La Princesse d’Élide (The Princess of Elis) was first performed on 8 May 1664 during Louis XIV’s 1664 divertissement royal, known as Les Plaisirs de l’Île enchantée (The Pleasures of the Enchanted Island). The comedy was one of Louis XIV’s divertissements, gatherings of courtiers and comedians, entertainers, which usually took place at Saint-Germain-en Laye, or another royal castle located outside Paris. Louis XIV was entertaining Mlle de La Vallière, a reluctant mistress, and the Queens, Louis’ mother, Anne of Austria, and his wife, Maria Theresa of Spain. The festivities took place between 7 and 13 May 1664. However, in 1664, the King was also celebrating a relatively early stage in the building of Versailles. The play was later performed at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal, in Paris.
Molière’s play is rooted in a Spanish comedy, El Desdén, con el desdén, (Scorn for Scorn) by Agustín Moreto. Desdén means disdain. La Princesse d’Élide is one of four plays Molière contributed to Louis’ lavish Versailles divertissement, two of which had been produced earlier: Les Fâcheux (The Bores; 1661) and Le Mariage forcé (The Forced Marriage; 29 January 1664). Tartuffe (12 May 1664) and La Princesse d’Élide (8 May 1664) premièred at Versailles’ fête. Tartuffe angered la cabale des dévôts.
Interludes consisting of ballets and music, sometimes performed by courtiers, are inserted between the five acts of the comedy. Moreover the comedy is a component of Les Plaisirs de l’Île enchantée. It is therefore embedded, in a somewhat loose form of “théâtre dans le théâtre,” a device explored recently by Georges Forestier and, earlier, by Swiss critic Jean Rousset, among others. The “play within the play,” un enchassement, is a frequently-used device which has prompted many fruitful reflections. However, our translator, Mr. Henri van Laun, looks upon the Princess of Elis as a lesser play compared to other plays by Molière. ‟…the genius of the adapter was cramped, and The Princess of Elis is certainly not one of his happiest efforts.” (Henri van Laun, p. 3.)
Molière’s genius was “cramped.” The beginning of La Princesse d’Elide’s Act One was written in verse, but Molière switched to prose before Act Two. He also shortened acts because of pressing engagements. The King needed him. Moreover, at times, the comedy, the interludes, and Les Plaisirs de l’Île enchantée, the entire festivity, tend to overlap, which makes for coherence as well as confusion. I will simplify matters by suggesting that spectators and readers of La Princesse d’Élide cannot always see the forest for the trees, but that the comedy is nevertheless a bijou, a jewel.
The statistics for the Princesse d’Élide are:
- Versailles (location)
- Les Plaisirs de l’Île enchantée
- (divertissement royal)
- five acts and six interludes
- verse, nearly one act, and prose
- 8 May 1664
- Comédie galante
- Jean-Baptiste Lully (composer)
- fine scenic effects by Carlo Vigarini
Our dramatis personæ is:
LA PRINCESSE D’ÉLIDE Mlle de Molière
AGLANTE, cousine de la Princesse Mlle Du Parc
CYNTHIE, cousine de la Princesse Mlle de Brie
PHILIS, suivante de la Princesse Mlle Béjart
IPHITAS, père de la Princesse Le sieur Hubert
EURYALE , ou le prince d’Ithaque Le sieur de La Grange
ARISTOMÈNE, ou le prince de Messène Le sieur du Croisy
THÉOCLE, ou le prince de Pyle Le sieur Béjart
ARBATE, gouverneur du prince d’Ithaque Le sieur de la Thorillière
MORON, plaisant de la Princesse Le sieur de Molière
UN SUIVANT Le sieur Prévost.
First Interlude (intermède)
Morning, personified as Aurora, dogs, and gentlemen are waking people up because of a hunt. Lyciscas, one Molière’s two roles, does not wish to rise. Molière also plays Moron, a “plaisant,” or court jester, or fool.
We have already discussed the plot of La Princesse d’Élide. As you know, it is outlined before each act in a text called the argument. Was this the way in which Molière wrote his comedies? At any rate, the argument for Act One is that a father, Iphitas, prince d’Élide, has invited three princes to his court, la cour d’Élide, in the hope that his daughter, la princesse d’Élide, will fall in love with one of the princes: Euryale, Théocle, and Aristomène.
Interestingly, the princes and princesses, la princesse d’Élide and her cousins, Aglante and Cynthie, meet before Scene One. The princesse d’Élide and Euryale, prince d’Ithaque, fall in love at first sight. However, Euryale is a “loner” and the Princesse views marriage as debasing and no less than a form of death. To a large extent, the play is a debate between nature and nurture, or nature and culture. Will la princesse d’Élide overcome a view of marriage that precludes marrying, which would, most unusually, defeat nature?
La princesse d’Élide does not have jealous sisters, but she has two fine cousins: Aglante and Cynthie. A mere glimpse at the dramatis personæ reveals that three distinguished princes may each marry one of three lovely young princesses. Not only is it unlikely that the princesse will not fall in love, but la princesse d’Élide and Euryale fall in love before Act One. Moron will be our go-between. He is a bouffon, a king’s fool, but very clever, and he wishes for la princesse to marry Euryale, prince d’Ithaque. It remains to be seen whether she will overcome her view of marriage as crude and the death of a woman. Moron, a role played by Molière, is described as clever.
Ce choix t’étonne un peu;/ Par son titre de fou tu crois le bien connaître:/ Mais sache qu’il [Moron] l’est moins qu’il ne le veut paraître,/ Et que malgré l’emploi qu’il exerce aujourd’hui/ Il a plus de bon sens que tel qui rit de lui:/ La Princesse se plaît à ses bouffonneries,/ Il s’en est fait aimer par cent plaisanteries,/155 Et peut dans cet accès dire et persuader/ Ce que d’autres que lui n’oseraient hasarder(.)
Euryale à Arbate (I. i, p. 10)
[My choice rather astonishes you; you misjudge him because he is a court fool; but you must know that he is less of a fool than he wishes to appear, and that, not-withstanding his present employment, he has more sense than those who laugh at him. The Princess amuses herself with his buffooneries: he has obtained her favour by a hundred jests, and can thus say, and persuade her to, what others dare not hazard.]
Euryale, prince d’Ithaque, to Arbate, his governor (I. 1)
(Euryale prince d’Ithaque & Arbate, his governor)
In Scene One, Euryale, prince d’Ithaque, tells Arbate, his governor, that he has fallen in love with la Princesse d’Élide. Love is a feeling he has always avoided.
Si de l’amour un temps j’ai bravé la puissance,
Hélas! mon cher Arbate, il en prend bien vengeance!
Euryale à Arbate (I. i, p. 7)
[If, for a time, I defied the power of love, alas! my dear Arbates, it takes ample vengeance for it now.]
Euryale to Arbate (I. 1)
Destiny, he says, has brought them together:
Où le Ciel en naissant a destiné nos âmes.
Euryale à Arbate (I. i, p. 7)
[Heaven at our birth destined our souls.]
Euryale to Arbate (I. 1)
Knowing that she scorns marriage, le prince d’Ithaque has not told the princesse that he has fallen in love with her, which surprises Arbate, but le prince d’Ithaque knew she would turn him down. However, Moron has told the princesse that Euryale, le prince d’Ithaque, has fallen in love with her.
Cette chasse où, pour fuir la foule qui l’adore,/ Tu sais qu’elle est allée au lever de l’aurore, Est le temps dont Moron pour déclarer mon feu, a pris …
Euryale (Prince d’Ithaque) à Arbate (I. i, p. 10)
[This chase, to which she went, you know, this morning early, in order to avoid the crowd of her adorers, is the opportunity which Moron has chosen to declare my passion.]
Euryale to Arbate (I. 1)
We will learn, later, that the princesse d’Élide also fell in love the moment she saw Euryale. But, given her opinion of marriage, can anyone expect that love would make her change her mind. The suspense Molière creates in La Princesse d’Élide stems largely from our wondering whether love will cause the princesse to change her views on marriage.
(Moron, Arbate, Euriyale)
In Scene Two, Moron, a court jester, un bouffon, a court jester and a close friend of the princesse rushes in fearing he is followed by a boar, un sanglier. Later, the animal pursuing Moron will be a bear. At any rate, Moron tells Euryale that the princess prides herself in refusing to marry.
Le discours de vos feux est un peu délicat, 240/ Et c’est chez la Princesse une affaire d’Etat;/ Vous savez de quel titre elle se glorifie, / qu’elle a dans la tête une philosophie/ Qui déclare la guerre au conjugal lien,/ Et vous traite l’Amour de déité de rien.
Moron au prince (I. ii, p. 15)
[To talk of your flame is a delicate matter; it is a state affair with the Princess. You know in what title she glories, and that her brain is full of a philosophy which wars against marriage, and treats Cupid as a minor god.]
Moron to the prince (I. 2)
In Scene Three, the princesse, Euryale, Arbate and Moron are joined by Aristomène and Théocle, two of the three princes who were invited to visit le prince d’Élide. She was attacked by a boar and the two princes believe they saved her. She is thankful, but she says that she could have saved herself. They cannot understand, so she thanks them and says she will tell her father about their kindness and their love.
Je rends de tout mon cœur grâce à ce grand secours,/305 Et je vais de ce pas au Prince pour lui dire/ Les bontés que pour moi votre amour vous inspire.
La Princesse à tous (I. iii, p.17)
[Yes, without you I had lost my life. I heartily thank you for your grand assistance, and will go at once to the Prince to inform him of the kindness with which your love has inspired you for me.]
The Princess to all (I. 3)
Moron would like to help prince Euryale, but an idea has come the prince‘s mind, which reveals that galanterie will play a great role in this comedy.
A short intermède–argument follows. It contains two scenes: a praise of Philis and the tale about the bear. Moron is attacked by a bear and rescued by various courtiers.
(La princesse, Aglante, Cynthie)
La Princesse, Aglante, and Cynthie discuss love. Cynthie believes that one cannot live if one does not love.
Est-il rien de plus beau que l’innocente flamme/ Qu’un mérite éclatant allume dans une âme?/ Et serait-ce un bonheur de respirer le jour/ Si d’entre les mortels on bannissait l’amour?/ 365 Non, non tous les plaisirs se goûtent à le suivre,/ Et vivre sans aimer n’est pas proprement vivre.
Cynthie à Aglante et à la Princesse (II. i, p. 22)
[Is anything more beautiful than the innocent flame which brilliant merit kindles in the soul? What happiness would there be in life, if love were banished from among mortals? No, no, the delights which it affords are infinite, and to live without loving is, properly speaking, not to live at all.]
Cynthie to Aglante and the princess (II. 1)
Molière switches to prose. He is obeying the King.
Aglante shares Cynthie’s view:
Pour moi je tiens que cette passion est la plus agréable affaire de la vie, qu’il est nécessaire d’aimer pour vivre heureusement, et que tous les plaisirs sont fades s’il ne s’y mêle un peu d’amour.
Aglante à la Princesse et à Cynthie (II. i, p. 23)
[For my part, I think that this passion is the most agreeable business of life ; that, in order to live happily, it is necessary to love, and that all pleasures are insipid unless mangled with a little love.]
Aglante to the Princess and Cynthie (II. 1)
Moron is asked by the princesses to defend love. Moron loves Philis.
The Prince is coming with the princes. The Princesse is afraid.
Ô Ciel! que prétend-il faire en me les amenant? Aurait-il résolu ma perte, et
voudrait-il bien me forcer au choix de quelqu’un d’eux?
La Princesse (II. iii, pp. 24-25)
[Heavens! what does he mean by bringing them to me? Has he resolved on my ruin, and would he force me to choose one of them?]
The Princess (II. 3)
(Iphitas, Euryale, Aristomène, Théocle, Cynthia, Philis, Moron)
The princesse is extremely afraid as she hears her father approaching.
Seigneur, je vous demande la licence de prévenir par deux paroles la déclaration des pensées que vous pouvez avoir. Il y a deux vérités, Seigneur, aussi constantes l’une que l’autre, et dont je puis vous assurer également: l’une que vous avez un absolu pouvoir sur moi, et que vous ne sauriez m’ordonner rien où je ne réponde aussitôt par une obéissance aveugle. L’autre que je regarde l’hyménée ainsi que le trépas, et qu’il m’est impossible de forcer cette aversion naturelle: me donner un mari, et me donner la mort c’est une même chose; mais votre volonté va la première, et mon obéissance m’est bien plus chère que ma vie: après cela parlez, Seigneur, prononcez librement ce que vous voulez.
La Princesse à son père (II. iv, p. 25)
[My lord, I beg you to give me leave to prevent, by two words, the declaration of the thoughts which you may perhaps foster. There are two truths, my lord, the one as certain as the other, of which I can assure you ; the one is, that you have an absolute power over me, and that you can lay no command upon me which I would not blindly obey; the other is, that I look upon marriage as death, and that it is impossible for me to conquer this natural aversion. To give me a husband and to kill me are the same thing; but your will takes precedence, and my obedience is dearer to me than life. After this, my lord, speak; say freely what you desire.]
The Princess to her father (II. 5)
An interlude separates ACT TWO from ACT THREE
It features Moron, Philis and a Satyr. It is a praise of love.
In the “argument,” we are told avout races, songs and dances. The Princesse excelled, but the prince of Ithaque did not praise her, which she resents. The Prince of Ithaque tells Moron the following :
… elle en fit de grandes plaintes à la princesse sa parente; elle en parla à Moron, qui fit passer cet insensible pour un brutal: et enfin le voyant arriver lui-même, elle ne put s’empêcher de lui en toucher fort sérieusement quelque chose: il lui répondit ingénument qu’il n’aimait rien, et qu’hors l’amour de sa liberté, et les plaisirs qu’elle trouvait si agréables de la solitude et de la chasse rien ne le touchait.
[… she complains of it to the Princess, her relative; she also speaks of it to Moron, who calls that unfeeling Prince a brute. At last, seeing him herself, she cannot refrain from making some serious allusions to it; he candidly answers that he loves nothing except his liberty, and the pleasures of solitude and the chase, in which he delights.]
(The Princess, Aglante, Cynthie, Philis)
Cynthie notes that the Euryale, who is speaking with the Prince, is very skilled.
(Euryale, Moron, Arbate)
Euryale is smitten:
Ah! Moron, je te l’avoue, j’ai été enchanté, et jamais tant de charmes n’ont frappé tout ensemble mes yeux et mes oreilles. Elle est adorable en tout temps, il est vrai: mais ce moment l’a emporté sur tous les autres, et des grâces nouvelles ont redoublé l’éclat de ses beautés.
Euryale à Moron (III. ii, p. 30)
[Ah, Moron! I confess I was enchanted; never have so many charms together met my eyes and ears. She is, in truth, adorable at all times, but she was at that moment more so than ever. Ah, Moron! I confess I was enchanted; never have so many charms together met my eyes and ears. She is, in truth, adorable at all times, but she was at that moment more so than ever.]
Euryale to Moron (III. 2)
(La Princesse, Moron)
Moron tells the princess that she will not get anywhere with Euryale. Nothing will touch him. No, he has not praised her. The Princess has seen Moron speaking with the prince d’Ithaque. Believing that they know one another, she asks Moron to tell the prince that she wants to see him.
(La Princesse, Euryale, Moron, Arbate)
He’s a loner, she says to Euryale, prince of Ithaque, prompting him to say that others are loners and that these “others” may be found nearby. She goes on to explain that men and women are different. Women do not want to marry, but they want to be loved. This statement is puzzling because she ignores men. She is at odds with herself.
Il y a grande différence, et ce qui sied bien à un sexe, ne sied pas bien à l’autre. Il est beau qu’une femme soit insensible, et conserve son cœur exempt des flammes de l’amour; mais ce qui est vertu en elle, devient un crime dans un homme. Et comme la beauté est le partage de notre sexe, vous ne sauriez ne nous point aimer, sans nous dérober les hommages qui nous sont dus, et commettre une offense dont nous devons toutes nous ressentir.
La Princesse à Euryale (III. iv, p. 33)
[There is a great difference. That which becomes well our sex does not well become yours. It is noble for a woman to be insensible, and to keep her heart free from the flames of love: but what is a virtue in her is a crime in a man; and as beauty is the portion of our sex, you cannot refrain from loving us without depriving us of the homage which is our due, and committing an offence which we ought all to resent.]
The Princess to Euryale (III. 4)
Je ne vois pas, Madame, que celles qui ne veulent point aimer, doivent prendre aucun intérêt à ces sortes d’offenses.
Euryale à la Princesse (III. iv, p. 33)
[I do not see, madam, that those who will not love should take any interest in offences of this kind.]
Euryale to the Princess (III. 4)
Ce n’est pas une raison, Seigneur, et sans vouloir aimer, on est toujours bien aise d’être aimée.
La Princesse à Euryale (III. iv, p. 33)
[That is no reason, my lord; for although we will not love, yet we are always glad to be loved.]
The Princess to Euryale (III. 4)
Non! Madame, rien n’est capable de toucher mon cœur, ma liberté est la seule maîtresse à qui je consacre mes vœux, et quand le Ciel emploierait ses soins à composer une beauté parfaite, quand il assemblerait en elle tous les dons les plus merveilleux, et du corps et de l’âme. Enfin quand il exposerait à mes yeux un miracle d’esprit, d’adresse et de beauté, et que cette personne m’aimerait avec toutes les tendresses imaginables, je vous l’avoue franchement, je ne l’aimerais pas.
Euryale à la Princesse (III. iv, p. 33)
[No, madam; nothing is capable of touching my heart. Liberty is the sole mistress whom I adore; and though Heaven should employ its utmost care to form a perfect beauty, in whom should be combined the most marvellous gifts both of body and mind ; in short, though it should expose to my view a miracle of wit, cleverness, and beauty, and that person should love me with all the tenderness imaginable, I confess frankly to you I should.]
Euryale to the Princess (III. 4)
The Princesse then seeks Moron’s help. She wants Euryale to love her, and she thinks Moron can help. Moron tells the princesse that Euryale will never yield.
Si faut-il pourtant tenter toute chose, et éprouver si son âme est entièrement insensible. Allons, je veux lui parler, et suivre une pensée qui vient de me venir.
La princesse à Moron (III. v. 35)
[We must, however, try everything, and prove if his soul be entirely insensible. Come, I will speak to him, and follow an idea which has just come into my head.]
La princesse to Moron (III. 5)
A fourth interlude featuring Moron, Tircis and Philis follows Act Three.
In Act Four, Scene One, the princesse wants Euryale to tell her which of the three princes he thinks she would choose. He cannot tell, so she says that the Prince of Messène would be her choice. So, jealousy will now move the action forward. Moron encourages both the Princesse and the Prince to continue using their strategy, i.e. feigned indifference, that will lead to jealousy on her part. The Prince strikes back and says he has chosen Aglante, her cousin as a future bride. The play has reached its apex.
In Scene Two, Moron hears the princesse unveiling her despair. In Scene Three, she goes to Aglante and tells her not to accept the prince d’Ithaque. In Scene Four, Aristomène is delighted to the tell all that the princesse will marry him. Everyone is disoriented.
This is marivaudage, or games lovers play. It can be considered a form of galanterie. Servants would normally play an important role in bringing lovers together. In other words, in La Princesse d’Élide, Molière lets the lovers fare for themselves. Moron watches amused. He wants the Princesse to marry le Prince d’Ithaque, but thinks this confusion will make the lovers yield. We are now on the battlefield of love. The lovers are hunting and there are boars and bears.
The princesse says the prince is an étourdi. But in Scene Five, la princesse reminds Aglante that she must refuse the prince d’Ithaque. But Moron, the clever buffoon, tells the princesse that if the prince d’Ithaque loved her, she would refuse him, like the dog in a manger, yet she does not want him to love another person, Aglante.
Mais, Madame, s’il vous aimait vous n’en voudriez point, et cependant vous ne voulez pas qu’il soit à une autre. C’est faire justement comme le chien du jardinier.
Moron à la princesse (IV. iv, p. 42)
[But, madam, if he loved you, you would not have him, and yet you will not let him be another’s. It is just like the dog in a manger.]
Moron to the princess (IV. 5)
In Scene Six, the princesse reflects on her behaviour.
J’ai méprisé tous ceux qui m’ont aimée, et j’aimerais le seul qui me méprise? Non, non, je sais bien que je ne l’aime pas. Il n’y a pas de raison à cela: mais si ce n’est pas de l’amour que ce que je sens maintenant, qu’est-ce donc que ce peut être? et d’où vient ce poison qui me court par toutes les veines, et ne me laisse point en repos avec moi-même? Sors de mon cœur, qui que tu sois, ennemi qui te caches, attaque-moi visiblement, et deviens à mes yeux la plus affreuse bête de tous nos bois, afin que mon dard et mes flèches me puissent défaire de toi.
La Princesse, seule (IV. vi, p. 43)
[I have despised all those who have loved me, and shall I love the only one who despises me 1 No, no, I know well I do not love him; there is no reason for it. But if this is not love which I now feel, what can it be? And whence comes this poison which runs through all my veins, and will not let me rest? Out of my heart, whatever you may be, you enemy who lurk there! Attack me openly, and appear before me as the most frightful monster of all our forests, so that with my darts and javelins I may rid myself of you.]
The princesse alone, soliloquy (IV. 7)
In the Fifth interlude Philis says:
Si de tant de tourments il accable les cœurs,/ D’où vient qu’on aime à lui rendre les armes?
[If it fills every heart with so much pain/ Whence comes it that we like to yield to it ?]
Philis to Clymène
Si sa flamme, Philis, est si pleine de charmes,/ Pourquoi nous défend-on d’en goûter les douceurs?
[If, Phillis, its flame is so full of charms/ Why forbid us its pleasures to enjoy?]
Molière has blended a reflection of love and acceptance of its pleasures that overrides the comédie, the interludes and Les Plaisirs de l’Île enchantée. Despite the division into acts and interludes, the Princesse d’Élide offers continuity and coherence.
Prince Iphitas, the Prince of Élide is with the Prince d’Ithaque. The Princesse is hurt (jealous) because she feels he has sought someone else’s love. She says she has been scorned.
Il m’a méprisée.
La Princesse à Iphitas, son père (V. ii, p. 47)
[He has despised me.]
La Princesse to Iphitas, her father (V. 2)
Yet, the princesse wants her father to prevent the prince d’Ithaque from marrying Aglante. Under such circumstances, the princesse’s father cannot deny Aglante a husband. The princesse, his daughter, cannot refuse the prince.
Mais afin d’empêcher qu’il ne puisse être jamais à elle, il faut que tu le prennes pour toi.
Iphitas to his daughter, the princesse (V. ii, p. 48)
But to prevent his ever being hers, you must take him for yourself.
Iphitas to his daughter (V. 2)
The prince d’Ithaque seems to have heard enough. He will speak for himself. Euryale, prince d’Ithaque has asked the prince d’Élide, Iphitas, to marry his daughter. The princesse has not quite recovered from the confusion that was created to elicit the truth. She loves Euryale, the prince d’Ithaque. However, she is not ready to marry.
As for Euryale, the prince d’Ithaque, he is ready to wait. Truth be told, if they married immediately, they would not have befriended one another and could not trust each other. For instance, the princesse is a friend of Moron and trusts him. The Prince d’Ithaque is not expressing an unrealistic endeavour. They may have fallen in love, but they barely know one another. In this play, galanterie is an imperative. Galanterie may involve feigned scorn, a stratagem than triggers jealousy. When Euryale says he has chosen Aglante, the Princess experiences the pain of unrequited love and calls on Moron to fetch Euryale. He will wait because he must wait.
Je l’attendrai tant qu’il vous plaira, Madame, cet arrêt de ma destinée, et s’il me condamne à la mort, je le suivrai sans murmure.
Euryale à Iphitas et à la princesse (V. ii. p. 48)
[I shall wait as long as you please, madam, for this decree of my destiny; and, if it condemns me to death, I shall obey without murmuring.]
Euryale to the princess (V. 2)
In Scene Three, Iphitas, le prince d’Élide, tells the two other suitors that he will not marry one of them to his daughter, but they may be happy to marry the princesse’s cousins who look forward to marriage.
In Scene Four
Philis tells everyone that Venus has announced a change of heart in the princesse d’Élide.
This post is much too long but it is a school for love. The story has been told. Next, we comment.
Sources and Resources
 Illustrations by Maurice Sand and Edmond Geffroy may be quite similar.
 In seventeenth-century French, prévenir meant to come before. I believe Mr. van Laun may be using an archaic English meaning of “to prevent” which would be “to come before,” rather than “empêcher de” (to prevent) or “avertir” (to tell about or to warn).
Love to everyone
© Micheline Walker
14 October 2019