Marivaux and Molière: A Comparison

Marivaux and Molière: A Comparison

Marivaux and Molière: A Comparison

Marivaux and Molière: A Comparison

Synopsis

Marivaux and Moliere are, respectively, the greatest comedy writers of the eighteenth and seventeenth centuries. Whereas a library of critical material exists on Moliere, Marivaux has benefited from less commentary, and many questions concerning this eighteenth-century playwright remain unanswered. Among these, of primary importance is his relationship with Moliere. The present study represents an illuminating discussion of this relationship. It devotes a chapter to each of Marivaux's plays that recalls any aspect of Moliere's comedies. Without detracting from Marivaux's basic originality, Dr. Cismaru shows that Marivaux's alleged scorn for his illustrious predecessor did not prevent him from using molieresque scenes, tone, and vocabulary. The first book-length study of the relationship between Moliere and Marivaux is lucidly written and free from technical jargon. It should benefit both the student of the two playwrights and the specialist.

Excerpt

When Pierre Carlet de Marivaux died on 12 February 1763, a poor man and an almost forgotten playwright, few were those acquaintances, friends, and critics who were willing to spend their time acknowledging the event. His not-too-sporadic successes on the stage, and his occasionally immense popularity with certain plays notwithstanding, by 1763 an almost total eclipse of his fame had occurred. Marivaux’s death was announced in only three lines in the Gazette de France, was ignored by the Mercure de France, and hardly was mentioned in the memoirs of the period. One of his closest friends, for example, Charles S. Favart, whose own wife had made her debut as Marianne in L’Epreuve, and who, not too long before, had called on Marivaux in connection with a proposed private performance of Les Serments indiscrets, did not even mention the playwright’s death. Yet, he often took notice of the passing of other writers: he devoted five pages to the death of Crébillon the Elder in July 1762, an author almost forgotten today, and in December 1763 he recorded the passing of the poet Victor Roy, an almost unknown during his entire lifetime.

Moreover and in spite of a long-standing tradition, which requires that a new academician praise his predecessor upon accepting his seat, Abbé Radonvilliers said very little about the deceased, and likewise Cardinal de Luyens, Secretary of the Academy, failed to recall the Immortal who had just passed away. of course, Voltaire’s famous remark (repeated persistently in the salons of the time) that Marivaux spent his time weighing flies’ eggs in scales made of spider webs, had taken its toll, and in view of Voltaire’s unequaled success in crushing his enemies (it will be recalled that in 1742, Marivaux and Voltaire were candidates for a vacant seat in the Academy and that Marivaux had won), it is hardly a surprise that even former friends of the playwright deserted him just before and after his death. Abbé Joseph de La Porte’s comments, for example, followed the not too subtle and somewhat perverse procedure of praising mildly the author in one sentence or in one paragraph, and in the next diminishing or totally obliterating the merit previously stated. Thus, he admitted:

Cet auteur, voyant que ses prédécesseurs avaient épuisé tous les sujets des
comédies de caraetère, s’est livré à la composition des pieces d’intrigue; et dans
ce genre, qui peut être varié a l’infini, ne voulant avoir d’autre modèle que
lui-même, il s’est frayé une route nouvelle. Il a imagine d’introduire la
métaphysique sur la scène, et d’analyser le coeur humain…. [But, the critic
goes on] Ainsi le canevas de ses comedies n’est-il ordinairement qu’une petite

See his letters to the Comte de Durazzo in Mémoires et correspondarwes lilléraires, dramatiques
et anecdotiques
(Paris: Collin, 1808), 81, 123.

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