Marivaux, Plays

Review of Two Plays by Marivaux

Since the two plays I recently finished were in the same collection, I will review them both in the same post.

Note: While the name of the characters are the same in the last three plays I’ve read, the characters play different roles in each of the plays. So, the beginning of one play does not spoil the ending of another play.

      1. La double inconstance (Double Inconstancy)

La double inconstance suivi de Arlequin poli par l'amourWhat was it about?

A prince and his servants try to break up the relationship between Silvia and Arlequin. The prince wants to marry Silvia, but she is just too devoted to Arlequin. Unfortunately, bribery does not work because neither of the two cares for courtly life. It’s all flattery and hypocrisy. Still, the prince tries his best to deceive the lovers. Double Inconstancy is a slapstick comedy about love and fidelity.

What did I think of it?

While the comedy is less complex than in A Game of Love and Chance, it’s more immediate. Arlequin carries a baton, which he uses to strike at the prince’s servants. This must be the first slapstick comedy I have ever read, so I was initially horrified by Arlequin’s actions. We are conditioned to find abuse in comedy off-putting, especially in domestic comedies. That’s understandable, and probably good. But I quickly overcame my horror, and began to appreciate Arlequin’s witticisms. While I preferred A Game of Love and ChanceDouble Inconstancy was still quite clever.

    1. Arlequin poli par l’amour (Harlequin Polished by Love)

What was it about?

A fairy kidnaps Arlequin while he’s sleeping the woods. But he seems completely oblivious to his kidnapping. The fairy tries to force him to love her, but Arlequin is only concerned about food. The wizard Merlin is already engaged to be married to the fairy, but the fairy does not care about her own reputation. She will get Arlequin to love her by hook or by crook. Harlequin Polished by Love is one of the magical slapstick comedies in Marivaux’s Commedia dell’arte – inspired repertoire.

What did I think of it?

In comparison to the two previous plays I read, Harlequin Polished by Love is the least complex, but it is highly entertaining for a one-act play. I would love to see a performance of this play. Fairies, goblins, and a magic ring make this a very engrossing comedy. I’m sure the stage design would be more elaborate. Arlequin is also the most ridiculous in this play. This may be my favorite Marivaux play so far.

Bloomsbury has published a collection of Marivaux’s plays in English:

5 thoughts on “Review of Two Plays by Marivaux”

    1. Great question. From my understanding, the characters were masked actors, not puppets. Arlequin wore a bonnet and carried a stick. Marivaux took characters created for the Commedia and adapted them for his plays. Both the Italian and French slapstick comedies influenced later puppet theater comedies like Punch and Judy.

  1. I hang my head in shame….never noticed Marivaux in my French journey!
    I will try to learn more about him. You mentioned ‘Arlequin’s witticisms’. Could you give me an example? I love clever writing!

      1. In La Double Inconstance, there is a dialogue between Arlequin and his valet Trivelin. In Act 1, Scene 9, the prince who wants to win Silvia (Arlequin’s lover) tries to flatter Arlequin into submitting to him. He sends Arlequin a group of servants (suivants) to follow him around and show him honor. Arlequin asks Trivelin who those people following him are. Trivelin tells him that the prince has sent them to serve Arlequin because it is a mark of honor. Arlequin then asks Trivelin whether these followers have followers themselves. Trivelin says no. Arelquin also asks whether Trivelin has any followers himself. Trivelin again says that he has no one. Arlequin asks why this is so. Trivelin tells him that he does not merit followers. Arlequin says, “Well then, leave, because I don’t want to associate myself with dishonorable people”. He chases away Trivelin with his trusty baton.

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