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.”
- 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.
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)
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)
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.
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:
- Mélicerte (2 December 1666),
- La Pastorale comique (5 January 1667), replacing Mélicerte as the third entrée, and
- Le Sicilien ou l’Amour peintre (14 February 1667), a late contribution.
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
- Amphitryon is a toutmoliere.net publication
- Amphitryon is the Gutenberg Project’s [EBook #2536]) EN
(translator: A. R. Waller)
- Maurice Rat (La Pléiade, 1956)
- Molière 21
Love to everyone 💕
I apologize for the delay. It was unavoidable.
Estienne Moulinié – Concert de différents oyseaux
Claire Lefilliâtre, soprano
Le Poème harmonique
© Micheline Walker
24 September 2019