honnête homme, but in his plays, usually comedic, nature is almost as implacable as tragedy’s destiny or fate. Dénouements, the deus ex machina especially, are “theatrical,” or formulaic. For instance, Molière may use a farcical plot formula in comedies moliéristes have called grandes comédies, thereby blurring the difference between his farces and grandes comédies. We are centuries away from existentialism.

My related article is particularly useful and more complete. I am updating my La Fontaine page, because the site officiel has been modified, for the better.


Sources and Resources

[1] My PhD thesis was a study of the pharmakós in Molière. It is entitled: L’Impossible Entreprise : une étude sur le pharmakós dans le théâtre de Molière.
[2] Molière also paid debts, when he returned to Paris.
[3] I believe Château-Thierry has become La Fontaine’s site officiel. 

Love to everyone 💕

Georges Brassens sings Le Cocu

© Micheline Walker
19 September 2019
updated 21 September 2019


Reading “Psyché,” (P. S.)


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Lecture de Molière par Jean-François de Troy, vers 1728

Yesterday, I published a complete post, but an incomplete post surfaced.

It was late, so I had run out of energy, which is often the case. I now realize I could have turned the post into a private publication, but I was too tired to think about options.

I keep ‘back ups’ of my posts and used them this morning. The post should therefore be complete. I apologize to readers who could not see the entire post.

I would also like to thank Mr Bowie for looking at my post. He had become a dear cousin to Belaud, my blue cat. Belaud loved to hear about Mr Bowie. Blue cats are excellent companions and rather quiet. Belaud is a chartreux, a close relative to British Blues.

Mr Bowie is probably looking down admiringly at his human companion. Beloved cats never die fully; they just become invisible. We do not know when they visit, but they visit and we remember them forever.

I will not forget Mr Bowie.

Mille Regretz —Josquin des Prés
The Hilliard Ensemble

Image result for Belaud michelinewalker

© Micheline Walker
15 September 2019

A Reading of Molière’s “Psyché” (Part Three)


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Psyche entering Cupid’s Garden by John William Waterhouse, 1903 (WikiArt.org)

Our dramatis personæ is
Love (Cupid).
Aegiale and Phaëne, two Graces.
The King.
Aglaura (sister to Psyche).
Cidippe (sister to Psyche).
Cleomenes and Agenor, two princes, Psyche’s lovers.
Lycas, captain of the guards.
A River God
Two Cupids.


Act Four, Scene Four
(bold letters are mine)

After Cupid tells Psyche that he is the god of Love, he disappears. She was in a garden, reminiscent of the Garden of Eden. Psyche is suddenly alone on the shores of a large river experiencing the worst of pains: happiness lost. Psyché’s former happiness is conditioned by memory. Happiness lost does not differ much from Paradise Lost. It is greater than happiness when it is experienced.

1555 J’aimais un Dieu, j’en étais adorée,/ Mon bonheur redoublait de moment en moment, Et je me vois seule, éplorée, Au milieu d’un désert, où pour accablement, Et confuse, et désespérée,/ 1560 Je sens croître l’amour, quand j’ai perdu l’amant.
Psyché (IV. iv, p. 57)
[I loved a god; was beloved by him; my happiness redoubled at every moment; and now behold me, alone, bewailing, in the midst of a desert, where, to increase my pain, when shame and despair are upon me, I feel my love increasing now that I have lost the lover.]
Psyche (IV. 4)

In Psyché, happiness lost is also conditioned by guilt. Asking Cupid to reveal his identity was a transgression. Cupid had changed his appearance so he would not seem a god to Psyche:

Aussi, ne veux-je pas qu’on puisse me connaître,/ Je ne veux à Psyché découvrir que mon cœur,/ 940 Rien que les beaux transports de cette vive ardeur/ Que ses doux charmes y font naître; /Et pour en exprimer l’amoureuse langueur, / Et cacher ce que je puis être /Aux yeux qui m’imposent des lois,/ 945 J’ai pris la forme que tu vois.
l’Amour au Zéphire (III. i, p. 37)
[‘Tis because I do not wish to be known to Psyche. ‘Tis my heart, my heart alone, I wish to unfold; nothing more than the sweet raptures of this keen passion, which her charms excite within it. To express its gentle pining, and to hide what may be from those eyes that impose on me their will, I have assumed this form which thou seest.]
Cupid to Zephyr (III. 1)

Psyche feels so forlorn that were it not for the River God, she would gladly throw herself into the river. She cannot “sully” his stream, says the River God, nor offend “le Ciel,” Heaven. Moreover, the River God tells her that happiness lost is at times regained.

The River God tells Psyché to flee. He sees Venus approaching, whose anger is much greater now that her son Cupid, a lesser god and a mere child, did not kill Psyché, but fell in love with her.

1584 Ton trépas souillerait mes ondes,/ 1585 Psyché, le Ciel te le défend, Et peut-être qu’après des douleurs si profondes/ Un autre sort t’attend./ Fuis plutôt de Vénus l’implacable colère:/ Je la vois qui te cherche et qui te veut punir,/ 1590 L’amour du fils a fait la haine de la mère,/ Fuis, je saurai la retenir.
le Dieu du fleuve (IV. iv, p. 58)
[Thy death would sully my stream, Psyche. Heaven forbids it. Perhaps after such heavy sorrows, another fate awaits thee. Rather flee Venus’ implacable anger. I see her seeking thee in order to punish thee; the son’s love has excited the mother’s hatred. Flee! I will detain her.]
The River God (IV. 4)

Psyché par Ed. Héd.

Psyché et le Dieu du fleuve par Edmond Hédouin (théâtre-documentation.com)

But Psyché does not fear Venus. She has the beauty of a goddess, but such was not her wish. Her beauty was a gift to the king, her father. However, a mortal cannot be divinely beautiful. It appears gods themselves usurped Venus’ supremacy, endangering Psyche. As for Cupid, he is a lesser God than Venus who is a lesser god than Jupiter. When Psyche nearly dies, he is powerless. There is a hierarchy among gods, so Jupiter, the greater god, will therefore be a deus ex machina, in a play that owes much of its immense success to stage machinery. Psyché is a pièce à machines.

J’attends ses fureurs vengeresses./ Qu’auront-elles pour moi qui ne me soit trop doux?/ Qui cherche le trépas, ne craint Dieux, ni Déesses,/ 1595 Et peut braver tout leur courroux.
Psyche (IV. iv, p. 58)
[I shall await her avenging wrath! What can it have that will not be too pleasant for me? Whoever seeks death dreads no gods or goddesses, but can defy all their darts.]
Psyche (IV. 4)

Enters Venus.

Orgueilleuse Psyché, vous m’osez donc attendre,/ Après m’avoir sur terre enlevé mes honneurs,/ Après que vos traits suborneurs/ Ont reçu les encens qu’aux miens seuls on doit rendre?/ 1600 J’ai vu mes temples désertés,/ J’ai vu tous les mortels séduits par vos beautés/ Idolâtrer en vous la beauté souveraine,/ Vous offrir des respects jusqu’alors inconnus,/ Et ne se mettre pas en peine/ 1605 S’il était une autre Vénus: Et je vous vois encor l’audace/ De n’en pas redouter les justes châtiments,/ Et de me regarder en face,/ Comme si c’était peu que mes ressentiments.
Vénus à Psyché (IV. v, p. 59)
[Insolent Psyche, you dare then to await my arrival after you have deprived me on earth of my honours, after your seducing charms have received the incense which is due to mine alone? I have seen my shrines forsaken, I have seen all the world, enslaved by your charms, idolise you as the sovereign beauty, offer to you a homage until then unknown, and not stay to consider whether there was another Venus at all; notwithstanding this, I see you bold enough not to dread the punishment your crime justly deserves, and to meet my gaze as if my resentment were but little matter.]
Venus to Psyche (IV. 5)


Reading from Molière by Jean-François de Troy (Paris 1679 – Rome 1752) c. 1728 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Scène première (First Scene)

In Act Five, Scene One, Psyche has been enslaved by Venus, but accepts her plight because she asked Cupid to reveal his identity. Her sister had instilled fear in her and fear is powerful. Yet, if she learned that Cupid’s anger had not relented, nothing could surpass grief. Would that she could see him and know that he feels pity for her.

Si son courroux durait encore,/ Jamais aucun malheur n’approcherait du mien:/ Mais s’il avait pitié d’une âme qui l’adore,/ Quoi qu’il fallût souffrir, je ne souffrirais rien./ Oui, Destins, s’il calmait cette juste colère,/ 1695 Tous mes malheurs seraient finis:/ Pour me rendre insensible aux fureurs de la mère,/ Il ne faut qu’un regard du fils.
Psyche (V. i, p. 62)
[If his anger lasted still, no anguish could equal mine; but if he felt any pity for a soul that worships him, however great the sufferings to which I am condemned, I should feel them not. Yea, thou mighty destiny, if he would but stay his wrath, all my sorrows would be at an end. Ah! a mere look from the son suffices to make me insensible to the mother’s fury.]
Psyche (V. 1)

Act Five, Scene Two

In Act Five, Scene Two, Psyche sees her former lovers: Cleomenes and Agenor. They are ghosts. But they nevertheless live in a forest, where they are alive because love caused their death. But Cupid (l’Amour) is punishing Psyche’s sisters.

Ces ministres ailés de son juste courroux,/ Sous couleur de les rendre encore auprès de vous,/ 1785 Ont plongé l’une et l’autre au fond d’un précipice,/ Où le spectacle affreux de leurs corps déchirés/ N’étale que le moindre et le premier supplice/ De ces conseils dont l’artifice/ Fait les maux dont vous soupirez.
Agénor à Psyché (V. ii, p. 65)
[Those winged ministers of his just wrath, under pretence of restoring them again to you, cast them both to the bottom of a precipice, where the hideous spectacle of their mangled bodies displays but the first and least torture for that stratagem the cunning of which was the cause of the ills you now endure.]
Agénor to Psyche (V. 2)

Act Five, Scene Three

Psyche feels sorry for her lovers and her sisters. But her suffering is about to end. She has been sent to the underworld to fetch beauty for Venus and and crossed the river Styx with Charon. Proserpine has put it in a golden box.

Psyche thinks punitive tasks have tarnished her beauty. So, she opens the box to take a little beauty, but the vapours the box contains make her faint.

Psyche and Charon by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, 1883 (WikiArt.org)
Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1874 (Tate, Britain)


Psyche opening the Golden Box by John William Waterhouse (commons.wikimedia.org)

Act Five, Scene Four

Amour flies down and fears Psyche may be dying. His mother arrives but will not revive Psyche unless Cupid marry a spouse Vénus has chosen. This he will not accept.

Act Five, Scene Five

Vénus refuses to save Psyché, which Cupid cannot do. He is a god, but a lesser god.

Votre Psyché : son âme va partir,/ Voyez, et si la vôtre en est encore éprise,/ Recevez son dernier soupir./ Menacez, bravez-moi, cependant qu’elle expire:1925 Tant d’insolence vous sied bien, /Et je dois endurer, quoi qu’il vous plaise dire, /Moi qui sans vos traits ne puis rien.
Vénus à l’Amour (V. v, p. 69)
[See! her soul is even now departing; and if thine is still smitten, receive now her last breath. Threaten and brave me if thou wilt, but she must die. So much insolence suits thee well; and I must needs bow to all it pleases thee to say, I, who can do nothing without thy darts.]
Venus to Cupid (V. 5)

Rendez-moi ma Psyché, rendez-lui tous ses charmes,/ Rendez-la, Déesse, à mes larmes/ Rendez à mon amour, rendez à ma douleur/ Le charme de mes yeux, et le choix de mon cœur.
l’Amour à Vénus (V. v, p. 70)
[Give me back my Psyche, restore to her all her charms, surrender her to my tears, to my love, to my grief; for she is my eyes’ delight, my heart’s happiness.]
Cupid to Venus (V. 5)

Venus is not altogether insensitive.

Cette douleur n’est pas commune,/ Qui force un immortel à souhaiter la mort.
Vénus à l’Amour (V. v, p. 70)
[This grief is not common that drives an immortal to long for death.]
Venus to Cupid (V. 5)

However, in Scene 6 (Scène dernière) Venus will object to her son marrying a mortal.

Enters Jupiter to the sound of thunder.

Act Five, Scene Six

Jupiter has descended. Cupid tells him that he will no longer be the god of Love unless Psyche is returned to him. Jupiter asks Venus to be less severe.

Ma fille, sois-lui moins sévère.
Tu tiens de sa Psyché le destin en tes mains[.]
Jupiter à Venus (V. vi, p. 72)
My daughter, show thyself less severe towards him; his Psyche’s destiny is even now in thy hands.
Jupiter to Venus (V. 6)

She forgives her son but will not allow him to be married to a mere mortal.

Je pardonne à ce fils rebelle; Mais voulez-vous qu’il me soit reproché/ Qu’une misérable mortelle,/ 2010 L’objet de mon courroux, l’orgueilleuse Psyché,/ Sous ombre qu’elle est un peu belle,/ Par un hymen dont je rougis,/ Souille mon alliance, et le lit de mon fils?
Venus to Jupiter (V. vi, p. 72)
I forgive this rebel son. Yet would you have me submit to the reproach that a contemptible mortal, the object of my wrath, proud Psyche, because she displays some charms, has defiled my alliance and my son’s couch?
Venus to Jupiter (V. 6)

Jupiter therefore transforms Psyche into a goddess. She will be immortal.

Hé bien, je la fais immortelle,/ 2015 Afin d’y rendre tout égal.
Jupiter à tous (V. v, p. 72)
Well, then, I make her immortal, so that all shall be equal.
Jupiter to all (V. 6)


Cupid, a god, will be married to Psyche, a goddess. Psyche’s divine beauty clashed with her mortal self and belonged to Venus. Psyche’s beauty remains divine, but eternally so, as befits a goddess. In GrecoRoman mythology, such a metamorphosis is acceptable. The Tale of Cupid and Psyche is Roman. It is the fourth of seven tales or “digressions,” told in Apuleius’ Golden Ass. All feature a metamorphosis. Molière modified the Tale of Cupid and Psyche. For instance, she is not asked to take a lamp in order to tell whether Cupid is a serpent, accidentally dropping hot oil on Cupid and awakening him.

In Psyche, intrigue dominates. Yet, jealousy is a central theme in Molière but it is linked to a fear of cuckoldry. Molière’s Psyché has jealous sisters, as does Cinderella. But she does not have a fairy godmother and, although all admire her, her beauty is a curse. Mere mortals are not divinely beautiful. So Jupiter, a deus ex machina, solves this problem. He gives immortality to Psyche, to Venus’ delight and Cupid and Psyche’s everlasting happiness. Our dénouement is an apotheosis.


Sources and Resources

  1. Psyché is a toutmoliere.net publication
  2. Psyché is Gutenberg’s [EBook # 7444]
  3. Our translator is Charles Heron Wall
  4. http://www.maicar.com/GML/Psyche.html


Love to everyone 💕

Jean-Baptiste Lully — Psyché “Chantons les plaisirs charmants”

Image result for canova psyche and cupid

Psyche revived by Cupid’s Kiss by Antonio Canova (Louvre)

© Micheline Walker
14 September 2019

A Reading of Molière’s “Psyché” (Part Two)


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Our dramatis personæ is
Love (Cupid).
Aegiale and Phaëne, two Graces.
The King.
Aglaura (sister to Psyche).
Cidippe (sister to Psyche).
Cleomenes and Agenor, two princes, Psyche’s lovers.
Lycas, captain of the guards.
A River God
Two Cupids.


Act Two, Scene One

Psyche is to be taken to the top of a hill where a monster-serpent will kill her. But in Act Two, Scene One, she is with her father, the king, who very much regrets losing a daughter. He and Psyche know that one cannot escape one’s fate or destiny. Once the Oracle has spoken, Psyche’s fate is sealed. However, she says that she does not deserve to await a monster-serpent. She wishes her father could oppose the oracle’s requests. We sense resistance.

Je ne mérite pas cette grande douleur: / Opposez, opposez un peu de résistance /Aux droits qu’elle prend sur un cœur 605 /Dont mille événements ont marqué la puissance./ Quoi? faut-il que pour moi vous renonciez, Seigneur,/ À cette royale constance,/ Dont vous avez fait voir dans les coups du malheur/ Une fameuse expérience?
Psyché à son père (II. ii, p. 26)
[I deserve not this violent grief. Seek, I pray, to resist the claims it asserts over your heart, whose might a thousand events have marked. What! for me, my Lord, you must abandon that kingly firmness of which, under the blows of misfortune, you have shown such perfect proofs?]
Psyche to her father (II. 1)

In Scene One, the king bemoans losing what was a gift to him. Psyche’s beauty was a gift from kind gods. Psyche’s beauty is divine, which is an affront to Venus.

Pour m’ôter leur présent, leur fallait-il attendre/ Que j’en eusse fait tout mon bien? 700 /Ou plutôt, s’ils avaient dessein de le reprendre, /N’eût-il pas été mieux de ne me donner rien?
Le roi à Psyché (II. i, p. 28)
[To withdraw their gift, have they not waited till I had made it my all? Rather, if it was their purpose to remove it, had it not been better to give me nothing?]
The king to Psyche (II. 1)

The gods are fickle. Not that Jansenism (predestination) exerted much influence on Molière, but that Molière always described his century, “les mœurs de son siècle.”  Moral issues divided 17th-century France. Tartuffe (1664) is a casuiste, a 17th-century heresy. Yet, given the role played by destiny, one could suggest a link between Jansenism and Psyche’s demise.

As we know, Psyche will not be the victim of a venomous monster-serpent, which would have pleased a jealous Venus, Psyche’s jealous sisters, and, perhaps, a jealous Cupid, Venus’ son is a god. I noted an element of magic(al) realism in Molière’s Psyché. Gods and mortals share the stage. They also share such attributes as a jealous heart. At one level, her beauty, Psyche is divine, which is not altogether the case. She is also a mortal. In fact, not only is Venus jealous, but so is Cupid. In Psyché, the gods of mythology share faults with mere mortals.

Psyche climbs to the top of the hill, asking her jealous sisters, whose jealousy she fails to notice, to look after the king, their grieving father. As for her lovers, Cléomène and Agénor, they also follow her and believe they can kill the serpent.

Act Two, Scene Five

They can’t. An unconscious Psyche is carried away by two Zephirs before their very eyes. Cupid was to kill Psyche, but saved her. However, all is not well. Psyche awakens in a castle quickly built by Vulcan (Vulcain), the god of fire. The Oracle could be a jealous Cupid:

Allez mourir, rivaux d’un dieu jaloux, / Dont vous méritez le courroux,/ Pour avoir eu le cœur sensible aux mêmes charmes./ Et toi, forge, Vulcain, mille brillants attraits/ Pour orner un palais,/ Où l’amour de Psyché veut essuyer les larmes,/ 905 Et lui rendre les armes.
Cupid (II. v, pp. 35-36)
[Die, then, rivals of a jealous god, whose wrath you have deserved, since your heart was sensible to the same charms. And thou, Vulcan, fashion a thousand brilliant ornaments to adorn the palace where Love will dry Psyche’s tears, and yield himself her slave.]
Cupid (II. 5)


Act Three, Scene One

In Act Three, Scene One, Cupid, the venomous-serpent, confides to Zephir (Molière’s role) that he fears Venus, his mother. Venus wanted Psyche killed by her son Cupid, the god of Love, but Cupid did not eliminate his mother’s rival. There is a hierarchy among gods and goddesses, and they may be jealous.

Cupid, a god, tells Zephir that he wonders what his mother will do. Moreover, Cupid has also changed his appearance. He now seems an adult.

970 Ce changement sans doute irritera ma mère.
[This change will, no doubt, vex my mother.]
Cupid to Zephir (II. i, p. 38 ; II, 1)

Act Three, Scene Two

As Act Three, Scene One is closing, Zephir asks Cupid to end Psyche’s “martyrdom.” What is Psyche to think? She may be divinely beautiful, but she is a human being who still awaits her death:

Si le Ciel veut ma mort, si ma vie est un crime,/ De ce peu qui m’en reste ose enfin t’emparer,/ Je suis lasse de murmurer/ Contre un châtiment légitime, 1030/ Je suis lasse de soupirer:/ Viens, que j’achève d’expirer.
Psyché (II. ii, p. 40)
[If heaven wills my death, if my life be a crime, dare at length to seize whatever little remains of it; I am tired of murmuring against a lawful penalty; I am weary of sighs; come, that I may end the death I am dying.]
Psyche (II. 2)

Act Three, Scene Three

In Scene Three, Love (Cupid) appears and says that he is the monster-serpent. A serpent tempted Eve.

C’est l’amour qui pour voir mes feux récompensés/ Lui-même a dicté cet oracle,/ Par qui vos beaux jours menacés/ D’une foule d’amants se sont débarrassés,/ Et qui m’a délivré de l’éternel obstacle/ 1140 De tant de soupirs empressés,/ Qui ne méritaient pas de vous être adressés.
Amour à Psyché (III. iii. p. 43)
[It was Love who, to reward my passion, dictated this oracle, by which your fair days that were threatened have been released from a throng of lovers; and which has freed me from the lasting obstacle of so many ardent sighs that were unworthy of being addressed to you.]
Love to Psyche (III. 2)

But Cupid would prefer not to tell his identity.

Ne me demandez point quelle est cette province,/ Ni le nom de son prince,/ Vous le saurez quand il en sera temps: / 1145 Je veux vous acquérir, mais c’est par mes services,/ Par des soins assidus, et par des vœux constants,/ Et bien que souverain dans cet heureux séjour,/ Je ne vous veux, Psyché, devoir qu’à mon amour./ Par les amoureux sacrifices/ De tout ce que je suis,/ De tout ce que je puis,/ 1150 Sans que l’éclat du rang pour moi vous sollicite,/ Sans que de mon pouvoir je me fasse un mérite,/Et bien que souverain dans cet heureux séjour,/ Je ne vous veux, Psyché, devoir qu’à mon amour.
Amour à Psyché (III. iii, p. 43)
[Ask not of me what this region be, nor the name of its ruler; you shall know it in time. My object is to win you; but I wish to do so by my services, my assiduous care, my constant vows, by a lover’s sacrifice of all that I am, of all my power can effect. The splendour of my rank must not solicit you for me, neither must I make a merit of my power; and though sovereign lord of this blissful realm, I wish to owe you, Psyche, to nothing but my love.]
Cupid to Psyche (III. 3)

Cupid wants to be loved for what he is. Rank is secondary and might prevent him from knowing that he is Psyche’s beloved. I hear Alceste telling Philinte that he wants to be certain that praise addressed to him is genuine, that he is “singled out.”[1]  


Act Four, Scene One

Although she is very happy, Psyche would like to relieve her father and her sisters. They do not know that she was not killed. Zephyr is asked to fetch Psyche’s sisters.

N’en parlons plus, ma sœur, nous en mourrions d’ennui,/ Songeons plutôt à la vengeance,/ Et trouvons le moyen de rompre entre elle et lui/ Cette adorable intelligence./ 1350 La voici. J’ai des coups tous prêts à lui porter,/ Qu’elle aura peine d’éviter.
Aglaure à Cidippe (IV. i, p. 50)
[No more of this, my sister; the thought of it would kill us; let us rather think of revenge; let us find means of breaking the spell that fosters this affection between her and him. She comes; I have darts ready, such as she shall find difficult to parry.]
Aglaure to Cidippe (IV, 1)

1316 La jalousie est assez fine,/ Et ces délicats sentiments/ Méritent bien qu’on s’imagine/ Que celui qui pour vous a ces empressements,/ Passe le commun des amants./ 1365 Je vous en parle ainsi faute de le connaître./ Vous ignorez son nom, et ceux dont il tient l’être,/ Nos esprits en sont alarmés:/ Je le tiens un grand prince, et d’un pouvoir suprême/ Bien au-delà du diadème/, 1370 Ses trésors sous vos pas confusément semés/ Ont de quoi faire honte à l’abondance même,/ Vous l’aimez autant qu’il vous aime,/ Il vous charme, et vous le charmez;/ Votre félicité, ma sœur, serait extrême,/ 1375 Si vous saviez qui vous aimez.
Aglaure à Psyché (IV. ii, pp. 50-51)
[Jealousy is very keen, and these nice sentiments well deserve that he who shows such tenderness for you should be considered above the generality of lovers. I speak thus because I do not know him; nor do you know his name, or that of those to whom he owes the light. This alarms us. I hold him to be a mighty prince, whose power is extreme, far above kingly sway. His treasure which he has strewn beneath your feet would put Abundance herself to the blush. Your love for him is as keen as his for you; you are his delight, he is yours; your happiness, my sister, would be perfect if you but knew whom you love.]
Aglaure to Psyche (IV. 2)

Psyche loves her sisters, but her sisters are jealous of her, which Psyche does not know. They will use Cupid’s wish not to reveal his identity as reason for Psyche to believe she may be the victim of an enchantment. So, they instill in Psyche fear that she is not loved.

Je n’ai plus qu’un mot à vous dire./ 1405 Ce prince qui vous aime, et qui commande aux vents,/ Qui nous donne pour char les ailes du Zéphire,/ Et de nouveaux plaisirs vous comble à tous moments,/ Quand il rompt à vos yeux l’ordre de la nature,/ Peut-être à tant d’amour mêle un peu d’imposture,/ 1410 Peut-être ce palais n’est qu’un enchantement,/ Et ces lambris dorés, ces amas de richesses/ Dont il achète vos tendresses,/ Dès qu’il sera lassé de souffrir vos caresses,/ Disparaîtront en un moment./ 1415 Vous savez comme nous ce que peuvent les charmes.
Aglaure à Psyché (IV. ii, p. 52)
[I have but one word more to say. This prince who loves you, sways the winds, gives us Zephyr’s wings for a chariot, and every moment lavishes on you new pleasures, when he thus openly breaks the order of nature, may perhaps mingle some little imposture with so much love. Perhaps this palace is nothing more than an enchantment; these gilt ceilings, these mountains of wealth, with which he buys your affection, so soon as he shall be weary of your caresses, will vanish in a moment. You know as well as ourselves what power lies in spells.]
Aglaure to Psyche (IV. 2)

Ma sœur, vous me faites trembler.
Juste Ciel! pourrais-je être assez infortunée…
Psyche (IV. ii, p. 51)
[In my turn, what cruel alarms I feel.]
Psyche (IV. 2)

Act Four, Scene Three

Cupid senses a change in Psyche. She is worried.

1445 Mais d’où vient qu’un triste nuage/ Semble offusquer l’éclat de ces beaux yeux?/ Vous manque-t-il quelque chose en ces lieux?/ Des vœux qu’on vous y rend dédaignez-vous l’hommage?
Amour à Psyché (IV. iii, p. 53)
But wherefore does a cloud of sadness seem to dim the brightness of those beautiful eyes? Is there aught which you can want in these abodes? Scorn you the homage of the vows here paid to you?
Cupid to Psyche (IV.3)

She wishes to know his identity, which he reveals reluctantly and to Psyche’s detriment. He is the god of Love and he has come of age.

1540 Vous me forcez vous-même à vous quitter,/ Vous me forcez vous-même à vous ôter/ Tout l’effet de votre victoire:/ Peut-être vos beaux yeux ne me reverront plus,/ Ce palais, ces jardins, avec moi disparus/ 1545 Vont faire évanouir votre naissante gloire;/ Vous n’avez pas voulu m’en croire,/ Et pour tout fruit de ce doute éclairci,/ Le Destin sous qui le Ciel tremble,/ Plus fort que mon amour, que tous les Dieux ensemble,/ 1550 Vous va montrer sa haine, et me chasse d’ici.
Amour à Psyché (IV. iii, p. 57)

Psyche is transported to a river.


Is it fate, or is it jealousy? At this point, we could say jealousy. We will learn that Psyche’s lovers committed suicide. She speaks to their ghostly selves. As for Psyche’s jealous sisters, Psyche’s lovers tell her that they were brutally killed for suggesting that their sister may be the victim of an illusion. It is as though only gods remained. Remember that we are looking at two frames, mortals and gods, that Molière is retelling a myth, and that the myth of Psyché is an “all’s well that ends well” narrative.


Sources and Resources

The following quotation reveals Alceste’s vanity and fear.

Je veux qu’on me distingue, et pour le trancher net,
L’ami du genre humain n’est point du tout mon fait.

Alceste à Philinte (I. i, p. 3)
[I must be singled out; to put it flatly,
The friend of all mankind’s no friend for me.]
Alceste to Philinte (I. 1) (Le Misanthrope [1666])

Love to everyone

Psyché  — Jean-Baptiste Lully LWV 56 

© Micheline Walker
12 September 2019













A Reading of Molière’s “Psyché” (Part One)


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burne_jones_cupid_delivering_psyche (2)

Cupid Delivering Psyche by Sir Edward Burne-Jones  (preraphalitesisterhood.com)


Molière’s Psyché was written in collaboration with dramatists Pierre Corneille[1] and Philippe Quinault. As director of the Troupe du Roi, Molière attended to several requests on the part of Louis XIV. These precluded his full participation, in a play based on the myth of Psyche, a theme he chose in 1670. Molière wrote the PrologueAct One and the first scene of Acts Two and Three. The music was composed by Jean-Baptiste Lully, to a libretto by Philippe Quinault. Pierre Beauchamp(s) was the play’s main choreographer. Scenery and stage effects, planned by Molière, were coordinated by Carlo Vigarani.

Psyché is a

  • tragi-comédie and
  • a tragédie-ballet,
  • in five acts, and includes
  • intermèdes.
  • It is in free verse and was
  • first performed at the Théâtre des Tuileries (Paris),
  • on 17 January 1671.
  • Psyché premièred again at the renovated Théâtre du Palais-Royal (Paris),
  • on 24 July 1671.

Molière’s Psyché was first performed at the Théâtre des Tuileries because this royal residence had sophisticated machinery, la salle des machines. It has been said that Louis XIV wanted to re-use a décor of hell built for Francesco Cavalli’s Ercole amante (Hercules in love), performed in 1662. For instance, when the immortal Venus, the Roman goddess of love, beauty, desire, sex, fertility, etc. descends from some lofty abode lamenting rivalry from a mere mortal, she does so in a machine. Her rival, Psyche, is the most beautiful woman in the world. Special effects provided magnificence to the festivities that followed the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1668), a victory for Louis XIV. After the Théâtre du Palais-Royal was renovated, at the troupe du Roi‘s expense, Psyché was staged at Molière’s troupe usual venue, the Théâtre du Palais-Royal.

Molière chose the subject of his play, the Tale of Cupid and Psyche, shortly after the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1668) was signed. Psyche was a popular narrative in 17th-century France. It was used by Isaac de Benserade (1656, a ballet) and La Fontaine (1669, a novel). However, Psyche’s main source is 2nd century ApuleiusGolden Ass. The Golden Ass, first entitled The Metamorphosis, is a frame story containing “digressions,” or inner tales, one of which, and the most memorable, is the Tale of Cupid and Psyche. Apuleius had read Ovid (20 March 43 BCE – 17/18 CE) whose Metamorphoses was an extremely  influential work.

In the Golden Ass, Lucius Apuleius wants to be transformed into a bird, but he is mistakenly metamorphosed into an ass. The novel contains tales, but none as elegant as The Tale of Cupid and Psyche, Apulée’s Âge d’or. Few have endured. The Tale of Cupid and Psyche so differs from its sister tales that it seems a deviation rather than a digression (an inner tale). It appears misplaced, but its subject isn’t. Psyche will be transformed into an immortal, which is consistent with the carnivalesque, but dares reversing the Creation myth. Moreover, gods and humans interact as in magical realism. Mortals, such as Psyché’s sisters Aglaure and Cidippe can be jealous of Psyche’s beauty, the most beautiful woman in the world. Venus is a goddess and immortal. 

Our dramatis personæ is:

Love (Cupid).
Aegiale and Phaëne, two Graces.
The King.
Aglaura (sister to Psyche).
Cidippe (sister to Psyche .
Cleomenes and Agenortwo princesPsyche’s lovers.
Lycascaptain of the guards.
A River God
Two Cupids.



The front of the stage represents a rustic spot, while at the back the sea can be seen in the distance.

As a play Psyche’s main theme is Venus’ jealousy. It is expressed in the Prologue, which I will quote at some length:

Moi, la fille du dieu qui lance le tonnerre,
Mère du dieu qui fait aimer;
Moi, les plus doux souhaits du ciel et de la terre,
Et qui ne suis venue au jour que pour charmer;
Moi, qui par tout ce qui respire
Ai vu de tant de vœux encenser mes autels,
Et qui de la beauté, par des droits immortels,
Ai tenu de tout temps le souverain empire;
Moi, dont les yeux ont mis deux grandes déités
Au point de me céder le prix de la plus belle,
Je me vois ma victoire et mes droits disputés
Par une chétive mortelle!
Le ridicule excès d’un fol entêtement
Va jusqu’à m’opposer une petite fille!
Sur ses traits et les miens j’essuierai constamment
Un téméraire jugement!
Et du haut des cieux où je brille,
J’entendrai prononcer aux mortels prévenus:
« Elle est plus belle que Vénus! »

Vénus, Prologue, p. 6, 101

I, the daughter of the Thunderer, mother of the love-inspiring god;
I, the sweetest yearning of heaven and earth, who received birth only to charm;
I, who have seen everything that hath breath utter so many vows at my shrines,
and by immortal rights have held the sovereign sway of beauty in all ages;
I, whose eyes have forced two mighty gods to yield me the prize of beauty
I see my rights and my victory disputed by a wretched mortal.
Shall the ridiculous excess of foolish obstinacy 
go so far as to oppose to me a little girl?
Shall I constantly hear a rash verdict on the beauty of her features and of mine,
and from the loftiest heaven where I shine shall I hear it said to the prejudiced world, “She is fairer than Venus”?
Venus, Prologue


Auglure and her sister Cidippe bemoan their sorry fate and agree that they must be less reserved than they have been.

SCÈNE PREMIÈRE (first scene)

Quelle fatalité secrète,
Ma sœur, soumet tout l’univers
Aux attraits de notre cadette,
Et de tant de princes divers
Qu’en ces lieux la fortune jette,
N’en présente aucun à nos fers?

Auglure à Cidippe ( I. v. 180, p. 9)
[My sister, what secret fatality makes the whole world bow before our younger sister’s charms? and how is it that, amongst so many different princes who are brought by fortune to this place, not one has any love for us?]
Auglura to Cidippe (I. 1)

Est-il pour nous, ma sœur, de plus rude disgrâce, 196
Que de voir tous les cœurs mépriser nos appas,
Et l’heureuse Psyché jouir avec audace
D’une foule d’amants attachés à ses pas?
Aglaure (I. i. v. 196 -, p. 9)
[Can there be for us, my sister, any greater trial than to see how all hearts disdain our beauty, and how the fortunate Psyche insolently reigns with full sway over the crowd of lovers who ever attend her?]
Cidippe (I. 1)

Sur un plus fort appui ma croyance se fonde, 273 /Et le charme qu’elle a pour attirer les cœurs, /C’est un air en tout temps désarmé de rigueurs, /Des regards caressants que la bouche seconde, /Un souris chargé de douceurs /Qui tend les bras à tout le monde, /Et ne vous promet que faveurs.
Aglaure (I. 1. v. 273 -, p. 12)
[My opinion is founded on a more solid basis, and the charms by which she draws all hearts to herself are a demeanour at all times free of reserve; caressing words and looks; a smile full of sweetness, which invites everyone, and promises them nothing but favours.]
Aglaure (I. 1)

Oui, voilà le secret de l’affaire, et je voi /Que vous le prenez mieux que moi.
290 C’est pour nous attacher à trop de bienséance, /Qu’aucun amant, ma sœur, à nous ne veut venir, /Et nous voulons trop soutenir  /L’honneur de notre sexe, et de notre naissance. /Les hommes maintenant aiment ce qui leur rit, 295 /L’espoir, plus que l’amour, est ce qui les attire, /Et c’est par là que Psyché nous ravit / Tous les amants qu’on voit sous son empire. /Suivons, suivons l’exemple, ajustons-nous au temps, /Abaissons-nous, ma sœur, à faire des avances, 300 /Et ne ménageons plus de tristes bienséances /Qui nous ôtent les fruits du plus beau de nos ans.
[Yes, that is the secret; and I see that you understand it better than I. It is because we cling too much to modesty, sister, that no lovers come to us; it is because we try to sustain too strictly the honour of our sex and of our birth. Men, nowadays, like what comes easily to them; hope attracts them more than love; and that is how Psyche deprives us of all the lovers we see under her sway. Let us follow her example, and suit ourselves to the times; let us stoop, sister, to make advances, and let us no longer keep to those dull morals which rob us of the fruits of our best years.]

The sisters resolve to be more forthright with the princes who love Psyché.


The princes visit. They say that they have little power over their feelings. It is Psyche they love. According to the sisters, they will be harmed by Psyche. She will not respond to their love.

Les voici tous deux, et j’admire /Leur air et leur ajustement.
Aglaure (I. i, p. 13)
(Here they both are. I admire their manners and attire.
Aglaure (I. 1)
Ils ne démentent nullement /Tout ce que nous venons de dire.
Cidippe (I. i, p. 13)
They in no way fall short of all that we have said of them.
Aglaure (I. 1)

Scène II

D’où vient, Princes, d’où vient que vous fuyez ainsi? /Prenez-vous l’épouvante, en nous voyant paraître?
Aglaure (I. ii, p. 13)
Wherefore, princes, wherefore do you thus hasten away? Does our appearance fill you with fear?
Aglaure (I. 2)

The princes tell Aglaure and Cidippe that they love Psyche and have little power over their feelings.

Est-ce que l’on consulte au moment qu’on s’enflamme? /Choisit-on qui l’on veut aimer? /Et pour toute son âme, /Regarde-t-on quel droit on a de nous charmer?
Cléomène ( I. ii, v. 347-, p. 15)
[Do we reason when we fall in love? Do we choose the object of our attachment? And when we bestow our hearts, do we weigh the right of the fair one to fascinate us?]
Cléomène (I. 2.)

Sans qu’on ait le pouvoir d’élire, /On suit, dans une telle ardeur /Quelque chose qui nous attire, /Et lorsque l’amour touche un cœur, 355 /On n’a point de raisons à dire.
Agénor (I. ii, v. 351-, p. 15)
[Without having the power of choosing, we follow in such a passion something which delights us; and when love touches a heart, we have no reasons to give.]
Agénor (I. 2)

They may be dissatisfied, says Cidippe:

L’espoir qui vous appelle au rang de ses amants /Trouvera du mécompte aux douceurs qu’elle étale; /Et c’est pour essuyer de très fâcheux moments, 365 /Que les soudains retours de son âme inégale.
Cidippe (I. ii, p. 15)
[The hope which calls you into the rank of her lovers will experience many disappointments in the favours she bestows; and the fitful changes of her inconstant heart will cause you many painful hours.]
Cidippe (I. 2)

The princes no longer know their own worth, which makes the sister pity the love that guides them. They could find a “more constant heart.”

366 Un clair discernement de ce que vous valez /Nous fait plaindre le sort où cet amour  vous guide, /Et vous pouvez trouver tous deux, si vous voulez, /Avec autant d’attraits, une âme plus solide.
Cidippe (I. ii, p. 16)
[A clear discernment of your worth makes us pity the fate into which this passion will lead you; and if you wished, you could both find a more constant heart and charms as great.]
Cidippe (I. 2)

Par un choix plus doux de moitié /Vous pouvez de l’amour sauver votre amitié, /Et l’on voit en vous deux un mérite si rare, /Qu’un tendre avis veut bien prévenir par pitié /Ce que votre cœur se prépare.
Cidippe (I. ii, v. 370-, p. 16)
[A choice sweeter by half can rescue your mutual friendship from love; and there is such a rare merit apparent in you both that a gentle counsel would, out of pity, save your hearts from what they are preparing for themselves.]
Cidippe (I. 2)

Scène III

Psyche tells her lovers that her fate is to be decided by a father.

Ce n’est pas à mon cœur qu’il faut que je défère /Pour entrer sous de tels liens; /Ma main, pour se donner, attend l’ordre d’un père, 445 /Et mes sœurs ont des droits qui vont devant les miens.
Psyché (I. iii, p. 18)
[I must not listen to my heart only before engaging in such a union, but my hand must await my father’s decision before it can dispose of itself, and my sisters have rights superior to mine.]
Psyché (I. 3)

But she goes on to say:

Oui, Princes, à tous ceux dont l’amour suit le vôtre, /Je vous préférerais tous deux avec ardeur; 460 /Mais je n’aurais jamais le cœur /De pouvoir préférer l’un de vous deux à l’autre. /À celui que je choisirais, /Ma tendresse ferait un trop grand sacrifice,
Et je m’imputerais à barbare injustice 465 /Le tort qu’à l’autre je ferais. /Oui, tous deux vous brillez de trop de grandeur d’âme, /Pour en faire aucun malheureux, /Et vous devez chercher dans l’amoureuse flamme /Le moyen d’être heureux tous deux.
Si votre cœur me considère /Assez pour me souffrir de disposer de vous, / J’ai deux sœurs capables de plaire, /Qui peuvent bien vous faire un destin assez doux, /Et l’amitié me rend leur personne assez chère, 475 /Pour vous souhaiter leurs époux.
Psyche (I. iii, p. 18)
[Yes, Princes, I should greatly prefer you to all those whose love will follow yours, but I could never have the heart to prefer one of you to the other. My tenderness would be too great a sacrifice to the one whom I might choose, and I should think myself barbarously unjust to inflict so great a wrong upon the other. Indeed, you both possess such greatness of soul that it would be wrong to make either of you miserable, and you must seek in love the means of being both happy. If your hearts honour me enough to give me the right of disposing of them, I have two sisters well fitted to please, who might make your destinies happy, and whom friendship endears to me enough for me to wish that you should be their husbands.]
Psyche (I. 3)

Un cœur dont l’amour est extrême /Peut-il bien consentir, hélas, /D’être donné par ce qu’il aime? /Sur nos deux cœurs, Madame, à vos divins appas 480 /Nous donnons un pouvoir suprême, / Disposez-en pour le trépas, /Mais pour une autre que vous-même /Ayez cette bonté de n’en disposer pas.
Cléomène (I. iii, p. 19)
[Can a heart whose love, alas! is extreme, consent to be given away by her it loves? We yield up our two hearts, Madam, to your divine charms, even should you doom them to death; but we beg you not to make them over to any one but yourself.]
Cléomène (I. 3)

Scène IV

In Scene Four, Psyche is summoned to see the king. She is afraid.

De ce trouble si grand que faut-il que j’attende?
Psyché à Lycas (I. iv, p. 21)
[What am I to augur from your agitation?
Psyche to Lycas (I. 4)

Scène V

In Scene Five, Psyche learns from the king, that an oracle demands that she be led to a hill, dressed for a “pompous mournful line.” A monster/serpent will be her husband.

Que l’on ne pense nullement 525 /À vouloir de Psyché conclure l’hyménée; /Mais qu’au sommet d’un mont elle soit promptement /En pompe funèbre menée, /Et que de tous abandonnée, /Pour époux elle attende en ces lieux constamment 530 /Un monstre dont on a la vue empoisonnée, /Un serpent qui répand son venin en tous lieux, /Et trouble dans sa rage et la terre et les cieux.
Lycas (I. v, p. 22)
“No one must think to lead
Psyche to Hymen’s shrine;
But all with earnest speed,
In pompous mournful line,
High to the mountain crest
Must take her; there to await,
Forlorn, in deep unrest,
A monster who envenoms all,
Decreed by fate her husband;
A serpent whose dark poisonous breath
And rage e’er hold the world in thrall,
Shaking the heavens high and realms of death.”
Lycas (I. 5)

Scène VI

In Scene Six, Psyche’s sisters say they cannot grieve. On the contrary, they are relieved.

À ne vous point mentir, je sens que dans mon cœur /Je n’en suis pas trop affligée.
Cidippe (I. vi, p. 23)
[To speak the truth, my heart is not very much grieved at it.]
Cidippe (I. 6)

Moi, je sens quelque chose au mien /Qui ressemble assez à la joie. /Allons, le Destin nous envoie 545 /Un mal que nous pouvons regarder comme un bien.
Aglaure (I. vi, p. 23)
[My heart feels something which very much resembles joy. Let us go; Fate has sent us a calamity which we can consider as a blessing.]
Aglaure (I. 6)

I would love to conclude, but we must read the rest of the play. Remember that jealousy is a prominent theme in Molière’s plays and 17th-century French literature. However, jealousy in Molière is usually of a comedic nature. It is Arnolphe’s plight and it is linked to cuckoldry. (See The School for Wives, Wikipedia.)

In Psyché, Molière is true to the myth. Venus is jealous because Psyche is the most beautiful woman in the world, yet a mere mortal. Only mortals, Psyche’s two sisters, can be jealous of Psyche. They will harm her and nearly cause her death.

The juxtaposition of a mortal and an immortal is problematical. It is incongruous. Psyche’s beauty of a transitory nature. The soul, the psyche, has been deemed and is still deemed immortal. As a human being, Psyche will experience metamorphoses. She will age and die. This is l’humaine condition. Venus is a goddess and, therefore, immortal. However, after a string of trials and tribulations,  Psyche ascends to godliness, an honest twist consistent with the carnivalesque, but a reversal of the Judeo-Christian creation myth.

Psyché is an “all’s well that ends well” narrative. Our young lovers marry…  But the play  is a part of a celebration: festivities. “Pump and circumstance” colours Psyche. Louis is seen as divine, albeit briefly.

Le plus puissant des rois
  Interrompt ses exploits
  Pour donner la paix à la terre.
Descendez, mère des Amours,
Venez nous donner de beaux jours.
Flore (Prologue)

The din of battle is stayed;
The mightiest king of earth
His arms aside has laid;
Of peace ’tis now the birth!
Descend thou, lovely Venus,
And blissful hours grant us!
Flora (Prologue)


Sources and Resources

[1] Pierre Corneille is the author of Le Cid (1636), a play that generated a quarrel, la Querelle du Cid, which occurred shortly after the Académie-Française was established. Tragédies would have to respect classicism’s rule of the “three unities.” These consisted in one action that lasted no longer than 24 hours, and took place in one location: action, temps, lieu. Classicism inherited its rules from Aristotle.

Love to all of you 💕

Acte 5, Scène 4: Prélude de Trompettes pour Mars
00:00 Acte 5, Scène 4: Chanson “Laissons en paix toute la Terre”
01:48 Acte 5, Scène 4: Derniere Entrée
02:36 Acte 5, Scène 4: “Chantons les Plaisirs charmants” (chœur)
04:27 Olivier Laquerre (bass / Mars)
Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra & Chorus
Paul O’Dette & Stephen Stubbs (conductor)

© Micheline Walker
6 September 2019

The “Figaro Trilogy,” revisited


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Portrait de Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, by Jean-Marc Nattier

Portrait de Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais by Jean-Marc Nattier

Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (24 January 1732 – 18 May 1799) had recruited men who fought in the American Revolutionary War  and had also supplied arms to American revolutionaries.

One of his recruits was Pierre-Charles L’Enfant (9 August 1754 – 14 June 1825), an architect and engineer who designed the Washington National Mall. L’Enfant was dismissed and replaced by Andrew Ellicott (24 January 1754 – 28 August 1820) who criticized L’Enfant Plan and Pierre-Charles L’Enfant. In 1902, the McMillan Commission did away with Andrew Ellicott’s revisions. The Washington Mall was redesigned using L’Enfant Plan.

The Figaro Trilogy

The Barber of Seville (1773; 1775)
The Marriage of Figaro (written in 1778, performed in 1784, published in 1785)
The Guilty Mother (1791; 1966[opera])
The Marriage of Figaro as the center-piece of Beaumarchais’ “Figaro trilogy” 
Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro (K. 492, 1786)

The Marriage of Figaro (1784)

At an early point in his life, Beaumarchais did recruit men willing to join the Americans in their struggle for independence, but he is known mainly as the author of the Figaro trilogy, which consists of three plays: The Barber of Seville (1775), The Marriage of Figaro  (1784), and The Guilty Mother (1791).

A problematical comedy

the second installment in the Figaro trilogy
Accepted for production in 1778 (Comédie-Française)
Vilification of French aristocracy: condemned by Louis XVI
Revised: change of location
Performed in France in 1784
Published in France in 1785

The Marriage of Figaro is the second installment in Beaumarchais’ Figaro trilogy, but constitutes the centerpiece of Beaumarchais’ trilogy. It was written in 1778 and accepted for production by the Comédie-Française in 1781. However, as first written, it vilified French aristocracy and so shocked Louis XVI that he banned the production of the play.

The play was problematical because Count Almaviva, who marries Rosina in The Barber of Seville, or the Futile Precaution (1778), wants to consummate Figaro’s marriage to Susanna, Figaro’s bride. Beaumarchais revised the play and moved the action to Spain. Ironically, Count Almaviva wanted to avail himself of a right he had abolished: “the feudal droit du seigneur, the right of the lord of the manor to sleep with his servant’s bride on her wedding night.”[I]  

The Marriage of Figaro is a comedy inspired by the commedia dell’arte. Given the conventions of comedy, the Count’s plans will therefore be foiled. The innmorati will be helped not only by clever zanni and other servants, but also by Rosina, Almaviva’s wife, whose marriage to the Count, a philanderer, did not end altogether “well.” The play also features a redeeming discovery. The Count wants Figaro to marry Marcellina, Bartolo’s housekeeper, but it turns out that Figaro is the love child of Marcellina and Bartolo. One does not marry one’s mother. Bartolo therefore proposes marriage to Marcellina. There will be two weddings, which is not uncommon in comedy.


The Marriage of Figaro’s Cherubino,[II] a character reminiscent of Cupid, the mythological god of desire, could be called a zanni. He is forever in love and gets into trouble. However, he also provides comic relief as do zanni in the commedia dell’arte. Zanni are stand-up comics. In Passion Plays, comic interludes were inserted between the acts. The same stratagem can also be used inside comedy. Some “comic” is always at the ready not only to “fill in,” but also to support zanni (servants, one of whom is clever, but the second, clumsy).

As part of the props, we have incriminating letters and, in the case of the Barber of Seville, the Count, disguised as Lindoro, a name borrowed from the commedia dell’arte, we have musicians serenading Rosina. Guitars are inextricably linked with the commedia dell’arte. They are a prop that Watteau and Picasso, Picasso especially, depicted abundantly.

Moreover, to fool the Count, the Countess dresses as Susanna, Figaro’s bride-to-be, while Susanna dresses as the Countess. Therefore, when the Count court Susanna, he is in fact courting his wife. He reveals his plans to seduce Susanna, but find Rosina attractive. It is quite normal in comedies for the Alazṓn , the Count, to undo himself, except that comedy is kind. Cross-dressing is also a frequent device in the comic text and it is rooted in the topsy-turvy world of the Roman Saturnalia, not to mention the last days of l’ancien régime

Beaumarchais and the Revolution  

After Beaumarchais relocated The Marriage of Figaro, “[t]he feudal droit du seigneurbecame a distant right and wrong. Louis XVI lifted the ban on the production of The Marriage of Figaro and the play was performed by the Comédiens français ordinaires du Roi, on Tuesday, 27 April 1784, and the text was published in 1785. Yet the play remained problematical. Although The Marriage of Figaro is a Shakespearean “all’s well that ends well,” the conventional ending, or dénouement, of comedies, in the Marriage of Figaro, this ending seems a little theatrical.

First, the Barber of Seville‘s Rosina has married a philanderer. Second, Georges Danton  commented that Beaumarchais’ Marriage of Figaro had “killed off the nobility.” (See The Marriage of Figaro, play, Wikipedia). Jesus of Nazareth might have said “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (Matthew 1:5-7). Georges Danton voted in favour of the execution of Louis XVI. (See Georges Danton, Wikipedia.)

Mozart’s Le nozze de Figaro (1786)

Beaumarchais or Pierre de Beaumarchais’ Marriage of Figaro was made famous by Mozart‘s (27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791) Nozze di Figaro, a four-act opera buffa, or comic opera composed in 1785 on a libretto (the text) by Lorenzo da Ponte (10 March 1749 – 17 August 1838). Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro) premiered in Vienna at the Burgtheater, on 1 May 1786. It has remained a favourite opera often associated with Mozart only, not Pierre de Beaumarchais.

The Barber of Seville, or The Futile Precaution

The Barber of Seville, or The Useless Precaution (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Barber of Seville (1775)

The Barber of Seville; or, the Useless Precaution[III] was performed and published in 1775 as Le Barbier de Séville; ou, la précaution inutile. It is the first play in Beaumarchais Figaro’ trilogy. The play was written in 1773, but it was not performed until 23 February 1775, when it premiered at the Comédie-Française in the Tuileries. Although I have prepared a point by point description of the plot of The Barber of Seville, I am quoting Britannica’s summary. Simply add the name Lindoro, a guitar, and a few suspicious letters. The Count first dresses as a poor student named Lindoro.

“Rosine (known as Rosina in the opera), the ward of Dr. Bartholo, is kept locked in her room by Bartholo because he plans to marry her, though she despises him. Young Count Almaviva loves her from afar and uses various disguises, including one as Alonzo, a substitute music teacher, in his attempts to win her. Bartholo’s roguish barber Figaro is part of the plot against him. Indeed, it is Figaro who steals the key to Rosine’s room for Almaviva. Unfortunately, Almaviva is in his disguise as Alonzo when he meets Rosine. Though in love with “Alonzo,” Rosine is convinced by the suspicious Bartholo that Alonzo intends to steal her away and sell her to a wicked count. Disappointed, she agrees to wed Bartholo that very night. All of Figaro’s ingenuity is required to substitute Count Almaviva for Bartholo at the wedding ceremony.”[IV]
Portrait of Gioachino Rossini in 1820, International Museum and Library of Music, Bologna

Portrait of Gioachino Rossini in 1820, International Museum and Library of Music, Bologna (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia (1816)

In 1816, Le Barbier de Séville; ou, la précaution inutile (four acts)[V] was made into a two-act opera by Giaochino Rossini on a libretto by Cesare Sterbini. The Barber of Seville, or the Futile Precaution or Il barbiere di Siviglia, ossia L’inutile precauzione premiered on 20 February 1816 at the Teatro Argentina, in Rome.

Beaumarchais’ Guilty Mother (1792)

The Guilty Mother, subtitled The other Tartuffe (La Mère coupable ou l’autre Tartuffe), a play in five acts, is the final part of the Figaro trilogy. Tartuffe is a play by Molière. The character Tartuffe feigns devotion. The Guilty Mother was completed in 1791, but not performed until 1792 at the Théâtre du Marais. The French Revolution had gained impetus, which made it necessary for Beaumarchais to take away his title from Count Almaviva. The Guilty Mother   will be discussed in a later post.

Marius Milhaud‘s The Guilty mother or La Mère coupable (1966)

The Guilty Mother or The other Tartuffe was set to music: an opera in three acts (Op. 412), by Marius Milhaud, to a libretto by Madeleine Milhaud. It is the final instalment in Beaumarchais’ Figaro trilogy and was first performed at the Grand Théâtre de Genève, on 13 June 1966. (See La Mère coupable [The Guilty mother], Wikipedia.)

Jean-Antoine Watteau‘s Italian comedy.


The Rebirth of Brighella and the Birth of Figaro

Figaro is heir to the commedia dell’arte‘s Brighella, a zanni. He joins Pedrolino-Pierrot, Harlequin, Scapino, and other zanni. In fact, Figaro himself joins the rank of the zanni. As portrayed above, he looks like Harlequin, but he may disguised as Harlequin. Figaro is an iconic figure in France. To be precise, Figaro is an institution: a newspaper, founded in 1826 and published in Paris. Le Figaro is the second-largest paper in France. It takes its motto from Beaumarchais’ Figaro trilogy:

“Sans la liberté de blâmer, il n’est point d’éloge flatteur.”
(“Without the freedom to criticise, there is no true praise.”)



The Commedia dell’arte
Bartolo is a dottore
Lindoro is one of the names innamorati used in the commedia dell’arte
Figaro is a Brighella, a zanni in the commedia dell’arte, who helps the innamorati overcome obstacles to their marriage)
The guitar is an essential prop
Letters are used all the time: false, anonymous, incriminating…
Sources and Resources
  • The Marriage of Figaro is an Online Library of Liberty, full text EN
  • Le Mariage de Figaro is a Gutenberg Project [EBook #20577] FR
  • Male innamorati are called: Arsenio, Aurielo, Cinthio, Fabrizio, Flavio, Fedelindo, Florindo, Leandro, Lelio, Lindoro, Mario, Ortensio, Ottavio, Sireno, often the son of Pantalone, Silvio, Tristano
  • Female innamorati are called: Angelica, Aurelia, Beatrice, Bianchetta, Celia, Clarice, Clori, Cinzio, Emilia, Eularia, Flaminia, Florinda, Filesia, Filli, often the daughter of Pantalone, Isabella, Lavinia, Lidia, Orazio, Ortensia, Silvia, Turchetta, Vittoria 
  • Brighella
  • Maurice Sand, Masques et bouffons (comédie italienne), 1860
Flûte de Brighella, Henrico Brunelleschi (Photo credit: Christi'e)

Flûte de Brighella, Enrico Brunelleschi
(Photo credit: Christie’s) (This image cannot be enlarged.)


[I] Watteau depicted Mezzetino, a zanni, playing the guitar. The guitar is also a major motif in Picasso’s art.

[II] See Commedia dell’arte, Wikipedia, under Subjects.
[III] “The Barber of Seville.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 13 Jul. 2014.
The Count also calls himself Lindoro.
[IV] Op. cit.
[V] Op. cit.

Love to everyone 💕

This post was published several years ago, but it is related to our current posts.

Gioachino Rossini : The Barber Of Seville – Overture 


© Micheline Walker
(revised 4 September 2019)
13 July 2014