The Liar Summary (Pierre Corneille)

Pierre Corneille


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Dorante, a young gallant who has come to Paris to get his social education and not to take a wife (as his father, Geronte, wishes), hires as his mentor Cliton, a valet who has military and amatory connections. The young man wishes to be schooled in the ways of the world, though the only advice he ever takes from Cliton is to spend freely. Quite by planned accident, Clarice, tired of waiting for her lethargic lover, Alcippe, to conclude their secret arrangements to marry, trips onto the waiting arm of the newly arrived student. Although a rustic, Dorante immediately accommodates himself to the situation and exchanges euphemistic compliments with the young coquette, much to his valet’s despair. The brazen liar captivates not only Clarice but also her companions—especially Lucrece, who is silent throughout—with his false accounts of the wars in which he has fought and the deeds he has accomplished in Germany during the last four years.

The arrival of Alcippe puts the young women to flight, but not before Alcippe sees Clarice talking to his old friend Dorante. Dorante then quite ecstatically informs his companions that he has had amazing amatory adventures during his month’s stay in Paris. Last night, for example, he entertained a beautiful lady and five companions on five boats with four choirs of instruments playing all night and with dancing until dawn after a sumptuous repast of six courses, and so on. Cliton attempts to break into this mad monologue, but with no result, for Dorante’s philosophy is to tell big lies about wars and adventures in order to be believed.

Dorante’s stories are so plausible and his manner so persuasive that the two young ladies fall in love with him. His friend Alcippe burns with jealousy because he thinks that his fiancé was on the barge with Dorante the previous night, and his friend Philiste is completely mystified when he tries to reconcile the tales with what he later finds to be the unvarnished and unromantic truth. The one flaw in the liar’s plans is that in his conversation with Cliton, who has gained information about the young women from a coachman, Dorante has confused Clarice with Lucrece.

Into this confused web of mendacity and misplaced affections comes the good-natured Geronte, who, without his son’s knowledge, presses the young man’s suit for marriage with the daughter of an old friend. The young woman is Clarice, ready and willing to be wooed after all the time she has spent waiting for Alcippe’s advances. The old man and Clarice contrive a meeting that evening under her balcony and incognito, though she doubts that she can judge her suitor’s character from such a distance and under such unintimate circumstances. A friend then suggests that she receive him at Lucrece’s house and as Lucrece.

Alcippe, consumed with...

(The entire section is 1155 words.)