I have added a short conclusion to my last post, Molière’s Comtesse d’Escarbagnas, and have referred to allusions to comedy as self-referential. As for the comedy the Vicomte is offering the Comtesse, it is not a play-within-a-play (unthéâtre dans le théâtre). We do not see the play and it is not over when the curtain falls. However, allusions to this comedy do take us from one scene to another. In other words, they function as a fil conducteur, or leading thread, thereby contributing to the coherence of the play. Guests arrive one at a time: Jeannot carrying pears on behalf of Monsieur Tibaudier, Monsieur Tibaudier himself, Monsieur Bobinet and, when the play-as-gift has begun, Monsieur Harpin.
The editor of my very 1956 Pléiade edition of Molière points to four main types constituting La Comtesse d’Escarbagnas: Monsieur Bobinet, Monsieur Tibaudier, Monsieur Harpin, a tax-farmer, and la Comtesse: Monsieur Bobinet is described as an out-and-out prig: “cuistre fieffé.” Monsieur Tibaudier, a councellor-at-law, is a “robin pédant et galant,” a pedantic noble of the robe. Monsieur Harpin swears and does not know that le Vicomte is no longer a rival. As for the Comtesse, she has been described or has described herself in her conversation with Julie, which takes place in Scene II. However, in as light a comedy as La Comtesse d’Escarbagnas, Messieurs Tibaudier, Bobinet, and Harpin are mostly sketched. None are a Tartuffe.
The Épigrammes & poet Martial
This scene is precious. Monsieur Tibaudier has written épigrammesfor the Comtesse. This form was popular in 17th-century French salons.
When the Vicomte admires Monsieur Tibaudier’s poetry and says that he, a Vicomte, has been outranked, supplanté, the Comtesse suspects he is mocking Monsieur Tibaudier whom she admires and will marry.
Comment, Madame, me moquer ? Quoique son rival, je trouve ces vers admirables, et ne les appelle pas seulement deux strophes, comme vous, mais deux épigrammes, aussi bonnes que toutes celles de Martial. Le Vicomte à la Comtesse (Scene V) [How, Madam, to sneer? Though his rival, I think these verses admirable, and not only call them two strophes, but two epigrams, as good as all those of Martial.] The Viscount to the Countess (Scene Sixteen, 76)
The Comtesse thinks Martial is a local person who makes gloves:
Quoi, Martial fait-il des vers, je pensais qu’il ne fît que des gants? La Comtesse au Vicomte à la Comtesse (Scene V) [What! does Martial make verses? I thought he made nothing but gloves.] The Countess to the Viscount (Scene Sixteen, p. 76)
Monsieur Tibaudier corrects her gently. It is not that Martial, says Monsieur Tibaudier, but a man who lived thirty to forty years ago.
Ce n’est pas ce Martial-là, Madame, c’est un auteur qui vivait il y a trente ou quarante ans. Monsieur Tibaudier à la Comtesse (Scene V) [It is not that Martial, Madam; it is an author who lived about thirty or forty years ago.] Monsieur Tibaudier to the Countess (Scene Sixteen, p. 77)
That is another mistake. Latin poet Martial (see Épigrammes) lived in the 2nd-century CE. Poet Martial wrote fifteen books of Épigrammes. So, both the Comtesse and Monsieur Tibaudier are wrong, but should Le Vicomte correct Monsieur Tibaudier, the man who so praises la Comtesse and whom she loves? No, Monsieur Tibaudier would be humiliated and the riposte would not be consistent with the spirit of La Comtesse d’Escarbagnas.
La Comtesse d’Escarbagnas was part of the Ballet des ballets. The music, by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, has come down to us, and so have the nine scenes of a short comedy of manners. In a comedy of manners, one interjects elements that will keep the spectators laughing. However, La Comtesse d’Escarbagnas is a very light comedy of manners and part of a divertissement (entertainment) called Le Ballet des ballets. Monsieur Tibaudier is a counsellor-at-law and he grows pears. So, it is unlikely that he would know much about Latin poets, but Molière is rather kind to his characters. However, it is true that the Martial le Vicomte mentions does not make gloves.
Molière did enter his comedies. I think several moliéristes would agree that the Vicomte’s description of the play can be seen as a brief intrusion by the dramatist of his Comtesse d’Escarbagnas. As well, one wonders why so much of Scene One is devoted to a depiction of a fâcheux(a bore). My readers who know French will find the Notice to La Comtesse d’Escarbagnas very informative. For instance, the description of a fâcheux (a bore), at the very beginning of the play, is looked upon as “fort curieuse,” very curious (see Notice).
Georges Forestier, the current authority on this subject, does not list LaComtesse d’Escarbagnas as a théâtre dans le théâtre, at least not as a whole. The théâtre dans le théâtre would have been inserted in the missing Pastoral, between Scenes VIII and IX.
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 comiquewas 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 apièce 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.
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.
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.
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)
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.