The opening dialogue among Marquise de Merteuil, her cousin Madame de Volanges, and her cousin’s daughter Cécile in the marquise’s luxurious salon on a warm August evening establishes the marquise’s spotless reputation and Cécile’s naïveté. With Valmont’s arrival and the Volanges’ departure, the play begins its alternation between the conspiratorial encounters of the two libertines, Valmont and the marquise, and scenes of their reprehensible manipulation of those they victimize.
Scene 1 introduces a double intrigue: The marquise wishes to revenge herself on Gercourt, a former lover who left her for Valmont’s mistress, by having Valmont seduce and debauch Gercourt’s pure fiancé, Cécile; Valmont is intent on seducing an administrator’s virtuous wife, Madame de Tourvel. Although Valmont refuses such easy game as Cécile, and the marquise scorns his seduction of a married woman, the marquise promises to renew their earlier liaison upon seeing written proof of his victory over Madame de Tourvel.
Scene 2 finds Valmont at his aunt’s chateau in the country, with the Volanges and Madame de Tourvel as fellow guests. To benefit from a scene of reform staged with Azolan’s collaboration, Valmont declares himself to Madame de Tourvel, only to be spurned despite her attraction to him; immediately after, scene 3 shows his cynical recourse to Émilie’s bare back, in bed, as a desk for writing Madame de Tourvel a love letter full of witty double entendres.
Ten days later, again conspiring with the marquise, Valmont is eager to seduce Cécile for his own sake, since he now knows that her mother warned Madame de Tourvel against him. Fooling both Danceny, who is in love with and is loved by Cécile, and Madame de...
(The entire section is 720 words.)