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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1199

First produced: 1668

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First published: 1669

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Satiric comedy

Time of work: Seventeenth century

Locale: Normandy, France

Principal Characters:

Dandin, a judge

Leandre, his son

Chicanneau, a bourgeois

Isabelle, Chicanneau's daughter

La Comtesse, a litigant

Petit Jean, a porter

L'Intime, a secretary

Le Souffleur, the prompter


Racine first planned LES PLAIDEURS as a French adaptation of Aristophanes' THE WASPS, to be presented by an Italian company in Paris. As it turned out, he received some collaboration from a group of friends who dined together regularly, a circumstance which may explain the spontaneity of the comedy. The action, unimportant in itself, becomes the occasion for a series of amusing scenes which ridicule doctors and lawyers. Like Aristophanes, Racine took the greatest liberties with the logic of his plot. The play occupies an interesting place in Racine's work, for it shows a master of tragedy equally at ease in a drama of completely different effect.

The Story:

Early one morning Petit Jean stood in front of Dandin's house while he complained about the sad state of affairs created by his master's madness. Judge Dandin suddenly wanted to sit in judgment on his own family and to go to bed with his robes on. He had even ordered his rooster killed, saying that a defendant had bribed the bird to wake him up too late.

It was necessary for Leandre to have his father watched day and night, and this was the reason why Petit Jean could not sleep and was complaining. Leandre also insisted that Judge Dandin should not be allowed to go into court, but Dandin was constantly attempting to escape the watchfulness of his family in order to do so. When L'Intime and Petit Jean caught him trying to climb out the window, the noise awakened Leandre, who tried to persuade his father to go back into the house. Finally Petit Jean took Dandin into the house by force.

Leandre confessed to L'Intime his wish to have a note delivered to Isabelle, daughter of their neighbor, Chicanneau, and L'Intime promised to help him. At that moment Chicanneau arrived and insisted on seeing Dandin about one of his trials; the bourgeois was constantly engaged in lawsuits. Petit Jean firmly refused to let him enter. During the argument La Comtesse arrived; she also was always suing someone. Chicanneau tried to advise her about one of her lawsuits. When she misunderstood him and they began to quarrel, both asked Petit Jean to act as a witness. He tried his best to pacify them.

In order to deliver the note to Isabelle, L'Intime disguised himself as a process server and insisted that Leandre dress as a police commissioner. The idea was to give Isabelle the letter while serving La Comtesse' writ on Chicanneau. Finding Isabelle alone, they succeeded in giving her the letter just as Chicanneau arrived home. Isabelle, pretending that it was a legal paper, tore up the note and declared that she detested lawsuits. In order to convince Chicanneau, L'Intime produced the actual document from La Comtesse. Chicanneau, doubting that L'Intime was a process server, administered a sound thrashing.

When Leandre arrived in his disguise, L'Intime complained bitterly about the bad treatment he had received and the defiance of the law exhibited by both Chicanneau and Isabelle. Leandre, seizing upon this situation as an opportunity to "question" Isabelle, tricked her into admitting her feelings toward him. Chicanneau, bewildered, failed to understand what was happening and signed what he thought was a police report, but which was actually a marriage contract between Leandre and Isabelle.

Dandin, meanwhile, was running from one window of his house to another. Insisting on giving audience to Chicanneau and La Comtesse, he succeeded in pulling Chicanneau inside the house through a cellar window. When he next tried to escape, Leandre suggested that he preside at the trial of Citron, a dog that had eaten a chicken.

Declaring that he had never seen them before, Chicanneau complained to Leandre about the process server and the police commissioner. Leandre suggested that Chicanneau and Isabelle demand justice from Dandin.

Meanwhile, Leandre staged the trial of Citron, with Petit Jean and L'Intime acting as lawyers. Petit Jean, as the prosecutor, had difficulty in playing his role in spite of help from Le Souffleur, the prompter, at every other word. L'Intime, acting as the defense lawyer, was so eloquent that Dandin fell asleep. On awakening, he decided to condemn the dog to the gallows. L'Intime then produced a basket of puppies and, swearing that they would become orphans if the dog were executed, pleaded their cause. Dandin, greatly perplexed, discussed this situation with everyone.

Chicanneau and Isabelle arrived. When Leandre produced the marriage contract, Chicanneau threatened to go to court over the agreement. Leandre assured him, however, that he had no interest in Isabelle's dowry. Mollified, Chicanneau finally agreed to the marriage. Then, as a welcoming present to Isabelle, Dandin decided to acquit Citron.

Further Critical Evaluation of the Work:

LES PLAIDEURS is the only comedy of Racine. It was written largely by the inspiration of contemporary quarrels and a desire of the author to mock specific contemporaries. It was at first received poorly, then very well, after people heard that the king had laughed during its presentation at court. One tradition has it that Moliere (an enemy of Racine) considered it "excellent," while another tradition, more probable, stated that Moliere felt the play was "worthless." In any case, it has been remarkably successful since, and is often performed.

The play mocks limited social attitudes by exaggerating them, as is common in satire. Here the judgmental compulsion of Dandin, or the need of Chicanneau and La Comtesse to litigate is pushed to the point of absurdity. The exaggerated, cliched thinking of these characters dominates the play. The relative sanity of Leandre and Isabelle is obliged to engage in the absurdities of their parents in order to assure their marriage. But it is notable that there is no real reconciliation, merely a successful adaptation and manipulation by the young couple. The two servants, Petit Jean and L'Intime, are, for the most part, merely bantied about by their masters' foolishness.

There is very little psychological depth to the characters. Leandre and Isabelle have, at least, two concerns—their love, and dealing with their parents. But Dandin's compulsive judging and the litigiousness of Chicanneau and La Comtesse are so cut-off from complex motives as to seem self-generated, and therefore all the more ridiculous. La Comtesse, who has received a pension which forbids her further litigating, complains, "But to live without litigating, is that happiness?" This lack of depth creates a great "aesthetic distance." What might be seen as viciousness, were it connected to deeper motives, passes for mere foolishness.

As Henry Fielding says in his preface to JOSEPH ANDREWS (1742), satire derives from highlighting the one-sidedness of the victim's views of things. This play is perhaps a classic example of such a strategy because the three victims convert all experience into an instance of litigation with the same restless and absurd energy of the keystone cop. Mechanically, and delightfully, they pursue the mere physical object on a delightful and wild chase.

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