(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Andre-Louis Moreau, a recent law school graduate, returns to the home of his godfather, Quintin de Kercadiou, in the small country village of Gavrillac. Moreau’s parentage is unknown, but it is widely believed that Moreau is the illegitimate son of Kercadiou, who has also been raising his own niece Aline. Ambitious to join Versailles high society, Aline is being courted by the powerful and much older Marquis de La Tour d’Azur, considered one of the best swordsmen in France.

Moreau and the Kercadious are visited by a young priest, Philippe de Vilmorin, a devoted friend of Moreau. An idealist afire with the revolutionary spirit starting to sweep France, Vilmorin hopes to persuade La Tour to provide reparations for the family of a peasant killed on the marquis’s property. La Tour, however, tricks Vilmorin into a duel. The priest has no sword-fighting experience, and La Tour kills him.

Distraught and angry, Moreau vows to avenge Vilmorin’s murder and take up his fight for freedom. Hoping to obtain justice for his friend, Moreau travels to the Palais de Justice in the city of Rennes, where his pleading falls on deaf ears. Moreau takes advantage of political gatherings and uses Vilmorin’s arguments to incite the crowds in Rennes and nearby Nantes to take up the revolutionary cause. Moreau is charged with sedition and forced to flee for his life.

Moreau joins the Binet Troupe, an amateurish theatrical company that plays throughout the French countryside. Moreau starts as a stagehand but gradually begins to write new scenarios for the actors and takes on the acting role of Scaramouche, an impudent, sly comedic character. The troupe’s fortunes begin to turn, and the company moves from makeshift outdoor theaters to real theaters to the Théâtre Feydau in Nantes, a provincial Comedie-Francaise, where it receives an enthusiastic reception.

M. Binet, the troupe’s head, resents Moreau’s growing influence and becomes further incensed at the engagement of Moreau to his daughter Climene. While initially infatuated with Moreau, Climene, with the support of her father, instigates an affair with La Tour, hoping the marquis will open doors for her in the...

(The entire section is 897 words.)