Monsieur d'Olive Further Critical Evaluation of the Work - Essay

George Chapman

Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

This Jacobean comedy is made up of the usual two plots, one involving Vandome’s coercion of retreating people back into the mainstream of life, the other depicting the fluent but foolish d’Olive. The two plots are not firmly connected in action, but thematic unity does exist. “Opinion” is the central idea of the play. Desire for the good opinion of others leads Marcellina into seclusion when she loses her husband’s approval, induces Count St. Anne to forbid the burial of his dead wife to show his love for her, and causes d’Olive to be vulnerable to Roderigue and Mugeron’s gulling in his eagerness to leave the obscurity of his private life and become an admired and followed public man.

Vandome acts as psychological midwife to both Marcellina and St. Anne. Both wish to live apart from the real world. Marcellina’s love relationship with Vandome was Platonic, free of the flesh, but the world’s opinion has defamed that love; her reaction is to live without the world. St. Anne apparently loved his wife, but she succumbed to death, that other susceptibility of the flesh; his reaction is to deny the fact of death. In both cases, Chapman causes Vandome to persuade these moral cowards to take up again the normal activities of life. To lead life as these two are living it is no virtue.

D’Olive too is drawn out of seclusion, though he seems only too happy to be so drawn. His acceptance of the Duke’s appointment to the post of ambassador, his presumption in kissing the Duchess, and his sprightly but asinine verbosity, mark him clearly as a “Lord of Misrule” figure. He rises from a lower social order to a position of mock power, indulging his every whim and thereby creating the chaos out of which his society will renew itself. Typical of such figures, d’Olive is brought to defeat; but unlike most, he is rescued finally by the Duke, an action which is in keeping with the comic nature of the play.