I’m ready to post La Comtesse d’Escarbagnas, a fine little comedy of manners and comédie-ballet also entitled le Ballet des ballets. It was performed 580 times before the French Revolution. The main character, la Comtesse, is besotted by rank. She is a widowed personne de qualité, her spouse was a count, who is seeking a second husband. She does not marry an aristocrat, but a bourgeois who loves her and looks upon her as une personne de qualité. Monsieur Tibaudier is very frank, but he loves the Comtesse and she will remain a Comtesse. When the curtain lifts, she has just returned Paris. The dénouement is a happy one. It is an “all’s well that ends well,” Molière champions the happiness of loving couples.
Our dramatis personæ is:
LA COMTESSE D’ESCARBAGNAS.
LE COMTE, son fils (son).
LE VICOMTE, amant (in love with) de Julie.
JULIE, amante du Vicomte.
MONSIEUR TIBAUDIER, conseiller, amant de la Comtesse.
MONSIEUR HARPIN, receveur des tailles (tax farmer), autre amant de la Comtesse.
MONSIEUR BOBINET, précepteur (tutor) de Monsieur le Comte.
ANDRÉE, suivante de la Comtesse.
JEANNOT, laquais de Monsieur Tibaudier.
CRIQUET, laquais de la Comtesse.
The Suitors: Tibaudier and Harpin
La Comtesse is courted by three men:
- Monsieur Tibaudier,
- Monsieur Harpin, and
- le Vicomte.
When the Vicomte starts courting the Comtesse, Monsieur Tibaudier and Monsieur Harpin do no think they have a chance. The Viscount has a rank and the Comtesse is obsessed with rank. Two of her suitors are bourgeois and do not like having a rival who is Vicomte. Monsieur Harpin becomes a jaloux and rudely interrupts a comédie le Vicomte is offering la Comtesse. Monsieur Harpin’s jealousy is not revealed until the very end of the comedy, when he barges in on le vicomte‘s comédie.
However, Monsieur Tibaudier and Monsieur Harpin do not know le Vicomte is not their rival. Le Vicomte is in love with Julie, but they cannot marry until his father and her brothers approve the marriage. In fact, the Comtesse‘s only available suitors are Monsieur Tibaudier and Monsieur Harpin, one of whom is un jaloux, who enters late and disgraces himself.
When the inner comedy begins, the Vicomte’s gift to the comtesse, all has been arranged. La Comtesse will marry Monsieur Tibaudier. Monsieur Harpin is a jaloux whom we do not see until it’s too late. So, as events unfold, Monsieur Harpin having stayed away, the only suitor seeking the Comtesse‘s affection is Monsieur Tibaudier who dearly loves the Comtesse.
However, when invited to attend the comédie, Monsieur Tibaudier will not go the Comtesse‘s house until Jeannot has carried a gift of pears to which a message is attached. The messages is clear. He has been waiting for too long.
Madame, je n’aurais pas pu vous faire le présent que je vous envoie, si je ne recueillais pas plus de fruit de mon jardin, que j’en recueille de mon amour.
Monsieur Tibaudier (Scene IV)
[Madam, I could not have made you the present which I send you, if, I gathered as little fruit from my garden as I gather from my love.]
Monsieur Tibaudier (Scene Fifteen)
Monsieur Tibaudier has written:
Les poires ne sont pas encore bien mûres, mais elles en cadrent mieux, avec la dureté de votre âme, qui par ses continuels dédains, ne me promet pas poires molles. Trouvez bon, Madame, que sans m’engager dans une énumération de vos perfections, et charmes, qui me jetterait dans un progrès à l’infini, je conclue ce mot, en vous faisant considérer que je suis d’un aussi franc chrétien, que les poires que je vous envoie, puisque je rends le bien pour le mal, c’est-à-dire, Madame, pour m’expliquer plus intelligiblement, puisque je vous présente des poires de bon-chrétien, pour des poires d’angoisse, que vos cruautés me font avaler tous les jours.
Tibaudier, votre esclave indigne (Scène V)
[The pears are not yet very ripe; but they will go all the better with the hardness of your heart, which, by its continuous disdain, does not promise me anything soft. Permit me. Madam, without entering upon an enumeration of your perfections and charms which would betray me in a never ending progress, to conclude this note by calling your attention to the fact that I am as good a Christian as the pears which I send you, since I return good for evil; which means, Madam, to express myself more intelligibly, that I offer you pears of bon-chrétien for choke-pears which your cruelty makes me swallow every day.
Tibaudier, your unworthy slave.]
La Comtesse is not offended. She welcomes Monsieur Thibaudier has a stool brought for him and the Vicomte reads his poetry.
Une personne de qualité
Ravit mon âme,
Elle a de la beauté,
J’ai de la flamme;
Mais je la blâme
D’avoir de la fierté.
[A lady of quality
Ravishes my soul:
She has beauty,
I have love;
But I blame her
For having pride.]
When he reads the above, le Vicomte says:
He doesn’t think of his rank, except to say that he has been supplanted or outranked.
Outranked he is. La Comtesse cannot find anything wrong with Monsieur Tibaudier. So, when it is revealed — the péripétie, that the Vicomte can marry Julie, the Viscount himself gives la Comtesse to Monsieur Tibaudier as a husband. Monsieur Harpin has disgraced himself, and, he, the Viscount, loves Julie.
Le Vicomte knows that Monsieur Tibaudier truly loves la Comtesse, whom he will always consider “une personne de qualité.”
As for Julie, she has made le Vicomte wait, but has she been cruel?
But le Vicomte replaces Julie’s name with the name Iris in the poem he recites. The name Iris belongs to John Lyly‘s euphuism. He complains Iris is making him wait too long, but he has distanced Julie by naming her Iris. Julie protests. Why should women be depicted as a man’s torturer. It has seemed long. Julie and the Vicomte want to marry, but their families are objecting. It must seem an endless wait, but what could she do?
However, suddenly, everything turns around. It’s a péripétie. Le Vicomte tells la Comtesse what it means:
Cela veut dire, Madame, que j’épouse Julie, et si vous m’en croyez, pour rendre la comédie complète de tout point, vous épouserez Monsieur Tibaudier, et donnerez Mademoiselle Andrée à son laquais dont il fera son valet de chambre.
Le Vicomte à la Comtesse (Scène dernière)
[This means, Madam, that I marry Julia ; and if you believe me, to render the comedy more complete in all points, you will marry Mr. Tibaudier, and give Miss Andrée to his lacquey, of whom he shall make his valet.]
The Viscount to the Countesse (Scene Twenty-Two)
The Comtesse feels, briefly, that this is offensive
Le Vicomte tells her that he has not offended her. This is the Will of comedy, or an “all’s well that ends well.”
C’est sans vous offenser, Madame, et les comédies veulent de ces sortes de choses.
Le Vicomte à la Comtesse (Scène dernière)
[It was meant without offence, Madam; comedies require these sorts of things.]
The Viscount to the Countess (Scene Twenty-Two)
Oui, Monsieur Tibaudier, je vous épouse, pour faire enrager tout le monde.
La Comtesse à Monsieur Thibaudier (Scène dernière)
[Yes, Mr. Tibaudier, I marry you in order to put the whole world in a rage.]
The Countess to Mr Tibaudier (Scene Twenty-Two)
He thinks it is a very great honour:
All then go to see the end of the comédie the Vicomte was giving to Julie under the name of the Comtesse. Monsieur Harpin barges in, speaking impolitely, and is removed.
Molière has created a comedy where there is only one genuine suitor to la Comtesse. We suspect this is the case when le Vicomte tells Julie that she is making play a role in a comedy and complains that this has gone on for too long. She is not responsible for the delay. Cléante’s father and her brothers oppose her marriage to Cléante, the Vicomte. He protests because it has gone on too long and reads a poem where he depicts his plight as a “double martyrdom.” Time is relative. If one has a poire d’angoisse inserted in one’s mouth, time lasts forever. If one is happy, time flies.
C’est trop longtemps, Iris, me mettre à la torture,
Et si je suis vos lois, je les blâme tout bas,
De me forcer à taire un tourment que j’endure
Pour déclarer un mal que je ne ressens pas.
Faut-il que vos beaux yeux à qui je rends les armes,
Veuillent se divertir de mes tristes soupirs,
Et n’est-ce pas assez de souffrir pour vos charmes,
Sans me faire souffrir encor pour vos plaisirs?
Le Vicomte à Julie (Scène première)
[Too long, Iris, have you put me to the torture, And if I obey your laws, I blame them silently For forcing me to conceal the torment which I endure, To confess a pain which I do not feel.
This double martyrdom is too much at one time;
And if by pity you are not overcome,
I die both by the feint and by the truth.
The Viscount to Julie (Scene One)]
Le Vicomte and Julie are typical young lovers who face blocking characters. Cléante’s father would be a heavy father, but Julie does not agree that the Vicomte is a double martyrdom. However, she wants a copy of the letter. It is reverse flattery, but flattery.
Je vois que vous vous faites là bien plus maltraité que vous n’êtes; mais c’est une licence que prennent messieurs les poètes, de mentir de gaieté de cœur, et de donner à leurs maîtresses des cruautés qu’elles n’ont pas, pour s’accommoder aux pensées qui leur peuvent venir. Cependant je serai bien aise que vous me donniez ces vers par écrit.
Julie au Vicomte (Scène première)
I see that you make yourself out to be more ill-treated than you are; but to tell falsehoods wantonly, to attribute to their mistresses cruelties which they do not
feel, is a license which gentlemen poets take, to accommodate themselves to the ideas with which they may be inspired. I should, however, be very glad, if you would give me these verses in writing.]
Julie to the Viscount (Scene One)
The Vicomte makes believe he is in love with the Comtesse, and he cannot tell that Julie is the woman he loves. But he provides a rival to Monsieur Tibaudier and to Monsieur Harpin, which he doesn’t like.
Sources and Resources
- La Comtesse d’Escarbagnas is a toutmoliere.net publication
- The Countess of Escarbagnas is an internet archive publication
- Henri van Laun is our translator
- Images belong to the BnF and the sitelully.free.fr
- Bold characters are mine.
Love to all of you💕
This post is not complete, but it can stand alone. I will publish whatever is missing, excluding quotations used in this post.
 A pear-shaped instrument to keep the mouth open. One could not scream when thieves took everything.
 I believe this could also be translated as “who will be her lackey.”
 At Court, a lower rank individual was not allowed to sit in an armchair. The stool was a pliant. It could fold.
© Micheline Walker
31 December 2019