L’Impromptu de Versailles, 3
MOLIERE, a ridiculous Marquis,
BRECOURT, a man of Quality.
LA GRANGE, a ridiculous Marquis.
Du CROISY, a poet.
LA THORILLIERE, a fidgety Marquis.
BEJART, a busybody.
Mademoiselle DUPARC, 6 a ceremonious Marchioness. Mademoiselle BEJART, a prude. Mademoiselle DEBRIE, a sage coquette. Mademoiselle MOLIERE, a satirical wit. Mademoiselle Du CROISY, a whining plague. Mademoiselle HERVE, a conceited chambermaid.
Scene. VERSAILLES, IN THE KING’ S ANTECHAMBER
L’Impromptu de Versailles features Molière playing Molière and his troupe playing their role. They are characters in a play within a play, le théâtre dans le théâtre. Louis XIV has commissioned this short play because he wants Molière to defend himself against his accusers.
In Scene One, after his actors oppose performing a play, they have yet to rehearse and tell Molière that he is fortunate. He knows the play. But Molière bemoans his role, not to mention the power of a king. The play was performed on 14 October 1663, at Versailles. Molière and his actors knew the play Molière had written despite a script, L’Impromptu, according to which Molière knew the play, but his actors did not. L’Impromptu was performed at the Palais-Royal on 4 November 1663.
We know that Molière wanted to please an audience, but he also had to please, or not earn a living, or money to support his actors. So, they often rehearsed very quickly a play Molière had written in a matter of days. Louis XIV was aware of Molière’s self-ambition and named Lully “director of the Académie Royale de Musique” (1873-1887). (See Lully, Wikipedia.) Molière fell out with Jean-Baptiste Lully in 1672. His composer would be Marc-Antoine Charpentier. History would prove Molière the more remarkable genius. Moreover, Molière, not Lully, created the comédie-ballet. Moreover, the French court sought constant divertissements. It danced, and it sang. Therefore, Molière worried and said so. As a playwright, chef de troupe and actor, he worked to death. Molière died at the age of 51.
Et n’ai-je à craindre que le manquement de mémoire? Ne comptez-vous pour rien l’inquiétude d’un succès qui ne regarde que moi seul? Et pensez-vous que ce soit une petite affaire, que d’exposer quelque chose de comique devant une assemblée comme celle-ci? que d’entreprendre de faire rire des personnes qui nous impriment le respect, et ne rient que quand ils veulent? Est-il auteur qui ne doive trembler, lorsqu’il en vient à cette épreuve? Et n’est-ce pas à moi de dire que je voudrais en être quitte pour toutes les choses du monde?
Molière (Sc I. i)
[And have I nothing to fear but want of memory? Do you reckon the anxiety as to our success, which is entirely my own concern, nothing? And do you think it a trifle to provide something comic for such an assembly as this; to undertake to excite laughter in those who command our respect, and who only laugh when they choose? Must not any author tremble when he comes to such a test? Would it not be natural for me to say that I would give everything in the world to be quit of it.]
Molière (Sc. I. 1, p. 192)
Mon Dieu, Mademoiselle, les rois n’aiment rien tant qu’une prompte obéissance, et ne se plaisent point du tout à trouver des obstacles. Les choses ne sont bonnes que dans le temps qu’ils les souhaitent ; et leur en vouloir reculer le divertissement est en ôter pour eux toute la grâce. Ils veulent des plaisirs qui ne se fassent point attendre, et les moins préparés leur sont toujours les plus agréables, nous ne devons jamais nous regarder dans ce qu’ils désirent de nous, nous ne sommes que pour leur plaire ; et lorsqu’ils nous ordonnent quelque chose, c’est à nous à profiter vite de l’envie où ils sont. Il vaut mieux s’acquitter mal de ce qu’ils nous demandent, que de ne s’en acquitter pas assez tôt ; et si l’on a la honte de n’avoir pas bien réussi, on a toujours la gloire d’avoir obéi vite à leurs commandements. Mais songeons à répéter s’il vous plaît.
Molière (Sc. i)
[Oh! Mademoiselle, Kings like nothing better than a ready obedience, and are not at all pleased to meet with obstacles. Things are not acceptable, save at the moment when they desire them; to try to delay their amusement is to take away all the charm. They want pleasures that do not keep them waiting; and those that are least prepared are always the most agreeable to them. We ought never to think of ourselves in what they desire of us; our only business is to please them; and, when they command us, it is our part to respond quickly to their wish. We had better do amiss what they require of us, than not do it soon enough; if we have the shame of not succeeding, we always have the credit of having speedily obeyed their commands. But now, pray, let us set about our rehearsal.]
Molière (Sc. 1, p. 193)
Scene Three provokes a strange feeling, which is consistent with works of fiction. They may seem real. Roland Barthes has given a name to this phenomenon: l’effet de réel, which, in L’Impromptu de Versailles reaches dizzying heights. Molière protrayed his century and did so because he wrote “d’après nature.” He observed carefully, which led to the Querelle de l’École des femmes. On 4 June 1664, his realism unleashed fury. His Tartuffe was condemned and, to a certain extent members of la Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement could be fooled. They could see a real dévot, in a faux dévot. Molière rewrote his play until it could be performed with producing a scandal.
L’effet de réel also generates feelings. Form and feelings are not easily dissociated. Susanne K. Langer‘s Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art (1953) is very convincing. When the play begins, we are in the “green” room. For instance, Molière says that he does not want to be Molière and denies having played the marquis ridicule in La Critique de l’École des femmes, but a little further down the page, he admits having played the marquis ridicule. However, La Grange wants to bet, cent (a hundred) pistoles that Molière was the marquis ridicule and Brécourt has just arrived and says that both are “fools.” Suddenly, we remember Perrin Dandin.
Brécourt as umpire says that both Molière and La Grange are “fools,” which takes us back to La Critique’s Uranie who suggests that characters presented on the stage are “miroirs publics” (public mirrors) and “une thèse générale,” generalities. Molière does not attack anyone in particular, he depicts a group.
Comme l’affaire de la comédie est de représenter en général tous les défauts des hommes, et principalement des hommes de notre siècle; il est impossible à Molière de faire aucun caractère qui ne rencontre quelqu’un dans le monde; et s’il faut qu’on l’accuse d’avoir songé toutes les personnes ou l’on peut trouver les défauts qu’il peint, il faut sans doute qu’il ne fasse plus de comedies.
Brécourt (Sc. iv)
[As the business of comedy is to represent in a general way all the faults of men, and especially of the men of our day, it is impossible for Moliere to create any character not to be met with in the world; and if he must be accused of thinking of everyone in whom are to be found the faults which he delineates he must, of course, give up writing comedies.]
Brécourt (Sc. iii, p. 203)
Moreover, Molière is not running out of material. The following quotation names all kinds of courtiers he could depict as hypocrites. They greet one another politely, only to indulge in backbiting. This tirade, a soliloquy, is a prelude to the Misanthrope, which would not be performed until 4th June 1666. Molière still has everything to say. A tirade follows, but it is too long to quote in its entirety. The full quotation has become a post entitled L’Impromptu, Sc. iv.
Attendez, il faut marquer davantage tout cet endroit, écoutez-le-moi dire un peu. «Et qu’il ne trouvera plus de matière pour… — Plus de matière! Hé, mon pauvre Marquis, nous lui en fournirons toujours assez, et nous ne prenons guère le chemin de nous rendre sages pour tout ce qu’il fait et tout ce qu’il dit. Crois-tu qu’il ait épuisé dans ses comédies tout le ridicule des hommes? Et sans sortir de la cour, n’a-t-il pas encore vingt caractères de gens où il n’a point touché? N’a-t-il pas, par exemple, ceux qui se font les plus grandes amitiés du monde, et qui le dos tourné font galanterie de se déchirer l’un l’autre? Voilà à peu près comme cela doit être joué.
Molière (Sc. iv)
[You must be more emphatic with this passage. Just listen to me for a moment. “And that he will find no more subjects for . . . No more subjects? Ah, dear Marquis, we shall always go on providing him with plenty, and we are scarcely taking the course to grow wise, for all that he can do or say. Do you imagine that he has exhausted in his comedies all the follies of men; and without leaving the Court, are there not a score of characters which he has not yet touched upon? For instance, has he not those who profess the greatest friendship possible, and who, when they turn their backs, think it a piece of gallantry to tear each other to pieces?]
Molière (Sc. 3, pp. 204-205)
Read the full quotation at L’Impromptu, Sc. iv
In Scene Five, all members of Molière’s troupe are delighted because authors have got together to write a play against Molière, entitled Le Portrait du peintre. Vengeance is expected on Molière’s part. We suspect, first, that others attack him because they see themselves in the ridiculous characters his plays depict. What we see and hear is unlikely to correspond to what is said. Second, Molière was the better playwright.
Brécourt feels that a new play, a superior play, is the appropriate response.
Molière describes the society of his century “d’après nature.” In other words, he depicts his society realistically, which is the source of the querelle de l’École des femmes and will also be the source of Tartuffe‘s condemnation. Molière’s knowledge of human nature brings to mind humanists such as Montaigne, l’humayne condition, and Rabelais‘ various characters.
The End of a Project
I have now written posts on every play Molière wrote. Some posts are less bilingual than others which can be remedied. I do not think, however, that I can write a full book on Molière. I no longer live near a research library and my memory is failing me. I forget the spelling of words. But my posts will be my contribution to Molière scholarship, other than articles I have written. I am glad Internet Archives published Henri van Laun’s translation of every play Molière wrote.
I have chosen music composed by Louis XIII. Louis XIII did not live with his wife, yet he fathered two children. The kings of France loved entertainment.
Page on Molière
L’Impromptu, Sc. iv (11 December 2020)
L’Impromptu de Versailles, 2 (10 December 2020)
L’Impromptu de Versailles, 1 (30 November 2020)
La Critique de l’École des femmes: pleasure (20 November 2020)
La Critique de l’École des femmes: details (15 November 2020)
La Critique de l’École des femmes (10 November 2020)
Destiny in L’École des femmes (1st November 2020) (no 62)
Sources and Resources
L’Impromptu de Versailles is a toutmolière.net publication.
L’Impromptu de Versailles is an Internet Archive publication.
La Critique de l’École des femmes is a toutmolière.net publication.
The School for Wives criticized is an Internet Archive publication.
Our translator is Henri van Laun.
Wikipedia: various entries.
The Encyclopædia Britannica: various entries.
Kindest regards to all of you. 💕
© Micheline Walker
10 December 2020