Monsieur de Pourceaugnac is a three-act comédie-ballet Molière wrote for the royal family’s hunting season. He was asked to write it on 17 September 1669 and spent five weeks at Chambord where living conditions were difficult for Molière. He was sick and he was cold. Jean-Baptiste Lully, composed the music for this comédie-ballet and played a role, that of an Italian musician disguised as a doctor. The comedy was choreographed by Pierre Beauchamp and Carlo Vigarani built the sets.
Monsieur de Pourceaugnac was first performed for Louis XIV and the court, at the Château de Chambord, on 6 October 1669.
According to Georges Forestier, Scene Eight of Act Three is enchassée or embedded. However, Sbrigani, “un homme d’intrigue,” a schemer, seems a director within the play. He orchestrates the various “machines” designed to make Monsieur de Pourceaugnac unfit to marry Julie, Oronte’s daughter.
The source of this comedy may be the anonymous, Pulcinella pazzo per forza of the commedia dell’arte. Its ancestry would also include Polichinella Burlato. Polichinelle is blamed and could be the commedia dell’arte‘s pharmakós. The play also has French antecedents. Mocking doctors was a favourite theme of the French farce and other comic plays. Molière himself had already ridiculed doctors.
Monsieur de Pourceaugnac’s scenario is an all’s that ends well, a “tout est bien qui finit bien,” but Monsieur de Pourceaugnac’s very name, ‘pourc’ from ‘porc’ (pig), suggests a sorry fate for our Limosin (from Limoges).
Quand il n’y aurait que ce nom-là, Monsieur de Pourceaugnac, j’y brûlerai mes livres, ou je romprai ce mariage, et vous ne serez point Madame de Pourceaugnac. Pourceaugnac! Cela se peut-il souffrir? Non, Pourceaugnac est une chose que je ne saurais supporter, et nous lui jouerons tant de pièces, nous lui ferons tant de niches sur niches, que nous renverrons à Limoges Monsieur de Pourceaugnac.
Nérine à tous (I. i)
[If it were nothing but his name, this Monsieur de Pourceaugnac, I would do everything to succeed in breaking off this marriage, rather than that you should be Madam de Pourceaugnac. Pourceaugnac! is it bearable? No, Pourceaugnac is something which I cannot tolerate; and we shall play him so many tricks, we shall practice so many jokes upon jokes upon him, that we shall soon send Monsieur de Pourceaugnac back to Limoges again.
Nérine to all (I. 3, p. 94)
It should be noted that Monsieur de Pourceaugnac’s doctors and apothecaries are very aggressive. They try to force several interventions on Monsieur de Pourceaugnac, who travelled by coach, a carriage, from Limoges, to marry Oronte’s daughter Julie. Éraste takes him to a place where he will dine and sleep. It’s a fourberie. He finds himself the captive of doctors.
The play contains so many rather cruel tricks: fourberies, that at times, one is tempted to pity Monsieur de Pourceaugnac. He has come to Paris to marry Julie, but the blocking-character (le barbon) is Oronte, Julie’s father. Oronte has chosen to marry his daughter to a man she doesn’t even know. But the person who is fooled is a neither innocent nor guilty, mostly innocent Pourceaugnac.
Therefore, Monsieur de Pourceaugnac seems a scapegoat, a pharmakós, and, to a large extent, Monsieur de Pourceaugnac is a trickster play. Such comedies can be associated with cartoons. Body parts grow back after being removed painlessly. Victims do not hurt. However, Monsieur de Pourceaugnac is genuinely threatened and hurts. He has to flee.
First, he will have an illness and creditors. At the end of Act One, femmes d’intrigues (schemers), false wives will emerge. That is bigamy and punishable. Lucette and Nérine will both claim Pourceaugnac married them, which makes him one of Molière’s cas pendables, a case where one could be hanged.
But Molière uses two women who claim Monsieur de Pourceaugnac married them, feign provincial roots, and speak dialectal French, which is a comedic element. Molière toured the provincial, but Pézenas was his base. He was exposed to dialects.
The doctors, however, speak la langue macaronique, latinised Italian.
Our dramatis personæ is:
MONSIEUR DE POURCEAUGNAC.
JULIE, (daughter of) fille d‘Oronte.
NÉRINE, (a schemer) femme d’intrigue, (false) feinte Picarde.
LUCETTE, (false) feinte Gasconne.
ÉRASTE, (in love with) amant de Julie.
SBRIGANI, Napolitain, (a schemer) homme d’intrigue.
PREMIER MÉDECIN (doctor). SECOND MÉDECIN. L’APOTHICAIRE. UN PAYSAN (peasant). UNE PAYSANNE. PREMIER MUSICIEN (musician). SECOND MUSICIEN. PREMIER AVOCAT (lawyer). SECOND AVOCAT. PREMIER SUISSE (Swiss). SECOND SUISSE. UN EXEMPT. DEUX ARCHERS. PLUSIEURS MUSICIENS, JOUEURS D’INSTRUMENTS, ET DANSEURS.
In Act One, Scene One, Julie and Éraste, our young lovers, are together. Nérine, a schemer, is to keep an eye out to make sure Oronte, Julie’s father, does not see them. Moreover, our young loves are well prepared.
Oui, belle Julie, nous avons dressé pour cela quantité de machines, et nous ne feignons point de mettre tout en usage, sur la permission que vous m’avez donnée. Ne nous demandez point tous les ressorts que nous ferons jouer, vous en aurez le divertissement; et comme aux comédies, il est bon de vous laisser le plaisir de la surprise, et de ne vous avertir point de tout ce qu’on vous fera voir; c’est assez de vous dire que nous avons en main divers stratagèmes tous prêts à produire dans l’occasion, et que l’ingénieuse Nérine et l’adroit Sbrigani entreprennent l’affaire.
Éraste à Julie (I. i)
[Yes, charming Julia, we have in readiness a quantity of engines for this purpose; and now that you have given me permission, we shall not scruple to use them all. Do not ask us all the contrivances which we shall bring into play; you will be amused by them; and it is better to leave you the pleasure of surprise, as they do in comedies, and to warn you of nothing which we mean to show you. Let it be sufficient to tell you that we have various stratagems in hand to be produced at the fit moment, and that the ingenious Nerine and the skilful Sbrigani have undertaken the affair.]
Eraste to Julia (I. 3, p. 93)
Nérine is so ingénieuse that Molière invites a comparison with the commedia dell’arte’s zanni. Sbrigani is the main schemer. He is from Naples.
In Scene Two, Julia is asked to make believe she agrees with her father’s decisions. She does to the point of leaving with Monsieur de Pourceaugnac. But Oronte forces her to marry Éraste, whom she loves. Oronte uses the word sotte (silly) when speaking of his daughter.
Au moins, Madame, souvenez-vous de votre rôle; et pour mieux couvrir notre jeu, feignez, comme on vous a dit, d’être la plus contente du monde des résolutions de votre père.
Éraste à Julie (I. ii)
[At least, Madam, remember your part ; and, the better to hide our game, pretend, as you have been told, to be thoroughly satisfied with your father’s plans.]
Eraste to Julia (I. 4, p. 95)
Monsieur de Pourceaugnac is spotted in Act One, Scene Two. In Scene Three, he is greeted very politely by Sbrigani. The “Ah, ah !” are contrived, but comical. Sbrigani claims he is speaking from the bottom of [his] heart:
Sbrigani then asks Monsieur de Pourceaugnac if he has lodgings for the night at which point Scene Four Éraste then enters the stage claiming he knows all the Pourceaugnacs in Limoges. However, he is getting his information from Monsieur de Pourceaugnac himself. This scene is also very comical.
In Scene Five, Éraste takes Monsieur de Pourceaugnac to the home where he will dine and spend the night. However, the home is a doctor’s home. They are greeted by an apothecary who is told by Éraste that Pourceaugnac is a relative who “has been attacked by a fit of madness:”
… c’est pour lui mettre entre les mains certain parent que nous avons, dont on lui a parlé, et qui se trouve attaqué de quelque folie, (…)
Éraste à l’apothicaire (I. v)
[It is to place under his care a certain relation of ours, of whom we spoke, and who has been attacked by a fit of madness, which we should be very glad to have cured before he is married.]
Eraste to the Apothecary (I. 7)
The apothecary praises the doctor in the following and astounding terms:
Voilà déjà trois de mes enfants dont il m’a fait l’honneur de conduire la maladie, qui sont morts en moins de quatre jours, et qui entre les mains d’un autre, auraient langui plus de trois mois.
L’Apothicaire à Éraste (I. v)
[Already there are three of my children whose complaints he has done me the honor to treat, who have died in less than four days, and who in some one else’s hands would have languished for three months or more.]
Enters the first doctor who says that a sick peasant whose headaches are very painful should suffer “from the spleen:”
Le malade est un sot, d’autant plus que dans la maladie dont il est attaqué, ce n’est pas la tête, selon Galien, mais la rate, qui lui doit faire mal.
Premier médecin au paysan (I. vi)
The patient is a fool: seeing that, in the complaint with which he is attacked he ought not, according to Galen, to suffer from the head at all, but from the spleen.
First doctor to peasant (I. 8)
Éraste says that the patient, Pourceaugnac, should not be out of the doctors hands.
Je vous recommande surtout de ne le point laisser sortir de vos mains, car parfois il veut s’échapper.
Éraste au premier médecin (I. vii)
I recommend you above all not to let him slip out of your hands ; for he sometimes attempts to escape.
Eraste to the 1st doctor (I. 10, p. 106)
In Scene Eight, a second doctor joins the first doctor. The two doctors take his pulse and ask questions about the food he eats, whether he sleeps well, whether he dreams, and also ask about his dejections. The doctors decide to “raisonner,” or discuss matters, together, and do so at length, interjecting Latin phrases and citing authorities. Treatment is determined. It is extensive, but they will start with un petit lavement, an enema.
Having listened to them for an hour, Monsieur de Pourceaugnac wonders if a comedy is being played:
Messieurs, il y a une heure que je vous écoute. Est-ce que nous jouons ici une comédie?
Monsieur de Pourceaugnac (I. viii)
[Gentlemen, I have been listening to you for this hour. Are we playing a comedy here?] (I. 11)
Just before an interlude begins, Monsieur de Pourceaugnac insists that he feels well: Je me porte bien.
Nous savons mieux que vous comment vous vous portez, et nous sommes médecins, qui voyons clair dans votre constitution.
Premier médecin (I. viii)
We know better than you how you are; and we are physicians who see clearly into your constitution.
First doctor (I. 11)
Si vous êtes médecins, je n’ai que faire de vous; et je me moque de la médecine.
Pourceaugnac (I. viii)
[If you are physicians, I have no business with you; and I do not care a straw for physic.]
Pourceaugnac (I. 11)
Monsieur de Pourceaugnac declares that his parents never took medicine and that both died “sans l’assistance des médecins.”
[My father and mother would never take medicine, and they both died without doctor’s assistance.]
Pourceaugnac (I. 11, p. 110)
Je ne m’étonne pas s’ils ont engendré un fils qui est insensé.
Premier médecin au second (I. viii)
[They therefore produced a son who is bereft of his senses.]
The doctors are about to go ahead with an enema:
Que diable est-ce là? Les gens de ce pays-ci sont-ils insensés? Je n’ai jamais rien vu de tel, et je n’y comprends rien du tout.
Pourceaugnac (I. ix)
[What the devil is this? Have the people of these parts taken leave of their wits? I have never seen anything like it, and I understand nothing about it.]
Pourceaugnac (I. 12)
An interlude begins before the end of Act One. The comedy is part of the interlude.
An apothecary arrives carrying a syringe, Monsieur de Pourceaugnac flees sending them to the devil: “Allez-vous-en au diable.” (I. xi)
A group of apothecaries go after Monsieur de Pourceaugnac singing in latin macaronique, a mixture of Italian and Latin.
Sources and Resources
- Monsieur de Pourceaugnac is a toutmoliere.net publication
- Monsieur de Pourceaugnac is an Internet Archive publication
- Our translator is Henri van Laun.
 Georges Forestier, Le Théâtre dans le théâtre (Genève : Droz, 1996), p. 353.
© Micheline Walker
19 January 2020