- a two-act heroic pastoral comedy inhabited by shepherds and shepherdesses.
- It is an incomplete comédie pastorale/comédie d’intrigue written by
- Molière, in alexandrine verses, le vers noble.
- Mélicerte is the third of thirteen “entrées” in
- Isaac de Benserade‘s Ballet des Muses.
- Thalia is the muse of comedy.
- The music was composed by Jean-Baptiste Lully.
- Molière drew his inspiration from an épisode in Le Grand Cyrus, a novel by Madeleine de Scudéry (Sapho) who had a salon. Guests visited on Saturday. It was la Société du samedi, the Saturday Society.
- Mélicerte was performed for the court on 2 December 1666, at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, a royal residence.
Myrtil and Mélicerte, (Documents iconographiques, BnF)
Our dramatis personæ are:
MYRTIL, in love with Melicerte. ACANTHE, in love with Daphne.
TYRONE, in love with Eroxene.
LYCARSIS, herdsman, supposed father to Myrtil?
MOPSE, shepherd, supposed uncle to Melicerte. MELICERTE, shepherdess.
CORINNE, confidante of Melicerte.
Scene. THESSALY, IN THE VALLEY OF TEMPE, the Vale of Tempe
As noted above, Mélicerte is a pastorale comique héroïque, a heroic pastoral comedy. It is the third of thirteen entrées in Isaac de Benserade‘s Ballet des Muses. Mélicerte was well-received by the King, which suggests that it was performed in its entirety.
Molière wrote the first two acts of Mélicerte. No copy of a third act, written by Molière, was ever found. However, the events of the first two acts allow us to expect an anagnorisis, a scene during which a character’s real identity is revealed. In comedy, such revelations often allow the marriage of the young lovers. I am using the word anagnorisis in its broadest acceptation: recognition or a character’s real identity.
In Scene One, the shepherdesses and Nymphs, Daphné and Éroxène, are running away from Acante and Tyrène, two young men who seek the Nymphs’ love. In Scene Two, Daphné and Éroxène learn from one another, showing matching portraits, that they both love Myrtil. However, in Scene Three, the news is that the King has come to Tempe:
Le Roi vient d’honorer Tempé de sa présence[.]
Lycarsis à Nicandre (I. iii, p. 10)
[You shall not know, then, that the King has come
to honour Tempe with his presence…]
Lycarsis to Nicandre (I. 3, p. 26)
Tension is building. Why is the King in Tempe?
Daphné and Éroxène do not know that the King has travelled to Tempe. So they ask Lycarsis, Myrtil’s supposed father, to reveal to Myrtil that both are in love with him and that they would like Myrtil to choose which of the two Nymphs he will marry. Only in pastorals and “a long time ago,” would a woman accept to be rejected by Myrtil, who also happens to be of lower birth.
At first, Lycarsis believes the nymphs are revealing their love for him. This figure is a quiproquo, a misunderstanding, a device Molière uses frequently. When Lycarsis realises that the Nymphs love Myrtil, he says he is of the opinion that his son is too young for matrimony. However, Daphné has seen him following Mélicerte. Myrtil, she claims, is not a child:
Il [Myrtil] n’est point tant enfant, qu’à le voir chaque jour,
Je ne le croie atteint déjà d’un peu d’amour,
Et plus d’une aventure à mes yeux s’est offerte,
Où j’ai connu qu’il suit la jeune Mélicerte.
Daphné à Éroxène et Lycarsis (I. iv, p. 15)
[He is not such a child but that I, who see him every day, believe him somewhat love-sick already ; and I have noticed many a thing that shows that he is after young Melicerte.]
Daphné to Éroxène and Lycarsis (I. 4, p. 29)
Lycarsis accepts to serve the two Nymphs and says the rejected one may marry him, if she wishes to:
Je consens que son choix règle votre dispute,
Et celle qu’à l’écart laissera cet arrêt,
Pourra pour son recours m’épouser, s’il lui plaît.
Lycarsis aux deux nymphes (I. iv, p. 16)
[I consent that his choice shall adjust your dispute ; and she, whom his decree shall set aside, may marry me in compensation, if she likes.]
Lycarsis to the two nymphs (I. 5, p. 29)
At the beginning of Scene Five, Myrtil is putting a sparrow in a cage intending to give it to Mélicerte. Scene Five is a lovely pastoral scene, but it is interrupted by Lycarsis, Daphné, and Éroxène. The Nymphs themselves ask Myrtle to wed one of them. He feels honoured because he is of lower birth, but he is in love. He wishes to marry Mélicerte.
Lycarsis is slighty miffed. It is for a father to decide whom a son marries:
For her part, Daphné suggests inequality between the Nymphs and Mélicerte.
Nymphes, au nom des Dieux, n’en dites point de mal,
Daignez considérer, de grâce, que je l’aime, …
[Nymphs, in Heaven’s name, do not say any ill of her. Pray consider that I love her, and do not upset my mind. If, by loving her, I outrage your heavenly charms, she has no part in that crime ; all the offence comes from me, if you please. It is true that I know the difference between you and her ; but we cannot escape our fate.]
Myrtil to Daphné and Éroxène (I. v. p. 32)
Mélicerte is worried. She tells Corinne, her confidante, that her lower rank puts her at a disadvantage. Corinne, is of litte help. In a soliloquy, Mélicerte remembers her mother’s (Bélise) words:
“Ma fille, songe à toi: l’amour aux jeunes cœurs
Se présente toujours entouré de douceurs.
D’abord il n’offre aux yeux que choses agréables;
Mais il traîne après lui des troubles effroyables.
Et si tu veux passer tes jours dans quelque paix,
Toujours comme d’un mal défends-toi de ses traits.”
Mélicerte seule (II. ii, p. 25)
[“Beware, daughter ; Love always comes to young hearts surrounded by sweet guiles. At first it offers nought but what is agreeable ; but it drags horrible troubles after it ; and if you wish to pass your days in peace, ever defend yourself from its darts, as from an evil.”]
Mélicerte alone (II. 2, p. 34)
Myrtil arrives carrying the sparrow, but Mélicerte is sad. She has learned that Daphné and Éroxène want to marry Myrtil. They belong to a higher class. Myrtle swears his love for Mélicerte:
Non, chère Mélicerte, il n’est père ni Dieux
Qui me puissent forcer à quitter vos beaux yeux,
Et toujours de mes vœux, reine comme vous êtes…
Myrtil à Mélicerte (II. iii, p. 28)
[No, dear Melicerte, neither father nor gods shall force me to discard your lovely eyes ; for ever, queen of my heart, as you are . . .]
Myrtil to Mélicerte (II. 3. p. 36)
Mélicerte is all too aware that sons and daughters are at the mercy of their parents. They have no liberty. At this point, Lycarsis enters finding Myrtil and Mélicerte speaking as lovers do. He condemns this outrage and wishes to speak to Mélicerte. Myrtil will not let him hurt her. He has sought her love. So, she is innocent.
Je ne souffrirai point que vous la maltraitiez.
[I will not allow her to be abused.]
Myrtil à Lycarsis (II. 4, p. 36)
Myrtil does not believe one can give life to only to take it. Myrtil cannot envisage life without Mélicerte.
Le jour est un présent que j’ai reçu de vous;
Mais de quoi vous serai-je aujourd’hui redevable,
Si vous me l’allez rendre, hélas! insupportable?
Il est sans Mélicerte un supplice à mes yeux:
Sans ses divins appas, rien ne m’est précieux,
Ils font tout mon bonheur, et toute mon envie,
Et si vous me l’ôtez, vous m’arrachez la vie.
Myrtil à Lycarsis (II. v, p. 31)
[I owe my being to you ; but shall I be indebted to you this day if you render life unbearable to me ? Without Mélicerte, it becomes a torment ; nothing is of value to me without her divine charms. They contain all my happiness and all my desires, and if you take them away, you take life itself.]
Myrtil to Lycarsis (II. 5, p. 37)
Myrtil’s supposed father did allow his son to marry Mélicerte earlier in the play. He does again. But will his father keep his promise?
Ah! que pour ses enfants un père a de faiblesse!
Peut-on rien refuser à leurs mots de tendresse?
Et ne se sent-on pas certains mouvements doux,
Quand on vient à songer que cela sort de vous?
Lycarsis, seul (II. v, p. 32)
[Ah ! how weak a father is for his children ! Can we refuse aught to their tender words ? Do we not feel some sweet emotions within us, when we reflect that they are part of ourselves?]
Lycarsis, alone (ii. 5, p. 38)
Me tiendrez-vous au moins la parole avancée?
Ne changerez-vous point, dites-moi, de pensée?
Myril à Lycarsis (II. v, p. 32)
[But will you keep your given promise ? Tell me
that you will not change your mind.]
Myrtil to Lycarsis (II. 5, p. 38)
Acante and Tyrène can breathe again. Myrtil has chosen Mélicerte. The shepherds are free to court Daphné and Éroxène (Scene 6).
However, Mélicerte has disappeared. Nicandre is looking for her.
Ce sont des incidents grands et mystérieux:
Oui, le Roi vient chercher Mélicerte en ces lieux;
Et l’on dit qu’autrefois feu Bélise, sa mère,
Dont tout Tempé croyait que Mopse était le frère…
Mais je me suis chargé de la chercher partout,
Vous saurez tout cela tantôt, de bout en bout.
Nicandre à Myrtil (II. vii, p. 36)
[They are important and mysterious events. Yes, the King has come to seek Melicerte in these spots, and they say that formerly her mother Belise, of whom all Tempe believed Mopse to be the brother . . . But I have undertaken to look for her everywhere. You shall know all about it by and bye.]
Nicandre to Myrtil (II. 7, p. 39)
According to the Molière21 research team, the toutmoliere.net Mélicerte will find out that she is a princess and Myrtil will learn that he is the son of a great Lord. Mélicerte contains elements of fairy tales, which is not uncommon in comedies of intrigue. Henri van Laun, whose translation I have used (in PDF), was a Molière scholar. In his Prefatory Notice, Mr. van Laun writes that he wishes Molière had left us a written copy of the third act. Mélicerte is a lovely play, albeit incomplete.
“But the charm of his writing, the exquisite delicacy of the sentiment, and the freshness of the pastoral scenes, cause us to regret that Moliere wrote only the two first acts of this play, and never finished it.” (p. 17)
Mélicerte was published in the 1682 edition of Molière’s works. A third act, written by Molière, was never found.
Moreover, although Molière borrowed an episode from Artamène ou Le Grand Cyrus, by Madeleine de Scudéry, other ancestors to Mélicerte are Guarini‘s Pastor Fido (1590) and Honoré d’Urfé‘s L’Astrée (1607-1627), poems, and several “petits romans.”
I will conclude by mentioning that Mélicerte has inspired artists. The play is rather well known, incomplete as it is. More importantly, in Molière’s comedies, few young lovers so oppose parents choosing a spouse for their children as does Myrtil. We are in a distant land and “a long time ago” and the King is in Tempe looking for Mélicerte. The matter of rank plays an unusually important role in Mélicerte. It is as though one were reading a fairy tale. Cinderella has two sisters.
I agree with Mr. van Laun. Would that Molière had completed the play!
Love to everyone 💕
Ballet des Muses : “Trop indiscret Amour” [Euridice]
© Micheline Walker
3 May 2019