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Act I

p. 34-55

Texte intégral

Scene I


No, I shall never recover from this shock
A promised match thus rudely broken off!

All’s changed, I say.

How so?

You’re but a guard.
Madame won’t make a match with such as you.
She seeks a husband cut from different cloth
A man, in short, who is a philosophe.

What can you mean, Marton?

You seem surprised;
But out of sight, you drifted out of mind.
In three short months, this house has been transformed:
Three more, perhaps, and all will shift again.
Once more in highest favour you will stand;
’Til then, you have no claim. The verdict’s in:
Though you were sure that you would soon be wed,
The prize goes to the philosophe instead.

Alas, that all should thus have changed so fast!

Monsieur, all women fickle creatures are.
As seasons change, so Cydalise does too,
Each fleeting fancy grips her heart anew.
At times she’s giddy, overcome with joy,
Yet then she’s solemn, sulking like a child;
A scandalous seductress, fancy free,
Then prudish, chaste, and virtuous as a nun.
Her nights are spent at balls, then church by day,
With scholars one moment, buffoons the next.
’Twas once her way. But now the time has come
For finer morals, for a wiser tone.
Madame her household has of late reformed.
Now naught but reason governs all our acts.
First banished from her home was vulgar jest:
The usurer’s delight, the common fare;
Now dining here we barely raise a smile.
Yet if we yawn, at least it is with wit.
Instead of merry vaudevilles and verse,
We must endure the music of the wise;
Those long and arduous tunes our only joy.
But our true strength, Monsieur, in reason lies.
Though once we spoke of worldly politics,
In metaphysics all is now subsumed.

The image that you paint is strange indeed,
But you’re the artist, and I’ll trust your brush
To paint Madame. But what of Rosalie?

Why she grows bored, just as we all do, Sir.

And has her heart surrendered to my foe?

Her heart’s still yours, for love has held it safe
Against your rival, and his daring plans.
Your fate, though, in a mother’s hands doth lie;
A woman so bewitched I see no hope.
Please pardon me these words. I speak things plain.

She was my friend; I trust this has not changed…

Great wit, Monsieur, is all that she admires.
A malady unknown among the young
But common at her age. But still, with time,
Perhaps to wisdom she could be recalled
If only there were someone who could fight
And play upon such progress as she’s made.
Myself, I hoped, back when this all began;
But now the ills to come are all too clear.
Between us…


Madame has writ a book.

Good god!

Anonymous; and now in press.

Some kind of pamphlet?

No: a handsome tome.

I hope and pray she won’t reveal her name.
But among those wits our Mistress holds so dear,
Is none so frank, so apt to speak the truth,
To spare her from the shame of her mistakes:
Enlighten her?

They play her for a fool:
They strive as one to flatter her, you know;
Your rival most of all. He knows her tastes,
And more than just applaud her fancy words
Parades her wit before like-minded men,
Those practised flatterers and charlatans,
In raptures to be part of her salon,
To bring their errors into it, to vaunt
Their power over credulous
Whose hides must toughen against their taunts and jibes.

And they are, so you say, philosophers?

Yes, though they give themselves much greater airs.
The city’s full of them. To charm Madame,
To pull on every heartstring that she has,
They’ve taken on positions in her house.
When they advise, inspired by reason’s light,
Whatever they pronounce, Madame delights.
Yet from among their number I suspect
The ‘secretary’, received by her as wise,
Is nothing but a schemer and a crook,
Deceiving her to carry out some plan.
But in the end, I will expose the truth.

What has he done for you to scorn him so?

Else I’m mistaken, or it is your foe
Who’s had him taken on to serve his ends.

What man is he?

A rogue, who virtue feigns;
Yet native of Pézenas, so they say,
His pompous title: ‘Monsieur Carondas’.
Known for his mind, or that is what he claims
His speech replete with Greek and scholar’s terms;
Outlandish jargon, and at every turn,
He references great erudites of old.

29DAMIS, laughing.
Ha, ha, ha, ha.

The portrait’s true to life.

This Monsieur Carondas sounds like bad news.
But with your help and that of Crispin too…

What? Crispin, here?

Indeed, ma’am, it is so.
And I intend to join the pair of you:
I hope that you will swear to serve me well.

Leave it to me, I’ll put Crispin to work.

I’ll count on you.

Oh Sir, I hope you do!
I’ll wage a war against philosophy.

The greatest joys of life I’ll owe to thee.
But… just one thing

I know just what you’ll say.
Hold fast, Monsieur, by ardour you’re forewarned:
Your love arrives!

Scene II


After three months away
Returning to you, full of love and hope
To claim what was once promised, in deep faith,
I find now that a foe, in jealous spite,
Dares rob me of the only prize I crave.
That against me, with your mother he conspires.
Ah me! At least console my hopeless heart.

Think you my own to be more blithe than yours?
I watch these drastic turns with dreadful pain;
Like you I suffer, but I love you still.
At least in this I may retain some hope.
Who could oppose two souls, so intertwined?
My mother loved you. Maybe at your sight,
Some fondness may return to her cold heart.
A heart over which I used to hold more power.
Now you, Damis, must try to move this stone;
That with the happy union I seek,
My mother’s love I’ll also owe to you.

Fine words, but mark, that plan will come to naught.

Let me be wrong.

Through hard combat alone
Can Cydalise to good sense be returned.

Yet we might try, perhaps, our little scheme.

Yes; sighs and tears, that’s just the way to go!
Oh, how philosophy inures the heart.

Why, that is a surprise! But if Maman
Has promised me forever to Valère;
If this grand plan is truly so advanced,
Why until now has it not been announced?
What yet could hold her back?

I’d be most vexed.
She has not yet invited the notaire,
It’s true; the witnesses are not yet come,
Indeed; a few formalities remain,
I grant you that; perhaps the day has not
Been quite established yet in certainty;
That I’ll admit. But does she not embrace
How publicly he worships all your charms?
And are you not at all times drawn to his?
But no; I was quite wrong; it’s naught, in truth.

Mercy! Must you disturb me so Marton?

‘Twas just a dream.


Mere idle talk.
A childish tale.


A vision; false;

But Marton…

Feverish, frenzied, mad.
A great illusion.

Yet in truth, Marton,
This cruel tomfoolery becomes you not.

Ma’am, I was wrong.

58ROSALIE, making as if to leave.
Don’t follow!

59DAMIS, stopping her.

No Sir, it’s far too much.

Please stay, I pray.

Ah! Now you’ve lost your temper? Just as well.
But let us reason. Tell me, if you please,
Was such deceit required? I know that doubt
Can cause us to discount our dreaded fears.
To shy from danger’s natural enough,
If only to avoid a tiresome weight.
I’d be the first to hide from you the truth,
To close my eyes to such a blinding light,
If not for my concern, which makes me speak.
Forgive me, but you lovers are quite mad,
First calm, and then despairing without cause,
A happy balance never to be found;
When cool sangfroid’s a better guide by far
Than love, which is a blindfold on your eyes.

Now that is real philosophy, indeed!

Live amongst wolves and you will learn to howl,
Or so the proverb goes. And it is true.
Philosophy’s a plague upon this house.
But let us put aside these solemn thoughts,
To Rosalie)
Let’s make our peace. With no bad blood from you?
Can you promise me this?

Of course, I swear

I swear to have your interests at heart.
You Sir, who unperturbed in mind and soul
Would spend your days with eyes set on Madame,
Must now retreat, and promptly would be best.
Beware that it’s broad daylight in this house,
We risk at every moment being caught,
But Cydalise must see you first of all,
Before you plan for other rendez-vous.

Wholeheartedly I’ll follow your command.
My happiness I shall entrust to you.
My darling one, adieu, my Rosalie!

Scene III


Have strength! To languish will not help your cause.
With firmness you may overcome your grief.

If you could feel my hatred for Valère!

Damis has left, it’s true. But you must speak
To Cydalise as soon as time allows.
For if you love him, her consent you’ll need
Or so I do suppose.


Young girls
Do naught, you know, without their parents’ say,
So go the rules. And so you have to voice
Hate for the one, and for the other, love.

Of course!

And can your spirit thus stand firm?

Without a doubt Marton.

76MARTON, cunningly.
I hear her come.

77ROSALIE, scared.
Ah! Marton…

Well! That’s not the best of starts.
Most promising…

Why must you scare me so?
When it’s required, my love will give me strength.

80MARTON, mimicking her.
Your love! Oh yes, you’ll both do very well…
I’ll wager that, in such a flustered state,
A word let slip by chance…

No, you will see.

It’s not love’s place to save you from despair;
Love is too maladroit. Think of your hate;
That is the sentiment that must prevail,
Your hatred must take hold, direct your soul.
I do not know if love, which I revere,
Is truly of all passions the most dear;
It’s really naught but weakness and self-doubt.
Whilst hatred stems from ardour, drive, and fire.
Where one destroys, the other animates,
And in a female heart more natural is.
You’re yet to know this sentiment, it seems.
May you then taste it, only for today.
I love Crispin and for Valère I feel…
But it’s a game no more, your mother’s here.

Will you support me?


Scene IV


Be gone, Marton.
Go, take my keys; lock Plato safe away.
His world of ideal forms has dulled my mind.
I sought l’
Encylopédie, it was gone.
That book shall leave my cabinet no more
To Rosalie)
Please stay; I wish to speak with you alone.
To Marton)
Leave us, Marton.

86MARTON, to Rosalie.
Hold firm, and prove your worth.

Do as I say.

Scene V


You are both fair and wise,
My Rosalie, I’ve always held you dear.
Now let’s see if you merit such esteem.
To vulgar sentiment I’ll give no weight:
To love so biased, shallow, à la mode
That’s born, they say, from blood shared ‘twixt our veins,
And yet, in truth, is nothing but sweet lies;
Mere weakness…

What’s that? Mother Nature’s voice,
That sacred link, so touching and so pure,
That early duty, that first, august bond?
(I can’t describe that which I feel so well, )
Is all forgot? Does my poor mother’s heart
Today pour scorn on this most holy trait?
Remember, pray, the love that once you felt;
Which reasoning on too much has caused to fade.

I fell, as many do, for those vain dreams;
Led like our forebears by mere common sense.
Though blind and credulous, I was content,
Machine-like, following the common herd.
Now I begin to feel, to think, to know.
And if I love you now, ’tis as a
But you should know that any other soul
Would have an even smaller claim than thine.

You tear my heart to shreds. But please, Maman,
Allow me at your knees to plead my case:
Ask what is rightly mine, and kinder words.
Why untie all the bonds which held us close,
Of which my trembling and my tears stand proof?

92CYDALISE, slightly moved.
Poor girl!… to err for you is full of charms!
I pity you. But follow reason’s path.
The fashion for such puerile love has passed.
I see your claim to own a mother’s heart
But elevate it; if to you I’m dear,
If I some rights over you can also claim
It’s not down to the chance that brought your birth.

I cannot bear to hear these loathsome words
An insult to us both, a horrid slur.
Think you that I’d so easily forget?
My very life, I owe it all to you.

I took great care to guide your girlish mind
And that, indeed, deserves your love and thanks;
The worthy object of my dearest hopes.
To teach you thought, that’s all that I desire.
Imagine how much joy in genius lies:
In opening your eyes to reason’s light;
Dispelling all the fog that clouds your mind,
And freeing it from judgment’s evil yoke.
That art of life known only to the wise,
Of which I’ve now experienced the joys,
That day of reason, scattering its rays:
My dear, my love wants you to know it too.
Your marriage to dear Damis was agreed;
My head and heart by minor gains were led:
Questions of fortune, and a trial to end
All pointed to your union, it seemed.
This is indeed how most things come about;
But now, today, I break those vulgar ties,
Damis has good sense, honour, virtue too.
The least the world requires, it must be said;
Not all young men are destined for great heights.
And some respect we owe him, it is true.
For you, my child, I want another spouse:
One much more fitting, worthy of your mind.
Valère can please, he knows how to seduce,
But more than love you, he will teach you too.
So yes; he is the object of my choice.

Have you forgot that Damis once did have
The blessing of my father, and yourself?

Your father! True, I hardly thought of him.
Always the pleasant voice of power. Ha!
The Earth’s most narrow-minded soul to date.
A talentless and impotent machine,
A man of habit, mired in routine,
Who seemed to think of nothing much at all,
Apart from that which made up his estate,
And hundreds other trivial things beside.
A champion of antiquated thought,
His morals primitive; and he allied
The rank of his dark robes with bourgeois tone.
He never spoke without due solemn weight,
Preoccupied at all times with the law,
Yet out of court relapsing into sin;
Like Dandin,
45 keen to judge at every turn.
But now he’s dead, let’s let him rest in peace.

Please, Maman!

What! And would you take his part?
A father is, all said and done, a man,
I’m justified to speak about his faults.

If that’s what your philosophy will teach,
Why, then, I shall renounce it, here and now.
Enlightened, I would stand to lose so much,
I state the truth. Permit me, please, I beg,
To speak to you in favour of Damis;
Recall your former kindness, for your child.

No, Valère is the partner that I choose,
Tonight you shall become husband and wife;
A union that will enrich your life.
And as for your disdain for reason’s light:
You must, as I have, rid yourself of scorn.
With time and reason, you will find a cure.
You’re at an age where life is just begun;
Where all yet seems unclear; but read my book.
It teaches of the mind and of good sense;
Of passions, laws and of good governance,
Of virtue, morals, habits, etiquette;
Of peoples civilised and wild in turn;
The disorder that we see, order beneath,
Of happiness, that’s both ideal and true.
Therein I show the theory of all things,
The secret ties that link cause and effect;
I’ve written just for you a thoughtful text,
A chapter on ‘Your duties, as they stand’.
A treatise, in encyclopedic form
That Valère swears shows genius and wit.
You’ll be delighted with so fine a spouse.
One day you’ll see how much I’ve done for you
You’ll thank me for it. Now, my dear, adieu,
See that you do my bidding.

Scene VI


101ROSALIE, without seeing Marton.
Oh, such pain!
Oh what to do? Ah me! It’s you, Marton.

Indeed, and I heard all. But she’s quite mad!
What lunacy!

I’ll die.

Oh, quite the jest.
You, die? You silly girl; that’s out of style.
Even in novels it’s no longer done.

But then…

Now calm your nerves, engage your mind.
Had you not, after all, foreseen this trial?

That does not help my stricken, shaking state.

Have you so little faith in all my plans?

Oh Marton!

Calm yourself, please, first of all.
If your desires are met, pray, tell me dear
What will your anxious worrying have done?

Well yes, if you succeed, but if you don’t?

You’ll cry as much as you could wish, my love;
And I’ll cry with you, never say a word;
But ’til that moment, why not raise a smile?
In any case, a laugh is always good,
And when plans go awry we need it more.
Well that’s my view, at least. Why, sorrow’s vain,
And trying too; my nature’s quite opposed.
I think we should not dwell on it at all,
And when we seek out pity, we are wrong.
So let us plan instead some happy ruse,
Come, follow, see if wise philosophy
However strong its merits, can this day
Hold out against Marton, Crispin, and love.

Notes de bas de page

37 Cf. the opening of Gresset, Le Méchant, I, i: ‘Things are going badly, and the marriage is off’.

38 Cf. Molière, Les Femmes savantes, I, I: ‘And not every mind is cut from the right cloth / To be made into a philosophe.’

39 Cf. Moreau, Nouveau mémoire pour servir à l’histoire des Cacouacs (Amsterdam, 1757), p. 9: ‘and everyone knows that man is a fickle creature’.

40 A reference to the ‘Querelle des bouffons’, a dispute about the respective value of French and Italian music. The Italian comic opera troupe, the Buffoni, had visited Paris in 1752–1753, and enjoyed huge success. Supporters of the musical traditions of the French Académie Royale attacked the Italian emphasis on melody and lyrics, whilst those on the side of the Italians critiqued the French focus on harmony, as employed by Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683–1764, whose fictional nephew features in the Diderot text that responds to Palissot’s play, see Introduction). It is implied that Cydalise, said here to spend time with ‘buffoons’, gave her support to the Italian side of the quarrel; placing her alongside Rousseau, whose Lettre sur la musique française claimed that ‘the French have no music and are unable to have one’ (in Essai sur l’origine des langues et autres textes (Paris: Flammarion, 1993), pp. 127–84 (p. 184); my translation).

41 Cf. Chrysale’s speech in Les Femmes savantes, II, vii.

42 The original text mentions Homer and Lycophron specifically: the latter was a tragic poet of the 3rd century BC, whose Alexandra contains a monologue from the eponymous heroine which is full of erudition and intentional obscurity. See also II, iii, below.

43 Cf. Clitandre in Les Femmes savantes, I, iv: ‘Marriage to Henriette is the only prize I crave’.

44 Cf. the exchange between Lisette and Chloé in Le Méchant, I, vi.

45 One of the more explicit references to Molière: Georges Dandin; or, the Thwarted Husband (1668) is a comedy-ballet, which tells the story of a rich peasant who marries the daughter of a pair of country nobles, by whom he is mocked for his lack of culture at every turn, all the while being cuckolded by his wife.

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