Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Hampton’s play is a dramatic adaptation of the sensationally successful novel with the same title, written in 1782 by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, a French career soldier. The decadence of the prerevolutionary, aristocratic world in Laclos’s fiction proved an ideal match for Hampton’s thematic consistency in exploring individual and cultural corruption, abusive and self-destructive relationships, and the tensions between individual fulfillment and moral responsibility. In Laclos’s libertines Hampton recognized, and then re-created, eighteenth century counterparts to the malicious, sexually exploitative protagonists in some of his own work, including the poet Arthur Rimbaud in Total Eclipse (pr. 1968, pb. 1969) and Dave in Treats (pr., pb. 1976). Indeed, Les Liaisons Dangereuses recalls both Total Eclipse and Treats in its focus on intimate relationships shaped by malice, verbal duels, and the deployment of sex as a weapon.

The marquise’s and Valmont’s power games in the original novel accorded marvelously with Hampton’s interest in intelligent, cold-blooded people who approach life as a competition that they must win by besting and even destroying others. This theme comes across in the game metaphor running throughout the play, as in the stage direction: “There flashes momentarily across Valmont’s face the expression of a chess champion who has just lost his queen,” or the marquise’s...

(The entire section is 592 words.)