by Pierre Carlet

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Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux 1688-1763

Marivaux is recognized as an innovative dramatist who produced masterpieces of French comedy concerned with the discovery and denial of love. His works are characterized by subtle description and keen psychological observation; this penchant for minute analysis is termed "marivaudage." A modern revival of interest in Marivaux's comedies has gained him a preeminent position in the history of eighteenth-century French literature.


Extremely little is known of Marivaux's life. He was born in Paris, and while a child, he moved with his family to Riom, where his father assumed the directorship of the royal mint. In 1710, at the age of twenty-two, Marivaux returned to Paris to study law. He eventually received his degree, but by then he had begun to move in literary circles. His friendship with Bernard LeBovier de Fontenelle and others led Marivaux to join the Moderns, a group of progressive writers led by Houdar de la Motte, who quarreled with the group known as the Ancients over the relative merits of contemporary and classical aesthetic views. Marivaux's earliest known play, Le Père prudent et equitable (The Just and Prudent Father), is a one-act comedy believed to have been written sometime between 1709 and 1711 and then produced privately. In 1720 Marivaux began a highly successful association with the Théâtre Italien, a popular troupe of Italian actors who performed in France and rivalled the national company, the Théâtre Français. His debut comedy, Arlequin poli par l'amour (Harlequin Refined by Love), fused the sophistication of the French theater with the imaginative stagecraft of the Italian and garnered widespread popular and critical approval. The play typifies Marivaux's departure from such established forms as the five-act verse drama, which he discarded in favor of one- and three-act plays. Also in 1720 Marivaux produced for the Théâtre Français his only tragedy, Annibal (Hannibal). This drama failed, as did many of his later comedies performed there, due largely to Marivaux's numerous dramatic innovations and his subtle, multi-layered style, which the French actors found difficult to interpret for performance. Despite a relatively unsuccessful history with the Théâtre Français, Marivaux was elected to the French Academy in 1743. For the rest of his life he continued to write comedies, though with lessening frequency. After suffering a prolonged illness, Marivaux died in Paris in 1763.


The dominant thematic concern in Marivaux's thirty-odd plays centers on individual sincerity within the social sphere, particularly as it relates to courtship and love. Nonetheless, he wrote several dramas concerned less with love than with eighteenth-century social and philosophical issues. An enormously popular play during its first run, L'Île des esclaves (The Isle of Slaves), hypothesizes the eradication of barriers between social classes. A similar play in conception, L'Île de la raison (The Isle of Reason), juxtaposes humanity's paradoxical potential for displaying both folly and wisdom. Marivaux's first master-piece, Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard (The Game of Love and Chance), was produced by the Théâtre Italien in 1730. This was followed by several other highly acclaimed plays, including Les Legs (The Legacy), Les Fausses Confidences (False Confidences), and L'Épreuve (The Test). The performance of La Mère confident (The Mother as Confidant) in 1735 marked the birth of the drame bourgeois, a form halfway between serious drama and sentimental comedy, which explores the family problems of the middle class.


Nearly all critics of Marivaux's works discuss in some way "marivaudage," the author's distinctive style. During the eighteenth and most of the nineteenth century, harsh evaluations dominated discussions of his writing. Marivaux's contemporary Jean-François de la...

(This entire section contains 887 words.)

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Harpe disparagingly defined marivaudage as "an artifice which consists in clothing subtle and alambricated ideas in popular language, a vicious fluency which leads him to examine one thought from every possible angle and which scarcely ever allows him to leave it till he has spoiled it; in short, a precious and far-fetched neologism which shocks both language and good taste." Pejorative definitions such as this prevailed until recent times, when marivaudage became equated with talent rather than tastelessness. Several modern critics have defended Marivaux's style, either by demonstrating its affinity with that of other celebrated writers, such as Fontenelle, Henry James, and Marcel Proust, or by stressing Marivaux's relatively spare use of language and dismissing La Harpe's negative commentary as exaggerated. Criticism of the plays themselves has been closely linked to the evolution of the term marivaudage. Today, although a few of Marivaux's plays are dismissed for their lack of originality, most are judged to display liveliness, a variety of situations and characters, and a modern appeal which elevates them over the works of his contemporaries, including Voltaire. Modern critics point out that Marivaux developed his favorite subject, blossoming love, through many different situations and emotions. Critics emphasize that the comedies reveal universal themes, such as human deception and sincerity.Amourpropre, or a form of self-love that Marivaux links with a refusal to remove one's "social mask" and open oneself to romantic love, embodies these themes and is a central element in his dramas. Beginning with La Surprise de l'amour (The Surprise of Love) in 1722, this element suffused Marivaux's comedies and greatly influenced the treatment of love in the theater, which until then had been preoccupied with stage action rather than involved psychological explorations.

Principal Works

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Le Père prudent et equitable; ou, Crispin l'heureux fourbe [The Just and Prudent Father; or, Crispin the Jolly Rogue] 1709-11

L'Amour et la vérité [Love and Truth; with Louis Rustaing de Saint-Jorry] 1720

Annibal [Hannibal] 1720

Arlequin poli par l'amour [Harlequin Refined by Love] 1720

La Surprise de l'amour [The Surprise of Love] 1722

La Double Inconstance [Double Inconstancy] 1723

Le Dénouement imprévu [The Unforeseen Ending] 1724

La Fausse Suivante; ou, Le Fourbe puni [The False Maid, or, The Rogue Punished] 1724

Le Prince travesti; ou, L'Illustre aventurier [The Prince in Disguise; or, The Illustrious Impostor] 1724

L'Héritier du village [The Village Heir] 1725

L'êle des esclaves [The Isle of Slaves] 1725

L'Île de la raison; ou, Le Petits Hommes [The Isle of Reason; or, The Little Men] 1727

La Seconde Surprise de l'amour 1727

Le Triomphe de Plutus [The Triumph of Plutus] 1728

La Colonie; ou, L'homme sans souci [The Colony; or, The Man without Care] 1729

Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard [The Game of Love and Chance] 1730

La Réunion des amours [Loves' Reunion] 1731

L'École des Mères [The School for Mothers] 1732

Les Serments indiscrets [The Indiscreet Vows] 1732

Le Triomphe de l'amour [The Triumph of Love] 1732

L'Heureux Strategème [The Successful Strategem] 1733

La Méprise [The Misunderstanding] 1734

Le Petit-maÎtre corrigé [The Fop Corrected] 1734

La Mère confidente [The Mother as Confidant] 1735

Le Legs [The Legacy] 1736

Les Fausses Confidences [False Confidences] 1737

La Joie imprévue [Unexpected Joy] 1738

Les Sincères [The Sincere Ones] 1739

L'Épreuve [The Test] 1740

La Dispute [The Dispute] 1744

La Femme fidèle [The Faithful Wife] 1746

Le Préjugé vaincu [Prejudice Conquered] 1746

Les Acteurs de bonne foi [The Actors of Good Faith] 1757

Félicie 1757

La Provinciale [The Provincial Lady] 1761


Les Effets surprenants de la sympathie; ou, Les Aventures de *** (novel) 1713-14

*Le Télémaque travesti (novel) 1714

†Pharsamon; ou, Les Nouvelles Folies romanesques (novel) 1715

L'Homère travesti; ou, L'Iliade en vers burlesques (poetry) 1716

L'Indigent Philosophe (journal) 1726-27

La Vie de Marianne; ou, Les Aventures de Mme. la Comtesse de ***. 11 vols. (novel) 1731-42

Le Cabinet du philosophe (journal) 1734

Le Paysan parvenu. 5 vols. (novel) 1734-35

Oeuvres completes de M. de Marivaux. 12 vols. (collected works) 1781

*This work was first published in 1736.

†This work was first published in 1737; also published as Pharsamon; ou, Le Don Quichotte moderne, 1739.

Overviews And General Studies

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Oscar A. Haac (essay date 1956)

SOURCE: "Marivaux and the Human Heart," in The Emory University Quarterly, Vol. XII, No. 1, March, 1956, pp. 35-43.

[In the excerpt below, Haac discusses Marivaux's techniques of characterization, contending that the figures in his plays are "not generalized or abstract symbols" but "highly individual and sensitive. "]

The modern rediscovery of an author like Marivaux is an exciting experience and a key to the literary temper of our generation. For almost two centuries the passionate oratory of Voltaire's plays, with their sweeping moralistic overtones, aroused far greater enthusiasm, but today the subtle and brilliant comedies of Marivaux (1688-1763), in the spirit of the Parisian salon society of the prerevolutionary era, are produced more frequently on the French stage than the works of any other author of the century, including Beaumarchais. In the repertoire of the Comédie Française he yields only to Molière, the patron saint of the company, to Racine and to Corneille. Recently in New York the Comédie Française played Arlequin poli par l'amour, and a few years ago Jean Louis Barrault produced Les fausses confidances during his brief visit. J. M. Barrie's The Admirable Crichton, the baroque theater of Giraudoux, the "pièces brillantes" of Jean Anouilh, especially La répétition, bear ness to Marivaux's growing influence. Jean Louis Barrault, in Ma troupe et ses acteurs, recognizes him as his most important model after Molière as the master of dialogue.

Most of Marivaux' comedies were written for Luigi Riccoboni and his Comédie Italienne. This troupe was continuing an old Italian tradition in which each actor represented a stock character and improvised his speeches during the performance. Riccoboni took the part of the principal lover (Lélio), the leading lady was first his wife, later the younger Silvia Benozzi for whom Marivaux created his major parts. Among the supporting cast Arlequin was most colorful, traditionally naïve, clever, and funny. Riccoboni drew his plots from many sources; some were based on Italian adaptations of Spanish plays. He was a man of wide interests and one of the first in France to express his admiration for Shakespeare.

Marivaux adapted himself admirably to this milieu. His characters bear the standard Italian names or their French equivalents; his subject matter was similar to the standard plots. This was essential, since the Comédie Italienne welcomed his plays less for their quality, which remained often unappreciated (Riccoboni pays no tribute to Marivaux in his writings), but because they helped to recapture an audience unfamiliar with the Italian medium and rapidly losing interest.

A review of Marivaux' sources from Molière to current novels and Riccoboni's repertoire would show that he invented neither plots nor characters. His originality lies in the dialogue, that is, in his style, and in his subtle manner of uncovering ideas and feelings. Unlike Voltaire he formulates neither maxims nor slogans. His characters are not generalized or abstract symbols, but dramatically express their subjective experiences. Lélio and Arlequin have become highly individual and sensitive. We shall examine this technique in some of the plays. …

Arlequin poli par l'amour (1720) is his first major achievement on the stage. It is a fantasy about an inexperienced but most attractive Arlequin, loved by a fairy queen who would like to bring him under her power. As soon as Arlequin sees the young shepherdess, Silvia, he is completely overcome. His new love renders him resourceful enough to seize the queen's magic wand and render her impotent. We witness "the surprising results of sympathy" (the subtitle of an early novel), for, in direct contrast to what we often hear about the "age of reason," the French eighteenth century recognized the power of emotion, the primacy of feeling over intellect. Marivaux does not disdain reason. He looks upon it as an ideal which we must superimpose on our emotions to become fit for civilized society. As he put it in L'Île de la raison: "Love is natural and necessary, only we must regulate its violence." Love is all-powerful and will excuse even wilful deceit in Les fausses confidances, one of his best plays. Dorante is so sincere and touching that Araminte must forgive that her affection was won through the tricks of Dubois, a crafty servant and forerunner of Figaro.

The charm of sincere love is so invincible that it triumphs over the plans of a fairy queen and, with even greater ease, over the systems of philosophers. The pedant Hortensius in La seconde surprise de l'amour cannot even retain the attention of the Marquise who has resolved to follow him and give up the ways of love; Hermocrate in Le triomphe de l'amour is outwitted and doubly shamed when he falls in love and then sees his pupil, whom he tried to protect from such passions, marry this very girl. Marivaux' opposition to the party of the Philosophes seems to combine with his youthful antagonism toward the Ancients in the battle of the books. The Philosophe in L'Île de la raison is least capable of insight of all the shipwrecked Europeans on an imaginary island, inspired by Gulliver's Travels, while his companions are subtly and humorously introduced to wisdom, or rather, come to know themselves.

In La surprise de l'amour (1722) Lélio and a Comtesse, both disappointed in love, have forsworn it for ever. Marivaux shows how foolish such a resolution is in the case of young, attractive people nowhere near fifty, the age for retiring to convents and for affected piety. Lélio and the Comtesse gradually realize that they love each other, though they are unwilling to admit it even to them-selves. They spend much time discussing the marriage of two tenant farmers. It provides the pretext for frequent meetings, since they dare not mention what is really on their minds. Here Marivaux shows his mastery of dramatic dialogue, or of silence and unexpressed feelings. His lines take on their full meaning only in context. Even the proverbs quoted by Arlequin, e.g., "the scalded cat fears water," are meant as individual reactions, often amusing and grotesque. Marivaux observes man and his motives like La Fontaine and La Rochefoucauld, but he replaces the generalized conclusions of their Fables and Maximes by subtle dialogue which implies more than is said. It is an excellent method of character analysis on the stage, and a good comic device, since it gives the spectator the joy of knowing more than the characters of the play. These, in turn, take on a new individuality. Unlike the earlier followers of Molière, he does not merely present human types. He does not portray the "chevalier à la mode," like Dancourt, the "joueur," like Regnard, the "méchant" of Gresset. He wants a particular "surprise de l'amour," distinct from the "seconde surprise de l'amour" (1727) and from analogous situations in Les serments indiscrets (1734). All these plays deal with persons who are in love but do not express it. However, what matters is not this common theme but the particular "chaos de sensations" produced in each situation. In La surprise, Lélio seeks solitude to escape future disillusionment, in La Seconde surprise a marquise is equally disillusioned, but the tone is more serious and sentimental, and the pedant Hortensius adds other conflicts and overtones. Both of these plays portray people ignorant of their growing passion, while Les serments indiscrets show us Damis and Lucile consciously in love, but pledged not to show it, though they cannot keep their word, and this, according to Marivaux' preface, "is another kind of situation entirely unrelated to that of the lovers in La surprise de l'amour." He may be overemphasizing the difference to defend a rather poor play against its harsh critics, but he is justly proud of having portrayed a variety of emotions, all part of his analysis, his "science of the human heart."

This concept is developed in one of his addresses to the French Academy. He complains that this "science" is unjustly neglected and insufficiently honored because it is so accessible and obvious. He clearly states his epicurean principles, evident in his other works, when he maintains that we are stimulated to learn certain things or to follow principles by the rewards accorded to such behavior by our society, and by the natural joy they procure. He implies that treatises of morality are boring and ineffectual, but recognizes that the need for human understanding and for understanding man is the ultimate inspiration of his theater, as it was that of Corneille and Racine. Marivaux' contribution to psychological analysis is considerable and his theoretical pronouncements to the Academy are too little known.

Let us return once more to La surprise de l'amour. Lélio forms a striking contrast with his servant, Arlequin. When Lélio proclaims that thinking of women and their deceits is enough to confirm him in his desire to forsake them, Arlequin cannot help replying: "Imagine, such thoughts have opposite effect on me. It is precisely when I think of them that my resistance wavers." Even the birds making love in the trees disturb poor Arlequin, who would like to think like his master. Marivaux' servants are close to nature; this fact makes them into tools of three basic wants, food, money, and love, but at the same time enables them to admit what their masters try to conceal to others and to themselves. Thus the servants add not only comic relief after the sentimental meanderings of their masters, but perceive their masters' problems and point to their solution. The parallel between master and servant becomes even stronger because they generally love and marry in the same house; the servant marries the maid of his master's bride. This convention can be found also in Molière, for instance in the Bourgeois gentilhomme. Marivaux' original contribution is to have analyzed love on two levels and to have portrayed one as the mirror or parody of the other. He has given the theme of Don Quijote and Sancho new life on the stage. This technique, adopted by Lessing in Minna von Barnhelm, is an excellent means of orienting the spectator and leading him to understand more about the hero and heroine than they do themselves. He can derive from the grotesque ramblings of the servants what their masters are unwilling or unable to admit. We might call it a technique of defining characters simultaneously by analogy and contrast.

A superior illustration of the parallel between servants and masters is Le jeu de l'amour et du hasard (1730), Marivaux' most famous play. Two young people, who have not met but whose marriage has been arranged by their parents, each decide to exchange rôles with a servant in order to observe and judge the proposed partner objectively. The two couples fall in love, as they should, even in disguise. The servants naturally admit their love long before their masters. There is an admirable contrast, and analogy, between the two "crystallizations of love," to use Stendhal's term, and also between the ways in which the disguises are uncovered. Silvia is close to despair when Dorante tells her who he is. This revelation does not make her reveal who she is; she pushes Dorante on to declare himself in spite of what seem inescapable class differences; she forces him to make an almost tragic and heroic decision. Only then does she explain. Compare this dramatic sequence with the burlesque declaration of Arlequin that, instead of being "captain," he is only the "soldier in his master's dressing room," where-upon Lisette admits to an equivalent rank of "hairdresser of Madame." Each time aspects of pride and self-respect, love and need for affection, are brought out in different light. The picture and its image supplement each other.

When Silvia finds that she loves Dorante, not his servant, she states, "It was indeed important that he be Dorante," and also, "Now I understand my heart." The implication is that she could not really have fallen in love with a person whose thoughts were servile or uncouth. Marivaux does not establish social barriers, but recognizes a hierarchy of sensitive and noble souls. This can also be seen in La double inconstance (1723), where the couple, Silvia-Arlequin, is broken up by the prince, carefully disguised so as to conquer by merit alone. While he sends Flaminia to capture the heart of Arlequin, which is done by a show of friendliness and a magnificent meal, the prince can prove to Silvia that she needs a lover as tender and sensitive as she is herself, and not a glutton like Arlequin.

The social problems here implied appear frequently. Just as the prince does not hesitate to marry Silvia, a simple girl from his estates, Le préjugé vaincu shows how the aristocratic Angélique finally overcomes her "prejudice" against marrying a worthy bourgeois. In Marivaux' novels, Marianne, a foundling, and Jacob, a simple peasant, frequent circles far above their condition. The island plays, L'Île des esclaves and L'Île de la raison, show servants undertaking the reform of their masters, though in the spirit of helpfulness and love. Frank and unrestrained as always, these servants can direct those whose very complexity makes it hard for them to change. There is always hope that faults can be mended. In Le petitmaÎtre corrigé, a social butterfly is successfully taught the true value of sentiment and love. Marivaux is no revolutionary; he is too kindhearted to assume that violence can ever be justified; he is too much of a dramatist and novelist to lose himself in social theory. He does not appear, therefore, as a major social thinker, but his keen "sensibility" makes him remarkably aware of these problems. …

Marivaux belongs to his period. It could, however, easily be shown that he manifests a considerable range of interests, and that the very moderation in his tone makes possible the modulated analysis that constitutes his greatest merit. Marivaux cultivated the art of finding "the fitting word." His préciosité is intentional. Just as he believed that reason must guide us in expressing our emotions, he felt the need for a polite and cultured tone. He was aware of unpleasant truths and basic drives. These dominate his servant characters and are all too evident in their masters. Yet his "marivaudage," which in the Petit Larousse is so unjustly qualified as affected, unnatural, and precious language, presents the medium in which the subtle shadings of the "science of the human heart" can be developed. Marivaux' style creates not merely a poetic illusion but implies that ever-present search for truth and for its adequate expression which, as Marivaux himself put it, is the qualifying mark of all great literature.

Kenneth N. McKee (essay date 1958)

SOURCE: "Conclusion," in The Theater of Marivaux, New York University Press, 1958, pp. 255-67.

[In the essay below, McKee summarizes the innovations Marivaux introduced into French theater and surveys his influence on subsequent dramatists.]

Marivaux … was the most original French dramatist of the eighteenth century. In his theater as a whole and in the details of the individual plays, in experimentation with new themes and in the expression of philosophical ideas, his originality stands out.

Perhaps the most salient feature in Marivaux's complete theater is his break with the classical tradition. Though it cannot be said that Marivaux is entirely free of the influence of inherited dramatic material, still the special flavor he gives old subjects sets him apart from his con-temporaries. If he derived an occasional idea from a comedy by Molière, from the canevas of the commedia dell'arte, or from a seventeenth-century novel, what he borrowed consisted at most of a fragment; he so revitalized the idea that his own contribution became the major element in the play. At the same time his theater is peppered with the philosophie of the early eighteenth century. Not only are some of his plays based entirely on a philosophical thesis, but most of his comedies—even those written in a tone of sophisticated badinage—contain stimulating precepts and unexpected bits of philosophizing. His style, too often stigmatized by the epithet marivaudage, has a freshness that differentiates it from the uninspired versification and stilted prose of his con-temporaries. His own inventiveness led Marivaux into heretofore unexplored realms and placed him outside—perhaps one should say, ahead of—the main current of the evolution of the theater in the eighteenth century.

When one applies these generalizations to the individual plays, the originality in detail is even more evident. Perhaps the best-known trait in Marivaux's theater is his depiction of awakening love—"la surprise de l'amour"—and many of his best and most enduring comedies turn on this theme. He already shows a well-developed conception of the "surprise" in Arlequin poli par l'amour, and two years later the conception emerges full-blown in La Surprise de l'amour: a new formula of comedy has come into being. From then on each comedy of this type has a mainspring of its own, usually based on the protagonists' resistance to falling in love, and Marivaux creates ingenious ways of probing the hearts of his various personages. In all his "surprises" Marivaux leads his young lovers through the enchanting mysteries of l'amour naissant, subjects them to tender and heart-searching trials, and leaves them rapturous on the threshold of avowed love.

Voltaire has said of Marivaux: "Il a connu tous les sentiers du cœur sans trouver la grande route." If Marivaux did not re-tread the broad highways of the heart in the classical tradition—which in his day had fallen to the level of hackneyed sterility—it was not for want of understanding, for on occasion Marivaux could probe to profound depths. It was rather that he found newness in exploring byways of the heart that his predecessors had shunned. With his infinite resources of analysis, Marivaux could have prepared a carte du tendre with detailed topography unmatched before his time. In developing "la surprise de l'amour" Marivaux made a distinctive contribution to the fonds dramatique of the French theater. He introduced into comedy the type of psychological analysis of love that Racine had achieved in tragedy, and in the realm of comedy Marivaux attained a peak of perfection equal to that of Racine in tragedy.

But "la surprise de l'amour," typifying as it does the special quality associated with Marivaux, represents only one aspect of his theater, only one of the many facets of his originality. From the whimsical fantasy of Arlequin poli par l'amour, in which the scene changes four times and thereby breaks the classical unity of place, to the enigmatic conceit of La Dispute, a plotless philosophical dialogue with subtle beauties, almost each play contains some new element. The creation of new types of character in comedy (Le Prince travesti, La Mère confidente), novelty of staging (L'Ile de la raison), the multiplication of disguises into a four-way travestissement (Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard), and the reversal of the usual subplot of the servants (Les Sincères) are all departures from the past. While Marivaux's whole theater is imbued with philosophie, certain plays give new impetus to the ideas circulating in the bureaux d'esprit (L'Ile des esclaves, L'Ile de la raison, and La Colonie). For the first time in eighteenth-century comedy, Marivaux dares assign royalty a prominent place (Le Prince travesti). He also looks forward to the drame (La Mère confidente and La Femme fidèle) and to nineteenth-century drawing-room social drama (L'Heureux stratagème and Les Fausses confidences). Marivaux's turn of mind rarely permitted him to lag in the area of the commonplace.

One of Marivaux's most obvious qualities is his versatility. He composed comedies of love, philosophical comedies, allegories and fantasies, farces, comedies of manners, drames, heroic comedies, and a tragedy—all with equal literary and dramatic skill. Critics have classified his plays according to different systems, but any classification is arbitrary, for so many of the plays contain elements that entitle them to be placed in several categories at once. There is no need to attempt still another classification here. Suffice it to say that no other writer in the French theater has worked successfully in as many genres as Marivaux.

Originality of thought is another of Marivaux's traits. Mostly new on the stage, always sparkling, his ideas give added pungency to a dramatic output already remarkable for its novelty and style. Marivaux did not create a philosophical system; rather, he moralized on diverse subjects without plan. One might say that his predominant theme is the innate goodness of man and the necessity of being kindly disposed toward one's fellows. His whole theater exudes a buoyant optimism that springs from his faith in mankind. The expression "le bon cœur" appears repeatedly; a good heart is what distinguishes one man from another, Marivaux implies. The epitome of the philosophy of goodness is in his famous line: "dans ce monde, il faut être un peu trop bon pour l'être assez." When the theme is not actually developed in a particular play, the spirit of it is usually present.

Man is born naturally good, and character is of more fundamental importance than birth. Throughout his writings (and some twenty-five years before Rousseau popularized the doctrine), Marivaux places greater value on character than on birth. There is no instance in Marivaux's theater where birth triumphs over personal merit.

Making character the basis for evaluating merit implies social equality. Marivaux dwelt at length on this subject and made startling observations thereon. The central theme of L'Ile des esclaves is that equality springs from natural goodness and that social injustice is a malady that can be cured. A courageous plea for equality is made in La Colonie, in which the aristocratic Arthenice sweeps away social barriers between herself and the bourgeois women. Even if in the end Arthenice's ideas are shown not to work, their mere expression on the stage was bold in the eighteenth century. In the same play Marivaux broached the still more venturesome topic of women's suffrage. The previous flurries of discussion on the education of girls and the rights of women by Montaigne, Molière, La Bruyère, and Fénelon had not yet touched on that point. Perhaps in Marivaux's day no one took him seriously, but he deserves credit for introducing the subject on the stage. Marivaux extends his thesis of social equality so far as to propose marriages that cut across the usual social lines, a proposal that violates the accepted social code of the eighteenth century. This kind of attitude gives a distinctive touch to Marivaux's theater and places him generations ahead of his fellow dramatists. It is one of the factors that account for Marivaux's popularity in the twentieth century.

Marivaux had advanced ideas for his day on the duties of a monarch. At a time when the theory of the divine right of kings was still accepted in France and when the Regency displayed a callous disregard for the welfare of the people, Marivaux expressed stimulating views on le métier du roi, which later in the century became part of the concept of the enlightened despot. His admonitions to monarchs to bestow equal justice on all, to follow the simple habits of their subjects, to show paternal concern for their people, to reject flattery, must have brought a smile to those who still remembered the obsequiousness practiced before Louis XIV.

Altogether, these diverse ideas create an ensemble of philosophie, of wholesome moralizing, that had not before been expressed on the stage in such straightforward terms. In the classical theater writers had tended to avoid expounding ideas directly; if they wanted to teach a lesson, they attempted to do so by irony, caricature, and other devices. For example, Molière believed that fathers should not force incompatible marriages on their children, but instead of presenting liberal-minded fathers on the stage, he ridiculed obstinate ones such as M. Orgon in Tartuffe, Harpagon in L'Avare, and M. Jourdain in Le Bourgeois gentilhomme. Marivaux, on the other hand, presented his philosophy with disarming simplicity. If he had a point to make, he went straight to the heart of the matter and expressed his conviction as an integral part of the text without deviousness.

Marivaux did much to create the vogue for philosophie in the theater. Even while he was still writing, other dramatists were beginning to insert a bit of philosophie in their plays; and by the time he finished his professional career in the 1740's, other dramatists were weighting their plays heavily with philosophic The comédies larmoyantes of La Chaussée and the drames of Diderot, not to mention the philosophical tragedies of Voltaire, were soon to fill the stage with sententious maxims. But one will look in vain for a writer who before Beaumarchais presents his ideas with such sparkling grace and clarity, and, as has already been shown, Beaumarchais borrowed some of his best ideas from Marivaux.

When one discusses the style of Marivaux, one enters an area of extremes: few techniques have been as thoroughly scrutinized as that of Marivaux, and criticism over the generations has ranged from the highest praise to heated scurrility and back to adulation. It is not that a particular epoch was hostile to Marivaux; rather, all degrees of praise and disfavor have been expressed concurrently.

Marivaux's style has brought into being the term marivaudage, commonly used in a derogatory sense to refer to an extreme affectation in phraseology and a fatuous analysis of sentiment. In reality, the question of marivaudage scarcely enters into an evaluation of Marivaux himself, for he is less guilty of it than his imitators. When Marivaux uses a precious figure of speech reminiscent of the seventeenth-century novel, when he pursues love into hitherto unexplored regions of the heart, when he dwells on subtle nuances of feeling, or when he enters the realm of elfin gaiety, he does so with complete mastery and without affectation. Yet when his successors during a good part of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries imitate these same artifices, they drift into the silly verbiage and clumsy hyperbole known as marivaudage. Lacking the taste and artistry of Marivaux, these imitators have tended, knowingly or not, to associate their own faults with him and have thereby cast disrepute on his name. But on examining his style objectively, one realizes that his personages speak and act in a manner befitting the powdered elegance and beribboned grace of eighteenth-century drawing rooms. Marivaux fuses style and character into an indissoluble whole with an art that few writers have achieved. Fortunately, recent scholarship has led to a re-evaluation of Marivaux's qualities, and the general trend in the twentieth century is to absolve him from the taint of marivaudage.

The most frequent charge against Marivaux during the eighteenth century and since was that he had "trop d'esprit." Most of his comedies are full of scintillating badinage, and often even the servants speak with a polished wit that is indistinguishable from the elegance of their masters. But the overabundance of wit has led some critics to speak disparagingly against Marivaux: Voltaire made sarcastic remarks; Geoffroy deplored Marivaux's influence on young writers; Faguet condemned his dramatic style as leading to marivaudage; Lièvre acrimoniously indicted Marivaux for concealing nefarious traits under his exquisite style. But such remarks are in a distinct minority. Most often critics have yielded insensibly to the enchantment of his style and have been effusive in their praise of Marivaux. "Un magique ballet verbal," "la poésie de la première moitié du XVIII e siècle," "une perfection soutenue," and the like recur ad infinitum in reviews of his plays.

Besides, now that revivals of Marivaux's plays are more and more popular, critics are finding new qualities in his writing. Of particular interest is the revelation of the rhythmic beauty inherent in the words spoken on the stage. Modern actors have rediscovered, and spectators have learned to appreciate, the subtleties and purity of eighteenth-century language. In addition, twentieth-century critics have noted a musical quality in Marivaux that previous generations seem to have missed. They perceive in his phraseology the melodic strain and orchestral variations found in musical compositions.

All these elements of originality in subject matter, thought, and style give Marivaux a modernness that makes his plays as enjoyable today as they were when he wrote them. In the mid-nineteenth century Théophile Gautier, comparing Marivaux's heroines with those of Shakespeare, found that "A travers l'œuvre ancienne, le caractère de l'époque où on la représente se fait jour malgré tout," and since then each generation of critics has drawn attention to the contemporaneous qualities in Marivaux's theater.

In reviewing Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard, Brisson says of Dorante: "Il avance sur son siècle comme la plu-part des personnages de Marivaux; il est moderne"; and apropos of the same play, Antoine declares: "on aperçoit qu'aucune comédie du XVIIIe siècle ne fut aussi contemporaine. … Silvia domine encore ses sœurs modernes." Truffier feels that "La Mère confidente est très près de nous."

Far from being museum pieces like the plays of Destouches, Piron, and La Chaussée, the comedies of Marivaux have something that attracts each generation. His characters have enduring appeal, and his ideas are often more akin to the twentieth century than to the eighteenth. Like the plays of Molière and Racine, those of Marivaux transcend the moment of their conception and by reason of their basic truth and inherent beauty are highly valued in the twentieth century.

The paucity of source material for Marivaux's plays only emphasizes his originality. Marivaux is at his best when he is not burdened with someone else's ideas. The most notable achievements in his theater—La Double inconstance, La Surprise de l'amour, L'Ile des esclaves, Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard, and La Mère confidente—are those in which his inspiration stems entirely from within. For the most part, attempts to trace sources for Marivaux's comedies have yielded only wisps of information.

He draws but little from the usual sources. Of classical antiquity, there is almost nothing. To be sure, in his only tragedy, Annibal, he uses a historical character, and there is a touch of Petronius in La Seconde surprise de l'amour and of Plautus in La Méprise. But there the classical influence ends.

The seventeenth-century novel influenced Marivaux to some degree. The liberal father, depicted so often by Marivaux, appears in L'Astrée, and the mère-amie, in La Princesse de Clèves. The pedant Hortensus goes back to Francion. The heroics of Le Triomphe de l'amour are typical of Le Grand Cyrus. At times the detailed discussion of love by Marivaux is reminiscent of d'Urfé, Scudéry, and La Calprenéde.

Much as Marivaux disliked Molière, he could not entirely escape his influence. L'Ecole des mères is the most noteworthy case in point in that it shows similarities to L'Ecole des femmes, Les Femmes savantes, and L'Avare. The Lélio-Arlequin dialogue in La Surprise de l'amour (I, 2) recalls a similar conversation between Cléonte and Covielle in Le Bourgeois gentilhomme. The scene of the portraits in Les Sincères echoes Célimène's description of her friends in Le Misanthrope. Marivaux would probably have repudiated the charge of borrowing from Molière, but in these few instances the evidence is there. It can be said, however, that Marivaux did not imitate the more typical qualities of Molière's work, he did not use Molière as a standard, and he did not write a comédie de caractère.

Marivaux has often been likened to Racine, but their likeness is in natural talent. Both men possessed the gift of analyzing love; they portrayed the inner lives of their characters and reduced exterior events to a minimum. Racine excelled in depicting tragic passion; Marivaux, in revealing the awakening of love. Their works are entirely different, and Marivaux borrowed nothing from Racine.

Likewise, critics have found points of similarity between Shakespeare and Marivaux, but as with Racine the similarity is one of talent. Marivaux did not know Shakespeare's theater; hence there is no precise relationship between the authors. However, in spite of their obvious dissimilarities, both writers possessed a certain elfin gaiety and a lyrical manner of projecting love scenes that are curiously akin.

To what extent Marivaux was influenced by his contemporaries is difficult to estimate. On occasion instances of borrowing can be identified with reasonable certainty, but in each of these instances Marivaux has merely utilized a fragment and has so revitalized it that a charge of plagiarism is unjustified. Scholars have often strained a point in an effort to associate an item in Marivaux with some other work. Borrowings by Marivaux are slight, to say the least.

Perhaps the greatest single source of Marivaux's plays is the most intangible one: the canevas—and, even more, the spirit—of the Théâtre Italien. As one reads his plays, one is conscious of a detail reminiscent of some other farce. But since Marivaux had to write for stock characters, he could scarcely avoid using some stock material. Whatever Spanish or Italian elements one notes in Marivaux can be traced to the canevas of the Riccoboni troupe.

Viewing Marivaux's complete theater in perspective, one realizes that he is less guilty of borrowing than most writers; the rather nebulous comparisons indicated above reflect only on a minor aspect of his theater.

If Marivaux borrowed sparingly from his predecessors and contemporaries, the same cannot be said of his successors. The names of dramatists who quarried in Marivaux's plays make a rather impressive list in the eighteenth-century theater. Destouches patterned Lisimon of Le Glorieux after Plutus of Le Triomphe de Plutus. La Chaussée imitated Marivaux in L'Ecole des mères. Gresset drew on Le Petitmaître corrigé for many of the characters and ideas in Le Méchant. Voltaire adopted "Le Préjugé vaincu" as a subtitle for Nanine, and used the basic idea of Marivaux's comedy for the plot. La Noue copied L'Heureux stratagème in La Coquette corrigée. Borrowings of lesser importance were made by less well-known writers.

Marivaux is the outstanding precursor of the drame. In La Mère confidente, especially, and in La Femme fidèle he created plays that illustrate the drame some twenty years before Diderot enunciated his theory. Although the eighteenth century did not give Marivaux credit for his innovation, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have recognized his contribution to the evolution of the genre. Diderot himself did not borrow material from Marivaux for his two drames—the two men were too far apart in style and thought for that—yet one of Marivaux's claims to fame is that he anticipated Diderot in the writing of a drame.

One of the outstanding facts about Marivaux is his influence on Beaumarchais, particularly with respect to the creation of the character of Figaro. Repeatedly in his theater Marivaux injects a strain of aggressiveness in the servants, the sum total of which constitutes the personality of Beaumarchais' famous valet. The Trivelin of La Fausse suivante and Cléanthis of L'Ile des esclaves contain the very essence of Figaro, even down to certain phrasings; they lack only his revolutionary truculence. Beaumarchais borrowed so thoroughly and minutely from Marivaux that he could not have been unaware that he was indulging in overt plagiarism. It should also benoted that he copied some of the guileless innocence of Chérubin from the Arlequin of Arlequin poli par l'amour.

Alfred de Musset is generally considered the lineal descendant of Marivaux, and rightly so, for he seems to have inherited Marivaux's penchant for portraying young love and for contriving witty dialogue. In style and spirit Musset carries on the Marivaux tradition, albeit with the moodiness of the romantic period, which Marivaux himself never had. More specifically, Musset found the inspiration for La Nuit vénitienne in Le Dénouement imprévu; for On ne badine pas avec l'amour in Les Serments indiscrets; for Il ne faut jurer de rien in Le PetitmaÎtre corrigé; and for L'Ane et le ruisseau in Le Legs. Less precise analogies can be drawn that further associate Musset with Marivaux. Since Musset's time no writer in the French theater has been designated as Marivaux's heir.

Aside from the positive influences just discussed, Marivaux has had intangible influences without number. Critics in the second half of the eighteenth century complained of the marivaudage in current dramas, and in 1810 Geoffroy laments Marivaux's dominion over young writers of the day. Even after Musset's time numerous nineteenth-century plays evoke some remembrance of Marivaux. Twentieth-century critics have caught glimpses of Marivaux in Curel, Porto-Riche, and Sartre.

Today Marivaux occupies a position of pre-eminence in the French theater, and not without justice. His contemporaries—Destouches, Piron, La Chaussée, Voltaire, Gresset, Diderot—are all but forgotten figures in the modem theater. The secret of Marivaux's popularity in the twentieth century, like that of Shakespeare and Molière, rests on the simple fact that he faithfully depicted the society in which he lived and at the same time endowed his characters with the universal and enduring truths of human nature. If the area in which he wrote is somewhat narrower than that of Shakespeare and Molière, he is no less a master within his sphere. Perhaps Brisson, in a review of La Mère confidente that applies with equal justice to most of Marivaux's plays, gives the best account of his position in the French theater: "L'ouvrage … dépasse le temps où il fut écrit; il est de tous les temps, il est du nôtre. Marivaux est l'auteur classique le plus près de nous; son œuvre exhale un extraordinaire parfum de 'modernité'!"

Oscar A. Haac (essay date 1961)

SOURCE: "Humor through Paradox," in L'Esprit Créateur, Vol. 1, No. 4, Winter, 1961, pp. 196-202.

[In the following essay, Haac explores Marivaux's use of paradox in his plays to convey the complexity of human psychology and emotion.]

In his earliest works Marivaux developed a technique of humorous paradox which he successfully perfected and which can be considered the essence of marivaudage. It involves a play with concepts and ideas in such a way as to establish a contrast, of which there are two kinds: that between what a character says and what he means, and between what a character understands andwhat the audience or reader knows to be true. This interplay of interpretations amuses and stimulates an audience, and at the same time provides the author the opportunity to analyze complex attitudes and feelings. Marivaux reveals himself thus as one of the notable commentators of his time, dedicated to psychological analysis or, rather, to rendering the multiple aspects of the heart. The examples chosen to illustrate and elucidate this technique are but a sampling of the many to be found in each of Marivaux's plays, novels, and essays.

In his first successful comedy, Arlequin poli par l'amour, Arlequin, naively unconscious of his purposes, loves Silvia on first sight without being able to express his feelings while the Fée, with her armament of intelligence and power, her wand and her prime minister, discurses all too well on her love but is unable to attract Arlequin. Ultimately she is deceived and defeated by him. Her illusions are clear from the start and the spectator is flattered to recognize Arlequin's love long before he does himself and before the Fée is aware of it. The spectator is amused because he can outwit her with Arlequin.

Marivaux soon becomes master in the art of writing dialogue which expresses different things for different persons on the stage and for the audience. In L'Epreuve, Angélique appeals to Frontin's honnêteté and begs him to leave her; it is a burlesque scene because the gentle-manly suitor is a fraud, a disguised servant obeying his master's orders to test her faithfulness. Only the spectator knows Frontin's identity. Thus the contrast between the meanings for honnêteté, encompassing external politeness as well as the ideal of uprightness, leads to humorous paradox; it also leads to a new appreciation of their implications. In the conclusion to his Marivaux et le marivaudage (Paris, 1955), Frédéric Deloffre has admirably expressed that this technique portrays not only sentiments but shadings of meaning and concise ideas. He points to Marivaux' s need to express new concepts in new terms. It is indicative that Marivaux's early critics blamed him precisely for his neologisms, and that he defended them on several occasions, saying that good style requires finesse and exact definition.

In order to examine the method more closely, let us analyze a number of scenes where we find illusions and misconceptions, first among the masters, then among their servants, for each group illustrates a different aspect of the fundamental problem of human understanding. A case of thorough misjudgment can be found in the marriage project of Marianne in the novel that bears her name. But then, who can foresee the future? Who could have foretold that, after Valville's marriage to Marianne was set, all obstacles and prejudices overcome, and formal promises made, a beautiful girl would faint and be un-laced before Valville's very eyes. He revives her with an elixir; she casts significant glances and, in confusion, covers herself. The scene undoes all previous plans to the point where the novel falls into two separate parts and lacks unity. It also expresses Marivaux's fundamental pessimism which makes us wonder how many heureux stratagèmes might be needed to revive and salvage love and makes us see that the happy endings of many plays are at best temporary solutions. Thus situations where partners marry and plan to live happily ever after take on paradoxical overtones. Marianne's case is extreme and explicit. We can plan and analyze, we cannot foresee and decide the future: "Il faut avoir bien du jugement pour sentir que nous n'en avons point!"

La Double Inconstance yields other examples. Silvia and Arlequin are convinced they love each other and constantly reaffirm their intentions. Unfortunately they are poor prophets. Their strong protestations against the designs of the prince sound like calls to revolt but take on paradoxical meaning. "Une bourgeoise contente dans un petit village vaut mieux qu'une princesse qui pleure dans un bel appartement," says Silvia who later is quite willing to accept the attractive prince. She will not weep for living in a beautiful apartment but rather will spurn Arlequin who dares break an appointment with her for the sake of an excellent meal with good wine. When Trivelin explains Silvia's original refusal to the prince he adds: "Cela n'est pas naturel." We might well ask what is not natural. Should she have yielded to an unidentified suitor? It might have been more natural, but far less honnête (moral) to accept the handsome man on first sight. In fact, she says so to his face: "Non Seigneur, il faut qu'une honnête femme aime son mari, et je ne pourrais vous aimer." When, later, she retracts the last part of this statement because she is made for the prince just as the Silvia in Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard is made for Dorante, what has been said about natural affection takes on further overtones, for it is natural that people with such superior sensitivity should love another. We find a similar paradox when Trivelin, as the agent of the prince, wants to separate Silvia from Arlequin and tells him: "Il ne faut jamais faire du mal à personne." This is hardly the appropriate maxim to accompany an act of alienation. In the same spirit a nobleman tells Arlequin: "Un gentilhomme doit être généreux"; the context is such that the statement serves to emphasize how frequently the principle is violated. These contradictions are carefully planned; the author is most conscious of his technique.

In neither of the two plays just discussed could Silvia have accepted her lover immediately, for in the society portrayed by Marivaux the truthfulness of pretenders must be tested. His characters must frequently disguise them-selves in order to penetrate below the veneer of social behavior. They must be unnatural to find the natural personality of a partner. In this game of love, Silvia, in Le Jeu de l'amour, is justified in prolonging the suffering of Dorante because she can force him to declare his willingness to marry her even as a servant. What more beautiful triumph of love could there be? Does it not justify any amount of suffering? In the same spirit Dorante is forgiven in Les Fausses Confidences. In spite of his pretense and false protestations, his love is sincere, or rather, his very pretense helped uncover the love of Araminte and is therefore justified.

We see that there is no direct road to love for these characters; by contrast, the love of servants wastes little time. In almost every play the contrast between servants and masters emphasizes these characteristics. There is an aristocracy of feeling and sensibility among the masters which explains why Silvia, in Le Jeu de l'amour, cannot accept Arlequin parading as Dorante, just as Dorante cannot accept Lisette playing the part of Silvia. Marivaux is careful to point to the advantages of each class. He emphasizes that there are fundamental qualities independent of social class. In La Dispute, he shows young people brought up in total isolation who soon manifest the same tendencies to self-enjoyment and flirtation as everyone else. The play may not be his best, but the situation is as meaningful, and no more artificial, than Rousseau's Emile. No more than Rousseau does Marivaux imply that our civilization should be reduced to a more primitive state or that the more natural or direct ways of the servants are preferable to the qualms and detours of their masters.

This holds true even though there are occasions when the more genuine awareness of the simpler characters is needed to extricate the masters from difficult situations. In La Surprise de l'amour, Arlequin is barely able to mimic Lélio's aversion for women, based on a disappointment. Arlequin cannot help exclaiming: "C'est pourtant un joli petit animal que cette femme, un joli petit chat." To please his master he adds: "C'est dommage qu'il ait tant de griffes." Unable to follow Lélio's argumentation, he excuses himself: "Quand on n'a pas étudié, on ne voit pas plus loin que son nez." The audience realizes that Lélio cannot see the forest for the trees and that the proverb expresses the opposite of what it says. Arlequin sees further than his master and without realizing it does more than anyone else to set him straight. Thus the fool (quite literally since he wears a fool's costume) is leading the wise! A few pages further Colombine administers a similar lesson to her mistress, the Comtesse, and ridicules her idea of keeping men and women in separate compartments like East and West. In L'Ile de la raison, Blaise and Lisette do their best to help and save their masters from their confused egocentric ramblings. In Marivaux's plays the servants go straight to the point. Jacob, the hero of Le Paysan parvenu, is well on the way to losing not only peasant status but also the psychology of servants when he outfits himself as Monsieur de la Vallée; he comes to partake in the masquerade of culture and privilege.

If servants obey their instincts more directly than their masters, food, money, and love can be said to summarize their interests, at least if we discount their fundamental loyalty, good nature, and sympathy. They are so intent on these basic drives that their statements become grotesque in their simplicity. Jacqueline, one of the servants in La Surprise de l'amour, compliments Pierre on courting her: "Ça me fait plaisir; mais l'honneur des filles empêche de parler. Après ça, ma tante disait toujours qu'un amant est comme un homme qui a faim; pû il a faim, et pû il a envie de manger." She is stating the obvious, she is funny also because she contradicts herself, since girls, according to her, do not admit what she is in the process of expressing; she is even funnier in view of the fact that the masters in this play dare not admit their love; their inability is the motivating force of the entire plot.

Frontin, in L'Heureux Stratagème, is somewhat more complex. He tells the Comtesse, intent on regaining the love of the Chevalier through his jealousy, that the Chevalier cannot be jealous of her affection, for he does not act like an unhappy person: "Le désespoir est connaissable. … Les désespérés s'agitent, se trémoussent, ils font du bruit, ils gesticulent; et il n'y a rien de tout cela." Actually the Chevalier is most unhappy, the Comtesse knows it and feels confident that her plan will succeed in arousing his love. Frontin is fooling no one, but he tries to do so out of loyalty for his master. He is both funny and touching. The maxim about unhappy persons is, of course, inapplicable like practically all maxims uttered by the buffoons, the servants.

In La Surprise de l'amour, another Frontin exclaims: "La tendresse paternelle est admirable." He means the opposite, for Ergaste is about to disinherit his master, Damis. Like the first Frontin, he realizes the irony of the situation. Servants are never dumb in these plays. Arlequin, in the same play, explains Lélio's resolve to flee all women by the maxim, "chat échaudé craint l'eau froide," but, as we have seen, realizes that Lélio's plan is unrealistic. Let us conclude that the use of maxims on the part of servants is grotesque, that proverbs are never quoted as accepted pearls of wisdom, but rather as trite remarks which become funny because they are inapplicable. Not even the servants are fooled by them, although they suffer from illusions like everyone. Their humor is funny but good natured, even if their masters occasionally become exasperated by it. We can understand the progressive despair of Silvia and Dorante in Le Jeu de l'amour at the thought of marrying such buffoons, and Silvia's relief upon discovering Dorante: "Allons, j'avais grand besoin que ce fût là Dorante." Arlequin's joviality was utterly repulsive as long as he appeared as her destined husband.

The methodical use of maxims and general statements in contexts where they do not apply shows the fundamental resistance of Marivaux to the tradition of Descartes, to the esprit de géometrie to which he opposes, with Pascal, his own analysis of complex meanings, l'esprit de finesse. When we consider that it was Voltaire's object, and supreme ability, to reduce complex ideas to simple slogans, we come to understand the gulf that separates the two men. It is no coincidence that, intellectual as might be his orientation and his humor, Marivaux never misses an opportunity to ridicule the presumptuous philosophes. The Philosophe in L'Ile de la raison is the only character never to attain reason which, for Marivaux, means the realization of human needs and of one's own shortcomings. The learned Hortensius in La Seconde Surprise de l'amour, a teacher of "la morale et la philosophie, sans préjudice des autres sciences" would "purger l'âme de toutes les passions" but is defeated as easily as the Fée in Arlequin poli par l'amour. In Le Triomphe de l'amour, Hermocrate and Léontine are deceived in similar ways. Marianne, who well deserves the appellation of a flirt, asserts: "Si on savait ce qui se passe dans la tête d'une coquette, Aristote ne paraÎtrait qu'un petit garçon." Thus, for Marivaux, philosophy, reason, and philosophes have parted company. His ideal of reason implies sensitivity and humility, the attitudes which Rosimond attains in Le Petit-MaÎtre corrigé, and which originally he had spurned because "parmi les jeunes gens du bel air, il n'y a rien de si bourgeois que d'être raisonnable." By implication, philosophes avid for publicity are included among the fops and are derided.

If sympathy and understanding are the essence not only of honnêteté, the attitude befitting gentlemen, but also the very meaning of reason and object of philosophy, the primacy of sentiment over logic is definitely established. As Marianne says: "Il n'y a que le sentiment qui puisse nous donner des nouvelles un peu sûres de nous." Indeed, Marivaux prefers kindness to intelligence and comes close to feeling that they are mutually exclusive. In Marianne he draws two portraits of particular interest since they render his impressions of Mme de Lambert and Mme de Tencin. The first, pictured as Mme de Miran, appears as "une femme d'un esprit ordinaire, de ces esprits qu'on ne loue ni qu'on ne méprise," but she has a heart of gold. The second, Mme Dorsin, is far more brilliant and "aimait mieux qu'on pensât bien de sa raison que de ses charmes." Both portraits are extensive and kindly, but the preference for Mme de Lambert is evident. Marivaux adds: "Supposons la plus généreuse et la meilleure personne du monde, et avec cela la plus spirituelle, et l'esprit le plus délié. Je soutiens que cette personne ne paraÎtra jamais si bonne (car il faut que je répète les mots) que le paraÎtra une autre personne qui, avec ce même degré de bonté, n'aura qu'un esprit médiocre."

Thus kindness outweights logic and education. The simple intuition of Arlequin defeats the Fée. The naïve Blaise, in L'Ile de la raison, is first to reach human stature because he is first to know his limitations. Frontin in Les Serments indiscrets explains about his master: "C'est un garçon qui a de l'esprit; cela fait qu'il subtilise, que son cerveau travaille; et dans de certains embarras, sais-tu bien qu'il n'appartient qu'aux gens d'esprit de n'avoir pas le sens commun?" Thus the simple status of servants and their direct approach to problems may well be an advantage.

Let us note that the author hardly ever speaks for himself. Every line expresses the feeling or impression of a character. This is the note of good theater, for dramatictension arises between the views expressed and their diverse interpretations. It is also indicative of a categorical opposition to generalization and platitude. In one of his essays Marivaux explains: "Je me moque des règles." He implies that general rules of conduct are false and largely inapplicable. What then are we to do with his contradictory interpretations? We must accept them all, understand that life is complexity and antithesis. Like Diderot, in Le Neveu de Rameau or in Jacques le fataliste, the objective is not the golden rule, the reconciliation of paradox, never the juste milieu, but the acceptance of irreconcilable paradox, with all interpretations worthy of consideration and irreducible by logical argument. Mutual understanding must be reached on another level.

If there is any conclusion, it is that diverse interpretations rest on our inability to express our thoughts, on our basic difficulty to communicate. As Colombine puts it in La Surprise de l'amour: "Le chemin de tout le monde, quand on a affaire aux gens, c'est d'aller leur parler, mais cela n'est pas commode." When at a later time, she asks Lélio whether she might convey his respects to her mistress, the Comtesse, Arlequin advises Lélio to send his greetings and best wishes: "Cela serait honnête!" Lélio, however, has no such inclination: "Et moi je ne suis point aujourd'hui dans le goût d'être honnête; je suis las de la bagatelle." He may be amusing, but touches on that bagatelle, that little thing which happens to be the key to human relations, the willingness to communicate and to understand. Marivaux touches here on a key theme of our contemporary theater and seems quite modern. We are concerned, as he was, about the abundance of words that fails to lead to communication. He would, however, never have expressed this "lesson" in so many words. He is convinced that literature cannot and should not attempt to teach and moralize. It should not preach morality, but analyze in the tradition of the moralistes like La Fontaine and La Rochefoucauld. There is no rule for overcoming passion, the irrational, and what separates us from another, but to accept the advice: "Réfléchissez sur vos folies pour en guérir" and this principle, contained in the advice of the wise islanders of L'Ile de la raison to the shipwrecked Europeans, becomes the very justification of the author's literary enterprise. What better contribution could he make than portray life and stimulate reflection. At that, he takes account of the tremendous difficulty of devising an accurate portrayal: "Le détailler c'est un ouvrage sans fin." Marivaux defends his use of paradox, in particular humorous paradox, since literature must entertain and amuse, but, above all, he stands for l'esprit de finesse, and wants to present in man's diversity the best means to initiate "la science du coeur humain."

William S. Rogers (essay date 1961)

SOURCE: "Marivaux: The Mirror and the Mask," in L'Esprit Créateur, Vol. 1, No. 4, Winter, 1961, pp. 167-77.

[In the excerpt below, Rogers argues that Marivaux uses images of mirrors and masks to "probe the reality that lies behind appearances. "]

In the first number of Le Spectateur français, Marivaux recounts an incident supposedly drawn from his own life. The passage, perhaps more frequently quoted than any other in Marivaux's prose writings, tells how, at the age of seventeen, he fell in love with a charming and beautiful young lady whose principal attraction for him resided in her indifference to her own beauty, her lack of coquetry, her complete naturalness. One day, after leaving her presence, he discovered that he had left behind a glove which he returned to retrieve. Unnoticed, he came upon his lady-love studying herself in her mirror. She was rehearsing all the facial expressions, all the side glances, all the gestures which had so bewitched him during their conversation. She was, so to speak, practicing her scales. For her, it was a moment of mild embarrassment; for the youthful Marivaux, it was a moment of frightening lucidity.

"Ah! mademoiselle, je vous demande pardon, lui disje, d'avoir mis jusqu'ici sur le compte de la nature des appas dont tout l'honneur n'est dû qu'à votre industrie.

—Qu'est-ce que signifie ce discours? me réponditelle.

—Vous parlerai-je plus franchement, lui dis-je. Je viens de voir les machines de l'Opéra. Il me divertira toujours, mais il me touchera moins." Je sortis làdessus, et c'est de cette aventure que naquit en moi cette misanthropie qui ne m'a point quittée [sic], et qui m'a fait passer ma vie à examiner les hommes, et à m'amuser de mes réflexions.

Marivaux for the rest of his life would experience an unholy joy in catching people unawares, mask off, or mirror in hand.

The mirror and the mask: these two themes recur with such frequency in the writings of Marivaux and represent so vividly his close observation of the human comedy, his desire to probe the reality that lies behind appearances, that an examination of them may serve as a useful approach to his world. Recent critics such as Claude Roy, Jean Rousset and Mario Matucci have briefly treated these themes, which, however, can be profitably amplified.

The mirror is a magnificent instrument of self-awareness. Marianne, at the age of sixteen, tries on the first fine clothes she has ever owned before the mirror of her humble room above the mercer's shop. She sees herself as it were for the first time, and is naively enchanted with what she sees. In La Seconde Surprise de l'amour, Lisette attempts to revive her mistress' interest in her appearance, in men and in life generally, by forcing her to look at herself in a mirror. In the five Lettres contenant une aventure, the heroine, her self-confidence shaken by the neglect of her first suitor, is elated at the realization that she has attracted the attention of not one, but two other eligible young men. She can scarcely wait for the last guest to leave so that she can rush to her room to be alone with her mirror, to reassess her charms, to practice her scales. In one of his late plays, La Dispute (1744), Marivaux invents a delightful fantasy in which a prince and his fiancée Hermiane argue as to whether the first example of inconstancy in love was set by a man or a woman. It would seem difficult, to an imagination less fertile than Marivaux's, to adduce adequate evidence to settle the dispute. It so happens that the same argument had arisen at the court of the prince's father, eighteen or nineteen years before. The king conducted an experiment. He selected four infants, two girls and two boys, to be brought up, isolated from one another and from the world, in the care of two aged servants, Mesrou and Carise. The experiment has now reached the stage where results can be observed. The prince and Hermiane will watch, from a hiding-place, what happens when these young people re-enact for them, as it were, the first days of creation. The young maiden Eglé glimpses her own image for the first time in a stream. She calls to Carise, her elderly companion:

Egle, regardant.—Ah! Carise, approchez, venez voir; il y a quelque chose qui habite dans le ruisseau qui est fait comme une personne, et elle paraÎt aussi étonnée de moi que je le suis d'elle.

Carise, riant.—Eh! non, c'est vous que vous y voyez; tous les ruisseaux font cet effet-là.

Egle.—Quoi! c'est là moi, c'est mon visage?

Carise.—Sans doute.

Egle.—Mais savez-vous bien que cela est très beau, que cela fait un objet charmant? Quel dommage de ne l'avoir pas su plus tôt!

Carise.—Il est vrai que vous êtes belle.

Egle.—Comment "belle"? admirable! cette découverte-là m'enchante (Elle se regarde encore!) Le ruisseau fait toutes mes mines, et toutes me plaisent. Vous devez avoir eu bien du plaisir à me regarder, Mesrou et vous. Je passerai ma vie à me contempler; que je vais m'aimer à présent!

Does the mirror merely express for Marivaux a type of Narcissism? It is true that it affords self-awareness, reassurance, delight, and a practice-keyboard for many of his heroines. For them, however, as for the innocent Egle, awareness of self is rapidly followed by awareness of others. As we shall see, inevitable comparisons result.

The problem is complex. The reflection in the mirror, although it represents objective reality, is nonetheless viewed by a purely subjective beholder who is, in a sense, a distorting mirror herself. Marivaux imagines the plight of an ill-favoured woman, with a misshapen nose, as she places herself before her mirror. Her nose remains misshapen, says Marivaux, but she takes good care not to concentrate on that. Her eye will fall on other features which, all taken together, will bring the nose into focus as an asset rather than a liability. If all the features are unfortunate, she will create of them in her own mental image, through art or vanity, or both, a harmonious whole more attractive than regular beauty itself, and satisfying to her, if not to others.

For Marivaux, each person is a mirror, receiving and distorting the reflections of others, and at the same time a mask, trying to achieve the most flattering possible picture in the mirrors of others. This explains his passion for scrutinizing closely the reactions of people on people. The image in the mirror is sometimes beclouded by the breath of passion, distorted by jealousy, embellished by the wishful thinking of vanity. Marivaux's role is to polish the surface, to smooth out the deforming concavities and convexities, and to present to his audience both the distortion and the reality. Once the distortion has been rectified by the objective observer, the quality of the mirror, and of the reality which it reflects, can be assessed properly.

Several examples have already been given of Marivaux's use of the mirror or its equivalent as a sort of stage-prop. We may now examine some of the more subtle uses of the mirror technique as an artistic device, most evident in the plays, and of such frequent occurrence as to become almost a trademark.

The two chief protagonists in a Marivaux play usually reflect, like mirrors placed on opposite sides of a room, each other's outlook on life. In La Seconde Surprise de l'amour, La Marquise and Le Chevalier mirror each other's sorrow for a lost love. In La Double Inconstance, Silvia and Arlequin reflect each other's attempt to remain faithful to their first love in spite of the involuntary formation of new attachments. In Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard, Silvia and Dorante are such exact mirrors of each other that they adopt the same expedient (that of disguising themselves as servants) for the same purpose (that of examining closely the person they may be called upon to marry). In Les Sincères, Ergaste and La Marquise reflect each other's passion for complete and out-spoken honesty in social intercourse. Here the mirrors crack under the strain. In Les Serments indiscrets, Lucile and Damis share a common disinclination for the ties of matrimony which is gradually dispelled as they come to know each other better.

A second mirror device occurs in most of Marivaux's plays. The servants, who advise, cajole, mimic, follow and lead their masters and mistresses, provide a laughing gallery of distortion. This is achieved in a variety of ways. The servants fall in and out of love according to the vicissitudes of their masters' love affairs. Sometimes they take the initiative and see to it that the mistress and master fall in love to protect their own interests; sometimes they follow, taking their cue from their betters. There is, of course, nothing new or original in this device, a classic example of which is found in Moliére's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. But no playwright has used it more persistently and effectively than Marivaux. The love scenes between Lisette and Arlequin in Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard, skillfully placed at appropriate moments in the development of the love between Silvia and Dorante, are masterpieces of comic distortion.

Moreover, in Marivaux, the servants represent, on their own level, the same traits of character, foibles or prejudices, as the master or mistress. If the mistress is overly proud of her rank in society, so is the maid: Angélique and Lisette in Le Préjugé vaincu. If she is fickle and inconstant, so is the maid: La Comtesse and Lisette in L'Heureux Stratagème. If the master is a gay young man-about-town, needing to be taken down a peg, so is the valet: Rosimond and Frontin, in Le Petit-MaÎtre corrigé.

The mirror calls forth the mask. According to Marivaux, one must fit into that vast category of porteurs de visages in order to move in society. The mirror of self-awareness and the mirror of other human beings as they reflect ourselves help us to prepare a mask necessary for participation in the mime of the human comedy.

What forms does the mask assume? As in the case of the mirror, the actual object is used at times as a stage-prop. In La Méprise, for instance, the masks carried, and worn at appropriate moments in the action by two sisters, Hortense and Clarice, provide the source of the comic misunderstanding which so bewilders the hero, Ergaste.

When the masks are removed in the final act, true identities are established, and the misunderstanding is cleared up.

The most common form of the mask in Marivaux is that of the disguise. Here he had an abundance of models to choose from in the traditions of the Italian and French theatres. He used the device of disguise purely as a source of comedy in Le Père prudent et équitable. In one of his last plays, La Femme fidèle (1755), preserved only in fragmentary form, the disguise is used as a source of pathos. The Marquis, supposedly killed in a foreign land, reappears disguised as a friend bearing a message for the widowed Marquise about to marry again much against her will. The disguise enables him to see the true sorrow and fidelity of his wife. When he reveals his identity, the recognition scene is one of genuine emotion.

The period of nearly five decades which separate Le Père prudent et équitable from La Femme fidèle shows such frequent and varied use of Marivaux's device of the disguise that a complete analysis would be impossible here. One of the most successful examples for straight comic effect is the disguise of Eraste in L'Ecole des meres. For sheer virtuosity, the use of disguise in Le Triomphe de l'amour could scarcely be rivalled. Here it produces, not comic scenes, but scenes of disturbing and equivocal subtlety.

Marivaux's heroes and heroines often adopt the mask of disguise in order to view more clearly the person whom they are to marry. This is the starting-point for the adventures of Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard, in which the disguise becomes the instrument for delicate psychological analysis. When we witness the unsuccessful inner struggle of Silvia, disguised as the servant Lisette, to resist the attractions of Dorante, disguised as the valet Bourgignon, we share with her that delicious moment of lucidity when he drops his mask and she sees that her instinct has guided her correctly: "Je vois clair dans mon coeur."

The mask and its counterpart, the disguise, are merely visible signs of the barriers which man erects between himself and society …

Marivaux's magic is performed with mirrors and masks. The aim of this magician, however, is not to conjure up a world of illusion, but to disclose the world of reality. Holding up to nature the crystal-clear mirror of observation, removing the mask by his insight and penetration, Marivaux leaves his attentive reader with a new desire to see clearly—voir clair—and to avoid being taken in—ne pas être dupe.

Lionel Gossman (essay date 1967)

SOURCE: "Literature and Society in the Early Enlightenment: The Case of Marivaux," in MLN, Vol. 82, No. 3, May, 1967, pp. 306-33.

[In the essay below, Gossman delineates the relations of Marivaux's plays to the social and philosophical views of his day.]

In the last few years there has been a revival of interest in Marivaux, touched off perhaps by Gabriel Marcel's introduction to a 1947 edition of a selection of the comedies. Not much of the new criticism, on the whole, has been concerned with the relation between Marivaux's work and the society in and for which it was written. It is this relation which I should like to explore. Marivaux wrote both plays and novels, but as a novelist he may well have entered into a different relation to his public from that in which he stood to the public of the plays. It seemed prudent, therefore, to approach the plays and the novels separately and I have made no attempt to deal with the latter here.

The son of an undistinguished provincial administrator with aspirations to nobility, Marivaux was one of a large number of young men who climbed on to the band waggon of the Modernes in the early years of the Regency. He became a disciple and friend of Fontenelle and found his way to the headquarters of the Moderne movement in the salons of Madame de Lambert and Madame de Tencin. Although there has been no full study, as yet, of the social significance of the Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes, it does seem, as of now, that the Anciens were in the main those who, while often less than satisfied with existing arrangements, were even more apprehensive of change. They included some members of the old nobility, certain religious groups and above all robins and bourgeois living on rentes. The Modernes, on the other hand, expressed the ideas and sentiments of the most active and advanced section of French society in the early eighteenth century, notably the rich and increasingly influential financiers and fermiers-généraux, who sought to elevate themselves and gain power, not as the robins had done at an earlier stage by purchasing offices and constituting themselves a special privileged class, but by infiltrating the aristocracy, the court and the royal administration. The wealthy bourgeoisie of the first half of the eighteenth century was thus extremely close to and indeed barely distinguishable from the aristocracy, which accepted the influx of new blood and new money with little resistance and in the process adopted many of the ideas and attitudes of its powerful partner. This society of bourgeois aristocrats and aristocratic bourgeois was cultured and generous. It would be hard to exaggerate the cultural role of the fermiers-généraux, for instance, throughout the eighteenth century. Marivaux himself was in receipt of a pension from Helvétius.

The Modernes embraced many new ideas. They set out to free themselves and France from old tyrannies, to explode old myths that they had been taught to take for granted and to reveal the material and conventional nature of all human arrangements and institutions, political, religious and social. Every realm of human thought and activity was de-sacramentalized: in philosophy essentialist doctrines were rejected, in religion the natural origin of all mysteries (the Christian ones being prudently excepted, of course) was exposed, in literature the classics, and even the classics of the age of absolutism, were toppled from their pedestals, in art academicism came under increasing attack.

Nothing was taken for granted by these early enlighteners. They no longer believed, for instance, that reality is immediately accessible to the intelligence and their work is a constant interrogation not only of our total conceptions of reality but of the apparently solid bricks out of which these conceptions are constructed. Social reality was questioned no less eagerly than physical reality and here too not only society as a whole but the individual self was found to be problematic, for how did a series of discontinuous moments of experience constitute a self? Literature itself was thought of as a means of de-mystification and an exercise in reflection and self-awareness. It no longer presented itself to the reader in analogy with a natural object, the meaning of which is immediately apprehensible, since natural objects themselves could no longer be thought of in this way, but as an artefact designed by an author, the meaning of which is uncertain and requires to be prised out of it, or given to it, by the reader. The style of the Modernes is atomic. Causal conjunctions, in particular, are rare with them, and their prose has not the highly articulated architectural quality of their seventeenth century predecessors. They do not construct chains of reasoning. They lay out the observed "facts" and leave it to the reader to evaluate them and put them together as he judges best.

Given their rejection of essentialism in all domains, it is not surprising that the Modernes had an image of society as a comedy in which each man plays out his role before others. "Ce monde est un grand bal où des fous déguisés / Sous les risibles noms d'Eminence et d'Altesse / Pensent enfler leur être et hausser leur bassesse," Voltaire declared in his Discours en vers sur l'homme. The wise man stands back and recognizes the human comedy for what it is: "Les mortels sont égaux: leur masque est différent." Obviously, the acquisition of such lucidity can serve different ends. The Anciens also thought of social life as a theatrical performance and the lines quoted from Voltaire could be matched with similar passages in Pascal, La Bruyère or Boileau. Indeed, this view of social life goes back to Montaigne, and even further. But whereas the Anciens took the masquerade of society as an invitation to seek elsewhere for man's "true" nature, the Modernes denied that there was any "true" nature of man in a religious or metaphysical sense. For the Anciens social life was emptied of significance by the discovery of its inessentiality, for the Modernes on the other hand—since they believed in nothing else—it had to be accepted and grasped in its inessentiality.

For those of them, in particular, who, like Marivaux, lived in close proximity to the wealthy bourgeoisie and the aristocracy and shared in their way of life, irreverence with regard to existing institutions and, in particular, to the social order of the ancien regime in no way implied a radical critique of it. It produced instead a quite distinctive outlook in which intellectual audacity was combined with social conservatism and rationalism with respect for irrational forms. It would probably be vain to look for any revolutionary critique of social institutions in the first half of the eighteenth century—with the possible exception of the late seventeenth century Testament of Jean Meslier, which was much sought after by amateurs of clandestine literature. The financiers them-selves had no thought of attacking the social order at its roots; they owed their fortunes to their skilful exploitation of the fiscal and commercial arrangements of the state. The Modernes did not, therefore, wish to destroy the forms of society. On the contrary, they desired to maintain them; but they wished them to be recognized as forms, so that they might then be opened, without the usual tiresome protests, to new content. Whereas the Anciens opposed all social change on the grounds that social order depends on the respect accorded to age-old customs, the Modernes tended to emphasize the positive value of social arrangements and to justify a certain measure of social change. They admitted that the forms of society do not reflect an essential "nature of things," but since they considered such a "nature" mythical anyway, they could not consider it a useful criterion for judging social forms. The criterion by which they judged was empirical, the correspondence of social forms not to some essential "nature" but to nature as it was observed to be in fact in the world. The Modernes thus rejected the either-or way of thinking which allowed the Anciens to make a blanket condemnation of society while at the same time insisting that all social change be avoided.

The social thinking of the Modernes suited various social groups in the ancien regime rather well. It suited ennobled financiers who wished to base their right to nobility not on their money but on their distinction as human beings and, paradoxically, it also suited the proud aristocracy of the blood which could claim, as Vauvenargues was to do, that its right to nobility rested on its inherent superiority, as a noblesse de race, to other men. "J'appelle peuple tout ce qui pense bassement et communément," declared Madame de Lambert, the patroness of the Modernes; "la cour en est remplie." The refined, cultivated and magnificently married daughters of the Crozats and the Bernards, the financial wizards of the day, could not but have been pleased by this consecration of their newly acquired nobility. But in fact it is not at all clear that Madame de Lambert's barbs were not directed at them. It is never sure in her writings whether it is a certain refinement of sensibility, a certain distinction of soul, that ensures nobility, or whether it is nobility that ensures distinction of soul. Does a person who has the "style" of nobility deserve to be "noble"—that is, to be recognized as noble—or is this style itself a proof of noble blood? Admittedly there are no essential "natures," but is what man is perhaps biologically determined and if so, is the furthest reality to which we can penetrate not race rather than merit? By depriving social forms—institutions, ranks, language, etc.—of any necessary or "natural" relation to "reality," by affirming more-over that "reality" was, if not mythical, then at least unknowable and irrelevant to life, the Modernes had cleared a way for the simultaneous co-existence of various interpretations of the meanings of social forms. The truly enlightened man, of course, was not the dupe of any of these meanings. Knowing that there was no necessary connection between social forms and an "objective" world of things, he bracketed entirely the question of those objective things to which the forms supposedly referred. To him the forms signified by themselves, independently of any reference to an "objective"—that is, socially undetermined—reality.

This way of thinking is nicely illustrated by the mystery shrouding the birth of the heroine of Marivaux's novel La Vie de Marianne. Is Marianne a noble soul because she is in reality the daughter of noble parents, or does she deserve to be treated as a gentlewoman—that is to be one—on account of her delicacy of soul? The answer is never given and never could be, because Marianne's "nobility" is precisely what each must be free to interpret as he chooses, while the truly enlightened will bracket the question of the "reality" on which it is grounded altogether. Such a way of thinking could hardly fail to find favor with a society composed of aristocrats eager to sell their "blood" and of bourgeois eager to be counted on their "merit," that is, ultimately, their wealth. In-deed it is very likely that the phenomenalism of the Moderne movement was essential to its success and its historical role.

Marivaux's work, like that of all the Modernes, is destructive of traditional myths and ideas about literature, about society, about man. Moreover, Marivaux was quite conscious of what, as a writer, he was about. The Prefaces to his plays together with the observations on style in his undeservedly neglected essays—Le Spectateur français, Le Cabinet du philosophe, L'indigent Philosophe—reveal what he thought of literature in general, of his own work in particular and of that of his immediate predecessors.

Just as he rejected the pompous acting style of the Comédie Française and insisted that his actors use a "natural" style, Marivaux saw no sense in continuing academic traditions in literature. These traditions, in his view, were connected with the essentialist way of thinking which, as a Moderne, he also rejected. Neither man himself, nor his passions, nor natural objects can be apprehended as universals or forms, he held, but only in their qualities, as they are observed and experienced. Many of his shorter allegorical plays in particular turn on the contrast between love-passion as it is supposed to be and love as it can be observed in actual social life—and this contrast between Amour and Cupidon was also for him a contrast of styles, as the short comedy La Réunion des Amours makes clear, the style of Amour being pompous, long-winded and cliche-ridden, while that of Cupidon is agile, witty and realistic. Similarly, Marivaux no longer believed in the myth of the hero—one of the favorite whipping horses of the Modernes. "Il n'y a ni petit, ni grand homme pour le Philosophe," he declared. "… Il y a des hommes ordinaires … médiocres, qui valent bien leur prix, et dont la médiocrité a ses avantages. …" The authors of the past have put together words and images which on inspection have turned out to be fraudulent or mythical. There is no point, therefore, Marivaux held, in continuing to string together these meaningless words and images. Only the professional author will do that, because he is paid by some king or court to do so.

Marivaux's unrelenting critique of the status of author is part of his struggle to impose a modern style in place of the semi-official style of classicism. He never tired of emphasizing that he did not want to be thought of as an author. The Spectateur français opens with the statement "Ce n'est point un auteur que vous allez lire ici" and follows it up with a definition of the author as someone who writes about empty ideas. "Un auteur est un homme à qui, dans son loisir, il prend une envie vague de penser sur une ou plusieurs matières: et l'on pourroit appeler cela, réfléchir à propos de rien." As he satirized the "Auteur méthodique" with his "demi-douzaine de pensées dans la tête sur laquelle il fonde tout l'ouvrage." Marivaux was doing for literature what other enlighteners had done for philosophy when they mocked the meta-physicians of the previous century for having drawn out of their heads "le roman de la philosophie," as they liked to put it. Instead of writing as an author, Marivaux proposed to write as a man. "Je veux être un homme et non pas un Auteur."

At the same time as he rejected an earlier notion of the author, Marivaux also rejected an earlier notion of literature. Literature, as he saw it, is not an incarnation of eternal truths and ideal beauty but part of a secular and temporal culture. Marivaux could say in the same breath that he did not write his essays for the "public" in the manner of the classical "author" and that he cannot conceive why he should have written them except for other men to read them: "Cependant pourquoi les ai-je écrits? Est-ce pour moi seul? Mais écrit-on pour soi? J'ai de la peine à le croire. Quel est l'homme qui écriroit ses pensées, s'il ne vivoit pas avec d'autres hommes." To write as a man, in short, means to stop writing as an "author" and to accept willingly the social and historical nature of literature. Literature, for Marivaux, is not made in heaven; it is made by men who do not wish to pronounce as divines or oracles but to communicate with their fellows in their own language, and its subject matter is human experience, not eternal essences. The great writers of the Enlightenment found glory in the humble function they assigned to literature. One recalls Sidrac's words to Goudman as he invites him to dinner in Voltaire's Les Oreilles du Comte de Chesterfield: "Votre faculté pensante aura le plaisir de se communiquer à la mienne par le moyen de la parole: ce qui est une chose merveilleuse que les hommes n'admirent pas assez."

As a writer, the Moderne will not, therefore, withdraw behind his creation but reveal his presence in it; on the other hand, he will not sit down to write on traditional themes, but will wait until some event, some experience or some striking observation goads him to action. About the ideas he used in his works Marivaux declared: "Je n'examine pas si celle-ci est plus fine, si celle-là l'est moins; car mon dessein n'est de penser ni bien ni mal, mais seulement de recueillir fidèlement ce qui me vient d'après le tour d'imagination que me donnent les choses que je vois ou que j'entends." The writer will not invent, in other words, out of his head, or by elaborating some worn literary theme. A picturesque comment by Montesquieu on the Regent reveals how essential the contact with others was held to be for the artist of the period: "Les paroles qu'il a si admirablement dites sont toujours des reparties, comme s'il s'était refusé toutes les choses charmantes qui ne naissent point de l'occasion." It is no accident that the age of Marivaux was also the age of the art of conversation and of those correspondences—Walpole, Madame du Deffand, Voltaire—of which it is impossible to say whether they are documents of social communication or works of art.

Imitation of other writers obviously had no place among those who had denounced the myth of Parnassus and chosen temporality rather than eternity. Marivaux condemns it out of hand. "L'imitation … ne fera qu'un singe." The author Marivaux most admired, if d'Alembert is to be believed, was Montaigne, because his personal style did not lend itself to imitation. Sometimes Marivaux's emphasis on originality strikes a remarkably modern note. "Ecrire naturellement," he declares in the Spectateur, "n'est pas écrire dans le goût de tel Ancien, ni de tel Moderne, n'est pas se mouler sur personne quant à la forme de ses idées; mais au contraire, se ressembler fidèlement à soi-même." "Jusqu'ici," he adds later in the Cabinet du philosophe, "vous ne connoissez presque que des Auteurs qui songent à vous quand ils écrivent, et qui, à cause de vous, tâchent d'avoir un certain style. Je ne dis pas que ce soit mal fait; mais vous ne voyez pas là l'homme qu'il est."

This critique of the classical concept of the author and of literature is surely not fortuitous. It fits too well with the character, the position and the outlook of the social group with which Marivaux and his fellow Modernes were closely associated. Similarly, the new idea of the author and of his relation to society which begins to emerge from the essays reflects the ambiguities of this social group.

The classical idea of the artist rested on the assumption that he shared with the public and, indeed, with reasonable men in all ages certain fundamental principles and values which were true for all time and which could not be changed or improved upon. As a matter of fact, since men in their folly tended, if anything, to be distracted from truth by the flattering images of illusion, innovation was as likely as not to mean degeneration. This view usually went hand in hand, not unexpectedly, with a fairly conservative view of society, for if the ideal of an intimate and secure relation between artist and public was to be maintained, the public of taste and judgment had itself to be maintained. But even in the seventeenth century social change was already undermining the "public" of the classical artists. Boileau and La Bruyère never tire of railing against the financiers and traitants who were upsetting the order of things and taking over positions once occupied by persons of sense and discrimination. By Marivaux's time the author could no longer imagine that there was a homogeneous public in which he was but a special voice. Moreover, many of the newer writers themselves came from less solidly established families than their classical predecessors. The eighteenth century writer was thus less conscious and sure of his relation to society than the classical writer had been and for this very reason he became more aware of and interested in his own individuality. Similarly, what he had to say and how he should say it no longer seemed self-evident to him. Nor could he accept the assent of the "public" as the measure of his success.

Marivaux's refusal of the category of "author" is thus a response to a truly altered social situation. No longer enjoying the independence provided by a private income and the feeling of writing for a public of friends and equals, he and his contemporaries were in fact becoming increasingly alienated from the "public" and the latter was already coming to resemble the market, as the modern writer knows it. They were thereby assuming some of the essential traits of the bourgeois. But they did not clearly recognize or accept this fact, and in this they resembled a large part of the public for which they wrote. It is characteristic of the whole Moderne movement that even in the essays, where he speaks most daringly and provocatively of his relation to the public, Marivaux did not clearly avow—or perhaps fully grasp—the reality of the writer's changed situation and that he expressed it instead in an ambiguous form. The bourgeois author first affirmed his independence by assuming, ironically, the mask of a grand seigneur of letters and his cavalier rejection of the models of antiquity and of the classical relation of artist and public, summarized in the formula instruire et plaire, has an air of aristocratic dilettantism. "Je ne vous promets rien," Marivaux tells his readers, "… Je ne jure de rien; et si je vous ennuie, je ne vous ai pas dit que cela n'arriveroit pas; si je vous amuse, je n'y suis pas obligé, je ne vous dois rien: ainsi le plaisir que je vous donne est un présent que je vous fais; et si par hasard je vous instruis, je suis un homme magnifique, et vous voilà comblé de mes grâces." The acceptance of a traditional form to convey and simultaneously to conceal a new meaning is, as we shall see, characteristic not only of Marivaux's reflections on literature and writers but of his own literary work itself.

Marivaux's insistence on the social nature of literature and on the role of the author's subjectivity in the process of literary creation necessarily excluded the classical ideal of objectivity. While the writer has to write about something, in short, that something, Marivaux held, is not a pure object or essence, but something as the writer sees it or experiences it. Every subject implies an object and every object implies a subject. Man cannot think, feel, indeed he cannot exist, without the world to awaken him and galvanize his faculties into action. "Nous restons là comme des eaux dormantes qui attendent qu'on les remue, pour se remuer," remarks Lélio in the first Surprise de l'amour. The world, on the other hand, can be apprehended only by our reflection upon our experience of it. In a way it too only comes into existence through us. Esse est percipi is a radical formulation of a common attitude. Nothing is for us but what is observed. In all the literature and art of the eighteenth century—in content and in form as well—the point of view plays a crucial role. The epistolary novel presents the point of view of the writer of each letter, the novel in the form of mémoires stresses that it is the work of the hero recalling and interpreting his past in later life, the conte, the fantasy tale and the third person novel have their auctorial interventions, the theatre has the play within the play, the painting viewers and paintings within the painting. The work of art comes to the public openly as a contrivance, pointing to itself by these various devices and saying or asking what it is. And this is one of its most pertinent comments upon reality itself.

The variety of points of view and the absence of any absolute standard are essential elements of Marivaux's work. While others continued to use the stock characters of courtly comedy—the financier, the fop, etc.—as comic heroes, Marivaux recognized that the norm of nature or reason supporting this kind of comedy is simply the expression of a point of view, that of la cour et la ville, which is unaware of itself as a point of view, and that the comic type himself reflects a view of man out of tune with contemporary experience and contemporary thought. Marivaux was conscious of his esthetics. "Il avoit le malheur de ne pas estimer beaucoup Molière," d'Alembert relates. In effect, a good deal of his work is a response to Molière's. Les Sincères, as has been frequently pointed out, is Marivaux's answer to Le Misanthrope. (The point of the play is that all social behavior is behavior for others, so that sincerity is itself a mask, and a more dishonest mask than most, since it refuses to accept its own nature.) So too the first scene of La Double Inconstance, one of the earliest comedies, should probably be read with Molière in mind. "Ne faut-il pas être raisonnable," Trivelin enjoins Silvia, who has been abducted by the Prince from her village and brought to the court. "Non, il ne faut point l'être et je ne le serai point," Silvia answers, overturning what Marivaux took to be Molière's fixed categories of nature and reason. Reason in this scene is simply the perspective of the court, and Silvia has her own reason. "Moi, je hais la santé et je suis bien aise d'être malade," she cries, again pointing up against the author of Le Malade Imaginaire that the norm of so-called health is simply that of a social group unaware of the relativity of its own position. "Je ne veux qu'être fâchée," she adds in the next sentence, and the audience must certainly have recalled Alceste's "Moi, je veux me fâcher."

While Marivaux wished to give his audiences a point of view—that of servants, rustics, etc.—from which they could grasp their own conventionality he did not, however, intend them to settle down into this point of view. The point of the comedy would be lost if it were not grasped that all forms are conventional and that none, therefore, not that of urbs but not that of rus either, can be taken as absolute. What we have to do, Marivaux implies, is to assume this conventionality with complete lucidity, to play out our part as prince, duke or valet, remembering that it is only a part and that as wearers of the mask to which history or accident has assigned us, we are all equal. There is, in Marivaux's view, no escape from this situation. Those who are unaware of it are nevertheless in it. They may not think they are actors—like the children raised in isolation in La Dispute and then thrown together by the Prince—but they are actors even if they do not know it: the Court is present watching the so-called children of nature as they awaken to themselves and to each other—and we, of course, are present as spectators watching the play. "Nous sommes tous des tableaux, les uns pour les autres," in the words of the Spectateur Français. Everyone is always an actor for someone. Madame Argante in Les Acteurs de Bonne Foi will not give her consent to a play, and she is punished for her refusal by being made an unconscious actress in a dramatic situation devised by her friend Madame Amelin. If she will not assume the comedy, she will not escape it. Ergaste and La Marquise in Les Sincères, who reject social forms as false, are the most vain, hypocritical and deceitful of all the characters in that play. Let us recall once more the words of the Indigent Philosophe. He likes best, he tells us, those who "ne portent point leur masque; ils ne l'ont qu'à la main, et vous disent: tenez, le voilà, et cela est charmant. J'aime tout à fait cette manière-là d'être ridicule; car enfin, il faut l'être et de toutes les manières de l'être, celle qui mérite le moins à mon gré, c'est celle qui ne trompe point les autres, qui ne les induit pas à erreur sur notre compte." The only honesty and the only freedom, in short, lie in a willing assumption of our social condition and of the conventionality of social arrangements.

The meaning of Marivaux's plays is conveyed not only at the level of dramatic action, but at the level of the very material with which the writer works, at the level of language. Marivaux was acutely conscious of the social nature of language, and a great deal of the apparently innocent word play in the comedies is designed to emphasize it. Again there is an unreflecting realist stage at which words are assumed to be, as if by some divine or natural institution, the direct images of things. Arlequin the rustic in La Double Inconstance who is unaware of himself as an actor is also unaware of the nature of language. "A vrai dire, Seigneur," Flaminia reports to the Prince about him, "je le crois tout à fait amoureux de moi, mais il n'en sait rien. Comme il ne m'appelle encore que sa chère amie, il vit sur la bonne foi de ce nom qu'il me donne, et prend toujours de l'amour à bon compte" (III, 1). It is the writer's aim to give the audience a perspective on this realist view of language and thus to lead it to the second stage, at which it becomes aware that words are no more made in heaven than literature itself is, that they are not images of things but signs which depend for their meaning on a code and that the code itself is conventional. "Eh bien! Infidèle soit, puisque tu veux que je le sois," exclaims the Countess in L'Heureux Stratagème to her servant Lisette. "Crois-tu me faire peur avec ce grand mot-là? Infidèle! ne diraiton pas que ce soit une grande injure? Il y a comme cela des mots dont on épouvante les esprits faibles qu'on a mis en crédit, faute de réflexion, et qui ne sont pourtant rien" (I, 4).

Marivaux's word play, like all word-play, is an interrogation of language and meaning. The simple characters in La Double Inconstance, Silvia and Arlequin, constantly question the words and phrases used by the courtly characters. Expressions like honnête homme, votre grandeur are revealed for what they are. But the rustics are not right. We are not intended to identify ourselves with their position which, in the end, is as realist as that of the courtly characters. Quite simply their questioning shows that words are used in social contexts and that they are meaningful only within the social group that uses them. Again folly does not lie in speaking the language of the Court but in imagining that it is the language of universal reason. Significantly the Prince himself does not make that mistake, only his creatures do. Arlequin unnerves Lisette, the servant of the Court, by turning her conventional flatteries into nonsense (Double Inconstance, I, 6), but she is unnerved only because she fails to realize that language does not signify to those outside the group using it. Trivelin is similarly nonplussed when he finds that he cannot justify the Prince's abduction of Silvia. "C'est votre souverain qui vous aime," he tells the young peasant girl. But to somebody who is not used to the language of the Court and who does not share the values it conveys this explanation is meaningless. "Je ne l'empêche pas," Silvia retorts. "Mais faut-il que je l'aime, moi? Non … un enfant le verroit et vous ne le voyez pas." Trivelin tries again: "Songez que c'est sur vous qu'il fait tomber le choix qu'il doit faire d'une épouse entre ses sujettes." Again Silvia demurs: "Qui est-ce qui lui a dit de me choisir? M'a-t-il demandé mon avis … Point du tout, il m'aime, crac, il m'enlève, sans me demander si je le trouverai bon." Trivelin tries to justify the Prince's abduction on the grounds that "il ne vous enlève que pour vous donner la main." But he continues to use phrases that are meaningful within his own courtly context only. "Eh que veut-il que je fasse de cette main," Silvia retorts, "si je n'ai pas envie d'avancer la mienne pour la prendre?" In a society where the Prince's absoluteness is accepted, "donner la main" is doubtless explanation enough. The other party to the act is presumed to have no independent will, but to Silvia it is not an explanation. She and Trivelin simply do not speak the same language, and like those comedians who play their parts without realizing that they are doing so, Trivelin uses language without understanding what he is doing.

Occasionally in Marivaux's work there occurs a kind of flight or absence even of the self-conscious actor, who refuses temporarily to accept his role and tries to imply that he is a "natural." This "bad faith" has a linguistic corollary which takes the form of an attempt to act as if words naturally signified, so that instead of presenting them explicitly as taking their meaning from a code, the character acts as if they were the transparent reflection of some state of mind or soul. This is what happens in Les Serments Indiscrets (II, 5) when Lucile tries to stop the marriage to which she herself in pride has pushed her lover, on the grounds that she would feel eternally guilty for having caused the unhappiness of two people. Lucile believes her own story, she takes her meaning from her mask and her language, denying their true nature.

If language is a cultural phenomenon, as Marivaux's plays urge, no language, not even the language of the great writers of the grand siècle, is sacrosanct. Marivaux did in fact take "liberties" with what had become standard literary language. In the milieux he frequented the language of the seventeenth century had given way to one that, within set limits, was adventurous, experimental, attuned to novel and striking configurations, one in which the individual had or felt he had a greater degree of freedom. Marivaux introduced this language into literature, for which the rearguard of the Classical Establishment understandably never forgave him. For the Anciens styles, genres and languages were as fixed as the meanings they convey: for each subject matter there was always an appropriate language, an appropriate genre, an appropriate style. Marivaux tried to free the writer and, indeed, the individual from this tyranny of universal laws supposedly inherent in the nature of things. But he did not imagine that freedom was possible except within fairly clearly defined limits. He would probably have agreed with those presentday writers who hold that man can be himself only through language, that is, by appropriating a linguistic system which he did not himself create or will and by participating in social life. Man, in this view of him, has no identity until he has learned to speak. He becomes himself through society, through others, and his being is one with its social and linguistic expression. "Hors de la parole," as one writer puts it, "la subjectivité reste ineffable." There is likewise for Marivaux no escape from linguistic systems or social forms and we achieve our identity as human beings not by discovering our absolute "nature" but by assuming a mask and accepting the rules of the game. Marivaux did not question the rules of the game, however, or indicate that they might be changed. Rather he believed that social life brings out certain characteristics of human beings—vanity, competitiveness, dependence on others and desire to make others dependent on us—and that any social institution reflects these "natural"—in the sense of empirically observed—characteristics. The distinction of ranks is thus, in a sense, "natural." Nevertheless Marivaux held, along with many of his contemporaries, that in the very understanding of this situation the enlightened man or woman achieves a limited freedom. We are never free, in short, of the rules imposed by linguistic systems or by social forms or, indeed, by our own natural constitution, but we are, to some degree, free within them and among them. The actor, for instance, as he renews and improvizes his parts—and we should not overlook Marivaux's long association with the Italian players who were accustomed to improvizing within the framework of their scenario—using now the language of the valet, now the language of the master, now that of the pedant, now that of the fop, combines in the highest degree the two conditions of freedom and identity or social and historical existence.

In the figure of the actor, therefore, the enlightened men and women of Marivaux's world discovered what they thought they were. The actor, as they understood him, is not identical with a role or a language, but he is inconceivable without a role and words to speak; he is at once distinct from his part, creating it in accordance with the rules of the social game and observing and guiding his performance of it, and at the same time he is it, so that the mask is the man himself and the individual is identical with his language. In a somewhat similar way, the enlightened aristocrat or bourgeois of the early eighteenth century transcended on one level the social conventions of his time, since he recognized them as social conventions, while on another level he accepted them, not too unwillingly, one may surmise, as an inevitable condition of human existence. It is not surprising that the upper classes of eighteenth century society were mad about the theatre—or that Rousseau defended the ban on it in Geneva. Moreover, the theatre provided an occasion for reconciling "bourgeois" humanitarianism and sentiment with acceptance of the existing social order. By essaying the role of valets, one could, as it were, experience in play what it was like to be one and this, it was thought, should teach one to be kinder to one's servants in that other play in which one happened to perform the role of the master. Besides his best known play, Le Jeu de l'Amour et du Hasard, several short works by Marivaux, well adapted to performance in private theatres (L'Ile des Esclaves, L'Ile de la Raison, La Colonie), turn on this theme of the interchange of roles by masters and servants.

Marivaux expressed in his novels and his comedies, as in his reflections on literature, not only the self-awareness of his society but its ambiguities and its hesitancies. He himself seems to have shared both the nostalgia of his audiences for a no-longer believed-in age of innocence and noble virtues (one might call it the golden age myth of the nobility) before the social comedy (that is, the court) began and their presentiment of a new world of individual experience. His parodies of the heroic love-passions of old may well have been the more cutting as he had not completely stifled within himself a certain longing for the immediate, the generous, the "natural." Nor should we forget his youthful fondness for Corneille and his own early attempts at romance writing. But this nostalgia for the past was closely allied in his thought and feeling to the modern experience of a private individual self with its own particular desires and longings and to the modern "bourgeois" dream of intimate and inward communication. In the circle of Madame de Lambert, as among earlier précieux, it was not uncommon to believe in elective affinities, in the possibility of immediate communication between persons of delicate sensibility. "Il y a des amitiés d'étoile et de sympathie," Madame de Lambert declared, "des liens inconnus qui nous unissent et qui nous serrent; nous n'avons besoin ni de protestation, ni de serment: la confiance va au-devant des paroles." Marivaux's heroine Marianne also believes in this immediate communication: "Les âmes se répondent," she declares. Almost all Marivaux's comedies close with a "marriage" which puts an end to the play not only for the spectators but also for the actors, as though the world of words had been transcended in a higher and more immediate communication. This evasion from the social comedy, from the world of words, can be viewed as the attainment of genuine love, a meeting of hearts. Alternatively, however, the embarcation for Cythera can be viewed as the culmination of an erotic adventure, a meeting of bodies, though no one to my mind has yet offered this rather obvious reading. But neither interpretation would be adequate on its own. If we are to probe the ambiguity of Marivaux's plays further we must recognize that his heroes are not only actors in their mode of being but—whether masculine or feminine in gender—women; and we must inquire into the significance of this concrete reality lurking behind the abstract figure of the actor-character.

Already in the late seventeenth century a code of behavior had begun to evolve for life at court with the purpose of maintaining smooth social relations and a semblance of order and harmony among people who were no longer inwardly convinced that there was a natural order and who were, indeed, in constant competition with each other. The newness of this code is brought out—despite Marivaux!—in Moliére's Le Misanthrope, where the court no longer stands as an absolute order but is itself shown in its relativity. Alceste, the champion of an earlier and more heroic age protests at the perversion of language by his courtly friends. The latter, however, are not all deceived by the deceits Alceste complains of. They understand their language very well. Alceste, in short, takes the old language of pre-courtly days to be "natural" and cannot adapt to the new one. Molière also shows how the new language works to maintain both social order and individual freedom by disposing of the myth that words signify "naturally" and by making explicit the role of all parties in communication. In certain extremely favorable circumstances, indeed, the language allows communication to occur without reference to anything outside of the communication itself. The object of the communication seems identical with the act. There is communication and interrelation, in other words, but as there are no solid bodies, so to speak, there is no problem of friction. This is the language spoken by Philinte and Oronte in the first act of Le Misanthrope. Philinte praises Oronte's sonnet. Oronte answers: "Vous me flattez." Philinte protests: "Non, je ne flatte point." But neither party communicates anything in this exchange except a general readiness to abide by common rules, while avoiding any open confrontation of the desire, the being, the language of the one with the desire, the being, the language of the other. This is likewise the language that Célimène claims to speak when she protests to Alceste that it is not her fault if different men sometimes think she favors them: she favors all equally and she is not responsible for the interpretations that can be put on her behavior. Signs are only signs and the reading of them, the constituting of a message, as well as all suppositions about the intentionality of the subject behind them are, she claims, the responsibility of the interlocutor. There are phenomena, in other words, but what "reality" they point to, if any, the see-er decides for himself.

Yet Célimène recognizes that pure communication is achieved only in rare circumstances. The needs and desires of individuals have not been cancelled out, and below the level of polite conversation about nothing there are often real struggles of power between individuals, as Célimène's own lawsuit indicates. Célimène herself explains that she seeks to maintain Clitandre's interest in her because of his influence in high places and his usefulness to her. While it may still be true, therefore, that there is no particular intentionality in her words and gestures, Célimène admits that there is a general one.

Far from being pure and an end in itself—a mere sociableness—communication here has a practical purpose for the individual in that through it he avoids making enemies and seeks the goodwill of others. For women in particular it is important to have powerful protectors. Like several of Marivaux's heroines, Célimène is a veuve, which is to say that she is equally free from the tutelage of her family and from the tyranny of a husband. As her freedom is limited, however, by the social code, no matter how clearly conventional the latter is recognized to be, she must find gentlemen willing to take up her defense on those occasions when she needs help. In the end, her freedom rests entirely on the goodwill of men. She is not, therefore, without responsibility for her suitors' persistent hopes. Yet she does not deceive them. On the contrary, she is contrasted with Arsinoë who does. In Molière's vision all those who oppose the court and the code on which it is based are either dupes who do not understand social rules (Orgon, Alceste) or hypocrites who understand them but refuse to play according to them (Tartuffe, Arsinoë). The hypocrite is thus by definition anti-social and it is, indeed, Arsinoë who destroys the fragile balance in which Célimène has reconciled the goals of individuals and the general requirements of social harmony. In many ways, therefore, Célimène represents the ideal order of courtly society. In her the positive content of particular needs and desires is brought into harmony with the code on which the very possibility of society is based.

Marivaux also sees woman as the characteristic figure of the social order of his time. Like Célimène many of his heroines are "widows," free agents, yet free only on condition that they observe the social code in all its aspects. For them too the only source of strength and influence lies in making themselves attractive to men. "Nous nous entêtons du vil honneur de leur plaire," Arthenice, the leader of the women's revolt in La Colonie, charges. "Est-ce notre faute?" the women answer. "Nous n'avons que cela à faire" (Sc. 9). Not surprisingly, vanity plays a predominant role in Marivaux. "Notre vanité et notre coquetterie, voilà la plus grande source de nos passions," Lucile muses, as she discovers her interest in Damis growing in proportion as his in her is, as she believes, declining (Les Serments Indiscrets, V, 2). The vanity of woman is one of the great themes of Marivaux and is intimately related to his interpretation of her social condition. "… Voir sans cesse qu'on est aimable: "ah! que cela est doux à voir! Le charmant point de vue pour une femme! En vérité, tout est perdu quand vous perdez cela," Hortense confesses in Le Prince Travesti (I, 2). In a much discussed second stage of Le Jeu de l'Amour et du Hasard, which prolongs the play by an act, Silvia, not content with extracting a declaration of love from Dorante while the latter still believes she is a servant, announces to her family that she will not be satisfied until he has asked for her hand in marriage. Although, of course, Silvia and Dorante are socially compatible, Silvia's enterprise underlines the social significance of female vanity. In the man's pursuit of her, Silvia is saying, woman reverses the position to which she is assigned in social life.

In Marivaux's world, however, general triumphs are no longer enough. Desire has become more pressing, more individual, less easily contained and controlled than it was in the world of Le Misanthrope. It is Arsinoë the hypocrite, as we mentioned, who disrupts Célimène's universe; Célimène herself suffers, apparently, from no inner conflicts. The heroines of Marivaux's world, on the other hand, have to struggle hard to maintain that identity of person and persona which Célimène achieves so effortlessly. This struggle is, indeed, one of the principal motifs of his comedies. Characteristically, his heroines are not, like Célimène, engaged only in a kind of generalized coquetterie. The action of Marivaux's comedies concerns usually two lovers, not a court; the problem is not how to harmonize different personae, but how to harmonize the person and the persona; and the happy denouement, together with the consequent release of dramatic tension, is achieved when this problem is resolved.

At no point, however, whatever the mental anguish of the hero or heroine, is the persona, or the social code, actually abandoned. "Assurément," the Marquise declares in the second Surprise de l'Amour, "ce n'est pas que je me soucie de ce qu'on appelle la gloire d'une femme, gloire sotte, ridicule, mais reçue, mais établie, qu'il faut soutenir, et qui nous pare; les hommes pensent cela, il faut penser comme les hommes ou ne pas vivre avec eux" (II, 6). Rather than face a break between the person and the persona, rather than confront their own desire, Marivaux's characters will resort to mental breakdown—whence the frequently heard cry: "Je ne sais où je suis" (first Surprise de l'Amour, III, 4)—and they will recover as soon as they discover a means of reconciling their desire with their social role—the occasion of the equally characteristic: "Ah! je vois clair dans mon coeur" (Jeu de l'Amour et du Hasard, II, 12). In the last resort, therefore, their own desire is subordinated to the maintenance of the social order. There is a point beyond which they cannot go, most amusingly presented perhaps in Act III, scene 8 of Le Jeu de l'Amour et du Hasard.

At the same time, the bare fact that woman does feel and pursue desire, however deviously, is not without significant consequences. To the degree that men recognize her as a creature of desire, they are inevitably prepared to interpret her words and gestures as covert expressions of desire. The code to which these words and gestures refer thus becomes ambiguous—and highly flexible. A word or gesture can be interpreted with reference to the original code by which women were protected from the advances of enterprising males or it can be interpreted according to another code in which desire is only formally denied. In either case the vocabulary remains the same and the burden of interpretation is on the interlocutor. The interlocutor is not always willing to assume this responsibility, however. Whence the exasperation of the Countess in La Fausse Suivante. "Il n'y a rien de plus désagréable que votre obstination à me croire polie," she tells the Chevalier; "car il faudra, malgré moi, que je le sois … Y a-t-il rien de plus haïssable qu'un homme qui ne saurait deviner" (II, 8). The reticence of the interlocutor indicates a further consequence of woman's pursuit of desire. As a protective device the code of modesty and gallantry had a proper place in a world in which each social group—class or sex—had or was supposed to have its own particular nature. There was a way of being for men, and a way of being for women, as there was a way of being for barons and a way of being for serfs. In Marivaux's world the difference between the sexes, like all other social hierarchies, has become blurred and remains only in form. The behavior of many of his male characters is scarcely different from that of his female ones. Almost all are women in these plays. Rosimond, the hero of Le Petit-MaÎtre Corrigé, is only the most explicitly designated of a gallery of similar figures. We need merely think of some of the scenes in which the lovers try to bring their enterprises to a successful conclusion to realize that male and female no longer have their respective roles but behave in exactly the same manner.

Generations of critics have thus done well to emphasize the central role of woman in Marivaux. But Marivaux's theatre is not only predominantly about women, it is also, despite its exposure of her wiles and her vanity, a glorification of woman, and not of the free woman Laclos was to evoke at the end of the century in his book De l'Education des femmes, but of the very woman whose secret humiliations Marivaux understood so well.

Woman, as Marivaux presents her, incarnates the highest qualities of civilized life—charm, wit, taste, intelligence, sensibility—and these qualities are the result of a combination in her of desire and inferiority. Where there is only need, there is, in Marivaux's view, no refinement or delicacy of sentiment. The Countess in Le Legs is shocked on discovering the naked selfishness of her maid, but the valet Lepine tells her a few simple truths: "Cette prudence ne vous rit pas; elle vous répugne; votre belle âme de Comtesse s'en scandalise; mais tout le monde n'est pas comtesse … la médiocrité de l'état fait que les pensées sont médiocres. Lisette n'a point de bien, et c'est avec de petits sentiments qu'on en amasse" (Sc. 21). It is only when need is transformed into desire, when necessity becomes luxury, that refinement of manners and feelings is possible, for desire, unlike need, is itself a social phenomenon, not an individual one, and it brings with it a heightened awareness of others. The less need and the more desire, the more refinement there will be. At the same time, desire destroys all "objective" values. Desirability becomes the sole measure of everything and all traditional values are gathered up in the all-embracing web of exchange value. Sometimes this situation is presented explicitly, as in those comedies where money plays a central role, but it is manifested in all of them by the women characters as they measure themselves exclusively and explicitly in terms of their desirability. The traditional essentialist order of things is thus deeply undermined by a rival order, entirely man-made and without any transcendental foundation.

Nevertheless, the attempt to counter the authority of men, which has produced the characteristic qualities of women, stops short at revolt. The established order of male or parental authority is not to be overturned. Angélique in Marivaux's Ecole des Mères differs from her predecessor in L'Ecole des Femmes in that she does not reject her mother. The latter is not reasonable; "je ne l'en aime pourtant pas moins," says Angélique (Sc. 18). There is an attempted revolt of the women in La Colonie, but it fails because, as Marivaux presents it, it is the "nature" of women, the ruled, to rule by charm and guile, while it is the "nature" of men, the rulers, to be ruled by their inferiors. Civilization, in other words, is a humanly contrived space of freedom and equality, which the inferiors carve out within a structure of inequality that is thereby softened or even suspended, but neither denied nor abolished. Some lines which are recited in the Divertissement at the beginning of La Colonie to console the women for the failure of their revolt sum up this position, though they are probably not from Marivaux's own pen:

      Si les lois des hommes dépendent,
Ne vous plaignez pas, trop aimables objets:
Vous imposez des fers à ceux qui vous
    Et vos maÎtres sont vos sujets.

Marivaux had not lived through the Law affair and burned his own fingers in it without learning anything. The scope of desire, as he saw it, was expanding and possession could not still it. On the contrary, it was among those who already possessed much that it was strongest. The entire social order was thus being reduced to a shadow by the growing intensity of individual desire as it levelled all traditional distinctions before it and reduced them to measurable quantities. Yet there seems to have been no question in Marivaux's mind that the social order might actually be overturned in favor of another, just as in the minds of his heroines there is no question of abandoning the formal social code. Even when he argues against "prejudice" Marivaux does so with respect for traditional forms. Angélique in Le Préjugé Vaincu must overcome her distaste for the "bourgeois" Dorante, but Dorante, we are reassured, "n'a pas fait sa fortune; il l'a trouvée toute faite" (Sc. 8). Although he is "sans noblesse," in other words, he lives "nobly."

Perhaps Marivaux's unwillingness to draw the revolutionary conséquences of widespread individual desire, as he revealed it in his comedies, can be understood if we recall the peculiar balance which sustained the society he lived in and wrote for. The activities of the bourgeoisie in the early eighteenth century were still intimately bound up with the structure of the feudal-absolutist state, the whole order of which these very activities contradicted. Similarly, the power, wealth and market value of the aristocracy were entirely dependent on a hierarchical order which was flatly contradicted by the outlook and by the behavior of the aristocracy. Bourgeoisie and aristocracy alike, therefore, had an interest in upholding the existing order and seeking the satisfaction of their desires within it, for if the social order and the rules that sustained it were obstacles to individual desire, they were also the conditions of its fulfilment. Desire, in short, could not be avowed; it could be pursued only within the space that could be won for it from a code that officially ignored its existence. Similarly, equality could not be avowed; it could only be realized inside a framework which officially denied it. The celebration of woman by Marivaux is thus a celebration of the whole mode of life of the aristocracy and the wealthy bourgeoisie of his time.

If desire itself is unavowable in Marivaux's work, the nature of desire is shrouded in ambiguity by his art, and this ambiguity is also socially significant. Old-fashioned seduction gives way, as we saw, in many of the comedies to the aventure galante, in which both partners seduce and are seduced according to a loosely prescribed ritual. But this ritual is not easily interpreted. The mystery of Watteau's fêtes galantes—uncertainly sentimental and erotic at the same time—should be enough to give us pause. It is not in fact at the level of their content that we can best interpret Marivaux's comedies. To say that they are about "l'amour naissant," the traditional view of them, is to say something of what they are about, but not, perhaps, enough. Just as the words and gestures of Marivaux's heroines do not signify directly in the plays but are offered deliberately as a set of signifiers which the interlocutor has to interpret, so the plays themselves do not signify directly but offer a coherent structure which can be diversely interpreted according to the audience's wish. We can see them as configurations of erotic adventures or as configurations of sentimental ones; the initial desire may be the anonymous desire of a body or it may be "l'amour naissant," the desire of a real individual; the marriages at the end may be taken as the culmination of erotic encounters or as the true meeting of subjects in love. The "aristocratic" reading and the "bourgeois" one both fit. Yet many of the plays would be destroyed if we plumped for one or the other, for they depend on nothing so much as the bracketing of any single "real" meaning. This is not to say that they have no meaning, but that ambiguity is built into their structure, so that their lack of precise meaning becomes itself part of their meaning. Even the most "bourgeois" of the comedies participates in this ambiguity. The problem in La Mère Confidente, according to all commentators the most larmoyante of Marivaux's comedies, is a typical bourgeois one: firstly, how to be sure of the love of a young man, and secondly, how to marry him with the consent of a parent who is afraid of penniless adventurers and eager to see her child make a solid and appropriate match. The problem is fully resolved at the end, when Ergaste makes Dorante, the young man, his heir—"Ne vous ai-je pas promis qu'Angélique n'épouserait point un homme sans bien." But Marivaux's audiences could, if they liked, view the play as an unusual variation on the familiar theme of the woman who wishes to live la vie galante without sacrificing her reputation or flouting social conventions. From this point of view the bourgeois of the comedy are like the shepherds and shepherdesses of the pastoral, and the bourgeois background and sentiments serve only to give a new and piquant flavor to a ritual that otherwise tends to become tedious. One recalls how a sentimental intrigue revived the flagging erotic interest of Laclos' hero at the end of the century. Marivaux does not suggest that the second reading is the "correct" one, but knowing his audiences as he did, he knew that it was possible, and the special charm even of his most "bourgeois" comedy resides in his willingness to leave the interpretation open, so that the audience can move back and forth at its pleasure, allowing itself to be absorbed by the action at one moment, and seeing it as a masquerade at the next.

Along with many of his contemporaries, Marivaux held that whatever might be imagined about a nature of things behind the world of phenomena, the only nature which men could study usefully was the order of the observable world itself. In many respects this was a liberating attitude. Montesquieu's politics and the economics of Galiani and the Physiocrats are but two of the new sciences that rest on it. But there was a danger that the observed order of things might itself be naturalized, so that it became identified as the fundamental and ineluctable order of the world, a second nature as potent as the first had been to those who had believed in it. This is in fact what happened. Human nature and the fundamental structures of human relations as they could be observed in the world of the ancien regime were taken by Marivaux and by many of the Modernes to be fixed and unchanging. Time, indeed, they conceived of as no more than a succession of discontinuous instants constantly vanishing and being renewed, while novelty was simply the repetition in different instants of time of age-old rituals. "Toutes les âmes sont du même age," Phocion tells Leontine in Le Triomphe de l'Amour (I, 6). Not change, then, but only variety was real, and indeed variety is a key word in the esthetics of the Modernes. By change the Modernes could mean no more than a constant re-shuffling of roles, an eternal passing back and forth between fixed categories of masters and servants, of mistresses and soubrettes.

Marivaux's comedies, inevitably, are repetitious, variations on a few simple themes, and this repetitiousness is as appropriate to the view of the world that underlies them as that of Lancret is, for instance, in painting. What Marivaux explores in play after play is the relation between the actor and the role, between the performance and the scenario, what he celebrates is the peculiar freedom which the skilful and self-conscious performer finds in it. It is a freedom in many ways similar to that which Montesquieu was to celebrate when he turned L'Esprit des Lois into a eulogy of the "temperate monarchy."

But this conception of freedom as something to be realized within a given framework of relations and rules rather than as a condition of action prior to these relations and rules is not, surely, fortuitous. It is too well suited to the situation and the needs of the society with which Marivaux was intimately associated, allowing as it did both for aristocratic libertinage and for bourgeois individualism, on condition that neither upset the apple-cart. A different conception of freedom, turned toward making the future rather than transfiguring the past, is not to be found in Marivaux's comedies, or, if found, turns out to be a vain and in the end playful gesture, such as the women's revolt in La Colonie. We shall not find such a conception of freedom in literature until the second half of the century. Significantly, both Rousseau and Laclos, however differently they portray the ideal woman, agree in their disparagement of the type of woman who is the heroine under a multitude of names and guises of almost every one of Marivaux's comedies.

Oscar Mandel (essay date 1968)

SOURCE: An introduction to Seven Comedies by Marivaux, edited by Oscar Mandel, translated by Oscar Mandel and Adrienne S. Mandel, University Press of America, 1984, pp. 1-15.

[In the essay below, which was first published in 1968, Mandel presents a general survey of Marivaux's career, touching on such aspects of his comedies as characterization, situation and plot, mood and tone, and relation to French and Italian theatrical conventions.]

"Marivaux comes after Molière and Racine as Menander follows Aristophanes and Euripides." Thus Lucien Dubech in his classic Histoire générale illustrée du théâtre. At the Comédie-Française, where the thousandth performance of Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard was celebrated in 1948, Marivaux is now the most frequently performed comic playwright after Molière. Since the Second World War, directors like Barrault, Vilar, and Planchon have mounted highly acclaimed productions at the Odéon, the Vieux Colombier, and the Théâtre National Populaire. Quite regularly, the dust is blown off a half-forgotten piece and a "new" work by Marivaux is staged, whether in Paris or in the provinces. Even the working classes are treated to these patrician follies: in the spring of 1965 I saw La Surprise de l'amour shiver in a tent in Nanterre, an industrial suburb of Paris.

In their tours outside of France, French theatrical companies often present the best-known of Marivaux's comedies. We might note the highly successful production of Les Fausses confidences by the Renaud-Barrault troupe in New York in 1952, and of Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard by the Comédie-Française in London in 1967. But there is scarcely a country, from Latin America to the Soviet Union, in which a French company has not performed one or another of Marivaux's plays.

In France itself, to cite precise figures, nineteen of Marivaux's comedies have been produced at the ComédieFrançaise between 1901 and 1963, some many times and some only a few. Seven more have been staged in other French theatres in the same period; so that of the thirty comedies which Marivaux wrote for performance, twenty-six can be called "living theatre"—no mean achievement for any writer. Beyond this, the plays continue to be reprinted in all forms, from cheap single school-text editions to luxurious book club collections. And a vast scholarly and critical literature concerning Marivaux keeps pace with editions and productions.

But in spite of occasional visits by French companies, very little of this interest has crossed either the Channel or the Atlantic. In over two centuries, only five of Marivaux's plays have been translated into English. The translations which do exist have all appeared singly; it has never been possible for a British or American reader who knows no French to browse through a volume of these standard plays. He has had to look for them one by one, now in an obscure eighteenth-century tome, now in a defunct magazine, now in a collection alongside other authors. And with one minor exception in 1761, it would seem that Marivaux has not been professionally performed in the English language at all—at least until the summer of 1965, when La double inconstance was given in English at the Pitlochry Festival in Scotland.

As for the literature concerning Marivaux, the first English book ever written about him—a specialized study of his novels—was published in 1941, one hundred and seventy-eight years after his death. The first English work dealing with his plays was a handbook published in 1958. It is fair to say therefore that while a rudimentary path to this classic has been beaten, Marivaux is still, for us, the most unavailable of all the great French playwrights.

The young man who chose to make his way in the worlds of literature and fashion as Monsieur de Marivaux was born in 1688 plain Pierre Carlet, the son of a finance official in Riom, a small town in the Auvergne. Nothing precise is known of Marivaux's early experiences, or even of his whereabouts, but in 1710 we find him in Paris, ostensibly to study law, actually to establish himself as a writer. Presently he contrived to be at home among authors like Fontenelle and la Motte, and to be received in several of the best salons; but when and how this son of the provincial bourgeoisie made his useful contacts we again do not know. Before long, however, he was breaking into print, battling at the side of his friends for the Moderns in that famous quarrel, and writing a parody of Homer which did nothing to advance the good cause. He was more successful with fashionable "letters," essays, and stories. To read these is to understand that Marivaux is from the start a man at ease in his times; he breathes and exhales the lucid air of Regency France; he enjoys—he loves—the salons where, according to a witness, he watches for his turn to toss off the aphorism he has been grooming in his mind.

We do not hear of any period of callow apprenticeship which he had to serve at the gatherings of Mme de Lambert or Mme de Tencin. It is as though he had been born full-grown in these drawing rooms; and his work was to remain a perfect formulation of their ideas. We can speak here of "natural elegance" as though the expression were not self-contradictory. Questions of love, the arts, justice, government, politics, religion; observations on man-kind; news of the world—every concern was brought to these assemblies, where the rich, the intelligent, and the merely well-connected met. Everything could be said or at least suggested here, provided it was said or suggested with grace. To put it most broadly, this was a society in which a finish of beauty was placed on every activity of man for the last time in the history of the West. Whatever was spoken, conceived, and manufactured was spoken, conceived, and manufactured as beautifully as possible: down to the very weapons which killed other men.

Marivaux had taken his place in this world more as a man of talent than as a man of means. He had, however, means enough to dress well, and a judicious marriage— whether it was also a marriage of love we do not know—brought him a dowry. But Marivaux was affable and careless; a friend persuaded him to invest his funds in Law's enterprises; and he was nearly ruined in the debacle of 1720. As it happens, he had begun his theatrical career a few months before the disaster; but there is no evidence that he ever sought to make money through his plays: they brought him little, and he wrote nothing to make them bring more.

Marivaux had made the acquaintance of a hack writer named Rustaing de Saint-Jory, with whom he collaborated on a comedy for the Théâtre Italien in March of 1720. The play promptly failed, but we can surmise that it gave Marivaux the introduction he needed. The Italians had reappeared in Paris in 1716 after an enforced exile of nineteen years. They were still newcomers; in serious financial trouble; and casting about for advice, help, and new plays in French. Half a year after his first failure, Marivaux gave them his most Italianate work, Arlequin poli par l'amour, a genuine offspring of the commedia dell'arte. The public applauded. Marivaux and the Italians were undoubtedly pleased with each other. For twenty years, from 1720 to 1740, Marivaux was to supply them with his best work, eighteen comedies in all. But in 1742 the Academy made him a fellow-Immortal, and this un-comic honor all but closed his career. Unlike Molière, Marivaux had never become a professional man of the theatre. He never acted, never directed, and never produced a play. Novelist and essayist as much as dramatist, and man of the world as much as any of these, he clearly did not dream at any time in his life of becoming a trouper.

Ten of his plays, including his one tragedy, went to the Comédie-Française, but only one of them, Le Préjugé vaincu, was really well received by the public. The lightness of his prose, and his unusual talent for shades of feeling, half-differences, and tenuous gradations seem to have been too much—or too little!—for the French actors, who liked alexandrines, oratory, bold effects, and idiosyncratic characters. Though he kept trying to establish himself at the more respectable Théâtre Français, Marivaux had found his true home at the Hôtel de Bourgogne among the Italians, whose gracefulness matched his own; and in Giovanna Benozzi a Sylvia so excellent that many of his contemporaries thought she would take his plays to the grave with her.

As it turned out, the Italians were enriched more in reputation than hard cash during the twenty years in which they faithfully produced Marivaux's plays. The comedies sometimes gave a good account of themselves, but even at best they could not compete with the ballets, fireworks, and musicals to which the Italians had to resort in order to survive. And as often as not, the players performed to nearly empty houses. Marivaux was not a bad commercial risk, but he broke no records and made no impresario rich.

So it was, too, with his literary standing. True, his reputation should not be underrated, as it often is, for romantic effect. He had many devoted admirers who made no noise, his plays were performed by noble amateurs in several French chateaux, the Italian and French companies took his new work year after year, and he lived to see four collected editions of his plays through the presses. This was a substantial accomplishment, and it would be absurd to think of Marivaux as a neglected author because he was not singled out as the greatest of his time. Still, when the Mercure Galant calls him as late as 1747 "a famous Academician, accustomed to deserve the applause [les suffrages] of the public," we hardly know whether we should rejoice over his fame, or ruefully observe that he was accustomed to deserve, not to obtain, his due.

Voltaire and a crowd of lesser wits were hostile to him. They objected to what was immediately and has ever since been called "marivaudage," that is to say a delicate and exquisite banter about details of feeling. Voltaire accused Marivaux of "weighing flies' eggs in scales of gossamer." The great man was obviously put out by a writer who trifled full-time without participating in the epic battles of the day. Pedants, on the other hand, were appalled by audacities and impurities in Marivaux's language which the modern ear is unable to detect. The Academician whose duty it was to welcome the new member in 1743 insulted him instead. Another was heard to say, "Our task at the Academy is to build up the language, while that of M. de Marivaux is to tear it down." In sum, Marivaux was what is called a name, but there is no record of anyone pointing a finger at him to prophesy his permanence.

From a small bundle of anecdotes, from post-mortem Eloges and reports, and from the negative evidence of his own reticences, we gather that Marivaux was a quiet, witty, dapper, pleasant, and obliging man, rather more fastidious than most, not victimized by passions, not given to roaring, unwilling to quarrel with the world, and quite unable to beat his own drum. He was not indifferent to criticism—several stories concur as to his touchiness—but his response was to withdraw, not to counterattack, and then to forgive and forget at the first explanation. He wrote only one Preface for a play—a miracle of restraint for his times (or ours)—and engaged in no personal controversies. Nor was he a learned man. And despite his sympathy for the social views of the philosophes, he disliked their attacks on Christianity, a religion he respected and perhaps practiced to the end, though he did not allow it to interfere in his work.

He remained poor all his life. His wife had died in 1723, leaving him a daughter who eventually took the veil. As Marivaux could not pay for her annuity, the Duke of Orleans supplied the required funds. From the 1740's to his death in 1763, Marivaux cohabited with a certain Mlle de Saint-Jean, who was a little less poor than he, who supported him, and with whom we can suppose that he lived in quiet concord. There is little enough material for a life of Marivaux even in his best years. He was not the sort of man whose words are set down by eager Boswells, or over whom ladies gossip in their letters. For the autumnal years we have almost nothing. We get an impression of solitude without unhappiness; a corner kept for him in the salons; a tell-tale preoccupation with minor Academic duties. At his death (which was hardly noticed) he left an uncommon amount of fine linen.

The plays showed every sign of falling to dust. And yet in the years of the Revolution, of all times, Marivaux was rediscovered. The Comédie-Française inherited the plays which had been written for the now vanished Italians. And the nineteenth century gave him the absolute renown which had eluded him by a hair's breadth in his own lifetime. As a classic he was allowed to badger students at examinations, while in the theatres he simply managed to keep being amusing and interesting in ways which could neither be imitated nor superseded. Voltaire, it turned out, had chosen to forget that flies' eggs are worth weighing too, that weighing them is no easy matter, and that few artists are dextrous enough to make scales, or anything else, of gossamer. While Voltaire's own plays are shelved, while the tough Regnard is eclipsed, and while even Beaumarchais must be propped up by Mozart and Rossini, Marivaux seems as firmly settled in the French pantheon, a place of no easy admission, as Molière himself. This is, with a vengeance, the Triumph of Gossamer.

Who are the people in Marivaux's typical plays? One or two pairs of lovers at cross-purposes with each other; an occasional rival who leaves empty-handed; the servants, busy with their own love-knots while they are tying or untying their masters'; a father, a mother, an uncle, or a brother; and now and then a loquacious farmer.

Sometimes the principals are nameless; they are called simply la Comtesse, la Marquise, le Chevalier, le Comte: a broad hint that Marivaux is not primarily concerned with the delineation of peculiar characters. He is not, as he himself insisted, and as all critics agree, in Moliére's school. Early in life he had determined to be original, by which he meant that he would not be overwhelmed by the presence of Molière. He preferred, says d'Alembert, to sit in the last rank of original writers than in the first row of imitators.

Now the tradition of comedy which Molière had bequeathed required the strong picture of a specific folly or vice. This was comedy of "humour" laced with social satire. Molière painted the miser, the misanthrope, the social climber, the hypochondriac, the religious hypocrite, even the atheist. His followers added the gambler, the married philosopher, the backbiter, the babbler, the stubborn man, the impertinent, the ambitious, the distracted man, and so on. The Comédie-Française looked upon itself as the temple of this drama of types.

In contrast to this genre, the commedia dell'arte was non-psychological and non-polemical. It drew on a small set of permanent types—the romantic lovers, the comic servants, the mean father, the dotty rival—and proceeded to embroil them in the most extravagant adventures, from robbed cradles to the revealing mark on the left ankle, through mistaken identities, meetings with monsters or pirates, shipwrecks, visits of the gods, disguises, duels, and other afflictions, all interrupted by the farcical capers—the lazzi—of Arlecchino, Brighella, Pedrolino, or any of the other zany servants. The world of the commedia was a madcap world of boisterous whimsy. The scenarios (it will be remembered that the actors usually relied on sketches of the action rather than written plays) had no philosophical, moral, or social pretensions of any kind. True, the comedians shot satirical gags in every direction—against lawyers, doctors, pedants, and especially loose wives and cuckolded husbands—but this was satire by the way, and uncontroversial satire at that. These gags peppered the plays; the plays were not acted out for their sake.

While his claim to originality was well-founded, Marivaux nevertheless shared with Molière a deep indebtedness to the commedia. The two men merely developed different sides of the Italian drama. Molière took as his province the old men of the commedia: the types of the Dottore and Pantalone. He gave them a character and an obsession. They were still grouchy fathers or tottering wooers, but now they were also misers or social climbers, and their activities in character (say the miser ordering a miserly dinner) overshadowed their role as fathers, and even relegated to the margin the intrigue by which the lovers had to be married.

Marivaux, perhaps because of his experience of the salons and his early intention of becoming a novelist, took up what Molière had neglected, and brought the lovers to the fore. The older men and women with their follies and vices recede or even disappear. Before us stand the young romantic principals, whom we immediately recognize as the lovers of the commedia. But Marivaux does not treat them in the Moliéresque manner; he does not give them "humours," peculiarities, obsessions—they are not gamblers or liars or prudes or slanderers who parade these shortcomings before us. Marivaux is interested in the normal emotion of love itself (which the commedia had accepted as a simple fact requiring no analysis); he watches it appearing in a corner of the mind, then hiding, sometimes vanishing, aroused again, piqued, irritated, held back, offered to the wrong person, and finally settled where it belongs. He tells us how any normal girl feels when she believes she has fallen in love with a social inferior, or how she reacts when she learns by accident that an attractive man is insanely in love with her.

Usually, we might add, his young ladies are more sprightly, more attractive, and better observed than their suitors. Now we see a girl waiting and trembling for a declaration; now a coquette who jilts a man, only to long for him again when he neglects her; now a young widow resolved never to marry again, who struggles against her growing inclination to fall in love; now a flirtatious thing who swears fidelity to one man only to fall in love with another; now a girl so embarrassed by her own emotion that she "represses" it into unconsciousness; and now a girl who avenges herself on a fickle suitor. Marivaux observes his young men, too, but here he tends to repeat himself, and his markedly feminine genius cannot impart the toughness or the vigor we want in them. They do not swoon or weep, thank heaven, but they do sigh and implore too ardently, bashfulness makes them blind and deaf to the most obvious advances, and they have no sense of humor. Sometimes, I am afraid, we feel like kicking them. If all must be said, even Marivaux's young women come in second-best to Molière's, whenever the master applies his mind to them. Marivaux has nothing quite so good as Célimène or Agnès, because he is too reticent, almost too hesitant. Molière is roast beef to his lemon soufflé. He is a miniaturist of genius; and nothing more, but also nothing less, should be claimed for him.

While Molière gave a new dimension to the characters of Pantalone and "il Dottore," and Marivaux explored the romantic lovers of the commedia, both joyously adopted Arlecchino and Colombina. These servants—and their French siblings—lead their masters' game, but they also divert us with troubles and wisdom of their own. They make an earthy rejoinder to the lofty sentiments of their superiors. In his plays of social commentary, Marivaux sometimes uses them to convey his cautiously egalitarian views. Elsewhere, with the traditional freedom of the king's fool, they comment acidulously on the misman-aged affairs of society. Marivaux obviously delighted in the speech and the attitudes of the "lower orders." These inferiors are usually the most intelligent characters in the plays. At the same time, along with Arlequin, Lisette, Trivelin, Frontin, and Spinette, Marivaux put shrewd or naïve farmers on stage—Blaise, Claudine, Dimas, and others, probably derived from Molière and the French tradition of popular comedy, and all of them as lovable as Shakespeare's best clods.

Critics of Molière and Marivaux usually fall into the error of giving these servants their secondary attention, because they seem to play secondary roles. Of Marivaux, at any rate, it must be said that he is never more gay and more brilliant than in the so-called subordinate episodes in which his little people appear. In La double inconstance, fortunately, they are full-fledged protagonists, a fact which makes this the most effervescent of all his longer plays.

Now and then a rather wicked person makes an appearance on Marivaux's stage, but wicked persons somehow get themselves forgiven (or forgotten) before the curtain falls. Marivaux does not hoot and hound them off the scene as the cruel Shakespeare does with Malvolio and the indignant Molière with Tartuffe. Besides, when all is said and done, they are not so wicked after all. Next to the cynical ferocity of Lesage, Regnard, Dancourt, and other wits of his day (or that of the Restoration dramatists of England), Marivaux's amiability and indulgence are altogether startling. In the work of his contemporaries, all the comic characters are irredeemable scoundrels, down to the ingénue; in his, none. And yet, by a miracle, he remains free of "larmoyance" and "attendrissement," if we accept one or two mediocre attempts in the new bourgeois genre. For while his plays have no real villains, his slyness toward his heroes and heroines keeps our eyes—like their own—thoroughly dry.

Marivaux's success owes much to his control of the half-tone and the trembling uncertainty. Having few characters on stage, and only a short journey to go with them—say, from the birth to the declaration of love—Marivaux is able to stay with them, minute step by minute step. He is, in a word, an intimate writer. And in this he breaks with the past, for up to his time both French and Italian comedy had always bustled with activity: a mad criss-cross of thwarted lovers, a rich gallery of characters, or a fantastic whirl of events. There had been no time in these plays for psychological details. Marivaux was the first playwright of Western Europe to reduce a comic action to a Racinian minimum in order to make time for the close inspection of love.

When we say "close inspection of love," however, certain limitations must be understood. Marivaux is happier with his "escrime de sentiments" (the phrase belongs to Xavier de Courville) than with expressions of passion or scenes of intimate tenderness. His genius may be feminine, but it is also cool. In fact, it resembles nothing so much as the genius of Jane Austen. As soon as love has been confessed, in Marivaux as in Austen, the story is over; and it declares itself in a single sentence, or even by a gesture.

There are many other points of resemblance between Marivaux and Austen. Among them is their essential concern, not so much with love in general, as with the specific matter of love's relation to vanity—amour-propre—the ego's self-esteem. Marivaux is as preoccupied with the ego as La Rochefoucauld had been. This above all is what keeps his plays from sentimentality. Through the flattered or wounded ego Arlequin is won in La Double inconstance, the Comtesse in L'Heureux Stratagème, Sylvia in Les Fausses confidences, and Lucidor in L'Epreuve. A shattered ego prevents Sylvia in Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard from acknowledging to herself and others that she is in love with a servant. Not to mention Marivaux's other plays, including the two Surprise de l'amour, in which the satisfaction of the ego is represented again and again as the necessary prelude to love. The critical coolness of this view is complemented by Marivaux's easy tolerance of vanity. He smiles at this human weakness; he is not appalled by it. He seems to feel that satisfied vanity, like a sound income, is a natural ingredient in marriage.

It is not easy to decide how "French" or how "Italian" Marivaux really is. A play like Arlequin poli par l'amour is obviously in the Italian spirit. But it is his first work of any note, and he did not do another similar fairy tale until he wrote La Dispute, twenty-four years later—for the Comédie-Française! A few other plays show unmistakable Italian tendencies: thus the fanciful and "romantic" settings of La double inconstance, Le Prince travesti, and Le Triomphe de l'amour. The marriage plot is of course common property of the French and the Italian traditions. So is the ubiquitous trick. Or the use of prose. Undoubtedly, the naïve characters whom Marivaux draws so well have a distinctly Italian flavor. And in writing comedies without sharp "humours" Marivaux was again tending toward the Italian rather than the French method. But he is perhaps most distinctly Italian in his use of travesty. Travesty was not unknown at the ComédieFrançaise; Molière had been fond of it; but it remained a distinctly un-French device. Thus, while Marivaux uses physical disguise in thirteen of his plays, not one of them was meant for the Théâtre Français.

But if Marivaux owed much to the Italian tradition, he continued and accelerated the gallicizing of the Italians. His language and its allusions are of a perfect purity which contrasts with the Italian repertory even of his own day. While Autreau could still write in 1720, "Long live a bright lover and a stupid husband," or call a girl "a skittish and capricious chicken out to get a dumb husband," and have a wedding performed by a notary named Cornelio Cornetto; and while Deportes could refer in 1721 to the scarf that hides a girl's breasts, and write, "One might as well not have … something, as not be proud of them"—license, in short, without coarseness of expression—Marivaux excluded every indecorous reference, to say nothing of coarse and indelicate words, from the comedies he wrote after 1720. His indulgent cynicism was untouched, but it was expressed in a language of extraordinary refinement, a pole away from the rough old commedia.

Marivaux is unmistakably French in other ways. He obeys the unities of time, place, and action with the rigor of a man determined from his cradle to take his place in the Academy. Far more important, he suppresses every trace of the visual gag, remorselessly snuffing out the lazzi and verbalizing his Arlequin, at any rate after his two early successes, Arlequin poli par l'amour and La double inconstance. He uses no machines, no spectacle, no music, no songs (except in Arlequin poli par l'amour). He throws out the entire romantic baggage of the commedia, banishing apparitions, shipwrecks, kidnapings, duels, corsairs, changelings, and all the other adventures beloved of the commedia. He psychologizes and internalizes the action, so that, even though the plays abound in trickery, our awareness is focused on the real persons rather than on the artificial tricks. And he radically simplifies and unifies the intrigue. In sum, favorable as the terrain was to Marivaux at the Hôtel de Bourgogne (where the Italians performed), and much as he learned from the commedia, our playwright's gossamer remained firmly French.

"To give us light is only to embrace half of what we are, and indeed the half toward which we are more indifferent; we are much less concerned to know than to enjoy; and the soul enjoys when it feels." Marivaux wrote this in 1755, but the cult of feeling had begun to spread in Europe before 1720, when Marivaux was beginning his career, and even then he did not remain aloof from it. His novels are full of sensibility; the plays are at least touched by it. I have mentioned a "comédie larmoyante" which Marivaux committed to the stage. But in most of his comedies, this new emotionalism manifests itself only as a mellow kindliness, an amiable tolerance which stops short of effusiveness—stops short, that is, of ruining his work. Marivaux's outlook on life is that of an Epicurean, willing to allow men, and especially women, the weaknesses from which he himself is not exempt. As he does not make the mistake of worshiping Man, he does not sit in ashes when people misbehave. Sensibility, in short, leads him to forgiveness, not to "larmoyance" or to false optimism. He sheds no tears over virtue.

In a word, he stays tough; his gossamer is made of steel. He gives us, though never in anger, representations of spite, vanity, cunning, envy, trickery, betrayal, ruthlessness, avarice, social climbing and snobbery, alongside his pictures of tenderness, affability, generosity, and intelligence. Nor are these vices reserved for his antagonists; he shows, and sometimes accepts them in his principals. What happens when sensibility meets cynicism head-on, and neither will yield its place? The two wed, and what is born of them is the Marivaldian quality I have mentioned before: slyness. Slyness is compatible with benevolence, and it is compatible with cynicism. But it precludes passion of any sort—torment or ecstasy. Marivaux's slyness is equidistant from the brutality of Lesage and Regnard and the sentimentality of Nivelle de la Chaussée and Diderot. Larroumet sums up Marivaux's equilibrium when he speaks of "this irony tempered by goodness, amiable and caressing even in its chaffing, this mild gayness, … this orderly, self-controlled verve, this flower of elegance and courtesy."

I look upon Marivaux as the literary master of the rococo, or decorative classicism. I have not seen this term applied to Marivaux's art, perhaps because it carries injurious connotations for us. But rococo art, which is the idealized expression of the last great patrician epoch of Europe, is also the last art which frankly makes what Thomas Mann calls "pretense and play" out of human experience. These are the last years in which serious artists will be able to look upon their work as decoration, diversion, the high sport of the intellect, rather than as revelation, commination, and prophecy. When I suggest for Marivaux the title of literary master of the rococo, I do so with nostalgic respect and admiration.

Marivaux is rococo in his transparence and mobility (a mobility without violence); in the come-and-go of moods, actions, decisions, which we can take as the literary equivalents of curls and garlands; in his sanity, his gayety, his unbelievable happiness, his light roses and blues which only a darker rose and blue can threaten; in his unfaltering grace.

For gracefulness is his overriding law, just as wit is the absolute law of Restoration comedy. Marivaux will be witty too, but only as far as gracefulness allows; he will be satirical, but only as far as gracefulness allows; realistic, moralizing, philosophical, tender, or sensual, but only as far as gracefulness allows. This is making a world that never was out of the world that is. In the mirror which Marivaux holds up to us, we do recognize ourselves (otherwise we would lose interest), but radiant and light as we could wish to be in a dream of ourselves. Considering how subversively mild Marivaux is, and how violent and "uncompromising" (dreaded word) we expect even our comedies to be nowadays, one cannot easily say that Marivaux is "our contemporary." But one can utter a prayer, preferably to the accompaniment of a minuet, that a corner may be preserved in our lives, and possibly even enlarged, for a literature which takes gracefulness to heart.

Alfred Cismaru (essay date 1977)

SOURCE: "Introduction" and "Conclusion," in Marivaux and Molière: A Comparison, Texas Tech Press, 1977, pp. 3-12, 130-32.

[In the following excerpts, Cismaru evaluates Marivaux's debt to Molière, and concludes that "Marivaux went beyond moliéresque limits, and broadened the playwright's scope into areas heretofore largely ignored by writers of comedies and only touched on by composers of tragedies. "]

In the enormous bibliography devoted to Marivaux, there are far fewer studies of his theater than of other aspects of the writer and his work. Many commentators have written about Marivaux the man, the novelist, the moralist, the philosopher, but relatively fewer have discussed thoroughly his theater. The first English popularization of the plays of the eighteenth-century dramatist was that of Kenneth N. McKee, The Theater of Marivaux [1958], which treated each play as a unit and studied the playwright's entire theater in chronological order. A later, more complete work going deeper into the historical and biographical background of each comedy [Marivaux, 1965] appeared in Canada and was authored by E. J. H. Greene.

French literary historians have touched often on Marivaux's theater: Gustave Larroumet's book, a good source on Marivaux, dates back, however, to 1881; Emile Gossot, in his Marivaux moraliste, is more interested in Marivaux's moralizing, the theater being discussed as only one facet of the writer; Jean Fleury's Marivaux et le marivaudage is concerned with Marivaux's work as a whole, and with the meaning of the second noun in its title; the same is true of Frédéric Deloffre's Marivaux et le marivaudage, although the book does contain one of the most complete bibliographies to date on Marivaux; Gaston Deschamps' Marivaux and Eugene Meyer's work of the same title are not concerned primarily with the writer's comedies; nor is Marcel Arland's Marivaux, which devotes only one third of its pages to the author's plays.

Most of the above books mention some of the sources of Marivaux. None, however, treats the subject of sources in detail, and none has analyzed systematically the relationship between Moliére's theater and that of Marivaux. This lacuna appears to be in dire need of filling, especially in view of the contradictory statements, and of the affirmations and denials that have been advanced with respect to the influence of the seventeenth-century writer on Marivaux. It would be cumbersome to enumerate all of these, but a few are representative and will be cited below.

The opening sentences of Kenneth N. McKee's book state: "Marivaux was the most original French dramatist of the eighteenth century. In an age when leading dramatists, writing for the Théâtre Français, blindly followed the Molière tradition, Marivaux, writing principally for the Théâtre Italien and sometimes for the Théêtre Français, dared to be different. In fact, he repudiated Molière so openly that he drew the wrath of critics and public alike." This is, of course, in line with what D'Alembert had reported of Marivaux. "'J'aime mieux, disait Marivaux, être humblement assis sur le dernier banc dans la petite troupe des auteurs originaux, qu'orgueilleusement placé à la première ligne dans le nombreux bétail des singes littéraires.'" And D'Alembert commented: "Il avait le malheur de ne pas estimer beaucoup Molière, et le malheur plus grand de ne pas s'en cacher. Il ne craignait pas même, quand on le mettait à son aise sur cet article, d'avouer naivement qu'il ne se croyait pas inférieur à ce grand peintre de la nature." And, as a matter of fact, the critics for Le Mercure de France, when reviewing the plays of Marivaux in the 1720's and 1730's, made no mention of any possible moliéresque influence. It is curious that, close as they were to the theater of Molière, they failed to indicate any relationship between the seventeenth-century writer and Marivaux.

On the other hand, Molière specialists have made sweeping and even derogatory statements concerning the extended influence of Molière on Marivaux. Ferdinand Brunetière wrote, "Marivaux a voulu refaire telles et telles pièces de Molière, et non pas Le Sicilien ou Le Mariage forcé, mais L'Ecole des femmes dans son Ecole des mères et Le Misanthrope dans Les Sincères." Other critics of Molière have expressed similar comments. For example, in speaking of the surprise plays of Marivaux, Maurice Donnay asserted, "Marivaux n'a fait que répéter, avec mille variantes, détours et subtilités, des situations sentimentales qui sont plus sobrement traitées, et avec moins de marivaudage, c'est certain, dans La Princesse d'Elide." This statement is particularly important because Marivaux is credited with having written a number of surprise plays.

More recent Marivaux specialists have admitted, in part, that Marivaux owes a certain amount of inspiration to Molière. Gustave Larroumet declared: "Avec Marivaux, la comédie entre dans une période nouvelle. Il ne se rattachait directement à aucun de ses devanciers. [Il était] Très désireux de ne pas les imiter, même les plus illustres," and in a footnote Larroumet commented, "Telle était du moins son intention; en réalité il n'a pu se garder complètement de réminiscences de détail." Marcel Arland, however, developed the question more explicitly, although in too general a tone and without having recourse to textual examples.

Qu'il n'ait aimé Molière, c'est possible. … Peut-être aussi, à l'antipathie déclarée de Marivaux à l'égard de Molière, faut-il voir la réaction naturelle d'un génie qui veut se préserver d'une redoutable influence. … Il lui arrive d'ailleurs de trouver un appui chez son grand aÎné, là où coincident leurs natures, par exemple pour certaines querelles d'amoureux, certains traits de moeurs, de caractère, ou telle satire de l'éducation; là aussi où s'imposent, hors de toute nature particulière, les exigences fondamentales de la scène. Au demeurant, il existe entre eux un lien plus profond.

The extent and nature of this lien has not been defined yet because "so little scholarship has been devoted to Marivaux's theater that the subject is fraught with unresolved literary problems, such as the exact extent of Molére's influence on Marivaux." And, as a matter of fact, this lien still gives birth to what might appear as contradictory statements: for despite the opening sentences of his introduction, and having fully developed his subject, Kenneth N. McKee agrees that "much as Marivaux disliked Molière, he could not entirely escape his influence."

Yet E. J. H. Greene went so far as to call the entire vogue of the rapprochement of the two playwrights as nothing but "a red herring, one that should be thrown out." This, in spite of the fact that throughout his book he perceives frequent similarities, not only worth noting but also giving rise to rather detailed, lengthy discussions. Like many Marivaux aficionados, the commentator, pleased by the current popular revival of the seventeenth-century playwright, bestows on the latter qualities of extreme inventiveness, which he need not have had in order to explain his successes. If, as one shall see, Marivaux recalled Molière persistently in about one-half of his total theatrical production, and less often in his novels, he did so almost always without falling into the trap of plagiarism: that is, his imitation of Molière adhered to the age-old tradition followed by the best of writers who compose in approximately the same way, and who express approximately the same feelings and preoccupations that a masterful predecessor would have, had he been alive and active at the same time. This is how Corneille and Racine, for example, have imitated the ancients.

That, outside of his recollections of Molière, Marivaux's multifaceted originality appears indisputable is not a point that needs to be belabored long. However, equally beyond question is the fact that the seventeenth-century playwright had bequeathed such a strong tradition of the comedy of humour laced with social satire and had depicted so many "types" (the social climber, the hypochondriac, the religious hypocrite, the atheist, the misanthrope, the impertinent, the ambitious, the babbler, and so on) that early eighteenth-century playwrights found the field severely circumscribed. There was, of course, the commedia dell'-arte, the premises of which were less psychological and less polemical, and on which a writer intent on avoiding being overwhelmed by the moliéresque tradition could draw more freely. Moreover, the Italian imports and the French popularization of them had their own set of permanent types: the bigot, the lover, the comic, impudent servant, the authoritarian father, the dotty rival, and others, all embroiled in true-to-life and not so true-to-life adventures interspersed with farcical lazzi of assorted zany personages. But the world of the commedia, whimsical as it was, and in spite of the fact that it had very few philosophical, moral, or social pretentions of any kind, had appealed also to Molière. The latter's digs against doctors, cuckolded husbands, pedantic women, and other controversial personages, were modeled at least partly on the peppered sketches (it will be recalled that the presentations of the commedia were based on sketches, not on written plays) that the Italians had introduced. Therefore, the heritage left by Molière was so all-encompassing that, whether Marivaux chose to compose formal or informal comedies, it was still difficult to steer clear of moliéresque detail. Besides, his wish to remain original notwithstanding, full-fledged efforts to ignore entirely the typical moliéresque ingredients that had survived would have been, from the point of view of the dramatist who wished success, unwar-ranted and unwise.

The great difference between Marivaux and Molière appears to reside in the former's ability to express that which the latter had thought of minor importance and preferred to leave in the background. Love, for Molière, was what tottering wooers or grouchy old men talked about. Love was not a serious preoccupation, and hardly ever was it an obsession. Obsessions there were, but with other concerns: money, social climbing, religious devotion, relationship with one's doctors, and so on. A miser ordering a miserly dinner or a doctor's prescription of medicine, for example, provided for scenes that surpassed in importance any love plot or subplot that might otherwise be present. On the contrary, Marivaux relegated peculiarities, follies, and vices to a minor role in order to bring to the fore the lovers themselves. These are sometimes young, and often adults, but their chronological age, like their social status, makes very little difference. For them, love is always an emotion requiring analysis, dissection even. Thus Marivaux's personages engage in a dual role: that of loving and that of watching, as a spectator might, the birth and growth of love. The first part needed to be played still in accordance with prescribed social decorum; after all, in the early eighteenth century, family considerations, as in the century of Molière, limited one's exuberance and paled one's overtness. On the contrary, there is much more freedom in acting out the second part. In fulfilling it, the lover-examiner-of-love watches it emerge unexpectedly, states his or her surprise, hides it at times and causes it to become unmasked at others, alternatively observing it vanish and surge aroused again, piqued, irritated, held back, offered to the wrong person, and finally settled where it belongs. Such subtle analysis of tender moods brings out the infinite variety of little conflicts that pride and vanity, and caprice and misunderstanding may produce before the certainty of love is finally attained. In addition, the personages' sudden realization of what love means, their attempt to struggle against it, to make certain of their feelings, and to assure themselves of the genuineness of another's devotion, to detect the motives and to distinguish between shades of difference, required that Marivaux supply all the verbal quibbles in the battle of wits between his contending men and women. The exchanges needed a special vocabulary within an arsenal of ingenious plays on words and refinements of thought, which gave to his style a flavor all its own. This style, which is a combination of the casuistry of love and witty dialog in delicate, figurative language, is what critics have called marivaudage, a quality lacking entirely in the theater of Molière. Whereas Marivaux's minor characters chose, in part, the speech characteristics of his more robust predecessor, most of his other personages opted instead for a certain finesse of language in their efforts to penetrate more deeply the intricate pathways of the heart. It is not quite without reason, therefore, that one commentator made the following unexpected remark: "Molière is roast beef to his [Marivaux's] lemon soufflé" [Oscar Mandel, Seven Comedies by Marivaux, 1968].

A more frequent comparison has been made with the painter Watteau, who did many portraits of various actors of the Comédie Italienne. The resemblance between the two artists bears on the scenes and figures presented by them in different media, but each interpreting and supplementing the other. Often Marivaux's themes may be likened to some kind of Embarquement pour Cythère, although his groups are not so numerous as in Watteau's paintings. For both, however, the final destination is almost always matrimony, in which state we may assume that me well-matched pairs will live happily ever after. In fact, the happy ending of Marivaux's comedies contrasts pointedly with the often sad and unsure dénouements of those of Molière. Morever, in the case of the seventeenth-century playwright, the spectator could be distracted from the less felicitous episodes (whether occurring before or at the end of a play) by the buffoonery and slapstick farce that the author had inherited from the commedia. On the contrary, no such distraction was necessary for the viewer or reader of Marivaux's comedies since the playwright could anticipate the happy endings he was going to present. Thus, while his plays are nevertheless lively, the tone remains almost always decent, whether it be expressed in the humor of masters or in that of servants. Delicacy and refinement of language prevail, no easy task when one has to vary the form of expression in order to suit the personage and his station in life. Marivaux excels in this undertaking by utilizing always a different choice of words or turns of phrases to distinguish the master from the valet and the mistress from the soubrette.

The almost total decency and moral tone of his comedies are in sharp contrast with those of Molière and with the manners of the Regency that influenced the followers of Molière in the early eighteenth century. Although Marivaux retains clever servants and numerous intrigues, the latter are far different from the unscrupulous designs and frequently immoral deeds of Moliére's Sganarelles, of the Crispins, and the Frontins of Regnard or Lesage, for example. A certain undertone of innocence is maintained, and this, in turn, leads to a reduction of external action in general and of violence in particular. The forces within dominate, and the inner struggles of the personages often are likened to those of the characters of Racine's theater. As in the case of the seventeenth-century tragedy writer, Marivaux's comedies are marked by the supremacy of love, by the author's penetrating psychology of this sentiment, studied, however, in its lighter moods, and by the playwright's predilection for emphasizing feminine parts, which are predominant in most of his plays. Like Racine, also, Marivaux is skillful in maintaining the interest of the spectator with a minimum of plot (plots were often complex in Moliére's theater), and he moves easily within the three unities required by classical decorum. Having fewer characters on the stage and only a short journey to go with them (usually from the birth to the declaration of love), Marivaux is able to stick with his personages minute step by minute step. In this, he breaks not only with Molière but with the entire tradition of the French and Italian comedy, which always bustled with much activity, was mad crisscross with thwarted lovers, and contained a rich gallery of characters moving within a frequently fantastic whirl of events. There was little time in those plays for much control of the half-tone, or for the trembling uncertainty in which Marivaux was interested for the purpose of bringing out psychological detail. Thus, it may be said quite bluntly that the eighteenth-century playwright was the first in Western Europe to reduce a comic action to a Racinian minimum in order to make time for the close inspection of love.

Yet, such inspection must not be understood as signifying the analysis of expressions of passion or of scenes of very intimate tenderness. Marivaux's characters are cool by comparison to those of Molière. A single sentence or a single gesture suffices to confess love, and one never finds the pomposity of an Alceste or a Tartuffe. Love has nothing cynical or ferocious about it. There is only amiability and indulgence, aspects, of course, that the more robust did not appreciate and branded as feminine.

But be that as it may, it is a fact that Marivaux's young ladies are more sprightly, more attractive, and better observed than their suitors. Whereas Molière had depicted his female personages in such a way as to bestow upon them much vigor, at times stubbornness, and often qualities that detracted from their femininity, such as immoderation, extreme shrewdness, contrivance, even dishonesty; Marivaux's girls remain feminine. True, we see now and then a coquette who jilts a man, but she quickly longs for him when he neglects her. Of course, Marivaux does write episodes in which a young, flirtatious thing swears fidelity to one man, only to fall in love with another. Yet frivolity does not degenerate into dishonesty; a certain amount of time passes, and, in addition, in her embarrassment she attempts to suppress into the unconscious the emotion that now is addressed to someone else. More often, however, girls simply wait and tremble before a declaration of love is made by or to them. They sigh, weep, affirm, and believe in their sincerity even if readers and spectators do not. And they always maintain a certain amount of innocence and purity, purging them and providing some relief from the recollection of the more quarrelsome and more pugnacious, if more witty, women of Molière.

Marivaux's young men are delineated less well. Their temperament is, in general, devoid of the virility required to distinguish them beyond any doubt from the maidens whom they court. Their lack of toughness makes them blush often, remain timid, swoon, sometime even weep. At any rate, they sigh and implore too ardently; bashfulness makes them blind and deaf to the most obvious advances; and often one feels like kicking them and telling them what should have been obvious a long time ago. Yet in spite of the tone larmoyant and the attendrissement that one notes in their character, they do have redeeming qualities, such as their lack of extreme slyness and the fact that they are never real villains. Unlike the personages of the followers of Molière in the 1720's, Marivaux's young men hardly ever use coarse or indelicate words, and they remain free from any indecorous reference. They would never say, for example, like one of Autreau's young wooers, "Vive l'amant habile et le mari stupide," or refer to a girl as "une poule capricieuse et rusée, à la recherche d'un mari idiot." Nor would Marivaux ever have described a wedding performed by a notary public whose name is Cornelio Cornetto. Although the then famous Deportes could have one of his male characters refer in 1721 to a scarf hiding a girl's breasts, and remark: "Mieux vaut ne pas les avoir … que de n'en pas être fière," the young men of Marivaux banished from their speech anything that might have detracted from their more placid but less debatable personality.

It can be said that the playwright's treatment of young lovers led him to internalize the action so that, even though the plays contained a certain amount of trickery, the spectators' awareness nevertheless could focus on the real persons rather than on the artificial pranks. What happens, in effect, is that the author does use, although never pompously and never in anger, representations of spite, vanity, cunning, envy, trickery, snobbery, and the like; but he remains nevertheless equidistant from the brutality of Molière in the preceding century, and that of Lesage and Regnard in his own, as he does from the extreme sentimentality of Nivelle de la Chaussée and Diderot. His young men and women may have shortcomings, but they do not have vices. Morover, their faults are placed side by side with mellow kindliness, amiable tolerance, and human sensibility. There is little place in Marivaux's work for Moliére's cynicism. Although Marivaux, like his predecessor, is an Epicurian, that is, willing to allow men, and especially women, the weaknesses from which he knows hardly anyone is exempt, he sheds no tears over lost virtue; he appears simply to suggest forgiveness. Tricks and pranks make life more palatable, he suggests, and one ought never worship Man, nor engage in revelation, commination, or prophecy. Molière kept repeating that he only wanted to please, but he got caught, nevertheless, in the trap of his own profundity: he philosophized and he taught frequently explicit lessons. On the contrary, Marivaux was less ambitious and viewed his art as the high sport of the intellect, which results in decoration, diversion, above all in an unfaltering grace. Not that there are no lessons to be derived from his comedies, or that moralizing is totally absent; there are ideas, as there are sensuality, satire, wit, and tenderness, but only as far as gracefulness allows. His transparence and mobility are unlike those of Molière, who had used the come-and-go of moods, actions, and decisions without much concern for grace. Marivaldian realism, however, marries sensibility to Epicurianism, and the result is an equilibrium that Gustave Larroumet had defined when he spoke of "cette ironie assagie par la bonté, aimable et caressante même lorsqu'elle se met en colère, cette douce gaieté … cette verve pleine d'ordre et de contrôle, cette fleur d'élégance et de courtoisie."

Marivaux's verve benefited, of course, from the example set by the various salons that he frequented. Although Molière had scorned the salons of his time, being too busy and too independent to see in them anything other than a target of mockery, Marivaux was one of the habitués of such celebrated gatherings as those conducted by Madame de Lambert, Madame de Tencin, and Madame du Deffand. The first, from 1720 onward, received every Tuesday and Wednesday, Tuesday being the day for men of letters. Marivaux had occasion to meet in her salon such famous writers as Fontenelle and La Motte, and a few years later even Montesquieu. After Madame de Lambert's death in 1733, it was Madame de Tencin who took over the "Tuesdays," and Fontenelle, La Motte, and Marivaux were among the very few who were privileged to have dinner with the hostess before the arrival of the other guests. It was in her salon that the eighteenth-century playwright was exposed to the aristocratic femmes galantes and femmes d'esprit of the time. Under their influence, conversation in these salons was remarkable for its wit and grace. Discussion was considered to be a sport of the mind, each participant being very careful to seize upon the right moment for the insertion of his own remark, his story or anecdote, often light and sometimes artificial, yet contributing to the graceful surroundings. It is known that Madame de Tencin admired greatly Marivaux's contributions and made consistent efforts in the course of meetings to make certain that his points of view and the sparkle of his phraseology charm, as it so often did, the hostess and her guests. In fact, it was her admiration of him as a nonpompous discussant that prompted her to engage in untiring efforts to gain for him the necessary votes for election to the Academy. It was she who managed to win for her friend the support of the Duke of Richelieu, for example, who otherwise would have given his vote to Voltaire. Marivaux's belief in la nécessité d'avoir toujours de l'esprit fit the requirements of the eighteenth-century salons. According to D'Alembert, who was also an habitué of Madame du Deffand, the refinement and sagacity of the conversation that Marivaux practiced in the course of the meetings were transferred by him to the characters of his plays. This is corroborated by Marivaux himself in the preface to Les Serments indiscrets, in which he wrote that he tried to reproduce the general tone he encountered in the salons. It is known also that the playwright's famous account of the dinner party at Madame de Dorsin's, in the course of which he has Marianne emphasize that what counted most was the effortlessness and natural ease with which conversation was carried on, is modeled after Madame de Tencin's own dinner parties, and that the latter furnished the model for Madame de Dorsin. It is no surprise, then, that Marivaux's comedies should differ from those of Molière with respect to the importance of subtlety, sympathetic affability, and grace. Because he was schooled by the salons, where he found a natural complement to his own personality, it was impossible for him not to reproduce their ambiance and manner of expression.

Having said all of the above, it appears, nevertheless, that after Molière, it was very difficult to continue to invent. Marivaux's predecessor had inserted into comedy the image of human nature, with most of its eternal traits, as well as the image of French society, with its particular characteristics. Molière's ability to summarize in several personages the quintessence of numberless models, his exhaustion, over a long period of time, of great comical plots, resulted in a certain limitation that Marivaux, no matter how much he wanted to diminish, was unable to obliterate. If the eighteenth-century playwright succeeded, however, in extending and altering somewhat the moliéresque domains, as was pointed out above, his recollections of the famous predecessor go beyond the mere coincidental.

It probably would be pointless to evaluate Marivaux's efforts on the basis of degree of moliéresque influence. This influence was extensive in La Surprise de l'amour and in Les Fausses confidences, for example, yet (or perhaps because of it) these comedies generally are considered among the best in Marivaux's repertory. The number of reprises and critical approvals bears witness to their quality. On the other hand, Molière's influence was rather minor, by comparison, in Le Triomphe de Plutus and in Félicie, yet (or perhaps because of it) these comedies are inconsequential: the author refused to sign the first, and the second was performed on the stage only as a ballet. It is also true that other plays, such as L'Hériter du village and Les Serments indiscrets, in which the moliéresque influence appears prominently, generally are considered poor plays, both by audiences and critics. Conversely, Arlequin poli par l'amour and L'Epreuve, for example, in which the moliéresque source of inspiration is only minor, are considered successful theater in the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. From all this, it is difficult to reach conclusions, and unnecessary as well. What matters more than anything else is to begin to dis-regard d'Alembert's reports concerning Marivaux's alleged dislike for the theater of Molière, and to stop ignoring the presence of the seventeenth-century master, variable as it is, in the comedies of Marivaux.

This presence, of course, points only to the fact that either D'Alembert's reports are erroneous, or simply that Marivaux did not wish to acknowledge his debt to Molière. If it detracts at all from the value of his comedies, it does so to a degree only: the playwright's inventiveness suffers. The individual plays in which the moliéresque recollections occur at times profit from, at others are diminished by the measure of remembrance. But if there is one thing that Marivaux did not manage to extract from Molière, it is his predecessor's ability to philosophize by means of irony, caricature, and ridicule. In this connection, Kenneth N. McKee observes:

For example, Molière believed that fathers should not force incompatible marriages on their children, but instead of presenting liberal-minded fathers on the stage, he ridiculed obstinate ones such as M. Orgon in Le Tartuffe, Harpagon in L'Avare, and M. Jourdain in Le Bourgeois gentilhomme. Marivaux, on the other hand, presented his philosophy with disarming simplicity. If he had a point to make, he went straight to the heart of the matter and expressed his conviction as an integral part of the text without deviousness.

But what is missing from such comments is recognition that one of the reasons Molière's comedies [are] superior resides precisely in the deviousness of his approach: it is one that is much more bound to make for laughter than disarming simplicity. One might add that preachers make a point, writers of comedies go around it, suggest it, but are never any more presumptuous than that.

All this is not to say that Marivaux knowingly preaches, or even that he does so frequently. The fact remains, nevertheless, that he is much less able than was his predecessor to cause heartfelt, loud laughter. When he does show such a capability, more often than not it is a peasant or a servant who makes one laugh. Most of his other characters are simply content to bring a smile to the spectator's lips, and even the origin of that is intellectual only. If Marivaux may be praised for having abandoned most of the post-Molière crude language and abuse of farcical situations as a means to comicality, it also must be acknowledged that his comedies are less apt to induce that purging, cathartic result that a buoyant, uninhibited mirth produces.

From the point of view of content, Marivaux's inventiveness resides in his depiction of the topography of the heart. In the more classical plays of Molière, love always played a diminished role: it was usually born before the initial curtain and, once acknowledged, it did not constitute the plot of the comedy, rather it served the loftier ends of the author, who laughed, ridiculed, or attacked various human shortcomings. Love rarely came to the forefront and hardly ever was traced, analyzed, or judged either by the lovers themselves or those around them (the comments on love by parents and/or tutors were not designed to explain the feeling, rather to obliterate it). On the contrary, love is a map, Marivaux appears to imply, and he becomes its geographer. He points to the source, to its growing pains as it struggles through mountainous detours and dangerous pits, to the roads it must cross, and the inroads attempted by timidity, parental opposition, financial or social considerations, and other such obstacles. But the stream eventually flows into the ocean, much as the shepherdess is able, ultimately, to join the shepherd in the Carte du tendre. What one misses in the way of sparkling jocularity and ensuing catharsis resulting from Molière's plays is made up, to an extent, by Marivaux's explanations of the casuistry of gallantry and coquetry. The analyst of sentiment and dissector of the heart that he was, Marivaux went beyond moliéresque limits, and broadened the playwright's scope into areas heretofore largely ignored by writers of comedies and only touched upon by composers of tragedies.

From the point of view of style, the originality of the eighteenth-century playwright consists, even in those plays that show a moliéresque inspiration, in his ability to use a form of expression suitable to the depiction of shades and nuances of feeling. The accusation of marivaudage, which was brought against such a style,… is only partly valid. Monotonous though the frequently long speeches of Marivaux's characters may be at times, detailed explanations and summaries add to the reader's comprehension. This makes up somewhat for the liveliness and brio of Molière's language, which Marivaux, for the most part, was incapable of or found impractical to emulate. This is also one of the reasons why some of the comedies of the eighteenth-century playwright provide for more pleasurable reading than for successful stage presentations.

One need not push the comparison any further. Next to the vigor of Molière one might be tempted to see only the pallor of Marivaux. Yet that probably would be the case in a comparison between most playwrights and the seventeenth-century master. Marivaux can and does stand on his own feet. But in spite of what he is reported to have said and thought of Molière, in many of his plays he relied upon episodes and themes made famous by his predecessor.

H. T. Mason (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: "Women in Marivaux: Journalist to Dramatist," in Women and Society in Eighteenth-Century France, edited by Eva Jacobs and others, The Athlone Press, 1979, pp. 42-54.

[In the excerpt below, Mason investigates the depiction of women in Marivaux's plays. The critic concludes that "Marivaux can scarcely be termed a leading feminist of his day. He is alive to feminine inequality, but he deals relatively little with the disabilities facing eighteenth-century women. "]

It is possible to trace, in Marivaux's plays … a steadily growing concern about feminine inequality; in the space of this article, however, one can do no more than touch on some of the more significant plays in this regard. L'Ile des esclaves (1725) addresses itself essentially to class differences between masters and servants; but the dramatist does not fail to comment on the caprices of 'femmes de qualité'. On this island, slaves and servants (no clear distinction is made) wish to destroy the barbarism in their masters' hearts and restore them to the ranks of humanity. Candour being one means to this end, Arlequin and Cléanthis recount their masters' faults with great enthusiasm and no small penetration. Cléanthis reminds her mistress Euphrosine of an evening when the latter had used all the tricks of coquetry to conquer her cavalier. Having damned a rival with faint praise, Euphrosine had pretended not to notice when her lover 'offrit son cœur'. 'Continuez, folâtre, continuez, dites-vous, en ôtant vos gants sous prétexte de m'en demander d'autres. Mais vous avez la main belle; il la vit, il la prit, il la baisa …' (Sc. 3). This picture, … strikingly resembles one of Sartre's most famous examples of mauvaise foi in L'Etre et le néant, … In the same scene Euphrosine reiterates Marivaux's views on the négligé: 'Regardez mes grâces, elles sont à moi, celles-là. … Voyez comme je m'habille, quelle simplicité! il n'y a point de coquetterie dans mon fait.' But before the play is over Euphrosine, her pretensions now shattered, wins Arlequin's pity by her heartfelt cry for mercy. The servants' revolt is not pushed to the point of total ascendancy. The radicalism of the play is moral and religious rather than social and political. Once the masters have acquired a degree of self-knowledge and contrition it is time to call a halt. The attitude which emerges is that of a Christian moralist. Feminine vanity, like human vanity in general, can never be erased but only, at best, abated through the workings of charity and greater understanding.

L'Ile de la raison (1727) dwells too on the marvels of coquetry (II, 6), but adds a different aspect of the feminine situation: on the Island of Reason only women may make declarations of love. Men become the passive element, sought out only when the women want them, and obliged to play the reluctant role until the alliance is assumed. Blectrue, one of the islanders, is horrified at European courtship customs (II, 3: 'Que deviendra la faiblesse si la force l'attaque') which he argues are the consequence of men's vicious inclinations. By contrast, on the Island of Reason men help to save women from themselves. 'L'homme ici, c'est le garde-fou de la femme' (II, 7). This feminist paradox presumably owes something to Mme de Lambert's Réflexions sur les femmes (1727), but probably represents too the dramatist's desire to see what the 'pure' woman is like when the need for coquetry is removed.

If so, the exploration of woman in esse is more arrestingly carried out in La Dispute (1744). Marivaux organises an enquiry into which of the sexes first proved unfaithful, and in typical eighteenth-century manner constructs a situation where two boys and two girls are brought up in isolation from the world. The first heterosexual encounters are idyllic; each looks on the other and loves. The first meeting between the two girls is quite other. The mental universe is Hobbesian; jealousy, suspicion, hostility are the instinctive reactions on each side. By contrast, the two men are initially well-disposed towards each other, so long as no sexual conflict comes between them. Why this essential difference? Because, in Marivaux's view women, being obliged to please others, are immediately moved to jealousy in the presence of another attractive member of their sex. So it is that the girls take the first step in arranging infidelities; it springs almost simultaneously from the inclination in each to prove that she can assert her superiority by winning the other's lover. As Deloffre points out in his 'Notice' to the play [in Théâtre complet, 1968], if it were transposed into a tone less naïve and more libertine, these attitudes would be appropriate to Les Liaisons dangereuses.

Significantly, the dramatist presents the meeting of the two girls before that of their lovers; their reactions are so much richer for psychological portraiture. Whereas the men drift along more amiably, but also duller of sense, the girls' state of mind is complex to the point of being incomprehensible even to themselves. Eglé, for instance, is upset with herself, upset with her lover Azor: 'je ne sais ce qui m'arrive … je ne sais à qui j'en ai'. The real reason for her discontent emerges: she has found Mesrin to be more attractive than Azor. But Mesrin's only advantage is novelty—'d'être nouveau venu'. Even so, Eglé is unhappily divided within herself: 'Je ne suis contente de rien, d'un côté, le changement me fait peine, de l'autre, il me fait plaisir' (Sc. 15). She is able to resolve the dilemma only when she learns that Mesrin is the lover of the other girl, Adine; at that point jealousy impels swift action.

The conclusions of La Dispute are therefore sombre ones. Inconstancy, it would appear, is well-nigh inevitable; woman designs, man consents. Though one should not interpret a fable such as this with undue literalism, it seems that for Marivaux the urge to please is deeply ingrained in womankind. Social conditions may, as he shows in the essays, confirm this inclination, but in the uncorrupted environment of La Dispute the female sex is just as bent on ruthless demonstration of its capacity to attract the male.

But the women do not emerge as villains from the play. The judicious conclusion of the Prince, who had arranged the whole experiment, is that virtues and vices are equal between the two sexes. Hermiane protests at this: 'votre sexe est d'une perfidie horrible, il change à propos de rien, sans chercher même de prétexte'. The Prince agrees: 'Le procédé du vôtre est du moins plus hypocrite, et par là plus décent, il fait plus de façon avec sa conscience que le nôtre' (Sc. 20). This observation, striking in its disillusioned detachment, seems to sum up Marivaux's whole attitude to women. They are more 'civilized'. More complex psychologically, more committed to the desire they feel to attract the opposite sex, they are more alive in their sensibilities, more aware of a moral order; they do not drift into falsity as do men. Paradox though it is, they show greater integrity in coming to terms with the human predicament.

These attitudes are therefore probably more far-reaching than those emerging from the comedy which one immediately thinks of as most involved with the female question, La Colonie (1750). In this play Marivaux's views are sharply developed and dramatically rich; but the subject is narrower. Here the dramatist is mainly concerned with the social question. In La Colonie the feminist leaders seek for equality with men, and especially within the state of marriage. Men, however, treat women as 'à n'être … que la première de toutes les bagatelles' (Sc. 9). As in the 5e feuille of the Cabinet du philosophe, coquetry is a response to male domination, in a world where, says Arthénice to the men, 'c'est votre justice et non pas la nôtre' (Sc. 13). Women are brain-washed into submission and self-denigration. Madame Sorbin finds herself unconsciously saying 'je ne suis qu'une femme' until Arthénice points out to her how deep the conditioning has gone (Sc. 9). Coquetry therefore becomes the only answer. But what a waste of talent and energy go into it; 'plus de profondeur d'esprit qu'il n'en faudrait pour gouverner deux mondes comme le nôtre, et tant d'esprit est en pure perte' (ibid.).

The women ask for equality in all realms: finance, judiciary, the army. The claims seem Utopian, and besides there is near-revolt in the ranks when the leaders urge their followers to make themselves ugly; in addition, young lovers like Lina will always follow the spontaneous promptings of the heart. So it is hardly a surprise when the feminist cause collapses at the end. Marivaux's attitude towards the women protagonists appears sympathetic; but it is also equivocal.

In La Colonie and elsewhere Marivaux seems concerned about the rights of women. But though he indicts men for their tyrannous ways, he feels that the problem goes to the roots of human nature and is not to be solved by social reform. Improvements are however possible. One of the pleas most eloquently expressed in La Colonie harks back to the Cabinet du philosophe. Both of the women leaders want equality between husband and wife: 'le mariage qui se fait entre les hommes et nous', says Arthénice, 'devrait aussi se faire entre leurs pensées et les nôtres' (Sc. 13). Here at least is a practical way forward, though it depends more on improving the moral climate than on the institution of new laws.

In Marivaux subsists a deep-rooted pessimism about ever effecting wholesale changes in man's, and therefore woman's, lot. The picture is however not black. The essayist, like the dramatist, is presenting a human comedy. Women suffer many disadvantages, but they have consolations. Not only are they prettier, they are more interesting. Besides, if men rule the earth, women rule men:

    Si les lois des hommes dépendent,
Ne vous en plaignez pas, trop aimables objets:
Vous imposez des fers à ceux qui vous
   Et vos maÎtres sont vos sujets.
          ('Divertissement', La Nouvelle Colonie)

Marivaux can scarcely be termed a leading feminist of his day. He is alive to feminine inequality, but he deals relatively little with the disabilities facing eighteenth-century women: the economic and legal limitations, the right to divorce, educational reform. Not that he was unaware of these problems. By choosing for instance a widow as heroine of Les Fausses Confidences he recognized the greater degree of liberty she enjoyed as compared with a single girl. But these details were of interest to him in serving the ends of psychological enquiry. If Marivaux can be termed a feminist at all, it is surely in his acceptance, as in La Colonie, that women are men's equals intellectually. Indeed, as we have seen and as almost any one of his comedies makes clear, women's minds are far more interesting. They are the more colourful part of the species. Ultimately, they are of value for what they tell us about the human race as a whole; for they are the quintessence of humanity. When in La Dispute Adine, who has never seen another young girl, meets Eglé she asks ingenuously: 'Etes-vous une personne?' Eglé retorts: 'Oui assurément, et très personne' (Sc. 9). It is the reply that, about womankind, Marivaux himself might have made.

Derek F. Connon (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: "The Servant as Master: Disguise, Role-Reversal, and Social Comment in Three Plays of Marivaux," in Studies in the Commedia dell'Arte, edited by David J. George and Christopher J. Gossip, University of Wales Press, 1993, pp. 121-37.

[In the follwing essay, Connon explores differing uses of the devices of role reversal and disguise in L'Ile des esclaves, Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard, and L'Epreuve. The critic argues that these variations reflect Marivaux's movement away from the conventions of commedia dell'arte and towards a more realistic theater.]

As is pointed out by Norbert Jonard in his study of the commedia dell'arte, [La Commedia dell'arte, 1982], disguise is one of the principal devices employed in the scenarios of the form. Mel Gordon, in his study of lazzi, [Lazzi: The Comic Routines of the 'Commedia dell'Arte, ' 1983], draws attention to a more specific use of disguise, one which involves not only pretence about the character's identity, but also about his social class: 'Often, the humour grows out of a class reversal, the servant acts like a master and the master becomes confused.' Given the importance of the théâtre italien in Marivaux's career, the frequency of his use of the topos of disguise in his plays is hardly surprising, but in only one does he relate it specifically to the notion of social role- or class-reversal, doing so in a context where the device is clearly underlined by the stylized symmetry of the plot: that is to say Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard (1730), where the duplication of the reversal in both male and female characters produces a quarter of individuals all parodying with more or less success their social opposites. Although there is no true use of disguise in the earlier play L'Ile des esclaves (1725), since the identity of the various characters is never in doubt either for the audience or for each other, a similarly symmetrical use of role-reversal backed up by costume changes relates it strongly to Le Jeu, and in this briefer play the social burden of the device is much more clearly underlined.

Although these are the only plays to use such a symmetrical structure, in a number of others one or other side of the equation is found in isolation. She (or he) stoops to conquer in works like La Double Inconstance (1723), Le Prince travesti (1724) and Le Triomphe de l'amour (1732), and in LaFausse Suivante (1724) the result of the trial is the more surprising rejection of the original beloved. But in only one other is there an important use of the situation described by Gordon, in which it is the servant who pretends to be of the class of his master: that is L'Epreuve (1740). It is this depiction of the servant as master in these three plays, L'Ile des esclaves, Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard and L'Epreuve that it is my intention to examine here. Whilst there seems little doubt that the Italian theatre was a fundamental influence in Marivaux's frequent use of disguise in his plays, it is a device which is by no means unique to that tradition. By focusing on this one particular aspect, on the other hand, we will be led to a consideration of a much more specifically Italianate aspect of Marivaux's theatre, the development of one facet of his treatment of his most persistently archetypal character, Arlequin.

That costume is an important icon of social status in these plays is in no doubt, otherwise there would be no point in the swapping of clothing specified in L'Ile des esclaves when the nobles are cast down to servitude and the servants (or, even more pointedly for the philosophical message, slaves, as they are here) are elevated to higher rank, for here there is no deception involved. Even on this island, where the slaves have realized the injustice and artificiality of social inequality, the symbol of the outward trappings of costume will be one of the most important indicators of the masters' fall from grace and the slaves' elevation.

One anomaly should, however, be noted: the swapping of costumes is specified by Trivelin for both couples: '(Aux esclaves) Quant à vous, mes enfants, qui devenez libres et citoyens, Iphicrate habitera cette case avec le nouvel Arlequin, et cette belle fille demeurera dans l'autre; vous aurez soin de changer d'habit ensemble, c'est l'ordre' ('[To the slaves] As for you, my children, who are now free citizens, Iphicrate will live in this cabin with the new Arlequin, and this beautiful young lady will live in the other; you will make sure to exchange clothing, that is the rule.') Arlequin and Iphicrate exit immediately after this, and at their subsequent reentry the scene heading specifies 'ARLEQUIN, IPHICRATE, qui ont changé d'habits' ('ARLEQUIN, IPHICRATE, who have exchanged clothing'). The absence of any similar indication with regard to the female characters, the fact that the continuity of the action prevents them from leaving the stage until after Cléanthis's denunciation of Euphrosine, by which time the exchange has become almost redundant, and the absence of any opportunity for them to resume their original costumes before the final reinstatement of the status quo all point to the fact that Marivaux did not actually envisage any exchange taking place between them in performance. The scene in which the men resume their original clothing (scene ix) is one of the emotional high-points of the play, and, although the fact that this latter exchange takes place in full view of the audience suggests that it was only some sort of over-costume which was exchanged, with Arlequin retaining his traditional motley, it seems fair to assume that much comic effect would be derived from his inappropriate dress. A remark by Silvia in Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard concerning her disguise as a servant—'Il ne me faut presque qu'un tablier' ('Virtually all I need is an apron')—suggests that, on the other hand, as a result of the habitual over-dressing of actors of the time, the costumes of Euphrosine and Cléanthis would have been so similar that the exchange would have made little visual impact; accordingly Marivaux sacrifices it to the fluency of his action. This suggests that, even in Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard, where the women clearly do adopt disguises, the sartorial impression given by Lisette will be both less striking and less inappropriate than that of Arlequin.

The characters' behaviour, though, does not always live up to the costume, and so, in its superficiality, the disguise is shown to have no profound effect on their essence, and it is in the case of Arlequin, where the visual disguise is at its least effective, undermined as it would have been by his traditional trappings of mask and slap-stick as well as clear evidence of his suit of shreds and patches under his assumed garb, that the character also proves least able effectively to fulfil his new role. For if we compare him not only with his female counterparts, but also with Frontin his successor in L'Epreuve, who, unencumbered by Arlequin's traditional acessories, would have cut a much more dashing figure in his disguise as master, we will find that it is Arlequin who is least able to provide a convincing impersonation of the ruling classes, and who is in consequence the source of the most broadly parodic humour.

Cléanthis, for example, although not totally devoid of vulgarity—even Trivelin becomes exasperated by her in-ability to know when to stop at the end of scene iii of L'Ile des esclaves—displays a rather subtle sense of satire and observation; indeed, as Haydn Mason has shown, [in 'Women in Marivaux: Journalist to Dramatist,' in Women and Society in Eighteenth-Century France, ed. E. Jacobs, et al, 1979], her satirical tour de force of scene iii is very closely related to a passage which appears later in Le Cabinet du philosophe (1734). And it is she who becomes most obviously exasperated by Arlequin's inability to adjust his behaviour to either his new role or costume:

Cleanthis II fait le plus beau temps du monde; on appelle cela un jour tendre.

Arlequin Un jour tendre? Je ressemble donc au jour, Madame.

Cleanthis Comment! vous lui ressemblez?

Arlequin Eh palsambleu! le moyen de n'être pas tendre, quand on se trouve tête à tête avec vos grâces? (A ce mot il saute de joie.) Oh! oh! oh! oh!

Cleanthis Qu'avez-vous donc? vous défigurez notre conversation!

Arlequin Oh! ce n'est rien; c'est que je m'applaudis.

Cleanthis Rayez ces applaudissements, ils nous dérangent.

Cleanthis The weather is as beautiful as can be; people call this a tender [i.e. gentle] day.

Arlequin A tender day? In that case I am like the day, Madam.

Cleanthis What do you mean, you are like the day?

Arlequin Sblood! how could I not be tender [i.e. loving], when I am in the company of your charms? (At this witticism he jumps for joy.) Ho! ho! ho! ho!

Cleanthis What is the matter? you are spoiling our conversation!

Arlequà Oh! it is nothing; I am just applauding myself.

Cleanthis Cut the applause, it disturbs us.

It is true that the parody of the poetic lover's conceit at the beginning of this extract is almost subtle, but it is clearly only present to permit the inappropriate oath and the naively childlike ebullience, which are much more typical both of the humour produced by Arlequin else-where in this particular play and of his usual archetypal self.

Such internal commentaries by the characters on their own and each other's actions as that found in the above extract are of course impossible in Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard, where the disguises must be sustained, but the comedy of Arlequin's role still resides in the inappropriateness of his behaviour:

Arlequin Un domestique là-bas m'a dit d'entrer ici, et qu'on allait avertir mon beau-père qui était avec ma femme.

Silvia VOUS voulez dire Monsieur Orgon et sa fille, sans doute, Monsieur!

Arlequin Eh! oui, mon beau-père et ma femme, autant vaut; je viens pour épouser, et ils m'attendent pour être mariés; cela est convenu; il ne manque plus que la cérémonie, qui est une bagatelle.

Silvia C'est une bagatelle qui vaut bien la peine qu'on y pense.

Arlequin Oui; mais quand on y a pensé, on n'y pense plus.

Arlequin A servant down there told me to come in here, and that my father-in-law would be informed that I was with my wife.

Silvia NO doubt you mean Monsieur Orgon and his daughter, Monsieur!

Arlequà Yes, my father-in-law and my wife, same difference; marriage is what I am here for, and what they are waiting for; it is all agreed; all we need now is the ceremony, which is a mere trifle.

Silvia It is a trifle which it is worth making the effort to remember.

Arlequà Yes; but once you have remembered it, you do not give it another thought.

Lisette, on the other hand, is used so much by Marivaux as a sort of 'straight-man' for Arlequin's excesses that she provides little humour of her own. As with Cléanthis, her sense of savoir faire is sufficiently superior to that of Arlequin for her to react with surprise at his excessive behaviour, as the following extract shows, but it is not developed enough for her ultimately to see through his disguise.

Monsieur Orgon Adieu, mes enfants: je vous laisse ensemble; il est bon que vous vous aimiez un peu avant que de vous marier.

Arlequin Je ferais bien ces deux besognes-là à la fois, moi.

Monsieur Orgon Point d'impatience; adieu. [Il sort.]

Arlequin Madame, il dit que je ne m'impatiente pas; il en parle bien à son aise, le bonhomme!

Lisette J'ai de la peine à croire qu'il vous en coûte tant d'attendre, Monsieur; c'est par galanterie que vous faites l'impatient: à peine êtes-vous arrivé! Votre amour ne saurait être bien fort; ce n'est tout au plus qu'un amour naissant.

Monsieur Orgon Goodbye my children: I will leave you together; it is right that you should have the chance to fall in love a little before you get married.

Arlequin I would just as soon do the two things at the same time.

Monsieur Orgon Be patient; goodbye. [He leaves.]

Arlequin Madam, he tells me to be patient; it is all very well for him to say that, the old dodderer!

Lisette It is hard to believe that you find it quite so difficult to wait, Monsieur; it is through pure gallantry that you pretend to be impatient: you have only just arrived! Your love cannot really be very strong; it is no more than beginning.

And again, in the Frontin of L'Epreuve, we find that we have almost left the ineptitude of Arlequin behind. True, there is enough Arlequinesque conceit and whimsicality to give away his origins in a comment like 'On s'accoutume aisément à me voir, j'en ai l'expérience' ('I know from experience that people very easily get used to seeing me'), and his silencing of Madame Argante is much too peremptory to be that of the true master: 'Point de ton d'autorité, sinon je reprends mes bottes et monte à cheval' ('Do not take that authoritarian tone or I will put my boots back on and get back on my horse'). In general though, Marivaux allows his servant character in this play to achieve an impersonation which is almost credible.

So the costume changes nothing: Silvia and Dorante, Lisette and Arlequin are instinctively drawn to their social equals despite the multiple disguises. Convincing as Frontin's acting may be, he still lacks the nobility which will cause Angélique to love him instead of Lucidor (although in this late play Marivaux again weakens the case against Frontin by the strength of Angélique's fidelity: even a real master, he suggests, would still have failed to win her from Lucidor). Perhaps most interesting is the situation presented in L'Ile des esclaves, in which the two slaves, rather than being attracted to each other, are unable to resist the attraction of the nobles, despite the fact that on the island of slaves the latter have become technically their social inferiors. The slaves' sense of their masters' superiority will not easily be modified by mere changes in clothing or arbitrary reversals of the power structure.

The social comment in L'Ile des esclaves is quite explicit, although critics who have compared Arlequin's remarks to those of Figaro are perhaps underestimating the significant extent to which the subversive character of comments like the following is mitigated by the tone of reconciliation in which they are spoken: 'Tu veux que je partage ton affliction, et jamais tu n'as partagé la mienne. Eh bien! va, je dois avoir le cœur meilleur que toi; car il y a plus longtemps que je souffre, et que je sais ce que c'est que la peine. Tu m'as battu par amitié: puisque tu le dis, je te le pardonne; je t'ai raillé par bonne humeur, prends-le en bonne part, et fais-en ton profit' ('You want me to share your affliction, and you have never shared mine. Go on then! I must be softer-hearted than you, for I have suffered for longer, and I know what pain is. You beat me out of friendship: because you say so, I forgive you; I mocked you out of good humour, take it in the way it was intended, and learn from it'). Ultimately the play calls for humanity rather than social upheaval.

Similarly, although we may be led by the plight of Silvia and Dorante in Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard, in the most emotional moments of the struggle between love and the reason which tells them they cannot cross the social divide, to question the humanity of a society in which Silvia the mistress would not be allowed to wed Dorante if he really were Bourguignon, and although we may have an amused sympathy for the fact that the plans of Lisette and Arlequin to better themselves socially by marriage are doomed to failure, the play leaves us in no doubt that the mutual attraction of the characters comes not from costume, but from a deeper inherent sense of class and the different outlook on life and love which goes with it, neither of which can be so easily donned or doffed. I have discussed elsewhere, in relation to La Colonie, the fact that this situation may be more complex than Marivaux's merely negating his social comment by stressing stereotype and reasserting the status quo, and that the traditional elements provide for the audience a familiar framework through which the philosophical point can be made the more effectively ['Old Dogs and New Tricks: Tradition and Revolt in Marivaux's La Colonie, ' The British Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies XI, 1988]. The main point for the present argument is, however, the way in which all of these plots contain elements of social climbing: the character who assumes the clothing of his social superior begins to think seriously of aspiring to the rank which would usually go with it.

For the two slaves in L'Ile des esclaves social elevation is a reality, but only within the mythic confines of the island, a fact which they seem to understand as well as we do, given their disastrous attempts to woo their social superiors from the real world. And, although Cléanthis is admittedly less convinced than Arlequin, their reversion to their original lowly status is self-willed; they realize that their natures are determined by their original roles and that they cannot cope with their new-found responsibility. When Cléanthis asks Arlequin why he has resumed his original costume, the symbol of his servitude, he replies in terms which can be understood on either the literal or the symbolic plane: 'C'est qu'il est trop petit pour mon cher ami, et que le sien est trop grand pour moi' ('It is because it is too small for my dear friend, and his is too big for me').

The symmetries of Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard make it clear that this is no more an attempt at realistic theatre than L'Ile des esclaves. We are a very long way here from the illusionism of Diderot's dramatic theory, or even the specific references to Paris found in Les Fausses Confidences. Neither, however, does Marivaux introduce anything like the distancing effect of the Greek setting of L'Ile des esclaves: the period is contemporary, and the location sufficiently anonymous to allow Marivaux's audience to identify it with their own milieu. The fact that the costume changes of this play have become true disguise, rather than mere symbolism, means that, despite the title of the play, for Lisette and Arlequin the attempt at social elevation through matrimony is much less of a game than it was for their predecessors in the earlier philosophical piece. Their failure too, although the audience shares with Monsieur Orgon and Mario the knowledge that it is inevitable, is a result of the given circumstances rather than of choice. So in this play we have moved a step closer to social climbing as a true possibility. But only a step: whilst Lisette and Arlequin here lack the self-knowledge of the Arlequin of L'Ile des esclaves, which allows him to understand and express the fact that he is happier in his old position, Marivaux shows, through the ease of their acceptance of their disillusionment, that he wishes us to understand that sub-consciously they have come to a similar realization, and our sympathy for them is as short-lived as their disappointment:

Lisette Venous au fait. M'aimes-tu?

Arlequin Pardi! oui: en changeant de nom tu n'as pas changé de visage, et tu sais bien que nous nous sommes promis fidélité en dépit de toutes les fautes d'orthographe.

Lisette Va, le mal n'est pas grand, consolons-nous.

Lisette Get to the point. Do you love me?

Arlequin Good God, yes: by changing your name you have not changed your face, and you know very well that we promised to be faithful to each other despite all spelling mistakes.

Lisette Come on, it is no great pity, we will get over it together.

By the time Marivaux came to write L'Epreuve, he had already completed Les Fausses Confidences, a play in which the crossing of the social divide by marriage becomes a reality, for in marrying Dorante, Araminte weds her own servant, as intendant a very high-class servant, it is true, but a servant nonetheless. Dorante may have become intendant to Araminte as part of Dubois's stratagem to bring about their marriage, but there is no sense in which he has disguised himself as a social inferior, as does the Dorante of Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard: he really has taken the job as Araminte's servant, and such a post is seen to be compatible with the reduced status brought about by the loss of his fortune. His uncle, Monsieur Remy, certainly sees no shame in this position, and even believes the servant Marton to be a fitting bride for his nephew. Araminte, on the other hand, learns from Dubois of Dorante's condition as impoverished son of a good family as early as the first act of the play, but this high social status certainly does not override his position as servant in her house; it is this which makes the psychological struggle so acute as she gradually falls in love with him and is forced to admit her affection both to herself and to her household. And for Madame Argante, her delightfully odious mother, the status of servant negates all other considerations, preventing her ever accepting Dorante as son-in-law; indeed, she is still affirming this at the final curtain: 'Ah! la belle chute! Ah! ce maudit intendant! Qu'il soit votre mari tant qu'il vous plaira; mais il ne sera jamais mon gendre' ('What an unhappy ending! Ah, that confounded steward! He can be your husband as much as you like; but he will never be my son-in-law').

Despite the mitigating factors of Dorante's high status in both social and domestic terms, Araminte has still taken the very significant step of breaking through the barrier separating her from her servants.

From here we move on to L'Epreuve, which is full of the crossing of social barriers, although across a social distance less extreme than that dividing master from servant seen in the earlier plays. Angélique is of a lower class than Lucidor, but they wed. MaÎtre Blaise aspires, however half-heartedly, to his social superior Angélique, and his wealth will eventually represent a step up the social ladder to Lisette, who finally accepts his proposal of marriage.

But what of the disguised character Frontin? Given that the whole point of the plot of this play is that Angélique passes the test which is set for her, perhaps the best measure of Marivaux's intentions concerning the competence of Frontin's impersonation is not his rejection by her, but rather the treatment he receives from Lisette. Whilst her namesake in Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard, although convinced of the social superiority of the disguised Arlequin, is still emboldened to woo him, Frontin, despite being both recognized and loved by his Lisette, nonetheless manages not only to convince her that she is mistaken about his true identity, but also to put any notion that he would be accessible to her out of her mind. So Frontin's disguise succeeds, and we are more inclined to believe his warnings that he may win Angélique away from Lucidor than we are that Arlequin could ever win a true member of the ruling class. But if the servant Dorante is able to win his mistress in Les Fausses Confidences, the daring of this conclusion is, as we have seen, at least mitigated not only by his being intendant rather than valet, but also by the fact that he is a man who has had both rank and fortune and has been ruined. In L'Epreuve, even in a world where both Lucidor and MaÎtre Blaise marry beneath them, the true servant cannot be permitted to find a wife who is of either the nobility or the haute bourgeoisie. And the symmetry of the fantasy of the earlier plots has also dis-appeared, with the result that in this more realistic world there are victims as well as winners: the role he is playing for Lucidor deprives Frontin of Lisette, just as the Marton of Les Fausses Confidences is deprived of the servant who, according to traditional plot-structure, is rightfully hers.

There is a clear development here: as Marivaux moves away from the stock characters and symmetries of traditional commedia models, social mobility becomes more of a possibility. And this development is even more pronounced if compared with a well-known seventeenth-century model: the nobles in Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme are prepared to trick Monsieur Jourdain out of his money by promises of marriage and of favours, but that these should ever actually be granted is never their intention. In Marivaux's L'Héritier de village, on the other hand, the nobles are quite prepared to marry Blaise's children in order to get at his money, the follies and dishonesty of such an alliance being avoided only by the revelations of the dénouement.

Clearly this modification has its roots in social reality. It seems likely that contemporary audiences would assume that the Dorante of Les Fausses Confidences was ruined in exactly the same way as Marivaux himself, that is in the financial crash caused by John Law. John Lough comments as follows [in An Introduction to Eighteenth-Century France, 1 960]:

The immediate economic consequences of the Système were mixed. On the one hand thousands of people were ruined (it is perhaps to the Système that we owe the plays and novels of Marivaux who was driven by his losses in it to seek a living with his pen), and the violent inflation which caused a steep rise in the cost of living brought suffering to the lower classes, especially in the towns. … Enormous fortunes were made almost overnight; the lackeys of yesterday became the masters of today.

But such social mobility does not imply that members of the ruling class suddenly beganforming marital alliances with servants: far from it. Elinor Barber [in The Bourgeoisie in 18th-Century France, 1955] points out that nobles were only likely to marry beneath their status for considerable financial gain, and that even this compromise was far from being universal:

The poverty-stricken provincial nobility continued to disdain any alliance with the rich bourgeoisie, even though they might be reduced to the status of hobereaux. The acceptance by the Court nobility of these marriages may, therefore, be one more indication of its defection from a genuine noble ideology and of its espousal of a way of life no longer congruent with its older functions as a political and military aristocracy.

So the aspirations of Cléanthis and Arlequin in L'Ile des esclaves and of Lisette and Arlequin in Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard are unrealistic, and, whilst rightly belonging to the fantasy worlds of these two plays, are, even in that context, inevitably doomed to failure. The slight social mismatch of the marriage of Lucidor to Angélique, on the other hand, may lack some of the fairy-tale extravagance of the earlier plays, but it is perfectly justified in the more realistic atmosphere of L'Epreuve, since in terms of contemporary social reality it was actually possible. It is for the same reason that Lisette, although attracted to Frontin, makes no attempt to aspire to the conquest of the master she thinks him to be. Unlike her namesake in Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard, she knows the attempt to be pointless, for she, like the play in which she figures, is more in touch with social reality.

Lionel Gossman comments, however: 'The plain truth seems to be that works of literature do not "reflect" social reality, at least not immediately, so that the relation between the social background and the work of literature is never a simple causal one' [French Society and Culture: Background for 18th-Century Literature, 1972]. This is certainly true of Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard: there is a degree of reflection of the increased social mobility of the period in the servants' attempts to marry above themselves, but whilst they are not unaware of the difficulty of the attempt, in the real world of the time it would surely have been impossible. Similarly in relation to the masters: although much of the emotional tension of their roles comes from their reluctance even to consider a mésalliance, Silvia's eventual manipulation of Dorante to the point that he proposes marriage to a girl whom he believes to be a servant is again the stuff on which dreams and romantic comedies are made, but is not representative of contemporary reality. It is not just, therefore, the symmetricality of this play or the tidiness of its dénouement which have an almost fairy-tale quality; the exaggerated aspirations of the servant characters and the extent to which Dorante's love triumphs over the demands of commonsense and social reality come into a similar category. The characters themselves may not feel that they are involved in a game, but through his title Marivaux signals to his audience that the content of this play should be taken none too seriously.

By the time we reach Les Fausses Confidences we are in much more plausible territory, for, despite the daring conclusion in which mistress marries not only a servant, but actually her own servant, we can see that the situation is much more closely analogous to that described by Lough and Barber: Araminte is the rich bourgeoise, and Dorante, although ruined, has a social rank which makes him an acceptable partner; Marion too, is quite justified in seeing Dorante as her legitimate partner, since both belong to the servant class. And then, in Marivaux's final play for the Italians, we move ever further from commedia dell'arte fantasy, for, as we have seen, L'Epreuve depicts a situation which, on the social level at least, is more or less uncontroversial.

But the collapse of Law's system dates from 1720, L'Ile des esclaves from 1725, Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard from 1730, Les Fausses Confidences from 1737 and L'Epreuve from 1740. The plays certainly inhabit postLaw society, but, given this time-scale, they can scarcely be seen as a specific response to the collapse of the Système. Should we seek other reasons for the development in Marivaux's approach seen in these plays?

The naming of the characters is not without significance. In L'Ile des esclaves names chosen for their relevance to the Greek setting (Iphicrate, Euphrosine, Cléanthis) rub shoulders with the Italianate (Trivelin and Arlequin). It is, of course, the Arlequin archetype who is the most persistently Italian element of Marivaux's theatre, and we note that when he swaps roles and costumes with Iphicrate, even though, as I have suggested, it seems unlikely that the actor playing the part of the noble took over the traditional elements of the costume (the stylized patchwork suit, the mask and the slap-stick), his master does take over his name. This is part of his humiliation: 'Arlequin', as we are told in this play, is little better as an appellation than 'Hé', and we will learn in Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard that one of its principal features is that it rhymes with 'coquin' ('rascal') and 'faquin' ('wretch'). In Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard, on the other hand, whilst Silvia in her disguise becomes Lisette and Lisette Silvia, Arlequin even becoming Dorante, Dorante is spared not only Arlequin's traditional costume, but also his name: he becomes Bourguignon. In Marivaux's first important play for the Italians, Arlequin poli par l'amour, Silvia had been a fitting partner for Arlequin, but by the time we reach Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard her suitor cannot be expected even to assume his name. Whilst the name Lisette is a traditional enough name for a soubrette, it does not have enough archetypal significance to compromise either the dignity or the nature of Silvia's performance as a servant.

Arlequin is another matter: in L'Ile des esclaves Iphi-crate makes no pretence of actually being Arlequin; all he needs to do is appear offended whenever he is called by this name, and, indeed, the role is so sketchy in the central part of the work that this is virtually all he does do. Dorante, on the other hand, is in disguise, and, in terms of her social status, Silvia has come a long way since her first appearance in a play by Marivaux; there is a sense in which the mere fact of calling himself Arlequin would completely compromise Dorante's wooing of her, for the archetypal force of the name is such that it would be completely inappropriate to the refined servant played by Dorante: 'le galant Bourguignon'. The archetypal force of the name also causes it to demand of the actor playing the part, even in disguise, the lazzi which are typical of it, and these were not only counter to Marivaux's purpose, they were also, as it were, the property of Thomassin, who was playing the 'real' Arlequin, and not of Luigi (often known as Louis) Riccoboni, who was in the role of Dorante. So the swapping of names demanded by the role-reversal in L'Ile des esclaves has disappeared: here roles are still reversed, master pretends to be servant and servant master, but whilst Arlequin still pretends to be Dorante, Dorante emphatically does not pretend to be Arlequin. Arlequin has, in consequence, been marginalized: in Arlequin poli par l'amour he is central to the plot. In L'Ile des esclaves the servant characters dominate the action and his presence is also, as it were, duplicated by the fact that Iphicrate is given his name. In Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard it is the action involving the masters which is paramount, and when they are on stage we are not even reminded of Arlequin by the disguised Dorante's using his name. And when we reach L'Epreuve, Marivaux's last play for the Italians, he has disappeared completely.

When Marivaux calls his female lead in Les Fausses Confidences Araminte and in L'Epreuve Angélique, it is true that these changes denote a certain change in the type of character, for the former is a rather more emotionally mature woman than the Silvias of the earlier plays, and the latter a little more modest and passive; but these modifications are subtle, the type remains broadly similar and the parts were still played by the actress Silvia. Much the same is true of Riccoboni's Lélios, Dorantes and Lucidor; and if the Marton of Les Fausses Confidences is a slightly more serious character than our two Lisettes, the emphasis is surely on 'slightly'. In the case of Arlequin, however, the situation is completely different, for with the name goes the archetype. Indeed, so strong is the archetypal force of the name, that in the scene in Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard in which Arlequin reveals his true identity to Lisette (III. vii) an interesting situation arises: Arlequin confesses to being the servant of Dorante, but does not give his name.

Logically, given the symmetry of the plot, Lisette should assume that he is called Bourguignon. But no: a few lines further on, without needing to be told, she calls him Arlequin. That this should occur without causing any sense of incongruity, without giving rise to the feeling that here we have an authorial error, is entirely attributable to the impossibility of dissociating the name from the character-type. The one implies the other, so it would be superfluous for the character to identify himself by name. And so the different name given to Frontin implies a significant difference in character: not for him the traditional trappings of Arlequin's costume. Yves Moraud comments, for instance: 'Arlequin est à peu près le seul personnage qui continue, à la fin du XVII siècle, à porter régulièrement le masque' ('Arlequin is virtually the only character who, at the end of the seventeenth century, still regularly wears a mask') [Masques et jeux dans le théâtre comique en France entre 1685 et 1730, 1977]. In order to permit the much more convincing portrayal of the master by the disguised Frontin, Marivaux had to make use of such an alternative servant figure: an actor playing Arlequin would have provided the conventional lazzi, which the audience would have expected. Not only would the use of the archetypal character without his tomfoolery have disappointed the audience, but the expectations of his name and the conventional trappings of his costume would in any case have ensured that any attempt on Marivaux's part to make the servant's impersonation of the master convincing with him in the role was doomed to failure from the outset.

Kenneth McKee [in The Theater of Marivaux, 1958] remarks of L'Epreuve:

With its felicitous role for Silvia, L'Epreuve was a fitting climax to Marivaux's career as purveyor to the Italian actors. Yet, strangely, the play shows no trace of the old Italian influences. In the twenty years since Marivaux submitted Arlequin poli par l'amour to Riccoboni, he drew less and less on the commedia dell'arte, and his writing evolved to such a point that none of his last eight plays, except Les Fausses Confidences, contain even a minor part for Arlequin.

And that role in Les Fausses Confidences has been even more marginalized than the relegation from central character to servant figure that we noted between Arlequin poli par l'amour and Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard, for in this play he has even become a secondary servant, the dolt who amuses us with his lazzi in a few cameo-like scenes, and has but minor importance for the plot; the main function is reserved for the Machiavellian first servant and meneur du jeu, Dubois.

Arlequin was for Marivaux, to a large extent, not merely an archetype, but an actor: Tommaso Visenti, known as Thomassin. There seems no doubt that, at the height of his powers, he played the part very well, but, in the few years before his death in 1739, 'après une longue maladie' ('after a long illness') as the Mercure stated, his failing health must have made him a less acrobatic and lively zanni and possibly even a less reliable colleague.

After his death, the Italians replaced him with Carlo Bertaggi, but Marivaux had already written his final Arlequin; his loss of interest in the role coincides with Thomassin's decline. But is the playwright being controlled by the archetype, or the archetype by the playwright? Does Marivaux stop writing roles for Arlequin because he loses Thomassin, or is it through loyalty for the actor that he goes on writing them for as long as he does? Is the development in Marivaux's theatre a result of the disappearance of Arlequin, or is he dropped because he is incompatible with the new direction that Marivaux is pursuing?

There is no clear or certain answer to these questions, and it would be misguided to claim that one alternative were true to the exclusion of the other, but certain trends related to the concerns we have already examined suggest that the second of each pair of alternatives may represent the dominant force in Marivaux's development. We have seen that Arlequin dominates the plot in Arlequin poli par l'amour. La Double Inconstance (1723) has a similarly artificial symmetricality to our first two comedies of role-reversal, but the work is constructed in such a way that in each part of the plot one of the commedia characters (Arlequin and Silvia, who at this point is still seen as his legitimate partner) is paired with one of the courtly characters, thus spreading the commedia influence evenly through the texture of the play. By the time of L'Ile des esclaves and Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard the servants are paired together as are the masters, but if in the former the servants dominate the plot, in the latter it is the masters who hold centre stage. In Les Fausses Confidences and L'Epreuve the symmetry has disappeared and it is the masters who are at the centre of the plot-line, the commedia archetypes having been first marginalized and then banished. This development marks a gradual abandonment of the commedia dell'arte models which Marivaux adopted at the beginning of his career, in favour of a more emotional and sentimental form of drama represented by the dominance of the higher-born characters, a form which is more typical of later currents in eighteenth-century French theatre. And along with this move towards the dominance of a more serious form of comedy we find a tendency for both settings and social attitudes to become more realistic; the latter trend we have already examined, the former can be seen in the move from the fantasy worlds of Arlequin poli par l'amour and L'Ile des esclaves to the anonymously contemporary setting of Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard and further to the specific references to Paris found in Les Fausses Confidences and L'Epreuve; the Madame Dorman for whom Frontin has worked, for instance, lives, 'du côcé de la place Maubert, chez un marchand de café, au second' ('by the Place Maubert, at a coffee merchant's, on the second floor'). There are certainly exceptions to this trend, La Dispute (1744), for example, which, although written after L'Epreuve, inhabits a world every bit as fantastic as the three island comedies, but the general trend seems clear enough. Indeed, Les Fausses Confidences and L'Epreuve inhabit very similar milieux to Marivaux's two great novels, La Vie de Marianne and Le Paysan parvenu, both of which were undertaken during the period between Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard and Les Fausses Confidences, and both of which are much concerned with the theme of social climbing which we have alsoobserved in our comedies of disguise and role-reversal.

So the issue of disguise and role-reversal and Arlequin's relationship to this theme turn out to be related to the central development of Marivaux' s theatre away from its commedia dell'arte origins. Arlequin's inability to change his nature is central to the philosophy of L'Ile des esclaves, and adds to the comedy in a play like Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard, where the basic artificiality of the plot structure makes it clear that we should not take lapses in credibility too seriously. A play like L'Epreuve, in which our response to Angélique's emotional crisis depends on our ability to believe that she is taken in by Frontin's disguise, would be impossible with Arlequin in the role of disguised servant. For Arlequin cannot ever truly be disguised; Marivaux may polish him, he may become Sauvage, Deucalion or Roi de Serendib, but fundamentally he is always immutably himself.

The Game Of Love And Chance

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E. J. H. Greene (essay date 1965)

SOURCE: "Women and Men," in Marivaux, University of Toronto Press, 1965, pp. 124-65.

[In the following excerpt, Green declares The Game of Love and Chance "a masterpiece of comedy" and attempts to identify the sources of its "enduring appeal. "]

The first of Marivaux's works to achieve the status of a classic, Le Jeu was not immediately recognized as a masterpiece. Created on January 23, 1730, by the Italians, it had a good first run of fourteen performances, plus two at court and one for the Duchesse du Maine. The Mercure termed it a "very great success," but the average box-office receipts at the Hôtel de Bourgogne, 1,200 livres, were not outstanding. One must nevertheless conclude that the play made a strong impression on those who attended the first showings, because three months later the Mercure printed a long review of it, including a summary of criticisms collected from spectators. A remarkable element in the history of Le Jeu is that the Mercure's main criticism has been repeated from age to age, while the play itself has never ceased to show vitality and variety of interest. An early indication of this vitality was the fact that about 1740 it replaced the first Surprise as a play in which the Italians tested new actors: Gasparini on May 24, 1740, Francasal on May 18, 1760, made their début as Arlequin, and Mme Durand made hers as Lisette on December 25, 1760.

By its formal perfection, the richness and definitive quality of the text, the complexity and truth of the characters, the variety of the action—alternating emotional tension with exuberance and comic verve, blending the real and the ideal—in almost every way Le Jeu has proved itself to be a masterpiece of comedy. A happy fusion of the Italian and French styles, it serves to illustrate the concept of pure theatre, by which term is meant the representation of human action transposed into a world at once close enough to the one we know and far enough removed to permit insights which cannot otherwise be portrayed in such a short length of time. It has proved itself to be a classic in the sense that although it has been enriched by a considerable body ofcritical comment, no one has yet said the final word about it.

Le Jeu is not included in Lesbros de la Versane's list of the author's favourites among his own plays, whereas the next play in order of composition, Les Serments indiscrets, is. The question raised by this distinction is worthy of some attention, and the following observations are advanced as a hypothesis. Les Serments indiscrets was accepted by the French comedians on March 9, 1731, but was produced only some fifteen months later, apparently after some prodding by the author. It was his supreme bid to win consecration on the French stage, and it resulted in another failure. In the long Avertissement to the published version of the play, he defended it warmly: it is clear that he thought of it, with a certain tenderness, as one of his best and most original comedies. Today it seems rather that he had extended himself to the limit in order to compose a kind of Marivaux superproduction, and that consequently he has given us quantity, not quality; or, to put it another way, that he forced his qualities to the point at which they begin to become defects. In comparison, Le Jeu, with a richer human content to begin with, seems natural and spontaneous. A fair guess is that the latter play came easily, and that therefore its author did not himself realize how great was his artistic achievement. Moreover, it is possible that he considered it to be one of his least original, since, of all his comedies, it draws on the largest number of obvious sources and contains the largest number of allusions to well-known works of the preceding hundred years. Today Le Jeu appears a classic in the sense also that it is the culmination of a particular theatrical tradition, the work that realizes the possibilities of a cluster of ideas and devices which earlier dramatists had been unable fully to develop. It is a classic in the sense too that Marivaux found in this tradition a perfect vehicle for his own personal vision of human relations.

The particular tradition just referred to is the use of disguises in order to solve problems raised by the marriage customs and class distinctions of the Ancien Régime. It was a favourite dramatic device on both the French and Italian stages, and one for which Marivaux himself had a predilection. It is useful here to distinguish between what one might call its positive and negative uses. The negative aspect is well illustrated in Le Père prudent, which follows a standard pattern: disguises are employed to discourage unwelcome suitors so that the field will be left open for the worthy, but penniless, young man of good family. Usually too, and this is true of Le Père prudent, the disguises must be backed up by a financial deus ex machina, through which it is learned that an uncle has just died, or that a lawsuit has been won, providing the preferred suitor with the money he needs in order to support the young lady in the manner to which she is accustomed, and to win the approval of her father or guardian. In this type of play we see the early, and rather timid, affirmations of the right of the individual to choose his or her mate, and thus to make a mariage d'inclination.

In the positive use of the device, these affirmations were even stronger, at least by implication. There were many plays, and indeed novels, such as Gil Blas, in which servants masqueraded as masters in order to make love to ladies (real ladies or disguised maids), or in which masters assumed the livery of servants in order to observe, and perhaps test, their beloved or the future spouse proposed by families and guardians. Marivaux was acquainted with a large number of such plays and novels and he drew on several of them. The matter has been well investigated and probably exhausted by now. His initial stroke of genius was to conceive of a quadruple disguise, thus giving himself scope to deal with many facets of the problem in one complex action. Heshowed no less genius in bestowing upon his principal character a keen consciousness of her individuality: there is little force in a plea for the rights of the individual if no real individuals exist.

The action of the play is so well known that a brief summary will suffice here. Silvia requests permission from her father, M. Orgon, to trade places with her maid, Lisette, so that she may observe, and approve or disapprove of Dorante, the young man he has chosen for her. M. Orgon readily grants the permission because, as he explains to his son Mario a moment later, he has been warned in a letter from the other father that Dorante has been accorded a similar favour; Dorante, who wants a wife suitable to him rather than one merely acceptable to his family, has traded places with his servant, Arlequin. Arlequin and Lisette seize upon the opportunity to try to make what each thinks will be an extremely advantageous marriage; however, since their sense of individuality is limited, they are quite content in the end to accept each other for what they really are. A husband is a husband, says Lisette at the end of the first scene, implying that any one of a thousand men would do. And she is right, for her. But Silvia, a much more highly developed human being, has more exacting standards, as has Dorante; thus these two, after experiencing a mutual first attraction, run headlong into the class question. For each, the idea of marrying beneath one's station in life has the full force of a taboo. Most of Act II is taken up with the conflict in Silvia between her inclination and the taboo. Dorante, under the same strain, yields first, and here Marivaux was being realistic: at this social level a man had more freedom of action, more means at his disposal to combat class prejudice. When Dorante does declare his identity, Silvia feels an immense feeling of relief and utters the famous line: "Ah! je vois clair dans mon cœur." The conflict in her soul has been resolved; but she does not reciprocate with a revelation of her identity. In this situation, all Dorante can think of as a solution is to say that he will never marry, since social considerations will not permit him to be united with a Lisette. Silvia asks him to wait while she finds means to overcome the difficulty. These means, the substance of Act III, consist of machinations which finally bring from Dorante a declaration that he will marry her despite her status as a maid: he is confident that his father will see her through his eyes. When he learns, in the last scene, that his Lisette is really Silvia, he is delighted to know that he has passed the test. For he has proved himself to be the kind of individual Silvia wanted, and not merely the handsome, well-mannered son of Monsieur X (we never do learn his family name).

More than one notable actor has attested to the fact that Dorante is one of the finest and most difficult male roles in all French comedy. Yet it is Silvia who has the principal part in Le Jeu: she has 670 lines of text to 332 for Dorante. The play is written from her point of view, and without an understanding of that point of view it is impossible to appreciate or bring out all the facets of her complex personality. It is of course a fact, as the history of the play amply proves, that her character is so rich, so alive, that it is possible to play it in a way quite contrary to the intentions of the author and still make a success of it. For light on these intentions, one should turn not only to the sources of the play but also to the other works written, or being written, by Marivaux at the same period, in particular L'Indigent philosophe, La Colonie and La Vie de Marianne.

In the two latter works and Le Jeu we find the same preoccupation expressed in three different ways. A personal problem may have contributed to this preoccupation: in 1730 Marivaux's daughter had reached eleven or twelve, and because of lack of money her father was probably not going to be able to arrange a decent marriage according to the ideas of the time. However that may be, in L'Indigent philosophe we saw him concerned with problems of social status and individual merit, in the broadest terms. In La Colonie, he gave women an opportunity to make an organized protest against their social and psychological inferiority, although he turned that play into a satire of political action. It is imprudent to sum up La Vie de Marianne in a single sentence, but perhaps one can risk the statement that he conceived that work as a long novel which would deal with the problems of a girl who has all the personal qualities required to be accepted as a "young lady" and yet cannot be so accepted because her social backing—her family—was wiped out in a tragic accident when she was still a babe in arms. The Silvia of Le Jeu has all the social, family and material advantages that Marianne lacked, but she is still left to face alone the problems raised by the unequal status of the sexes on the psychological and social level. Thus for Le Jeu, Marivaux narrowed down his broad preoccupation to a theme manageable within the confines of a three-act comedy, and profiting from the experience of his predecessors, treated it so thoroughly that, without realizing it perhaps, he attained the universal.

The Mercure's chief criticism, which has been repeated with variations down to the present, recognizes Silvia's central importance but shows a complete failure to understand what it is she wants to accomplish. Briefly, the criticism is that the principal action is really finished at the end of Act II, with Dorante's revelation of his identity. Here she should have told him who she was; instead, she sees the possibility of satisfying her vanity and manages to do so with the help of her brother and indulgent father. In other words, critics who adopt this view see Silvia exactly as do M. Orgon and Mario, and imagine that Marivaux wrote Act III merely in order to give a demonstration of the "insatiable vanité d'amour-propre" of the eternal feminine. Act III appears therefore as anticlimactic and the whole play as poorly constructed: the recognition scene between Arlequin and Lisette, for instance, seems in this view to come after the important scenes and so to prolong the action at a lower level of interest (another of the Mercure's criticisms). What these critics should add is that Silvia's last long speech, in Act III, scene 8, is pure histrionics; if they do not, it is probably because willy-nilly they feel the emotional power of it: but this speech must be accounted for, if the critic is to be consistent.

We can get at the key points through M. Orgon: was he right? did he understand his daughter or did he not? M. Orgon is by now one of the most celebrated fathers in world literature; his creator has apparently immortalized him by putting into his mouth the line: "va, dans ce monde, il faut être un peu trop bon pour l'être assez" (1, 2). This line has engendered a profusion of nice sentiments from critics who do not seem to have noticed that in the same scene he has just told Silvia that he arranged the marriage with Dorante's father without even having seen the son. It is clear that he has not previously discussed the matter with her. Such behaviour might be construed as a rather casual assumption of parental responsibilities. But perhaps M. Orgon is very wise in playing the probabilities (another sense in which we can take the word jeu); the chances are that Dorante, the son of an old and intimate friend, will do, and besides, in giving Silvia the freedom to accept or reject Dorante, M. Orgon has allowed for a margin of error. Whether we judge M. Orgon to be indulgent and wise, or indulgent and lazy, we must agree that he does not see his daughter as the individual she believes herself to be. He sees the problem much as does Lisette: a husband is a husband, the only difference being that the field is narrowed down drastically for Silvia by social considerations. He does not know either what exactly it is that alarms her in the prospect of marriage; it is to Lisette and not to her father that she unburdens herself in the opening scene. It is therefore not surprising that in Act III he should interpret his daughter's action as he does: he thinks in generalities, in terms of set patterns of behaviour. Nor is it surprising that Mario should fall in line with his father's thinking: his conduct is a reflection of the fact that it is possible for a brother to love a little sister without taking the trouble to understand her.

Silvia's sense of individuality is brought out from the start, in one of those arresting opening lines the art of which Marivaux had mastered, and the point is underlined in Lisette's reply:

Silvia. Mais encore une fois, de quoi vous mêlezvous, pourquoi répondre de mes sentiments?

Lisette. C'est que j'ai cru que, dans cette occasionci, vos sentiments ressembleraient à ceux de tout le monde …

Later in the scene, the famous portraits are not Marivaux's attempt to rival La Bruyère; they are key speeches in which Silvia explains why the prospect of marriage alarms her. She has observed that men are two-faced, that they have one face for social occasions and another for their wives and children; she has observed too that the handsomer and more intelligent a man is, the more likely he is to multiply his personalities. Once a girl is married, her freedom of action is gone, she is in a helpless and hopeless position; when her husband ceases to respect her, a woman's self-respect disappears too. What Silvia accomplishes in Act III, through the prolonging of her disguise, is to force Dorante to become fully aware of her as a person in her own right, and to decide that as such she is worth more to him than would be a conventional "fille de M. Orgon." Moreover, as Lisette she is able to say things to Dorante which the proprieties would have made impossible for M. Orgon's daughter. Her last long speech is the counterpart of the three portraits of the opening scene; the whole play builds up to it. In it she contrasts the double standard for men with the single standard for women, and makes it clear that the single standard for both for life is what she expects in marriage. She is speaking from the heart for Silvia; fundamentally it makes little difference here whether she is Lisette or Silvia. As Silvia no less than as Lisette she needs to hear Dorante say not only "je t'adore," but also "je te respecte." The significant lines at the end of this scene are not the ones most frequently quoted, Dorante's famous "Mon père me pardonnera dès qu'il vous aura vue, ma fortune nous suffit à tous deux, et le mérite vaut bien la naissance. …" The enlightened elements in Marivaux's society were ready to accept the last statement in principle, if reluctant to practise it, as we see in La Vie de Marianne. But the quotation always stops there, whereas the passage goes on:

Dorante. … ne disputons point, car je ne changerai jamais.

Silvia. Il ne changera jamais! Savez-vous bien que vous me charmez, Dorante?

Dorante. Ne gênez donc plus votre tendresse, et laissez-la répondre …

Silvia. Enfin, j'en suis venue à bout; vous … vous ne changerez jamais?

Dorante. Non, ma chère Lisette.

Silvia. Que d'amour!

It is Silvia's insistence on whether Dorante will change or not which is important and which sends us back to the portraits of Act I. She is finally satisfied ("Enfin, j'en suis venue à bout"), she has obtained the best guarantee she could get, in her situation, that this marriage will be founded on mutual love and respect.

It is perfectly true that, in so doing Silvia has won a very satisfying victory for her amour-propre. It is perfectly true also that she has used her weapon, coquetry. "Une femme qui n'est plus coquette, c'est une femme qui a cessé d'être," had written the youthful contributor to the Mercure, and Silvia, a spirited girl, at once gay and serious, romantic and realistic, is very much alive. Critics who see only the coquette in her do not see her through the eyes of Dorante, who is attracted to her not only by her physical charms but even more by her quality as a human being. Such critics, to be consistent, must condemn Dorante as something of a nincompoop, and predict for him a future as a henpecked husband. The fact is however that Dorante responds to the challenge which the person of Silvia constitutes. Silvia appeals neither to men who think of a wife as a mirror, a meek helpmate playing the role defined for her by Providence, a domestic convenience, a doormat on which they can wipe their feet, nor to women who are content to play, or pretend to play, these roles. She does appeal to those who think of marriage as a union freely entered into by equals for mutual pleasure and enrichment, to those who seek "un assentiment puissant qui les liera pour une vie commune de levers, de repas et de repos," in Giraudoux's now famous words. Since perhaps most young people nowa-days have this ideal, Le Jeu is a very satisfying classic to teach, because Marivaux's art permits them to share the hopes, fears and aspirations of both Silvia and Dorante.

The fundamental and enduring appeal of Le Jeu is to youth, and it can be most effectively played by young actors for whom the notion of play is not too distant a memory. Like Chimène and Rodrigue, Silvia and Dorante enlist the sympathy of the spectator in their struggle to reconcile their self-respect and their love in a world of conventions imposed on them by their elders. It is not that the parents seek to force their personal wishes on them, it is rather that the social status they have achieved places certain obligations on their children. Thus, on a lower plane, Arlequin's observation that "Les pères et mères font tout à leur tête" (11, 5) is no doubt a deliberate, if distant, echo of Rodrigue's "Que de maux et de pleurs nous coûteront nos pères" (Le Cid, 111, 4).

In the same way, a number of metaphors used by Arlequin are no doubt deliberate echoes of those of Mascarille. It is to be noted that he plays the part of his master with the same combination of ludicrousness and zest, the same delight in play; he well deserves the flattering title of the "Mascarille of the eighteenth century." In making such allusions, Marivaux was utilizing parts of the cultural heritage of his spectators; he was able to draw on both Le Cid and Les Précieuses ridicules in the same play because the social structure had changed so much in a hundred years.

From Chimène to Silvia, the problem facing a young lady of good family had changed radically, more so than it has since (at least as Marivaux presents it). Silvia has neither to maintain the honour of the family name in terms of the conventions of a late feudal aristocracy nor, like the daughter of a parvenu, does she have to prove her right to belong to "the quality" by demonstrating her cultural "accomplishments." Silvia belongs to a family whose social status Marivaux has purposely left rather vague: both M. Orgon and Dorante's father appear to belong to that class which had achieved wealth and had been living nobly, to use the contemporary term, for a generation or more. (The terms have changed since, but not the realities.) The obligations on their children are to conform to the patterns of behaviour appropriate to their class, and to marry at their own social level or higher. But affluence and abundant leisure had produced new problems for the children. On the one hand, in such a favourable milieu, a Silvia can develop into a genuine person of quality (without quotation marks), and be conscious of her individuality; so can a Dorante. The children, when they are as intelligent as these two are, realize that there is likely to be a discrepancy between the individual and the being whose behaviour is, in large part, dictated by his position in society. The problem is more acute for Silvia who, as a young lady, has very limited means of action. In Le Triomphe de l'Amour, Marivaux will give another young lady means of action commensurate with her readiness to assume the responsibility for her marriage arrangements, but in order to do so he has to make her an independent reigning princess, in a kingdom out of this world.

There is a play which, from this point of view, marks an intermediate stage between Le Cid and Les Précieuses ridicules on the one hand, and Le Jeu on the other, and which Marivaux had no doubt so thoroughly assimilated that it cannot properly be quoted as a source of the latter play in the sense that Le Portrait by Beauchamp is a source. This play, La Fontaine de Sapience, by a mysterious M. de B*** (Brugière de Barante?), first performed by the older company of Italians on July 8, 1694, is a critique, exploiting the success of Arlequin Défenseur du beau sexe, also by M. de B***, a work which seems to have made a lasting impression on Marivaux. In the critique we have the reverse of the situation in Le Jeu: Lucile knows from the start that Octave is the man for her, but it is her loving father and two maids who multiply the portraits of men who are one thing in public and another at home. Towards the end of the play Lucile has her eyes opened to what men are in general (fortunately for her Octave is an exception). Arlequin explains that men can be classified according to the characters of comedy:

Arlequin. … ce sont autant de Tartuffes, de Jodelets, ou de Scapins.

Lucile. Tu as raison. Je vois que je ne connais plus ce que je croyais le mieux connaÎtre. Il y a bien loin de la personne au personnage. Que de Mascarilles!

Arlequin. Du personnage à la personne, il y a loin comme de mon masque à mon visage, et comme de mon habit à ma peau. Vous voyez bien qu'à Paris les comédiens ne sont pas les seuls qui jouent la comédie …

This passage might serve as the epigraph to the edition of Marivaux's œuvres complètes which we lack today, but an editor who so used it would have to insert some-where a note to the effect that Marivaux already had some awareness of the distinction between the personnage and the personne when he wrote his first novel. What he derived from La Fontaine de Sapience and the numerous immediate sources of Le Jeu was the kind of situation and the types of character he needed to create the synthesis that no one had yet achieved.

His achievement in Le Jeu, and the secret of its enduring appeal, is that he gave a definitive dramatic expression to a critical moment in the life of every person, male or female, who aspires to be a personne, an individual in his own right. It is a most exciting moment, because the potential individual is threatened by powerful pressures to conform to the role defined for him by his family, his class, his employer (the modern equivalent of le roi, mon maÎtre). It is a more difficult moment for a Silvia than it is for a Lisette. How many potential persons, in the upper ranges of society, subside into the social security offered by conformity and let their private lives degenerate into a state of undeclared war, evading the problem of creating an authentic union between two individuals? Despite her inexperience, her impulsiveness, her need to prove to herself that her charms work, Silvia sees the essential question clearly.

As long as there are civilizations in which it is possible for a margin to exist between the personnage and the personne, a margin created by inequalities of wealth, position and social prestige, there will be an audience for Le Jeu. As we have seen, in the opening speech of this marvellously constructed play Marivaux underlines one essential element, Silvia's sense of individuality. In the last speech, Arlequin transposes the solution to her problem into the simplest possible terms:

Arlequin, à Lisette. De la joie, madame! Vous avez perdu votre rang, mais vous n'êtes pas à plaindre, puisque Arlequin vous reste.

Lisette. Belle consolation! il n'y a que toi qui gagnes à cela.

Arlequin. Je n'y perds pas; avant notre connaissance, votre dot valait mieux que vous; à présent, vous valez mieux que votre dot. Allons, saute, marquis!

Thomas M. Carr (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: "Marivaux's Jeu de l'amour et 'de la raison'" in Australian Journal of French Studies, Vol. XXI, No. 1, January-April, 1984, pp. 15-25.

[In the essay below, Carr argues that in The Game of Love and Chance, love and reason are not irreconcilably opposed; rather, the apparent opposition is transcended in the play's resolution.]

At a crucial point in the third act of Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard, Silvia declares that she requires a battle in Dorante between love and reason: "je veux un combat entre l'amour et la raison", a struggle her brother Mario suggests will be to the death. In fact, the work's entire action, not just the last act, can playfully be renamed Le Jeu de l'amour et "de la raison", and while it is possible to read Dorante's eventual proposal of marriage as the defeat of reason, in a very real sense such an evaluation must be unanced, if not reversed.

Both as a moralist and a comic writer—two sides of Marivaux's talent which converge in Le Jeu—reason serves as a foundation of his enterprise, and although critics of his theatre have touched on the role of reason in his comedies, their primary emphasis has usually been his treatment of love. Approaching Le Jeu from the opposite direction by focusing attention of Marivaux's complex notion of reason can serve to highlight his moral preoccupations underlying the play, while elucidating elements of its comic structure common to all his theatre. I will begin by examining how raison is treated in his journals and La Vie de Marianne and then go on to show how its ethical and social implications underpin Le Jeu.

As one element in the broad semantic field of Marivaux's psychological vocabulary, raison in its most authentic form is an intellectual lucidity. His most useful description, found in L'Indigent philosophe, uses the traditional comparison of reason to sight; it is, he says, "une excellente lunette pour connaÎtre la valeur des choses." As the intellect's tool for arriving at an adequate appreciation of reality, its function is to see through veneers of sham and pretence, to penetrate from appearances to reality.

This is not to say that all who lay claim to reason attain what Marivaux would consider the most accurate assessment of reality. Two extreme examples of forms of reason he judges to be self-defeating illustrate the pitfalls involved. While he professes on occasion a respect for the seventeenth-century rationalist philosophers, he has little use for raison as the speculative faculty which made possible their elaborate systems. He shared his own century's distrust for "faiseurs de systèmes":

laissez-leur entasser méthodiquement visions sur visions en raisonnant sur la nature des deux subtances, ou sur choses pareilles.

Frédéric Deloffre has pointed out that the only characters in all of Marivaux's theatre to be ridiculed without mercy are the three professional philosophers—the philosophe of L'Ile de la raison, Hortensius of La Seconde surprise, and Hermocrate of Le Triomphe de l'amour. Reason in its purest form is not so much ratiocination, mental agility, or a facility for argumentation, as it is insight, esprit de finesse, and intuitive critical vision; it is a quest for objectivity.

As raison concerns the will, acting reasonably need not involve extraordinary feats of self-control. Such tension is, in fact, often a sign that the precepts of true reason are being ignored. In L'Indigent philosophe there is a lament for the fate of a certain nobleman "qui passait pour un modèle de raison, pour un héros de fermeté d'âme, pour un sage." When the man's son died and he lost half his wealth, the strain of keeping up the pretence of calm and serenity, which his reputation seemed to require, caused his death. Rather,

nous n'avons pas besoin d'un grand effort de l'esprit pour agir raisonnablement; la raison nous coule de source, quand nous voulons la suivre; je dis la véritable raison.

The false reason of both the philosopher and the self-proclaimed stoic is the product of orgueil—the ultimate enemy of authentic reason, and it is certainly to counteract pride, which distorts our vision, that the lunettes of reason are needed. This point emphasizes the moral content of Marivaux's concept of reason. Any number of partial or defective judgements of reason can be found among his characters, but reason in its highest form is an ethical vision which evaluates a person's worth as a human being, not just wealth, social position, or birth. The journals are tireless in exposing manifestations of orgueil, denouncing it in the name of the common humanity all share.

Grands de ce monde … Ces prestiges de vanité qui vous font oublier qui vous êtes, ces prestiges se dissiperaient, et la nature soulevée, en dépit de toutes vos chimères, vous ferait sentir qu'un homme, quel qu'il soit, est votre semblable.

For Marivaux the moralist, to be most truly reasonable is to recognize one's likeness in others; this reasonableness manifests itself in action in the form of an ethic of sympathy, a generous awareness that the needs of others are like one's own:

Ce que je voudrais raisonnablement qu'un autre fit pour moi, ne le fit-il point, m'enseigne ce que je dois faire pour lui.

Orgueil, which is the negation of reason, need not be confused with fierté, a legitimate and healthy result of the gaze of reason. Fierté involves a knowledge of one's own intrinsic worth; it is more concerned with self-recognition than the recognition of this worth by others. Orgueil, on the other hand, cares only about the opinion of others and has no scruple about appearing to have qualities which in fact it lacks:

L'homme fier veut être intérieurement content de lui. Il suffit au glorieux d'avoir contenté les autres: c'est assez pour lui que ses actions paraissent louables. L'autre veut que les siennes le soient à ses yeux mêmes. En un mot, l'homme fier a du cœur, le glorieux n'a que l'orgueil de persuader qu'il en a. L'un a des vraies vertus dans l'âme; l'autre en joue qu'il n'a pas, et qu'il ne se soucie pas d'avoir.

In the two examples of defective reason examined above, the quest for fame, murtured by orgueil, makes the philosopher imagine that by manipulating ideas and concepts he will create the science for human nature, just as the desire for public recognition leads the "martyr de l'orgueil" to feign stoic self-control in the face of personal tragedy.

The ethical implications of Marivaux's concept of reason also inform his view of society. Orgueil and its sibling vanité are at the root of evil in mankind:

Les hommes sont plus vains que méchants; mais je dis mal: ils sont tous méchants, parce qu'ils sont tous vains.

But if vanité, which is to a large extent the failure to appraise one's worth reasonably, is the cause of evil among men, reason itself provides a remedy by showing the need for a social order to counteract the selfishness of the individual:

Il est vrai que nous naissons tous méchants, mais cette méchanceté, nous ne l'apportons que comme un monstre qu'il nous faut combattre; nous la connaissons pour monstre dès que nous nous assemblons, nous ne faisons pas plus tôt société que nous sommes frappés de la nécessitéqu'il y a d'observer un certain ordre qui nous mette à l'abri des effets de nos mauvaises dispositions; et la raison, qui nous montre cette nécessité, est le correctif de notre iniquité même.

Linking the reason of all humans, and providing the foundation of all social cohesion, there exists a "contrat de justice":

il faut que mon prochain soit vertueux avec moi, parce qu'il sait qu'il ferait mal s'il ne l'était pas; il faut que je le sois avec lui, parce que je sais la même chose.

This law, which requires us to be just and virtuous, is understood everywhere and is everywhere the same, in contrast to "les usages particuliers des hommes", the products of human invention, which vary from nation to nation.

These particular social arrangements of any given culture, unlike the fundamental moral code, are not necessarily completely in accord with reason; in fact, they well may be "défectueux". One striking example might be "cette inégale distribution de biens", cause of the extremes of poverty and wealth in the France of his day. Happily for the body politic, social and economic inequality produces an "éblouissement de notre raison" in the inferiors who are blinded to the failings of their betters by the trappings of power and prestige. While Marivaux recognizes that this indulgence of the weak in regard to the shortcomings of their superiors contributes to social harmony, he would prefer an arrangement in which true reason teaches inferiors to accept their position by being aware that what separates them from their masters is not of any consequence and which teaches the privileged that they are not intrinsically more worthy than their social inferiors whom they must treat with respect and compassion. He does not advocate leveling social ranks any more than economic equality. This is the lesson of plays like L'Ile de la raison and L'Ile des esclaves, where the moral reform of both masters and servants is presented as the solution to antagonism between classes.

The relation between reason and love is not specifically treated in the journals; however, it does appear in La Vie de Marianne where, because of differences in position between Marianne and her suitors, there are parallels with Le Jeu. For example, the lecherous old faux-dévot M. de Climal appeals to reason in his attempt to obtain Marianne as his mistress:

Ma fille, je vous parle raison; je ne fais ici auprès de vous que le personnage d'un homme de bon sens, qui voit que vous n'avez rien, et qu'il faut pourvoir aux besoins de la vie, à moins que vous ne vous déterminiez à servir.

He argues that in her penniless state the only wise course open to her is to accept his offer to lodge with a woman of his acquaintance who is very "raisonnable." If reason for Marivaux is to see reality clearly, here reality is the hard facts of poverty and lack of protection; and if to act reasonable is to adapt one's behaviour to this perception of reality, reason here dictates a cynical prudence which is concerned with the calculation of self-interest rather than with ethical principle. M. de Climal's version of reason is an ally of his love, but Marianne hesitates before both.

Later in the novel, when the young nobleman Valville falls in love with her, Marianne is calledupon to exercise another form of reason. Mme de Dorsin, one of Marianne's protectresses, who is herself characterized as "raisonnable," suggests that while it may be impossible to cure Valville of this passion, "il suffira de rendre cette passion raisonnable," and only Marianne can accomplish this task: "il n'y a qu'elle qui puisse lui faire entendre raison." Here reason implies recognition of the differences of class which forbids a match between a girl of unknown birth and a gentleman of the quality of Valville. Marianne agrees to make him understand that she cannot return his love. This willingness, of course, only raises the esteem her protectresses have for her, and Valville's mother is moved to express reason of the highest sort in Marivaux's eyes. She realizes that only Marianne's unknown parentage and lack of twenty thousand pounds of income stand between the girl and her son's marriage: "La raison vous choisirait, la folie des usages vous rejette." And shortly later, upon witnessing further proof of Marianne's merit, Mme de Miran consents to the marriage.

Je songe que Valville ne blesse point le véritable honneur, qu'il ne s'écarte que des usages établis, qu'il ne fait tort qu'à sa fortune, qu'il peut se passer d'augmenter … il n'y aura, dans cette occasion-ci, que les hommes et leurs coutumes de choqués: Dieu ni la raison ne le seront pas.

She invokes here much the same contrast between a fundamental moral code established on reason and "les usages particuliers des hommes" which Marivaux had called into doubt as "défectueux" in Le Spectateur. Of the two forms of reason in this episode only Mme de Dorsin's presents an obstacle to love; Marivaux does not condemn it, given his acceptance of the contemporary social hierarchy, but he shows Mme de Miran's as superior.

In the light of this interaction of love and reason in La Vie de Marianne, we should not expect to find an absolute opposition between the two in Le Jeu, as if the triumph of love depended on the utter defeat of reason. Reason, it will be seen, is a fundamental value for both Silvia and Dorante, and although both begin with the assumption that love and reason are mutually exclusive, both eventually are able to reconcile their love and their reason, although the concept holds a different content for each of them.

Silvia announces her allegiance to reason in the opening scene of the play during her discussion with Lisette of marriage. She declares that she is not searching for good looks in a husband, but reason, which she identifies with sound moral character:

on a plus souvent affaire à l'homme raisonnable qu'à l'aimable homme; en un mot, je ne lui demande qu'un bon caractàre. …

Like Marivaux the moralist, she is preoccupied with the difficulty of distinguishing essential truth about a person from outward appearances. Her first portrait is of a husband who appears reasonable to all the world, but who mistreats his entire household. Thus she proposes her disguise in order to assess better whether her proposed spouse is indeed a man of reason. In her distrust of men, especially handsome ones, she is sure that Dorante will prove as unworthy as the husbands whose portraits she drew in the first scene.

Yet, just four scenes later, this same girl who claimed to prize reason in a husband, declares that she hopes to vanquish the reason of her intended.

Je ne serai pas fâchée de subjuger sa raison, de l'étourdir un peu sur la distance qu'il y aura de lui à moi.

Here reason is the awareness of social rank and obligations to caste which she hopes Dorante will sacrifice. The irony, of course, is that when Dorante finally arrives disguised as Bourguignon, not only is his reason subjected to assault, but her own as well. Both of them find themselves in a position where their "reasonable" perception of social order, where rank and personal merit should correspond, is disturbed. Dorante, struck by Silvia's obvious worth, finds it ridiculous that he wants to treat this servant girl with the respect due to the well-born:

Enfin j'ai un penchant à te traiter avec des respects qui te feraient rire.

For her part, Silvia accuses Lisette of having lost her senses for not being able to recognize the conspicuous lack of breeding of Arlequin masquerading as his master.

Etes-vous folle avec votre examen. Est-il nécessaire de le voir deux fois pour juger du peu de convenance?

In both of these comments, the reference to folly points to the implicit norm—reason. Silvia's distress is certainly the greater, so great in fact that her perception of what she owes herself as a member of the privileged order does not allow her to envisage the possibility of loving a servant, no matter what his personal worth. She asserts her indifference, justifying her coldness with a reference to her reason:

Voilà mes dispositions, ma raison ne m'en permet point d'autres, et je devrais me dispenser de te le dire.

Only when the requirements of this notion of reason are satisfied by Dorante's revelation of his identity is the way open for her to admit to herself her love.

When she insists in the third act on a battle in Dorante between love and reason, her father attributes this desire to an "insatiable vanité d'amour-propre." Yet she is not so much motivated by the desire to satisfy her feminine vanity, as her brother insists, as by the instinctive need she feels to expose Dorante's reason to the same distress she had known. The weight of eighteenth-century social proprieties was lighter on a man than a woman; Dorante had been able to verbalize his love in the second act, while Silvia could not even acknowledge it to herself. Pushing him into a proposal of marriage will in a sense equalize their suffering, allowing them to enter marriage on more even terms and making a harmonious union more likely. Her strategy might seem self-defeating, for she refuses to give him the encouragement he seeks—an avowal of her tendresse for him. It is a strategy which hardly seems capable of nurturing a love strong enough to overcome his reason, but the clever nature of this tactic becomes clear at the close of her long speech stressing the precariousness of her position:

L'aveu de mes sentiments pourrait exposer votre raison, et vous voyez bien aussi queje vous les cache.

This feigned generosity on her part is exactly what is needed to move Dorante. From the beginning he had been impressed by her fierté and her modesty—signs of a nobility of character which sharply contrasted with her servant's costume. Her pretense of concern for his reason is the ultimate proof for him of her worth; it is proof that she is guided by the ethic of sympathy described in Le Spectateur, and he submits.

This is not to say, as Silvia would have it, that love wins out over reason. Rather, reason for Dorante is no longer only concerned with his obligation to social rank; he passes to the most authentic level of reason in Marivaux's eyes—that which only looks at individual merit

il n'est ni rang, ni naissance, ni fortune qui ne disparaisse devant une âme comme la tienne. J'aurai honte que mon orgueil tint encore contre toi, et mon cœur et ma main t'appartiennent.

Renouncing orgueil, the enemy of true reason, he accedes, like Mme de Miran, to a perception of reality shared by the finest, most chosen souls in Marivaux's universe. Love does not vanquish reason, but is fulfilled with its aid. If love had won out over Silvia's notion of reason, i.e., if concern for social obligations had been vanquished by love, the implication might not have boded well for their future happiness. After all, if Dorante forgot his duty as a bachelor, what would keep him from doing so again once married? But because he overcomes, not duty, but pride, his decision is based on solid grounds.

Thus we see that love and reason are not necessarily opposed. Thanks to love, Dorante goes beyond reason conceived as self-control and motivated by concern for social rank to a clearer ethical vision. From the outset, Dorante had been more open to this appreciation of personal merit than Silvia. If there is a single point in the play at which it might be said that love vanquishes reason in Dorante, it is II. x. when Dorante comes to grips with his feelings for Silvia. After an indirect avowal of her affection for him, he responds, "si cela est, ma raison est perdue." Yet if we compare what it took to bring him to this realization, as against Silvia's comparable "Je vois clair dans mon cœur," we find that, even at this point he is closer to his final emphasis on reason as awareness of personal worth. He required only two motivating elements: the recognition of Silvia's merit, followed by confirmation of her love for him; with her, a third element was necessary: the revelation of Dorante's true status. Fortunately for both of them, Marivaux has contrived a reassuring theatrical universe in which personal merit and social rank correspond.

Going beyond the rule of reason in this one play, we can note its importance in two fundamental components of his dramatic system—marivaudage and his comic norm. In terms of raison, marivaudage can be seen as the linguistic manifestation of the tension experienced by characters whose notion of what is reasonable is partial or defective. They refuse to see themselves and their situation objectively. In Le Jeu it is the refusal of Dorante and Silvia to recognize that they are in love with a person who appears to be out of place socially. Instead, they attempt to talk their way around their predicament without facing it directly. Eventually this circuitous approach does lead to greater insight, and once their vision had been corrected, the tension between theerroneously "reasonable" view they had been trying to maintain and reality disappears, and marivaudage ceases. It is no longer needed, for as we have seen "la raison coule de source."

This view of marivaudage as the process by which characters pass from unreason to reason is further illustrated by La Seconde Surprise de l'amour, where the interaction between love and reason is uncomplicated by the social issues found in Le Jeu. Both the marquise and the chevalier have recently suffered the loss of a loved one. The marquise only survives the death of her husband "par un effort de raison, " and the chevalier, whose beloved Angélique has chosen the convent, finds in the marquise's offer of mutual consolation a remedy against his despair: "Vous me sauvez la raison, mon désespoir se calme." The marquise even takes on as her personal reader a stoic "philosopher" Hortensius who preaches that reason is the supreme good to which all the passions, but especially love, must be sacrificed. However, both protagonists instinctively reject such a sweeping condemnation of sentiment for a more moderate, but no less defective version of what is reasonable. They falsely believe that in their grief they will never love again and that they can successfully substitute friendship for love. This belief is inspired less by the raison they invoke than by their fear of being rejected, the real cause of their inability to recognize their mutual love. The tension between this unacknowledged love and their outward protestations of friendship is gradually resolved over the course of the play in scenes II, 7, II, 9 and III, 8 where their haggling over terms such as dédain, injure, amour, and amitié exemplifies Deloffre's description of marivaudage: "Chez Marivaux, c'est avant tout sur le mot qu'on réplique, et non plus sur la chose. Mais chaque reprise de mots signifie différence d'interprétation, chicane, discussion, rebondissement imprévu, progression dramatique enfin." Out of this apparent quibbling over words comes their realization that their amitié is in fact amour. With the chevalier's avowal, "Mon amour pour vous durera autant que ma vie," the marivaudage ends. Authentic reason finally triumphs both at the personal level of their new-found insight into their feelings and on the more abstract level where it becomes clear that to attempt to renounce love forever, as the philosopher Hortensius recommends, is vanity.

Finally, just as reason serves as a standard in the ethical realm for Marivaux, it plays a role as his comic norm. In the seventeenth-century Lettre sur l'imposteur, which many critics take to be inspired by Molière himself, we find an interpretation of Molière's notion of the comic in which the ridiculous is defined as the contrary of reason. What the spectator perceives as ridiculous is a sensible sign of unreason in the character on stage:

Le ridicule est donc la forme extérieure et sensible que la providence de la nature a attachée à tout ce qui est déraisonnable, pour nous en faire apercevoir, et nous obliger à le fuir.

Marivaux likewise subscribes to reason as his comic norm, and in L'Ile de la raison he went so far as to render the ridiculous "hyper-sensible", as it were, by making the characters shrink and grow before the audience's eyes in proportion to their adherence to reason. Such a visualization of the characters' ridiculousness, while an ingenious device, was perhaps too literal an illustration of Molière's definition of the ridiculous as "la forme extérieure et sensible" of unreason, and the play failed. Just the same, it clearly establishes reason's normative role in Marivaux's comedy.

We have seen that for Marivaux, the true enemy of love is not so much raison as the aberrant forms of amour-propre such as orgueil and vanité which invent qualities that do not exist or seek to exalt unduly those that do. Raison is the norm of objectivity that allows the manoeuvring of vanité and orgueil to appear comic:

Quelle misérable espèce d'orgueil … aussi n'est-il pas bon qu'à donner la comédie aux gens raisonnables qui le voient.

Thus in Le Jeu Silvia's somewhat vain confidence in the power of her charms is a chief source of the play's comic vitality. Rather than judge her morally, Marivaux simply manages his plot in such a way that her vanity puts her into comic situations. In the first act she undergoes the same conflict between love and reason that she wanted Dorante to experience, and when she is at the point of seeing the victory of her charms in the last act, Dorante leaves her momentarily alone on stage ready to deny the love she had acknowledged with so much difficulty in the second act. Since Silvia is vaine rather than orgueilleuse, and since her charms are real, Marivaux treats her with indulgence. However, with a character like Arlequin, who displays a haughtiness that is not merely part of his disguise, more outright ridicule is in store. The gentleness with which Marivaux treats his protagonists hinges, of course, on his realization that neither he, nor his spectators, is without vanity or even orgueil. In fact, one critic, sees this indulgence as the basis of a "strategy of identification" by which Marivaux's plays "appear to manipulate on-stage characters in order better to change the perspective on real life of the spectators."

The clear gaze of reason is thus for Marivaux the standard by which the various degrees of the comic are judged, much as it was for Molière. Still, there exists a great difference: while for Molière society's vision of reality was the reasonable norm, Marivaux recognizes a more authentic form of reason which goes beyond society's claims to a vision of human fraternity as the ultimate truth.

Jay L. Caplan (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: "Love on Credit: Marivaux and Law," in Romance Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 3, August, 1991, pp. 289-99.

[In the following essay, Caplan contends that the value of love in The Game of Love and Chance mirrors a growing belief that money has no intrinsic value but is a "pure convention, grounded in nothing more than public belief. "]

In 1716, the French regent, Phillippe d'Orléans chartered John Law's Banque Générale (later the Banque Royale), and authorized it to issue paper notes. He later placed the Scotsman at the head of the newly consolidated Compagnie Générale des Indes, whose notes were guaranteed by the state. The success of these measures was such that in 1720, Law became controller general of finances, and brought the bank and the stock company under his direction. After a frenzied wave of speculation in the so-called "Mississippi bubble," the entire "system" went bankrupt on July 17, 1720.

Law's system was based upon the assumption that the greater the means of payment in a society, the more prosperous that society will become—a position that has been called "Keynesian." He expressed this belief in terms of an analogy with the circulation of the blood, which had been demonstrated in 1628 by William Harvey, in his treatise Exercitatio anatomica de motu cordis et sanguinis ["On the Movement of the Heart and Blood in Animals"]. In a 1705 treatise entitled Money and Trade Considered with a Proposal for Supplying the Nation with Money, Law asserted that: "When blood does not circulate throughout the body, the body languishes; the same when money does not circulate." Law was doubtless the first influential monetary theorist to think of the economy in terms of physiology and health, and we may owe to him the habit of speaking of a "healthy" or "sick" economy. In order to get money circulating in the Scottish system, Law suggested simply printing it, on paper, while guaranteeing its value in land holdings, rather than in precious metals.

Like many of his contemporaries, Law was an "adventurer," a man who spent his life imagining various schemes in order to become rich or powerful, and yet he never seems to have made any clear distinction between the schemes that had a good chance of working and those that would need a miracle to succeed. For a number of years Law made his living as a gambler, but he was also a rational planner, or "projector." Indeed the first loans and resulting note issued by the "Banque Générale" were perfectly reasonable moves, and they considerably eased the financial position of the French government. In the judgment of John Kenneth Galbraith, "Had Law stopped at this point, he would be remembered for a modest contribution to the history of banking" [Money: Whence It Came, Where It Went, 1975]. Of course, he did not stop there and is now remembered primarily for the panic and bankruptcy that ultimately ensued.

In fact there were two successive, and very different versions of the famous "system." Both versions called for the State-owned Company to purchase the leases on tax farms, and offer to reimburse the entire public debt by buying back its paper obligations (an offer that most rentiers would presumably have declined). But while the first version was to rely upon a limited note issue (of "actions rentières"), guaranteed by the land holdings of the company, in the version of the system that was ultimately adopted there was no limit (beyond permission of the Regent) to the right of the Banque Royale to issue notes, which were guaranteed only by stock in the Company. Edgar Faure has called the first version "the reasonable plan" ("le plan sage") and the second version, the one finally adopted, "the mad plan" ("le plan fou"). Of course, it certainly remains to be seen whether rational planning and irrational risk-taking are not really two sides of the same coin.

When Money and Trade was published in 1705, Law had already been in exile for ten years from Scotland, where he was condemned to death for having killed a man in a duel. Throughout his many adventures in foreign lands, Law, who was the son of a goldsmith, would steadfastly maintain his opposition to the power of gold. As late as 1720, when the System was beginning to unravel, he wrote (this time, in French) that: "Il est de l'intérêt du Roi et de son peuple d'assurer la monnaie de banque et d'abolir la monnaie d'or." By injecting a transfusion of monetary "blood" into the French economic system (that is, by radically increasing the means of payment, while also cutting interest rates drastically), Law's expansionist monetary policy put a temporary end to a prolonged recession. Its long-term effects were less fortunate. According to Charles Kindleberger [in A Financial History of Western Europe, 1984], "A traumatic experience with paper money under John Law set back the evolution of bank notes [in France] for a century." By seeking to abolish the use of gold as money, and instead printing guaranteed paper notes (in this case, the notes of Law's bank were guaranteed—temporarily as it turned out—by the reality of the land holdings of the Company in Louisiana, and by the promise of gold that the Louisiana subsoil allegedly contained), Law's system effected a separation between money as substance and money as function. More radically, it had the effect of turning money into a form itself insubstantial, a mere sign of real value.

This article argues that, despite the failure of the Banque Royale on July 17, 1720 (after which France would return to the use of precious metals as money), Law's attack on gold money may be viewed as symptomatic of more systematic changes in the status and meaning of signs. In order to suggest the nature of this semiotic shift, I should like to compare Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard (1730) of Marivaux (who was bankrupted by the failure of Law's system) with the play that, in Rousseau's view, most forcefully articulated the corrupt values of the ancien régime, Molière's Le Misanthrope (1666).

At the beginning of act III of Le Misanthrope, the two petits marquis, Acaste and Clitandre, argue about which of them has more reason to be satisfied with himself generally, and in particular to believe that the coquettish Célimène loves him. Acaste declares: "Mais le gens de mon air, marquis, ne sont pas faits / Pour aimer à crédit et faire tous les frais" (Le Misanthrope, III, 1).

What does Acaste mean by "aimer à crédit"? According to Furetière's Dictionnaire universel (1690), "crédit" refers to the measure of a person's status within a given community, as in its first definition: "Croyance, estime, qu'on s'acquiert dans le public par sa vertu, sa probité …" (emphasis added). Credit is a value that one acquires in relationship to a certain public; it must be openly, publicly known. It is a value that an individual or groups acquire through action in the public sphere. Although his first definition stresses moral values ("sa vertu, sa probité"), Furetière's first example ("Les Grecs se sont mis en crédit par leurs sciences") suggests that the meaning of credit is not limited to the moral sphere. "Crédit" refers more generally to what is publicly believed, or credited, about a person or group. In this sense, credit is the result of previous actions, but it is not itself active; it is the measure ("estime") of what a person or group is believed capable of doing. However, Furetière's second definition of "crédit" has a more active sense, which is retained in modern French: "CRÉDIT se dit aussi de la puissance de l'autorité, des richesses qu'on acquiert par le moyen de cette réputation qu'on a acquise. Ce ministre a acquis un grand crédit à la cour sur l'esprit du Prince." According to this definition, credit is the publicly recognized value or reputation that a community grants a person, on the basis of his or her previous actions, and which allows that person to exert power over the other members of that same community. This sort of credit leads others to pay attention to one's opinions, or to entrust one with money or goods ("richesses"). Since it makes the past actions of a person or group even more valuable within the community, it is active, or productive credit. In both the virtual and active senses recorded by Furetière in 1690, "credit" refers to an interaction between the value or worth of an individual and the beliefs that are publicly held about that individual. Credit, in other words, is based upon an economy of public belief.

The third meaning recorded by Furetière locates this credit economy within a specifically commercial context. In business, credit is "ce prest naturel qui se fait d'argent & de marchandises, sur la réputation & solvabilité d'un négociant" (emphasis added). Credit is a loan or prest and is therefore something that never actually belongs to anyone. We may perhaps infer that not only in business, but in all forms of human commerce, credit is always borrowed, and therefore can always be recalled by the lending community. The beliefs on which one's credit is predicated are always subject to revision, as the following ominous example suggests: "Ce banquier a bon crédit sur la place, sa banqueroute n'a guère diminué son crédit."

Returning to Acaste's words, "aimer à crédit," we note that the first meaning of "à crédit" ("without paying cash") has also survived in modern French (and English) and is also associated by Furetière with financial ruin: "On dit, Faire crédit, vendre à crédit, acheter à crédit pour dire, ne payer pas comptant ce qu'on achète. C'est le crédit que font les Marchands aux Grands Seigneurs qui ruine leur fortune, leur négoce." Like Moliere's Acaste, Furetière does not approve of this sort of credit, although not entirely for the same reasons. From his bourgeois perspective, Furetière implicitly condemns buying or selling "à crédit," since the practice works to the sole advantage of the great noblemen to whom credit is given, while condemning their creditors (such as Mr. Dimanche in Molière's Dom Juan) to ultimate ruin. As we shall see, the distaste of a petty court nobleman like Acaste for loving "à crédit" is not related to his desire for immediate "payment." However, Furetière suggests another relevant sense of the term. We read: "A CRÉDIT se dit souvent pour dire, A plaisir, sans utilité, sans fondement. Cet homme s'est ruiné à crédit, à plaisir, sans faire de dépense qui parût" (emphasis added). In this example, one can still hear the archaic conception of conspicuous, public expenditure ("dépense qui parût") as the measure of a noble's worth. From that perspective, it is useless ("sans utilité") to dilapidate one's resources, unless it is done publicly, in the eyes of the community whose recognition determines an individual's value. A sense of the contemporary meanings of "crédit" and à crédit" casts new light upon Acaste's speech, which will be quoted here at greater length:

Mais les gens de mon air, marquis, ne sont pas
Pour aimer à crédit
et faire tous les frais.
Quelque rare que soit, le mérite des belles,
Je pense, Dieu merci, qu'on vaut son prix comme
Que, pour se faire honneur d'un cœur comme le
Ce n'est pas la raison qu'il ne leur coûte rein,
qu'à frais communs se fassent les avances.
              (Le Misanthrope, III, 1, 815-22;
                               emphasis added

The meaning of "aimer à crédit" now appears more clearly. In Acaste's social group, "loving" ("aimer") refers to a form of coded public display, and certainly not to one's feelings about another person. According to the conventions of "politeness" ("politesse"), love—like friendship—is a ritualized behavior that is conventionally performed in a certain public situation. It is elicited, not by interior states, but by specific social relations. For example, in the presence of an attractive young widow like Célimène, any gentleman who has an appropriate sense of his own worth ("[quil] vaut son prix") simply must "make love" to her, for the same reason that she must courteously allow those advances to be made. According to the constraints of this code, which would arouse Rousseau's indignation in his famously brilliant misreading of Le Misanthrope, a concern with feelings (whether one's own or those of other persons) is not only irrelevant but vulgar.

In any case, what Acaste calls "loving" is behavior elicited by an aristocratic form of self-love ("amour-propre"). This behavior is based, first of all, upon an estimation of his position (or "net worth") in a hierarchy of fixed values: rank, wealth, courage (which has become willingness to defend one's "honor" in a duel); it also depends upon an awareness of his audience, and upon the possession of various social graces, all of which are supposedly inherited, rather than acquired, and give effortless expressions to a nobleman's social identity. For Acaste and Clitandre, to love is to expect prompt recognition of one's socially recognized worth, and therefore to have only contempt for "loving on credit" (aimer à crédit). They know that a gentleman cannot court a lady without declaring his affections, without spending, not just money, but also other tokens of his love. Regardless of his true feelings, he must make considerable symbolic expenditures, to which Acaste refers ("faire tous les frais," "à frais communs," etc.) in his speech. To love costs; it requires making representations of one's love and thereby diminishing, if only temporarily, one's recognized worth. Since it entails offering tokens of love to a woman without rapid repayment in kind, loving on credit ("aimer à crédit")—that is, without the lady's quickly signifying that she loves him, too—is a risky investment for a gentleman like Acaste or Clitandre. The more one spends without being paid back, the more one's worth is visibly diminished in the eyes of one's peers. Since that necessary reevaluation cannot be postponed without a gentleman's devaluation, for him love on credit amounts to love discredited. As a matter of fact, this belief leads the two marquis to require from Célimène a public declaration of her preference, and this demand that will precipitate her eventual discreditation.

Louis Marin has argued [in Le Portrait du roi, 1981] that portraits of Louis XIV were believed to have the same value as the king himself, in precisely the same sense that the Eucharist was believed to be the body of Christ. Likewise the presence in coins of a certain quantity of precious metal guaranteed their value, and insured that a louis d'or, for example, was worth its weight in gold. In the patriarchal hierarchy of this society the value of persons was a treasure, immediately given in their nature. Rank, in turn, was measured by the standard of the Sun-king, just as currency was measured in silver and gold. Yet rank was always subject to rapid and un-predictable turns of fortune, to the sudden devaluation or revaluation that classical theater represented as the coup de théâtre.

Whereas in Molière one's worth must always be shown, publicly and theatrically displayed, in order to be effective—a situation that precludes the granting of credit, characters (at least, upper-class characters) in Marivaux refuse to take anyone, especially themselves, at face value, in terms of a public image, and consequently commit themselves to the risks and pleasures of speculation and credit. "Marivaux," whose real name was Pierre Carlet de Chamblain, lost everything in the wake of Law's bankruptcy. It is tempting, and probably not entirely fantastic, to view Marivaux's Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard (1730) as an idealized representation of the experiment in credit whose dramatic failure brought on the ruin of so many speculators. It is also worth noting the biographical fact that, starting in 1698, Marivaux's father was Director of the Royal Mint at Riom, a town in Auvergne. In the ideal, or Utopian form of the experiment that Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard can be shown to represent (a form that most resembles the first version of Law's system), credit is granted to "instruments" that are themselves worthless, but whose face value and yield are guaranteed, if the pun can be avoided or pardoned, by Law. In that ideal form, value is no longer fixed in the hierarchical order of the ancien régime, but rather is produced through the interplay of credit and speculation. The result of this jeu will be a new order, based on individual performance rather than inherited social position. The upper-class code of politesse, in which Voltaire saw the essence of manners under the ancien régime, is replaced by a new code of sincerity. Whereas politesse implied an aristocratic subordination of the individual's true thoughts and feelings to the smooth functioning of the social group, the code of sincerity would require a constant effort to express and impose subjective truth. In a world governed by sincerity, "forms" would become synonymous with lack of real meaning, while they had previously been consubstantial with meaning. Forms, and signs in general, would ultimately be perceived as empty or "rhetorical," irrelevant (if not fundamentally opposed) to the expression of full, interior truth. With this semiotic shift, the status of social behavior and of signs in general would become analogous to that of banknotes in Law's System: insubstantial as paper money, yet guaranteed by something as reputedly solid and reliable as land, gold, … or the human heart. This new code of sincerity was perhaps first articulated in France through the exquisite linguistic practice that has come to be known as marivaudage.

In Marivaux, love is a speculative activity, in several senses of the word: in the etymological sense, it requires looking at a mirror (Latin speculum); it entails economic planning, which the eighteenth century called "speculation"; and love is also "speculative" in a more modern sense, that of requiring a high-risk investment. To fall in love is to plan, to gamble, and to mirror (oneself). Falling in love in a Marivaux play entails taking the risk of losing, and perhaps ultimately finding oneself in a speculum or mirror image. His most famous play, Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard, opens with a scene in which Silvia, the heroine, expresses her apprehensions about the marriage that her father has arranged for her. Like other leading ladies in Marivaux's comédies d'amour. Silvia believes that she and her ideals are unconventional, different from what one might expect to find in young ladies of her social position. She believes, or more precisely, she feels herself different from what she appears at face value. Behind her conventional appearance, she feels unique, singular, maybe even originale (that is, "odd": the word still retains a pejorative value in 1730): "Si elle osait, elle m'appelerait une originale," she says to Lisette in act I, scene 1. She senses that her values are unique, that they cannot be represented or reproduced, and therefore fears that the conventionally attractive young man herfather has chosen for her, may not turn out to be her type, that he may not be unique, like her. Lisette paints a picture of Dorante as he appears to public opinion (the on dit): as an ideal match, a young man who leaves nothing to be desired. His moral qualities are summarized by the term "honnête," which abstractly designates everything that makes Dorante socially desirable; that set of moral qualities that, since the ideal of the honnête homme was forged in the early seventeenth century, have depended less and less upon noble birth, and more and more upon that curious form of cultural capital that the English call "breeding." Physically Dorante is bien fait, de bonne mine, in short aimable. In fact, Lisette adds, no young lady would think twice about marrying this young man: for not only is he attractive ("Aimable, bien fait, voilà de quoi vivre pour l'amour"), but he has all the requisite social graces ("sociable et spirituel, voilà pour l'entretien de la société" (I, 1).) However, Silvia is more concerned with inner worth, or character than she is with appearances, and she is particularly worried about the habit men seem to have of putting on a public face that is very different from their real selves.

It will turn out, of course, that Dorante has the same apprehensions about Silvia, and the same sense of his own uniqueness. In order to negotiate this discrepancy between face value and real worth, between public facade and domestic reality, Silvia and Dorante independently devise (spontaneously, they think) a theatrical strategy as unique (or as conventional) as themselves: with the complicity of Silvia's family and servants, each will trade roles with his or her servant, in order better to observe the other party, before making any rash commitments. Not only does the perfect symmetry of their desires, duplicated by the apparently symmetrical desires of the chamber maid and valet, underline that Silvia and Dorante are meant for each other; but the subsequent interplay of identities leaves Silvia and Dorante apparently defenseless against a development that they fear even more than marriage: love.

Yet that vulnerability may only be apparent. Since neither imagines that the other could remotely resemble her or him, each appears momentarily to take the other at face value, as the valet Arlequin and the chamber maid Lisette respectively, that is, as beings so clearly unlike their masters, so obviously unworthy of their love, that they need not be feared, either. For a moment, Silvia and Dorante appear, to the audience and even to themselves, to have suspended their prejudices against both love and the servant class, long enough for the damage to be done. It remains to be seen however, whether that typical, fatal moment in Marivaux, when the protagonists first lay eyes upon each other, and love is born, whether this is a moment of vulnerability, or of mirroring "speculation." A moment, that is, when each character sees him- or her-self in the other, when he or she sees in the other the mirror image of a superior being, who will not take others at face value. Only the servants can really believe that the person with whom they have fallen in love and who has fallen in love with them, is the master or the mistress, and capable of taking her or him for their equal. Precisely because they credit appearances, the servants have no apprehensions about love and marriage either. In that speculative moment, that moment of reciprocal mirroring of one's ideal self, Silvia and Dorante have the impression (that the audience may share) of putting them-selves (their ego) at risk: of speculating, in another sense. But it is really speculation without risk; the masters never have anything to lose (or the servants anything to gain), because the value they will have at the end of the Jeu—their redemption value, so to speak—is guaranteed (by their fathers, as we shall see). Thus Silvia's brother Mario argues against letting his sister know that Dorante will also be disguised as his servant, because Mario is confident that the two of them will sense what they are worth anyhow: "Voyons si leur cœur ne les avertiraient pas de ce qu'ils valent" (I, 4). A few moments later, the protagonists find themselves alone together for the first time, each pretending to be a servant, and the first thing that the false Arlequin says to the false Lisette is: "[T]a maÎtresse te vaut-elle?" (I, 7). The question already contains its own answer: No, the "mistress" is not worth as much as the false Lisette; no, neither of them should be taken at face value. The question already implies what Dorante feels in his heart but does not yet consciously know: namely, that this chamber maid is really worth more than her mistress, because she really is the mistress.

From this speculative moment on, the Jeu plays itself out in symmetrical patterns, visibly, in a stylized Italianate performance style, as if to underscore the resemblance of the players to pieces on a game board, as they mirror each other's moves through various stages of amorous development, until a conclusion that was inevitable even before the first exchange of glances. But if the Jeu is a game, the ground rules of the game were not written by the young lovers, even though they lay claim to this privilege at the outset of the play. Before the action of the play began, the rules of the game were laid down by M. Orgon and Dorante's (unnamed) father, when they arranged the marriage betwen Silvia and Dorante. But since they are liberal fathers, they have the goodness of heart to allow their children the freedom to choose a partner for themselves. ("[I]l faut être un peu trop bon pour l'être assez," remarks M. Orgon in I, 2.) Of course, their children immediately, spontaneously choose the same person that their fathers had intended for them. In contrast, young lovers in Molière always find themselves in conflict with male authority figures, whether fathers (Argan, the Orgon of Tartuffe, et al.) or a guardian like Arnolphe, who always want to marry the poor girl to someone (like themselves) that she is not suited for (because he is too old, too vulgar or both), whom she could not possibly love. In a curious way, as this stock figure of the father who conventionally opposes his children's desires is transformed into a father with a heart of gold, who has only his child's interest at heart, the audience now can notice that even his name ("Orgon") had gold (or) in it. Although the name of the father had lost its face value through usage, in Marivaux the play of speculation reinvests "Orgon" with gold, and thereby reaf-firms the paternal gold standard.

In Marivaux the obstacle, but also the means, to the realization of the father's desire (the Father's Law) is not another, more appropriate man, but love itself: "love," that is, a determinate form of speculation. In the Jeu the well-born heroine does not require any help from the servants to overcome her father's tyrannical desire, since her father is enlightened and good, since he and she ultimately desire the same thing. The strategic objective of the game is to ratify the father's judgment (the "gold standard," speaking anachronistically), to teach the daughter (and the audience) that father (even Marivaux's father, the Director of the Royal Mint) knows best.

In its speculative form then, love is less an obstacle to realization of the father's desire than the ideal means of fulfilling it. As a speculative investment, love is ideal in Marivaux, since it guarantees that everyone (at least everyone "upstairs") will make a profit. M. Orgon gains a worthy son-in-law, while enjoying what for Mario is the sadistic pleasure of staging the Jeu ("Je veux me trouver au début et les agacer tous deux," says Mario in I, 4). Silvia and Dorante will not only gain each other, but by overcoming their prejudices they will prove themselves worthy of their fathers and transform their trial (épreuve) into retrospective pleasure. "Peut-être," suggests Mario, "que Dorante prendra du goût pour ma sœur, toute soubrette qu'elle sera, et cela serait charmant pour elle" (I, 4). Mario does not mean to suggest that his sister will enjoy believing that she has fallen in love with a servant, but that when she learns the truth she will find her error quite charmant. At the end of the play, Silvia will look back at herself, and in a final speculative gesture, she will savor the nobility of her real character, of the self that she has revealed to herself.

Dorante, too, has a final moment to discover himself in the speculative mirror. In the very last scene, after having finally become conscious of Silvia's true identity, he exclaims: "[C]e qui m'enchante le plus, ce sont les preuves que je vous ai données de ma tendresse" (V, 9). At the end of the play then, what Dorante finds most delightful is not the girl he loves but the "proof," the image of an ideal self, that he has produced by overcoming social prejudice and proposing marriage to a chamber maid.

For Silvia and Dorante the yield on this speculative investment in love, this "jeu de l'amour et du hasard," is high self-esteem, based on a knowledge of their personal worth that they could only feel or "credit" at the beginning of the play, but which now has acquired full-blown, objective reality. Their initial gesture of investor confidence in speculation has paid off, in self-esteem and pleasure. That is, their initial sense of each other's worth ("de ce qu'ils valent") has now been confirmed by their own performance, in all senses of the word, and retrospectively it has been a delightful experience.

Of course the experience, or experiment, was also meant to be "charmant" (and profitable as well) for Mario and his father, the masters of ceremonies. It would perhaps be more accurate to speak of them as the laboratory assistants in a "test" (épreuve) called Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard, that they perform for an audience that, like M. Orgon, liked to think of itself as fundamentally good and liberal in the classical sense. The audience was also meant to know the pleasure of seeing an idealized image of itself, of viewing liberal humanity on stage. The importance of these tests or épreuves in Marivaux has led critics to emphasize the "scientific" dimension of his theater, its way of constituting the audience as a detached observer of the human heart. But like Silvia and Dorante, the audience sees only its ideal self in the experiment, the intellectual and sentimental preuves of its worth.

In this play, value appears in two forms: the real or ideal form, that is, the form in which it appears to the masters, and the illusory, potentially catastrophic form in which it appears to the servants. In the form presented as real or ideal, value is no longer a treasure, determined or guaranteed by the reality of its public representation; it depends instead upon a reality that is hidden from public view (e.g., money depends on land holdings, personal worth on the "heart," etc.). And whereas value in the ancien régime depended upon a systematic dilapidation of resources whose emblem was the Sun, in the Utopian economic order of the Jeu, the granting of credit ensures a play of speculation, in which the face value at risk is not only realized at the end, but increased. In this theatrical facsmile of Law's system, planning and gambling work together toward the same end.

Servants, however, do not see things this way, and they do not profit from the Jeu in the same way, either. Arlequin and Lisette actually believe in the credibility of their disguises and that they really can increase their value in a spectacular way, by marrying the master or mistress. For them, the paper is real. Unlike their masters, they believe in the bourgeois values of love and marriage. For Lisette and Arlequin, it is as if nothing, no regulation or law, determined their value, or that of paper money, nothing except the willingness of investors to credit it. For them it is as if the paternal gold standard—all the implicit paternal controls over money, persons, language, and love—had magically been abolished, simply by trading roles with their masters. Yet the symmetry between masters and servants is only apparent: for at the end of the play Lisette and Arlequin are worth no more than they were at the beginning. Speculation and marivaudage do not concern them, although their labors do make these higher activities possible. Love on credit does not work to the servants' advantage.

Despite the existence of this double standard, both masters and servants in Marivaux repudiate the value of appearances; they all refuse to credit face value or "forms." Either they believe, like the masters, that value is guaranteed by something more substantial than forms or they believe that it is a pure convention, grounded in nothing more than public belief. In Marivaux's play, all of the characters willingly commit themselves to a credit economy that could have been prescribed by Law. Whereas lovers in Le Misanthrope—not just Acaste and Clitandre, but also Alceste and Célimène, Philinte and Eliante—refuse to credit anything beyond appearances, and therefore remain alone at the end, in love with their own images. In the credit economy of Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard, love and chance are allowed to interact through speculation, that combination of self-mirroring, planning, and gambling without risk. Thanks to this speculative investment, Silvia and Dorante are saved from emotional bankruptcy.

Further Reading

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Brereton, Geoffrey. "Marivaux." In French Comic Drama from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century, pp. 194-213. London: Methuen & Co., 1977.

A survey of Marivaux's dramatic works that stresses their depiction of love and the playwright's feminism.

Culpin, D. J. "Manvaux's Apology for Religion." French Studies XXXIX, No. 1 (January 1985): 31-42.

Explores Marivaux's religious beliefs as expressed in his works. Culpin argues: "Consciously [Marivaux] was clinging to the faith which around him was disintegrating, but unconsciously he was part of the process which was undermining orthodoxy and substituting natural for revealed religion."

——. Marivaux and Reason: A Study in Early Enlightenment Thought. New York: Peter Lang, 1993, 152 p.

Defends Marivaux against charges that his work is intellectually superficial.

Haac, Oscar A. "Marivaux and the Honnête Homme." The Romanic Review L, No. 3 (October 1959): 255-67.

Examines Marivaux's use of the term honnête, which takes on various meanings, from politeness to "true merit" and becomes imbued with moral and religious significance.

——. "Paradox and Levels of Understanding in Marivaux." Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century CVI (1973): 693-706.

Investigates Marivaux's use of paradox, which, Haac claims, is fundamental to his style, and which "involves a more complex understanding, a more intellectual humour, and a new form of realism."

Howells, Robin. "Structure and Meaning in the Incipit of Marivaux's Comedies." The Modern Language Review 86, No. 4 (October 1991): 839-51.

Maintains that "a consistent structure and meaning can be identified" in the openings of Marivaux's comedies.

Jamieson, Ruth Kirby. Marivaux: A Study in Sensibility. Morningside Heights, N. Y.: King's Crown Press, 1941, 202 p.

Full-length study focusing on Marivaux's depiction of emotional states in his plays.

Papadopoulou, Valentini. "Games People Play in Marivaux's Theatre." Romance Languages Annual (1989): 292-99.

Psychological reading of Marivaux's plays that interprets them in terms of Eric Berne's theories of Transactional Analysis.

Poe, George. The Rococo and Eighteenth-Century French Literature: A Study through Marivaux's Theater. New York: Peter Lang, 1987.

Likens Marivaux's style to that of rococo in art. Poe asserts: "Visual artists of the rococo period added accessory and ornamental touches to their work, thereby modifying expressional presentation in pleasant and surprising manners all while leaving essence intact. Marivaux did the same in his literary medium."

Poulet, Georges. "Marivaux." In his The Interior Distance, translated by Elliott Coleman, pp. 3-28. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1959.

Interprets Marivaux's works as expressions of existential doubt and vacancy.

Tilley, Arthur. "Marivaux." In his Three French Dramatists: Racine, Marivaux, Musset, pp. 78-136. New York: Russell & Russell, 1933.

Contends that Marivaux's plays have considerable psychological depth. 'The psychological analysis of growing love is the soul of his drama," Tilley declares.

Trapnell, William H. Eavesdropping in Marivaux. Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1987, 120 p.

Examines incidents of eavesdropping throughout Marivaux's body of work, finding representations of this situation characteristic of the author.

Additional coverage of Marivaux's life and career is contained in the following source published by Gale Research: Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800, Vol. 4.


Marivaux Long Fiction Analysis