11 November 2013


Clearly, there was something wrong with my education, in that it failed to spoil French literature for me. Despite studying Candide for A level, I can still read it for enjoyment, and now I've started reading Molière's Amphitryon, a play I've never read before. It's one of those random readings. Petroc Trelawney on Radio 3 played Lully's overture the other day, and pronounced it in a way that I thought couldn't be correct. So I looked it up, and he was wrong (he had put the stress on the penultimate syllable, and rhymed it with lie on, the fool!) So a link or two led me to an online text of the play.

And what's really sad is that I can laugh at an exchange like this, where Sosie has been out-argued by Mercury, disguised as him.

L’action ne vaut rien.
370 Tu triomphes de l’avantage,
Que te donne sur moi mon manque de courage,
Et ce n’est pas en user bien.
C’est pure fanfaronnerie,
De vouloir profiter de la poltronnerie

Sosie was apparently played by Molière himself; of course he gets the best lines.

In another act of disguise, Jupiter is pretending to be Amphitryon, driven by lust for Alcmene. He says to her:

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.
Cet amant, de vos vœux, jaloux au dernier point,
Souhaite qu’à lui seul votre cœur s’abandonne ;
595 Et sa passion ne veut point,
De ce que le mari lui donne.
Il veut, de pure source, obtenir vos ardeurs ;
Et ne veut rien tenir des nœuds de l’hyménée :
Rien d’un fâcheux devoir, qui fait agir les cœurs,
600 Et par qui, tous les jours, des plus chères faveurs,
La douceur est empoisonnée.
Dans le scrupule enfin, dont il est combattu,
Il veut, pour satisfaire à sa délicatesse,
Que vous le sépariez d’avec ce qui le blesse ;
605 Que le mari ne soit que pour votre vertu ;
Et que de votre cœur, de bonté revêtu,
L’amant ait tout l’amour, et toute la tendresse.

While this is clearly a transparently cynical lotharism, I can't help but wonder if there's a general meditation going on, about duality of people, possibly also about theatrical representation. And of course, Amphi...  Duplicity. More to follow ...

Act 2 scene 2

Si sa bouche dit vrai, nous avons même sort ;
Et de même que moi, Monsieur, vous êtes double.

In Act 2, both Amphitryon and Sosie find that the actions of their doubles have damaged their relationships with their wives (Alcmene and Cléanthis). Jupiter has been playing as the lover, not the spouse, while au contraire Mercury has been cold with Cléanthis. The word transports is used a lot. Amphitryon thinks Alcmene has been unfaithful - but who with?


So, having finished reading, what of it?

The play ends quite abruptly. Jupiter and Mercury both tire of the imposture. Jupiter tells Amphitryon that Alcmene will bear a heroic son, Hercules. The gods return to the heavens. That's it.

It seems more like an entertainment than a real play, because of this ending. The intrigue unravels too quickly and easily.

Can we still see it as mythologised psychology? Amphitryon needs to learn to express the amant within: the result will be Hercules. In an imaginary staging, I'd like to see the two doubled characters played by actors who have very little physical resemblance, to stress the fantasy of it, the feeling that a blinding power is being exerted, not necessarily by the presumed gods even.

But I'm finding hard to have a definite view. Let's read some more Molière, and why not start with Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, another school set text, which I'd expect to still enjoy.

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