Translated by Jonathan Marks
Volume 7, Issue 1 (Spring 2018)
This translation, like my earlier translation of The Imaginary Invalid, was made for my own production at Texas Tech. In both of them I set for my designers the task of creating a world that never was, blending elements of the here and now, the seventeenth century in France, and anything in between, or in the future or on another planet.
Of course, creating worlds that never were is one of the things that theatre does; it can also create a detailed replication of a certain time or place, which is the innovation of Romanticism and the strongest suit of realism; but evidence shows that Molière – as producer/director – showed little inclination in this direction. A relatively bare stage and characters in somewhat revelatory costumes worked for most of the plays; and in the comédie-ballets and elsewhere the staging could depict fantasy lands, removed from clock time.
Every translation, of course, creates some dislocation, so we’ve become accustomed to accepting them without question. A “straight” translation of The Learned Ladies might set us in an Anglophone Paris, and we’d make allowances, not even noticing the facticity of the world. The language might not be 17th-century English, but as long as it’s consistent and plausibly classical-sounding, we’re fine.
I’ve chosen to feature, rather than mask, this facticity and dislocation. It doesn’t take the audience – or hopefully the reader – long to realize they’re in a fictional world unlike anything that’s ever been, and what they find is characters and situations somewhat like the ones they know, and somewhat different: flamboyant, exaggerated, and odd in a funny way… which I find to be pretty analogous to what our author was doing.
The original is in French alexandrin verse, for which we have no effective equivalent, so iambic pentameter is usually dragooned into duty. Then again, our world is not so steeped in rhyming verse as was Molière’s; there and then you could hear it hawked on the streets, and even the gossip columnists versified. Regular rhyme schemes tend to lull us into galloping along with them. I have opted for a sort of free verse, with elevated diction and vocabulary when appropriate.
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (1622-1673), the son of a prosperous Parisian upholsterer, dropped out of law school for a career as an entertainer under the stage name Molière. He spent the first half of his career as head of a provincial troupe, managing, directing, and performing as the leading actor in tragedies and comedies, and (most successfully) in improvised farces, in which he was the chief clown. Toward the end of their provincial wanderings he began to write comedies as an inexpensive way of supplementing their repertoire. In 1658 he gained favor with King Louis XIV through a court performance of a Corneille tragedy (which bombed) followed by a farce (which was a wild success). During the second half of his career, installed in Paris with royal patronage, he progressively added more of his own plays to his troupe’s repertoire, almost all with leading roles for himself. Though most of his contemporaries regarded him primarily as a clown, his comedies came to be regarded as masterworks of dramatic literature. During the third performance of The Imaginary Invalid he coughed up blood onstage and was carried home to die.
Jonathan Marks, a Professor in the Acting/Directing area at Texas Tech University, wrote his Yale DFA dissertation under Jacques Guicharnaud on Molière’s theatrical career. He has worked with the Yale Repertory Theatre, American Repertory Theatre, American Conservatory Theatre, Magic Theatre, Berkeley Rep and others in various capacities, sometimes as actor, director, dramaturg, and educator simultaneously. A treasured moment: acting in farces by Moliere at the Festival d’Avignon, a town where Molière and his troupe had performed them.
Note: All photos of the 2012 production of Molière’s The Learned Ladies at Texas Tech University, translated and directed by Jonathan Marks; scenic design by Vicki Ayers; lighting design by Andrea Bilkey; costume design by Melissa Merz. Photos by Andrea Bilkey.
The Learned Ladies
CHRYSALE: a solid middle-class citizen
PHILAMINTE: Chrysale’s wife
} daughters of Chrysale and Philaminte
ARISTE: Chrysale’s brother
BÉLISE: Chrysale’s sister
CLITANDRE: Henriette’s boyfriend
TRIPPELDOLT: a wit
VADIUS: a scholar
MARTINE: the kitchen maid
LÉPINE: a lackey
JULIEN: Vadius’s valet
JUSTICE OF THE PEACE
The setting is in Paris.
ARMANDE: What?! “Single woman,” sister, is a noble title,
And you want to abandon it, to fling it gaily away
And get married?
Can such a vulgar plan have seized your brain?
HENRIETTE: Yes, sister.
ARMANDE: Ugh! That little “yes” is intolerable! Impossible to hear
Without a fit of heartburn.
HENRIETTE: What is it sister, about marriage in itself that makes you…
ARMANDE: Oh, my God, fie!
ARMANDE: Yes, fie, I tell you!
Can’t you even begin to see how distasteful
Such a word is to the mind? How it wounds
The brain with images unbidden?
To what filthy sights it drags one’s thoughts?
Do you not shudder at it, sister? And can you set your heart
Upon the consequences of that word?
HENRIETTE: The consequences of that word, to my mind,
Would be a husband, some children, a household;
And I see nothing there, when I set my mind upon it
That wounds my brain or makes me shudder.
ARMANDE: And bonds like that (good God!) would give you pleasure?
HENRIETTE: And what better could I do, at my age,
Than forge a bond with a spouse,
A man who would love me and be loved,
And from the tenderness that follows,
Create the sweetness of a blameless life?
If the chemistry is right, can’t you see its appeal?
ARMANDE: My God, your mind is on a lowly plane!
How small a role you choose to play,
To cloister yourself in household things,
Glimpsing no pleasures more appealing
Than some idol of a husband and some brats!
Leave to the lower sorts, the vulgar masses,
The base amusements of such affairs.
Elevate your yearnings toward the higher goals,
Cultivate a taste for nobler pleasures,
And, disdaining senses and gross matter,
Devote yourself like us entirely to the mind.
Look to our mother as a model,
Honored everywhere for erudition.
Try, as I do, to be her worthy daughter;
Aspire to the enlightenment that’s our heritage,
And learn to savor the sweet delights
That the love of study pours into our hearts.
Don’t subject yourself as slave to the laws of a man;
Become the bride, dear sister, of philosophy
Which sets us up above all humankind
And gives to reason sovereign empire,
Subjecting to its rule our animal side
Whose gross appetites drag us down to the pit with the beasts.
These are the noble fires, the sweet attachments
Which ought to fill up every moment of our lives;
And the cares that worry sentimental women
Strike me as horrible wastes.
HENRIETTE: Heaven, whose order of course is all-powerful,
Creates us at birth for different functions;
And every mind is not composed of the stuff
That’s right for fashioning philosophers.
If yours was born fit for the heights
Scaled by the theories of scholars,
Mine was made, sister, to stick to the earth,
Prone to be caught up in those little cares.
Let’s not trouble the just rules of heaven;
We should follow the promptings of our instincts.
Go, through the flight of your great, fine genius,
Dwell in the highest regions of philosophy
While my mind keeps me here below
To taste the earthly pleasures of marriage.
So, in our quite contrary courses
We will both emulate our mother;
You, on the side of the soul and noble wishes,
I, on the side of the senses and gross pleasures;
You, on the enlightened projects of the mind,
I, sister, on the projects of mere matter.
ARMANDE: When you try to emulate a person,
You should imitate the beautiful side,
And it’s hardly modeling yourself on her,
Sister, if you look like her when you cough and spit.
HENRIETTE: But you wouldn’t be your vaunted self, my sister,
If my mother’d had only that beautiful side,
And think where you’d be if her noble genius
Hadn’t taken a break from philosophy.
Please be so kind as to allow me some of the baseness
To which you owe your high intellect,
And do not stifle, by enlisting me to follow you,
Some little scholar who wants to be born.
ARMANDE: I see that your stubborn mind cannot be cured
Of the lunatic notion of taking a husband;
But pray tell me who you dream of landing.
Surely you don’t set your sights on Clitandre?
HENRIETTE: And why not? Does he lack merit?
Would the choice be way too low?
ARMANDE: No, but it’s a plan that would be dishonorable,
Trying to snag another’s conquest;
And it’s no secret to the world that Clitandre
Has openly sighed for me.
HENRIETTE: Yes, but for you all sighs are useless things,
And you’d never stoop to human baseness.
Your spirit has renounced mere marriage
And all your love is for philosophy.
So, since your heart is not set on Clitandre,
What can it matter if another might want him?
ARMANDE: The sovereign rule of reason over the senses
Permits us to enjoy the sweet smell of incense;
I can deny a gallant my hand
But like him to be a worshiper.
HENRIETTE: I haven’t kept him from continuing
To adore all your perfections.
All I’ve done is accept, upon your spirit’s rejection,
The offer that came to me: the homage of his heart.
ARMANDE: But please, do you feel totally secure
With the pledges of a jilted lover?
Do you honestly think his passion for you is real,
And the flame burning for me is really dead?
HENRIETTE: He tells me so, dear sister, and I believe him.
ARMANDE: Sister, don’t be so naïve. Believe me,
When he says he’s through with me and loves you,
He’s not really thinking; he’s fooling himself.
HENRIETTE: I don’t know; but really, if you wish,
It would be easy for us to clear this up.
I see him coming, so on this question
He can fully enlighten us.
HENRIETTE: To resolve the doubt that my sister has sown,
Is it her or me, Clitandre? Show us your heart,
Open it wide, and kindly instruct us
Which of us has the right to claim your vows.
ARMANDE: Oh, no! I wouldn’t think of requiring
An explication of your feelings. I know how to deal
With people, and how embarrassing it is
To be forced to reveal your true thoughts face to face.
CLITANDRE (to Armande): No, madame, my heart, which hides little,
Needs no command to speak freely.
There’s nothing here that embarrasses me,
And I’ll declare out loud, straight from the soul,
That the gentle bonds by which I am tied,
(Indicating Henriette) My heart and my wishes, are all on this side.
This declaration shouldn’t bother you;
It’s just how you wanted things.
Your charms had taken me, and my tender sighs
Amply proved the ardor of my desire;
My heart dedicated its everlasting flame to you
But your eyes didn’t find their conquest worthy.
I suffered under their yoke a hundred different slights;
They lorded over my soul as haughty tyrants;
So, weary of all these torments, I sought
Conquerors more humane, and softer chains.
(Indicating Henriette) I found them, madame, in these eyes,
And their features will always be precious to me;
With a sympathetic gaze they dried my tears
And did not disdain what your charms had rebuffed.
Such rare goodness touched me so deeply
That nothing could ever tear off my bonds;
And I dare beseech you now, Madame,
Not to make any effort to quench my flame.
Don’t even try to reclaim a heart
Determined to die in this sweet emotion.
ARMANDE: Hey! What makes you think, monsieur, that anybody would want to,
Or that anybody cares all that much about you?
I think it’s really funny that you think so,
And really rude to say it to my face.
HENRIETTE: Hey, easy, sister! What happened to the moral faculty
That does so well at ruling the animal side
And reins in the brute force of rage?
ARMANDE: You talk to me about it, but what do you do?
Encourage the attentions of someone who seems to love you
Without the permission of those who gave you life?
You should know that duty submits you to their laws,
That you may love only the one they choose,
That they have supreme command over your heart,
And that it’s criminal for you to lose it as you wish.
HENRIETTE: I thank you for the goodness you have shown me
In teaching me what I need to do.
My heart wants to heed your lessons in improving its conduct;
And to show you, sister, what I’ve learned,
Clitandre, take pains to bolster your love by obtaining
The blessings of those who gave me life;
Secure legitimate power over my heart
And give me the means to love you legally.
CLITANDRE: With all my might I’ll labor at this task;
Your sweet consent was all I was awaiting.
ARMANDE: You’ve triumphed, sister, and your face says
That you imagine that it bothers me.
HENRIETTE: Oh, not at all, sister. I know for you
The rule of reason remains all-powerful,
And through the lessons you’ve had in wisdom
You are above that kind of weakness.
So far you are from feeling the slightest chagrin,
I think, that you’ll graciously help me out
By lending your voice to his request
And press for the happy moment of our marriage.
I’m asking you to do so. And the way to do it…
ARMANDE: Your little mind is having its joke.
You look so proud of a heart that is flung at you.
HENRIETTE: Flung or not, it’s a heart that hardly displeases you;
And if the eyes I see could pick it up off the floor
They’d go down to half-mast pretty quickly.
ARMANDE: I won’t stoop to answer that.
This is foolish blather that nobody should have to hear.
HENRIETTE: You’ve done so well, you’ve shown us a model
Of astounding moderation.
HENRIETTE: Your straightforward answer surprised her a lot.
CLITANDRE: She really deserves that kind of candor
And all the flights of her crazy pride
Have earned her at least my frankness.
But since you’ve authorized me, I’ll go to your father,
HENRIETTE: You’d do better to win over Mother.
My father’s inclined to say yes to anything,
But he doesn’t stand up for what he decides.
Heaven gave him a good heart, but it’s the kind
That submits to the will of his wife.
It’s she who rules, and with an iron fist.
She decrees as law whatever she decides.
I’d like to see you show her and my aunt
A spirit, let us say, a bit more indulgent:
A wit that flatters their self-delusions
And so might win you their warm regards.
CLITANDRE: I always speak straight from the heart, so much so
That I could never flatter anyone’s character, even your sister’s;
And I don’t much like lady scholars.
It’s fine if they’re enlightened, in every way,
But I don’t like this shocking passion
To learn just to look learned.
I like a woman who sometimes, in response to a question,
Knows how to forget some things she knows.
I like her to hide her erudition,
To have the knowledge without showing it off,
Without footnotes, without big words
Or straining to be witty in the simplest exchanges.
I have great respect for your mother,
But I simply can’t support her fantasy
And make myself an echo of the things she says,
The hosannas she sings to her brilliant hero.
Her Monsieur Trippeldolt annoys me, he kills me;
I’m enraged to see her admire a man like that,
Ranking him among the great and beautiful minds:
A blockhead whose writing is booed everywhere,
A pedant whose copious output has proved
Most useful in the marketplace wrapping fish.
HENRIETTE: His writings, his lectures, all strike me as boring,
So I pretty much share what you see and you feel;
But since he has so much sway with my mother,
You should force yourself to indulge them a bit.
A suitor pays court at the home of his love;
He tries to gain favor with everyone there
And, to ensure that no-one opposes his suit,
He needs to please everyone, even the dog.
CLITANDRE: Yes, you’re right. But Monsieur Trippeldolt
Revolts me, to the depths of my soul;
I cannot consent to seek his assent
Through the shameful charade of praising his works.
I read him before I met him,
And sight unseen I knew him.
I saw in the foolish mess that he’s published
What his pedantic pose broadcasts to the world:
The steadfast haughtiness of his pretention,
The con-man’s belief in his own imposture
That makes him a monster of self-esteem.
He constantly basks in his fictional fame,
In the honors he imagines his writings have earned.
I see him strutting around like a general
With a sash and a chestful of medals.
HENRIETTE: You must have very good eyes to see all that.
CLITANDRE: Reading the verses he dumps on us,
I could even see the features of his face
And the bearing the poet would have.
I had formed such an accurate picture
That, crossing paths with a man at a bookstore one day,
I bet it was Trippeldolt in person,
And then I learned that I’d won my bet.
HENRIETTE: What a story!
CLITANDRE: Not a story; it’s true.
But I see your aunt approaching. By your leave,
I’ll tell her our secret right now,
To win her support with your mother.
CLITANDRE: If you please, Madame, may a lover
Use this chance encounter
To reveal to you the passion of his heart…
BELISE: Ah! Softly now! Ope not too widely your heart.
Though I knew you were in the ranks of my lovers,
Your eyes should be your only spokesmen;
Explain to me in no other language
The desires that, of course, to me are an outrage.
Love me, sigh, burn for my charms,
But permit me not to know of it.
I can shut my eyes to your secret fire
So long as you keep to your mute interpreters;
But if ever your mouth gets involved in it
I must banish you forever from my sight.
CLITANDRE: Of the fire in my heart you need feel no alarm.
Henriette, dear madame, has won me with her charm,
And I’ve come to you to solicit your good will
In seconding the love I have for her.
BELISE: Ah! The subterfuge, I admit, is quite clever,
A deft and subtle switcheroo.
In all the romances I’ve read in my life,
I’ve never seen a twist quite as cunning.
CLITANDRE: Madame, there’s no trick to this.
It’s a true avowal of what I feel in my soul.
Heaven, through the bonds of a constant fire
Has tied my soul to the beauty of Henriette.
Henriette is the only queen of my heart,
And wedding Henriette is what I want.
You can help us greatly, and all I ask
Is that you kindly lend your support to our wishes.
BELISE: I see how deftly the request is phrased
And I know what to hear when you say that name.
The trope is adroit and, to reply in its style,
I will say that “Henriette” will not hear of marriage,
So you must yearn for her without hope of reward.
CLITANDRE: Wha? What’s the use of these complications?
And why insist on what is not true?
BELISE: My God, drop the pretense! Stop avoiding
What your glances have always confessed.
Be happy that I’ve gone along with the twist
That your love wisely prompted you to devise,
Be content that I’m willing to endure your homage
So long as your transports, illumined by honor,
Lay upon my altar only purified desire.
BELISE: Adieu. That’s enough for now.
I’ve told you more than I meant to.
CLITANDRE: But your mistake…
BELISE: Enough. Now I’m blushing.
My modesty’s been taxed beyond belief.
CLITANDRE: I’d rather be hanged than make love to you.
BELISE: No, no, I wish to hear no more.
CLITANDRE: To hell with that loon and her fantasies!
I’ve never had to deal with such crazy presumptions.
I’ll look for someone else to help me out.
Maybe I can find somebody sane.
ARISTE: Yes, I’ll bring you the answer as soon as I can.
Yes, I’ll push, I’ll lean on him, whatever it takes.
Whew! A man in love can bend your ear
And has no patience about getting what he wants.
ARISTE: Ah, hello, brother.
CHRYSALE: Brother, hello.
ARISTE: Do you know what brings me here?
CHRYSALE: No, but I’ll find out if you want to tell me.
ARISTE: You’ve known Clitandre for quite some time?
CHRYSALE: Of course, he comes to visit us often.
ARISTE: And what is your opinion of him?
CHRYSALE: A man of honor, wit, heart, and wisdom,
And I think very few could match his merit.
ARISTE: A certain wish of his has brought me here,
And I’m thrilled you think so highly of him.
CHRYSALE: I knew his late father when I was in Rome.
ARISTE: Oh, good.
CHRYSALE: He was really a fine gentleman.
ARISTE: So they say.
CHRYSALE: We were both 28 back then,
And boy, we were men about town.
ARISTE: I believe it.
CHRYSALE: We really went for those Roman girls.
Our escapades were the talk of the town;
The Roman men were jealous.
ARISTE: Perfect. But let’s get down to what brought me here.
(BÉLISE enters quietly, listening.)
ARISTE: Clitandre has made me messenger to you
To say his heart is taken by Henriette’s charms.
CHRYSALE: What? My daughter’s?
ARISTE: Yes, they’ve bewitched Clitandre,
And I’ve never seen anyone so in love.
BÉLISE (to Ariste): No, no, I heard you. You don’t know the story,
And it’s not at all what you think.
ARISTE: What, sister?
BÉLISE: Clitandre has made a fool of you.
His heart is fixed on another object.
ARISTE: You’re joking. It’s not Henriette he loves?
BÉLISE: No, I’m sure of it.
ARISTE: He told me so himself.
BÉLISE: Yes he did.
ARISTE: I’m here, sister, because he asked me himself
To pose the question to her father today.
BÉLISE: All right.
ARISTE: And he insisted I push for a wedding
As soon as possible, his love was so urgent.
BÉLISE: Better still. You couldn’t be duped more gallantly.
“Henriette,” entre nous, is a code name,
An ingenious veil, a pretext, brother,
To disguise another love, a secret that I know,
And I want to disabuse you both of the mistake.
ARISTE: But since you know so many things, sister,
Tell us please who’s the true object of his love.
BÉLISE: You want to know?
ARISTE: Yes. Who?
BÉLISE: That’s right.
ARISTE: Oh, sister!
BÉLISE: What do you mean, “Oh”?
And what is surprising about what I said?
One has a certain air, I believe, that clearly says
One needn’t give one’s heart to win mastery of another’s;
And Dorante, Damis, Cléonte, and Lycidas
Are proof that one has some appeal.
ARISTE: These men are in love with you?
BÉLISE: Yes, with all their might.
ARISTE: And they told you so?
BÉLISE: Not one has taken that liberty:
They’re wise enough to revere me so
That to this day they’ve never said a word of their love.
But, to offer me their hearts and pledge their devotion
Mute messengers have carried the word.
ARISTE: I hardly ever see Damis here.
BÉLISE: It’s to convey the depth of his respect.
ARISTE: Snide comments at your expense is all that I get from Dorante.
BÉLISE: He’s carried away by waves of jealous rage.
ARISTE: Cléonte and Lycidas have taken brides.
BÉLISE: Driven to despair by my resolve.
ARISTE: Listen, dear sister, you’re dreaming.
CHRYSALE: You’ve got to rid yourself of these hallucinations.
BÉLISE: Hallucinations? These, hallucinations?
Me, hallucinations? That’s really good, hallucinations!
I glory in hallucinations, brothers.
I had no idea that that is what they were.
CHRYSALE: That’s that, our sister’s mad.
ARISTE: More and more every day.
But once again, let’s get back to the topic.
Clitandre is asking you for Henriette’s hand;
What’s the verdict on his lover’s suit?
CHRYSALE: Do you have to ask? With all my heart I consent,
And consider this match a singular honor.
ARISTE: You know he’s not especially wealthy,
CHRYSALE: Nothing to worry about.
He’s rich in virtue, and that’s worth fortunes;
And don’t forget his father and I were just like that.
(Indicating “as close as possible.”)
ARISTE: Let’s speak about your wife, and how to win her favor
CHRYSALE: No need, I accept him as my son-in-law.
ARISTE: Yes, but…to leverage your consent, brother
It wouldn’t be bad to have her on our side.
CHRYSALE: Are you kidding? It’s not necessary.
I answer for my wife. It’s not her business.
CHRYSALE: Leave her to me, I tell you, and don’t fret.
I’ll make sure she agrees.
ARISTE: All right. I’ll sound out Henriette about it,
And come back to find out…
CHRYSALE: It’s a done deal.
I’ll speak to my wife right now.
MARTINE: Dagnabit! I am really up the creek. Workin’ around here, I feel like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking-chairs. Lord! Kitchen work ain’t what it’s cracked up to be.
CHRYSALE: What is it? What’s wrong, Martine?
MARTINE: What’s wrong?
MARTINE: What it is is that I been fired, dude.
MARTINE: That’s right. Madame’s done throwed me out.
CHRYSALE: I hadn’t heard. How did it happen?
MARTINE: I been threatened.
If I don’t git, I’ll git my ass kicked.
CHRYSALE: No, you’re staying; I’m pleased with you.
My wife can be a bit hot-headed;
But I don’t want…
PHILAMINTE (noticing Martine): What! Still here, vixen?
Quickly, leave, baggage; let’s go, depart these premises.
I never want to lay eyes on you again.
CHRYSALE: Easy now!
PHILAMINTE: No, it’s finished.
PHILAMINTE: I want her to leave.
CHRYSALE: But what has she done to make you want her gone?
PHILAMINTE: What? You back her up?
CHRYSALE: Not at all.
PHILAMINTE: You take her part against me?
CHRYSALE: Oh, God, no,
All I’m doing is asking what’s her crime.
PHILAMINTE: Do you think I’d fire her without just cause?
CHRYSALE: I’m not saying that, but with our help we ought to…
PHILAMINTE: No, she leaves our household now.
CHRYSALE: Well, all right. Did I say she shouldn’t?
PHILAMINTE: I want no opposition to my expressed desires.
PHILAMINTE: And you should, like a reasonable spouse,
Take my side against her and show some rage.
CHRYSALE: All right, I’m doing it. (Turning to Martine)
Yes, my wife was right to fire you, hussy.
Your crime was unforgivable.
MARTINE: Well what did I do?
CHRYSALE (Quietly): I swear, I don’t know.
PHILAMINTE: She’s the sort who thinks it’s nothing.
CHRYSALE: What’s she done, to bring down all this wrath?
Broken a mirror, or maybe a priceless vase?
PHILAMINTE: Would I fire her, or do you really think
I’d be so furious for such a little thing?
CHRYSALE: What was it? So the offense is really grave?
PHILAMINTE: Of course. Do I look unreasonable?
CHRYSALE: Did she inadvertently walk off
With a pitcher or a silver platter?
PHILAMINTE: That would be nothing.
CHRYSALE (to Martine): Uh-oh. Hell, sweetie.
(to Philaminte) Have you discovered that she’s dishonest?
PHILAMINTE: It’s worse than that.
CHRYSALE: Worse than that?
CHRYSALE: Damn, hussy! Ah! Has she committed…
PHILAMINTE: She has, with supreme insolence,
After thirty lessons, insulted my ear
With the impropriety of a vulgar, corrupt word
Condemned in express terms by Webster’s, Derrida, and Docteur Philippe.
CHRYSALE: Is that all…
PHILAMINTE: What! Still, despite my lectures,
Assailing the foundation of all learning,
Grammar, which rules us all, even queens and kings
And subjugates us to her iron rules.
CHRYSALE: I thought she’d committed the blackest sin.
PHILAMINTE: What! You don’t find this crime unpardonable?
CHRYSALE: Oh yes I do.
PHILAMINTE: I’d like to see you try to make excuses for her.
CHRYSALE: I wouldn’t dare.
PHILAMINTE: One could almost pity her;
Every construction she wrecks,
Even the rules of grammar she’s been taught a hundred times.
MARTINE: All you’re preaching here is well and good, I think,
But danged if I can understand your jargon.
PHILAMINTE: The impudence! To call a language jargon
That is founded on reason and good usage.
MARTINE: Whenever people understand you, you’re talkin’ good;
And all your high-falutin’ gum-flapping ain’t worth diddly.
PHILAMINTE: Well, there we have it, her sense of style:
“Ain’t worth diddly.”
BÉLISE: O, unruly brain!
Must it be that with all the pains unceasingly taken
You can’t be taught to speak congruently?
“Ain’t” “is not” a word accepted in our world;
“Diddly” should never pass between our lips.
MARTINE: God almighty! All y’all got your noses in your books,
But I talk straight like all my people do.
PHILAMINTE: Ah! Can it be borne?
BÉLISE: Such frightful solecism!
PHILAMINTE: Enough to murder a sensible ear!
BÉLISE: Your mind, I fear, is thoroughly materialist.
“All” is plural; “Y’all” is frightful; “All y’all” not to be countenanced.
Will you insult grammar all your life?
MARTINE: Who’s talkin’ about insultin’ gramma or gramps?
PHILAMINTE: Heaven protect us!
BÉLISE: You’ve confounded the meaning of “grammar.”
I’ve told you before where the word comes from.
MARTINE: Horsepucky! Don’t make no nevermind if it comes
From Muleshoe, Rawls, or Idalou.
BÉLISE: Your soul is pure country.
Grammar, from the verb to the nominative,
And from the adjective to the subjunctive,
Teaches us the laws.
MARTINE: I have to tell you, Madame,
That I don’t know any of those folks.
PHILAMINTE: I’m being tortured on the rack!
BÉLISE: These are the names of words, and one must seek
The ways in which they can be brought into agreement.
MARTINE: What’s it matter if they agree or kick each other’s butts?
PHILAMINTE (to her sister-in-law): Good God, give up of this lesson.
(to her husband) Are you going to rid me of her or not?
CHRYSALE (aside): Yes I will. I must give in to her caprices.
Go, don’t irritate her; you have to leave, Martine.
PHILAMINTE: What? You’re afraid of offending the hussy?
You speak to her in such a friendly way.
CHRYSALE (aloud): Me? Not at all. Let’s go, out!
(aside) Go, my poor child.
CHRYSALE: You got what you want, she’s gone;
But I don’t approve at all of how she went.
She’s a girl who does her job, and well,
And you have fired her for a tiny fault.
PHILAMINTE: You’d rather she were still at work here,
Constantly torturing my ears,
Breaking every law of usage and of sense
With a barbarous mess of rhetorical vices,
With butchered words, clumsily stitched together,
With proverbs plucked up from the gutter?
BÉLISE: It’s true that it’s a trial to hear her speak.
She mangles the dictionary every day;
And the least of the faults of her simple brain
Are either pleonasms or cacophony.
CHRYSALE: What does it matter if she lacks a silver tongue
As long as she’s not lacking in the kitchen?
As for me, I’d prefer that, while peeling the veggies,
She misaligns a few subjects and verbs,
And repeats fifty times a low and vulgar word,
Than that she burns my meat or over-salts my stew.
I live on good soup, not on fine language.
My favorite recipes aren’t found in Webster’s;
And Shakespeare and Dante, masters of flowery words,
Might have been dunces in the kitchen.
PHILAMINTE: This sordid declaration just appalls me.
Such indignity, for what passes for a man.
To be so degraded by material cares
Instead of aspiring to the spiritual!
Is the body, this shabby cloak, so important,
So dear, that we can think of nothing but it?
CHRYSALE: Yes, my body’s myself, and I like to look after it.
The cloak may be shabby, but I’m attached.
BÉLISE: Body and mind make a unified whole, dear brother,
But, if all the great thinkers today have it right,
The mind must always take precedence,
And our greatest imperative, our primary care,
Must be to nourish it at the font of knowledge.
CHRYSALE: Good God, if you only feed the mind,
You’ll be living on empty calories,
And if you take no care, feel no botheration
PHILAMINTE: Ugh! Botheration, to my ears, is gross;
The word stinks highly of antiquity.
BÉLISE: It’s true, the word is really out of fashion.
CHRYSALE: Will you let me speak? I’ve had about enough,
The gloves are coming off, my spleen’s about to burst.
They treat you like you’re crazy, and I have half a mind to say…
PHILAMINTE: What did you just say?
CHRYSALE: It’s you I’m speaking to, sister.
The tiniest error of grammar drives you crazy;
But some of your own conduct gets on my nerves.
Your eternal books, for one example;
Except for that big Plutarch, which is good for creasing my pants,
You ought to burn that useless bookcase
And leave science to the town’s PhD’s.;
Go up to the attic and toss out that long spyglass
That scares the neighbors, and while you’re at it toss
The hundred spooky science doodads you’ve collected.
Don’t bother with what they’re up to on the moon
And pay some attention to what’s going on at home
Where everything’s gone topsy-turvy.
It’s not really right, and for many reasons,
That a woman should study and know so many things.
Teaching her children good manners,
Making the house run, keeping an eye on the help
And managing the household accounts
Should be her study and entire philosophy.
On this point our forefathers showed a lot of good sense
When they said that a woman has learned enough
When her brain power reaches the point
She can tell a shirt from a pair of trousers.
Their wives couldn’t read, but they lived well;
Their learned conversations were all household,
And their books a thimble, needle, and thread,
Which they used to make the trousseaus of their daughters.
Women these days don’t honor these old customs;
They want to write and even become authors;
There’s no science that is too profound for them,
And here more than anyplace in the world,
They penetrate the very deepest secrets.
At my house they know everything but what they ought to know:
What’s going on on the moon and on the pole star,
On Venus, Saturn, and Mars that I don’t care about;
But for all this vain and arcane erudition
They have no clue what’s going on with my stew, which I need.
The help are busy studying so they can please you,
And so they’re doing everything but what I need.
The only work being done around here is reasoning,
And reasoning has totally banished reason.
One servant burns my roast while reading history,
Another one’s dreaming poetry when I want a drink;
In short, I see them following your example;
I have all these servants, but I’m not served.
I had one little servant girl left for me
Who wasn’t yet infected with these airs,
And now with all this hubbub she’s been fired
For committing some kind of sin against the dictionary.
I tell you, sister, that this whole business hurts me,
‘Cause remember, it’s you to whom I speak.
I don’t like all the eggheads you invite here,
Especially your Monsieur Trippeldolt.
He’s been tooting your horn with his poetry,
But all he spouts is utterly nonsensical;
When he’s done you try to figure out what he’s said;
And as for me, I think he’s just a crackpot.
PHILAMINTE: My God, what baseness, both of mind and language!
BÉLISE: Have atoms ever arranged themselves
To create a mind more bourgeois?
And could it be that I have the same genes?
I’m deathly mortified that we are the same species
And in confusion I abandon this locale.
PHILAMINTE: Do you have any more clever things to say?
CHRYSALE: Me? No. That’s enough fighting. It’s done.
Let’s talk about something else. Your elder daughter
Seems to have some distaste for marriage.
Bottom line, she’s a philosopher. Enough said.
She’s well brought up; you’ve done very well.
But her younger sister doesn’t share her tastes,
And I think it would be good to give Henriette
The choice of a husband…
PHILAMINTE: That’s just what I’ve been thinking,
And I want to let you in on my intention.
This Monsieur Trippeldolt who’s such a criminal
And lacks the honor of your high esteem
Is the one I take as the husband she should have,
And I can judge better than you just what he’s worth.
Any opposition will be wasted words, the case is closed.
Don’t breathe a word of this choice of a husband,
I’ll be the first to speak to your daughter.
I have good reasons for this course of conduct,
And I’ll know if you get to her first.
ARISTE: Well? There goes the wife, brother, and I can tell
That you have had a little talk together.
ARISTE: And how did it turn out? Well for Henriette?
Did she consent? The match is made?
CHRYSALE: Not completely yet.
ARISTE: Did she refuse?
ARISTE: Is she thinking it over?
CHRYSALE: Not at all.
ARISTE: What then?
CHRYSALE: It’s that she’s offered me another man for son-in-law.
ARISTE: Another man for son-in-law?
ARISTE: Whose name is?
CHRYSALE: Monsieur Trippeldolt.
ARISTE: What? The Monsieur Trippeldolt who…
CHRYSALE: Yes, who’s always talking poetry and Latin.
ARISTE: And you accepted?
CHRYSALE: Me? My God, no way.
ARISTE: What did you tell her?
CHRYSALE: Nothing. And I’m glad I didn’t speak.
I’m not committed.
ARISTE: Good thinking. You’ve made a big statement.
Did you at least suggest Clitandre to her?
CHRYSALE: No, ‘cause when she spoke of another son-in-law
I thought it best not to come right out with it.
ARISTE: Oh right, your prudence is exemplary.
Aren’t you ashamed of your spinelessness?
And can a man display such weakness
To grant his wife such absolute power
He doesn’t dare oppose what she’s decided?
CHRYSALE: Good God, brother, it’s easy for you to talk.
You don’t know how much arguing depresses me.
I treasure peace, and rest, and sweetness,
And my wife’s bad side is terrifying.
She makes such a fuss about philosophy
But it doesn’t help her temper any.
And her high moral sense, which disdains earthly vices,
Has no power at all to counteract her venom.
Just utter a peep against what pops into her mind
And you’ll get a week of fearful tempests.
When she takes that tone I tremble;
I don’t know where to hide from the horrible dragon;
And yet, through all her hellish rages
I have to call her “darling” and “my dove.”
ARISTE: What a joke! Just between us, your wife is,
Because of your cowardice, your ruler;
The only source of her power is your weekness;
You give her the prerogatives of a queen;
She doesn’t give herself airs, you give them to her
By letting her lead you around by the nose.
Since everybody knows it, can’t you just this once
Resolve to act as if you were a man?
To make your wife comply with your wishes
And find the courage to say “This is what I want”?
You’re leading your daughter to sacrifice
For the crazy notions of your family,
And you’ll deck out some fool with all your wealth
For braying six words of Latin: a pedant who,
At every turn, is hailed by your wife
As a wit, a great philosopher, a peerless
Creator of gallant poetry;
But everybody knows he’s really none of that.
Come on. Again: It’s a joke!
Your cowardice is truly laughable.
CHRYSALE: Yes, you’re right; I see I’m wrong.
All right; now, brother, the time is right
To show some courage.
ARISTE: That’s the spirit.
CHRYSALE: It’s a shameful position
To be subordinate to a wife.
ARISTE: Well said.
CHRYSALE: She’s taken advantage of my sweet disposition.
ARISTE: It’s true.
CHRYSALE: Preyed upon my easy nature.
ARISTE: Without a doubt.
CHRYSALE: And today I’ll let her know
That my daughter is my daughter, and that I am the master,
So she can marry the man I approve.
ARISTE: Now you’re talking.
CHRYSALE: You know where Clitandre lives.
Bring him to me, brother, right away.
ARISTE: You bet I will.
CHRYSALE: I’ve taken it long enough. Now I’ll show the world
What kind of man I am.
PHILAMINTE: Ah! Let us sit here to listen at our leisure
To verses worth savoring word by word.
ARMANDE: I’m dying to hear them.
BÉLISE: I’m perishing myself.
PHILAMINTE (to Trippeldolt): To my mind, whatever comes from you is magical.
ARMANDE: For me, incomparable delight.
BÉLISE: It’s a savory meal poured right in my ear.
PHILAMINTE: Don’t frustrate such urgent desires.
BÉLISE: Do it soon, and hasten our pleasures.
PHILAMINTE: Cool our impatience with your sonnet.
TRIPPELDOLT (to Philaminte): Alas, madame, it’s just a newborn babe.
Its destiny assuredly is to touch you,
As it was in your court I just now birthed it.
PHILAMINTE: Its paternity suffices to endear it to me.
TRIPPELDOLT: Your approbation would serve to mother it.
BÉLISE: Such a wit he has!
PHILAMINTE (To Henriette, who is making for the exit): Hey! Why are you fleeing?
HENRIETTE: It’s for fear of troubling such a pleasant get-together.
PHILAMINTE: Come along, with open ears,
And partake of the pleasure of hearing great marvels.
HENRIETTE: I don’t know much about the beauties of his writing,
And besides, these matters of the mind are not my thing.
PHILAMINTE: That doesn’t matter. And furthermore, I have something to tell you
Afterwards, a secret you need to be in on.
TRIPPELDOLT: Intellectual matters will not bite you,
And all you have to do is be your charming self.
HENRIETTE: I’m not interested in any of that, and I have no intention…
BÉLISE: Ah! Let’s have a care for the newborn babe, if you please.
PHILAMINTE (to Lépine): Come on, boy, quickly: the vehicles of conversation.
(The lackey falls with the chair.)
The impertinence of the fellow! How could he have let it fall
If he had studied the law of gravity?
BÉLISE: Don’t you see, dumb ox, that the cause of the fall
Was that you deviated from that fixed point
We call the center of gravity?
LÉPINE: I didn’t notice it, madame, ‘cause I was on the ground.
PHILAMINTE (To Lépine, who is exiting): The oaf!
TRIPPELDOLT: Lucky for him he wasn’t made of glass.
ARMANDE: Ah! Wit for every occasion!
BÉLISE: It just keeps coming.
PHILAMINTE: Now serve us your sumptuous meal.
TRIPPELDOLT: For that great hunger my eyes have perceived
A dish of eight lines shouldn’t tax me too much,
And I think that here I might do well
To add to the epigram or, if you will, the madrigal
The ragout of a sonnet that, in the view of a princess,
Was received as a delicate morsel.
It’s thoroughly seasoned with Grecian salt,
And you’ll find it, I trust, in very good taste.
ARMANDE: Ah! I have no doubt.
PHILAMINTE: Quickly, let us hear.
BÉLISE (interrupting each time he starts to read):
I already feel my heart surging with joy.
My love for poetry is all-consuming.
Especially when the lines take a romantic turn.
PHILAMINTE: If we speak all the time he won’t be able to.
BÉLISE: Silence, Henriette…
ARMANDE: Ah! Let him read.
SONNET TO PRINCESS URANIA
ON HER FEVER
Your vigilance is sleeping
To take in a new boarder,
A foe of the worst order.
No wonder you are weeping.
BÉLISE: Ah! Such a stunning start!
ARMANDE: Such romantic touches!
PHILAMINTE: Only he has the talent for such graceful verses!
ARMANDE: He had me at “vigilance is sleeping.”
BÉLISE: “To welcome a new boarder” is what got me.
PHILAMINTE: I like “boarder” and “order”;
Joining those two nouns works wonders.
BÉLISE: Let us lend our ears to the rest.
Your vigilance is sleeping
To take in a new boarder
A foe of the worst order.
No wonder you are weeping.
ARMANDE: “Vigilance sleeping!”
BÉLISE: “Take in a new boarder!”
PHILAMINTE: “Boarder” and “order”!
Your condition, qua condition,
Goes downhill with every day.
While in your palace it doth play,
This fiendish foe that bodes perdition.
BÉLISE: Ah! Please be gentle, let me breathe.
ARMANDE: Give us, I beg you, some time for admiring.
PHILAMINTE: In these verses one feels, to the depths of one’s soul,
The flow of something, I know not what, that makes one faint.
“Your condition, qua condition,
Goes downhill with every day.”
How well put “goes downhill” is,
And how witty the metaphor!
“Your condition, qua condition”
Ah! Such admirable taste in this “qua condition”!
It is, to my thinking, simply priceless.
ARMANDE: I am utterly ravished by “qua condition”.
BÉLISE: I agree, “qua condition.” Is so felicitous.
ARMANDE: I wish I had done it.
BÉLISE: An entire play could be written about it.
PHILAMINTE: But do you really understand, as I do, its subtlety?
ARMANDE and BÉLISE: Oh! Oh!
“Your condition, qua condition.”
It is not simply a condition that is her boarder,
It is the very essence of a condition.
“Your condition, qua condition.
Qua condition qua condition!”
This “qua condition” says much more than it may seem.
I don’t know if everyone is like me,
But I hear in this phrase a million words of wisdom.
BÉLISE: It’s true that its sum is worth more than its parts.
PHILAMINTE (to Trippeldolt): But, when you wrote this charming “qua condition,”
Were you fully aware of its sheer energy?
Did you dream of all that it says to us,
And did you intend to endow it with so much wit?
TRIPPELDOLT: Ha ha!
ARMANDE: I can’t get “this foul intruder” out of my head.
This foul intruder of a fever, unjust, dishonest,
Who treats so ill its hostess.
PHILAMINTE: In sum, the quatrains are both admirable.
Now I beg you, let’s hear the tercet.
ARMANDE: Oh, please, just once more, “qua condition.”
TRIPPELDOLT: Your condition, qua condition.
PHILAMINTE, ARMANDE, and BÉLISE: “Qua condition”!
TRIPPELDOLT: Goes downhill with every day.
PHILAMINTE, ARMANDE, and BÉLISE: “Goes downhill with every day”!
TRIPPELDOLT: While in your palace it doth play…
PHILAMINTE, ARMANDE, and BÉLISE: A fever that plays!
TRIPPELDOLT: This fiendish foe that bodes perdition.
PHILAMINTE: “Bodes perdition!”
ARMANDE and BÉLISE: Ah!
Send it hence, this foul intruder,
Minion of the great deluder…
PHILAMINTE, ARMANDE, and BÉLISE: Ah!
Ere it sucks the life from you.
Take it to the royal bath,
Jump in, and then invite it too,
Then drown from it what breath it hath.
BÉLISE: I’m going to faint.
ARMANDE: I’ll die of pleasure.
PHILAMINTE: Goosebumps all over, a thousand of them.
ARMANDE: “Take it to the royal bath…”
BÉLISE: “Jump in, and then invite it too…”
PHILAMINTE: “Then drown from it what breath it hath.”
With your own hands, right there, drown it in the baths.
ARMANDE: At every step in the poem you find a charming touch.
BÉLISE: You stroll in it and you’re ravished.
PHILAMINTE: You can’t avoid treading on beautiful things.
ARMANDE: All beautiful pathways strewn with roses.
TRIPPELDOLT: So the sonnet strikes you as…
PHILAMINTE: Admirable, new,
And nobody’s ever surpassed it for beauty.
BÉLISE (to Henriette): What! No emotion for such a reading!
Niece, you really are an odd duck.
HENRIETTE: Different strokes for different folks, Aunt Bélise,
And wit is in the eye of the beholder.
TRIPPELDOLT: Perhaps my poetry disturbed madame.
HENRIETTE: Not at all: I wasn’t listening.
PHILAMINTE: Oh, let’s hear the epigram.
UPON A VERMILLION-COLORED CARRIAGE
GIVEN TO A LADY WHO’S A FRIEND
PHILAMINTE: His titles are always so original.
ARMANDE: Their novelty presages scores of witty strokes.
TRIPPELDOLT: Love charged me so much to purchase its chain……
PHILAMINTE, ARMANDE, and BÉLISE: Ah!
That my bank account felt a fantastic drain
And when you behold that sumptuous carriage,
Brocade and gold trim in a fabulous marriage
That astonishes the whole countryside,
And makes my Diana triumph like a glowing bride,…
PHILAMINTE: Ah! “my Diana!” Now that’s erudition for you.
BÉLISE: The allusion is darling; it’s priceless.
And when you behold that sumptuous carriage,
Brocade and gold trim in a fabulous marriage
That astonishes the whole countryside,
And makes my Diana triumph like a glowing bride,
Don’t say that it’s vermillion,
Say rather that it took me for a million.
ARMANDE: Oh! Oh! Oh! I didn’t expect that at all.
PHILAMINTE: Only he can write like that.
“Don’t say that it’s vermillion,
Say rather that it took me for a million.”
There’s a declension for you: a million, vermillion, for a million.
PHILAMINTE: I don’t know whether, from the moment I met you,
I understood the depths of your wit,
But now I admire globally your verses and your prose.
TRIPPELDOLT (to Philaminte): If you would care to show us something of yours,
We could admire it in return.
PHILAMINTE: I haven’t done any poetry, but I might hope
That soon I could show you, as a friend,
Eight chapters of the strategic plan for our academy.
Plato didn’t get so far along
When he wrote up his Republic;
But I want to push the idea to full effect,
Which in my prose on paper I’ve encompassed;
For truly I feel a strange resentment
At the wrong done to us when it comes to wit;
And I want to have revenge, for all of us,
For this lowly class to which men consign us,
To limit our talents to trivialities
And shut us off from deep enlightenment.
ARMANDE: It constitutes a great offense against our sex
To denigrate the force of our intelligence
To judge us by a skirt or by a scarf,
Or by the beauties of the latest fashion.
BÉLISE: This shameful prejudice must be eliminated,
And our intelligence no longer questioned.
TRIPPELDOLT: My respect for womankind is legendary,
And if I wax ecstatic for the brilliance of their eyes,
No less do I adore the brilliance of their minds.
PHILAMINTE: Our sex is grateful to you on this score;
But we want to show to certain intellectuals,
Conceited brains who treat us with disdain,
That women too can master all the disciplines,
And meet in learned conferences just like them
Or even better, interdisciplinarily
Mixing heightened language skills with higher science,
Unmasking nature with experiments in every parlor,
Joining every school of thought, espousing none.
TRIPPELDOLT: I’m particular, myself, to Peripateticism.
PHILAMINTE: I like Platonism for its abstractions.
ARMANDE: Epicurus is my style; he’s so dogmatic.
BÉLISE: I’m all right with his little atoms,
But the void strikes me as hard to swallow,
So I far prefer subtle matter.
TRIPPELDOLT: Ah, Descartes! He’s the man for lovers like me.
ARMANDE: I love his vortices.
PHILAMINTE: For me, his falling bodies.
ARMANDE: I can’t wait for the opening of our conference,
And the stir we’ll make with our first few discoveries.
TRIPPELDOLT: So much is expected of your brilliant wits;
Nature has few mysteries you will not clear up.
PHILAMINTE: I don’t wish to brag, but I’ve already made one.
Yes, I saw clearly the men in the moon.
BÉLISE: I haven’t yet seen any men, I don’t think,
But I saw church steeples just as clearly as I see you.
ARMANDE: We shall probe not only the physical universe,
But grammar, history, poetry, morals, and politics.
PHILAMINTE: Some aspects of moral philosophy thrill us,
As in days of yore all the great minds were enamored of it,
But of all of them the stoics take the prize,
And I find nobody as charming as their sage.
ARMANDE: As for language, pretty soon we’ll reveal our new rules,
And they’re sure to make quite a splash.
Each of us has made a list of all the words we hate,
For good reasons or not, be they nouns or verbs;
And we’ve pooled our lists and made an oath
To abandon them forever.
And when we open our learned conference
We’ll pronounce their death sentences,
And we’ll purge them for good from all poetry and prose.
PHILAMINTE: But the finest project of our academy,
A noble undertaking that simply thrills me,
A glorious project that will bring us fame
Among all the great minds of posterity,
Is the suppression of all those filthy syllables
That lurk within much finer words, causing scandal:
Those eternal toys of fools of every era,
Those tired, stale jokes of our nastier comics,
Those founts of endless tasteless puns
Meant to offend the modesty of women.
PHILAMINTE: …for example.
TRIPPELDOLT: Those are certainly worthy projects!
BÉLISE: We’ll show you our statutes when they’re completed.
TRIPPELDOLT: They’re sure to be both fine and wise.
ARMANDE: We shall be through our laws judges of all works,
Through our laws, prose or verse, all shall be submitted:
None shall have wit but we and our friends.
We’ll search high and low for things to dislike,
And find nothing well written but whatever we write.
LÉPINE (to Trippeldolt): Monsieur, there’s a man who’s come to speak with you.
He’s dressed in black and speaks very softly.
TRIPPELDOLT: It’s a colleague of mine who has often urged me
To give him the honor of meeting you.
PHILAMINTE: A friend of yours is a friend of mine.
(To Armande and Bélise) Let’s honor him at least with our wit.
(To Henriette, who is leaving) Whoa there! I told you quite clearly
That I need you.
HENRIETTE: But why?
PHILAMINTE: Don’t worry, you’ll find out soon enough.
TRIPPELDOLT: Here’s the man who’s dying to meet you.
In bringing him to you, I fear no blame,
Madame, for introducing to your home a common man.
He can hold his own against the finest wits.
PHILAMINTE: Since he’s brought by you, he must be golden.
TRIPPELDOLT: He’s deeply versed in the classics, madam,
And knows Greek as well as any man in France.
PHILAMINTE: Greek! My God, Greek! Sister, he knows Greek!
BÉLISE: Ah! Did you hear, niece, Greek!
ARMANDE: Greek! What a pleasure!
PHILAMINTE: What! Monsieur knows Greek! Ah! Allow me please,
Monsieur: for the love of Greek you should be kissed.
(He kisses each one of them, but Henriette refuses.)
HENRIETTE: You must excuse me, sir, I don’t know Greek.
PHILAMINTE: I have the deepest respect for books in Greek.
VADIUS: I’m sure I don’t deserve the warmth that greets me.
I fear, Madame, I’ve come to give you homage
But have interrupted some learned discourse.
PHILAMINTE: With Greek, Monsieur, you could never interrupt.
TRIPPELDOLT: His prose and his verse are equally fine.
If you like, perhaps he could show us something.
VADIUS: Authors often have the fault
Of tyrannizing conversations;
Bouncing from the palace to the market to salons and dinners
With their interminable boring readings.
As for me, I see nothing more doltish
Than a writer who peddles his wares everywhere,
Seizing the ears of all comers,
Making them the martyrs of his creative fires.
You’ll never catch me indulging in such folly,
As I agree with a certain Greek
Who dogmatically forbids his fellow sages
From the unworthy pursuit of reading from their works.
Here’s a little poem for young lovers
About which I’d like to hear your thoughts.
TRIPPELDOLT: The beauty of your poetry surpasses all others.
VADIUS: The Graces of Venus rule over yours.
TRIPPELDOLT: Words dance at your command.
VADIUS: Throughout your work there’s both ethos and pathos.
TRIPPELDOLT: The style of your eclogues surpasses,
For sweet charm, both Theocritus and Virgil.
VADIUS: Your odes have a sweet, romantic, and noble air
That leaves poor Horace in the dust.
TRIPPELDOLT: Is there anything so lovely as your chansonnettes?
VADIUS: Have your sonnets ever been equaled?
TRIPPELDOLT: Anything as charming as your rondeaux?
VADIUS: Nothing so witty as your madrigals!
TRIPPELDOLT: Your special talent is for ballads.
VADIUS: Nobody can rhyme like you can.
TRIPPELDOLT: If only France would see your true worth…
VADIUS: If our age truly valued intelligence…
TRIPPELDOLT: …you’d be paraded through the streets in a golden chariot.
VADIUS: …every town would have a statue of you.
Ahem! This is a ballad, and I’d like you, in all candor,
To tell me…
TRIPPELDOLT: Have you seen a certain little sonnet
On the fever of Princess Urania?
VADIUS: Yes, I heard it read at a party yesterday.
TRIPPELDOLT: Do you know who wrote it?
VADIUS: No, but I know for sure
That his sonnet is totally worthless.
TRIPPELDOLT: Many people find it worthy through and through.
VADIUS: That may be, but still it’s miserable,
And if you had read it you’d agree with me.
TRIPPELDOLT: Now there you’re wrong, I’m quite sure, and I know
That very few writers are capable of such a sonnet.
VADIUS: God forbid I should ever write like that.
TRIPPELDOLT: I insist the poem’s unsurpassable,
And my main reason is that I’m the author.
VADIUS: I don’t know how this happened.
TRIPPELDOLT: I’m so sorry I was unable to please you.
VADIUS: I must have been distracted when I should have listened
Or maybe it was the fellow who read it who ruined the sonnet.
But let’s drop this topic, and turn to my ballad.
TRIPPELDOLT: The ballad, I would say, is so yesteryear;
No longer the fashion, it reeks of olden days.
VADIUS: And yet, the ballad still pleases many people.
TRIPPELDOLT: That may be, but I still don’t like it.
VADIUS: That doesn’t detract from its true value.
TRIPPELDOLT: It is wildly popular with pedants.
VADIUS: Then how come you don’t like it?
TRIPPELDOLT: Ascribing your traits to others is doltish.
VADIUS: Keep your name to yourself, you fool.
TRIPPELDOLT: Get out, you dunce, you waste of paper, ink, and time!
VADIUS: Get out, you street-corner barker!
TRIPPELDOLT: Get out, you cut-and-paste rhymer, you shameless plagiarist!
PHILAMINTE: Hey! Gentlemen, what do you think you’re doing?
TRIPPELDOLT: Go on, you need to pay up for all the shameless thefts
You’ve made from the Greeks and Latins.
VADIUS: Go on, turn yourself in to the Academy of Letters
For the hash you made of the works of Horace.
TRIPPELDOLT: Remember how quickly your book dropped out of sight.
VADIUS: And you, your book was instantly remaindered.
TRIPPELDOLT: My name is made, you can’t tarnish it.
VADIUS: Just wait ‘til Kerns gets hold of you.
TRIPPELDOLT: You go to Kerns.
VADIUS: I’m rather pleased
That people see he treats me honorably.
He just gives me a few light whacks in passing;
While you, he never lets up on, always looking
For ways to shoot you down.
TRIPPELDOLT: And that’s what does me honor.
You’re just lumped in with the crowd;
He only needs one flick to make you crumple
And never feels the need to smack you more;
While me he rails at as a noble foe,
He needs to double down to beat me back,
Which shows he knows he’s never quite defeated me.
VADIUS: My pen will show you how mighty I am.
TRIPPELDOLT: And mine will show you who’s your daddy.
VADIUS: I challenge you in prose, in verse, in Greek and Latin.
TRIPPELDOLT: All right! You and me, one on one, at Barnes & Noble.
TRIPPELDOLT: Don’t blame me, please, for getting so worked up.
It’s your judgment, madame, that I’m defending:
Your love of the sonnet he had the gall to attack.
PHILAMINTE: I’ll do my best to calm your breast.
Let’s change the subject. Henriette, come here.
For some time I’ve been concerned
At your lack of intellectual curiosity;
But now I’ve found a way to stimulate it.
HENRIETTE: Don’t bother yourself, not necessary.
Discourses of the learned sort are not my thing.
My taste in life is for the natural,
And you all take such pains to speak with wit.
I’ve absolutely no ambition for that life.
I’m quite happy, Mother, staying stupid;
And I far prefer talking like people talk
To torturing myself to speak bons mots.
PHILAMINTE: Yes, but that wounds me, and I’m not the sort
To allow my child to suffer such disgrace.
Facial beauty is a frail ornament,
A fleeting flower, a momentary sparkle
Belonging only to the epidermis;
Beauty of the mind is firm and permanent.
So I have long searched for an angle to give you
The beauty that the years cannot decay,
To penetrate you with the love of learning
So higher knowledge worms its way into you;
My wishes finally led me to the thought
Of tying you to a man whose mind is full;
And that man is here – monsieur, whom I’ve determined
To see as your spouse, your fate, my choice.
HENRIETTE: Me, Mother?
PHILAMINTE: Yes, you. Act llike a fool, why don’t you?
BELISE (to Trippeldolt): I understand you. Your eyes ask my consent
To engage elsewhere a heart that belongs to me.
Go on, I give you leave. I grant you this wedding.
It’s splendid for your career.
TRIPPELDOLT (to Henriette): I don’t know what to say, I’m so enraptured,
Madame, and this union I’m awarded makes me…
HENRIETTE: Hold on, Monsieur! It hasn’t happened yet.
Don’t be in such a hurry.
PHILAMINTE: Watch how you speak to him!
Don’t you know that if…? Enough, you understand me.
She’ll behave. Come on, leave her alone.
ARMANDE: How brilliant Mother was to pull this off for you;
Her choice of a husband couldn’t be more fabulous, and…
HENRIETTE: If it’s such a hot pick, why not take it for yourself?
ARMANDE: It’s to you, not me, that his hand was given.
HENRIETTE: I quit my claim to him for my big sister.
ARMANDE: If marriage had such appeal for me as you,
I’d accept your offer with delight.
HENRIETTE: If I, like you, had pedants on the brain,
I’d find him quite a catch.
ARMANDE: Still, though our tastes may differ, Sister,
We must obey our parents.
A mother has all power over us,
And all of your resistance is in vain.
CHRYSALE (to Henriette, presenting Clitandre):
Well, Daughter, I think you’ll say my plan was brilliant.
Don’t be so formal; take his hand in yours,
And take him into your very soul as the man
I want for you to be his wife.
ARMANDE: For this one, Sister, your leanings are strong enough.
HENRIETTE: We must obey our parents, Sister;
A father has all power over us.
ARMANDE: A mother has her share in our duty.
CHRYSALE: What’s going on?
ARMANDE: I’m saying that it’s clear to me
That here my mother and you are not together,
And it’s another spouse…
CHRYSALE: Shut up, chatterbox.
Go philosophize your fill with her,
And don’t you mess in my affairs.
Tell her what I think and warn her well
Not to come here to chew me out.
Go on, quick!
ARISTE: All right! It’s a miracle!
CLITANDRE: I’m in heaven! What a happy ending!Sweet!
CHRYSALE: Go on, take her hand and leave us.
Take her to her room. Ah! The sweet caresses!
Boy, my heart is moved by all this love;
It brings back all the old juices,
And I see before me all my young loves.
ARMANDE: Yes, there was nothing keeping her mind in balance.
She made a show of her obedience.
She barely waited to get his order before her heart,
Right in front of me, leapt to him;
She seemed less to follow the will of a father
Than showing her defiance of the will of a mother.
PHILAMINTE: I’ll show her whose laws respond to the wishes
Handed down by the court of reason,
And who should govern, her mother or her father,
The spirit or the body, form or matter.
ARMANDE: You were owed at least a visit.
That little nobody is quite presumptuous
To want to be your son-in-law despite you.
PHILAMINTE: He hasn’t yet achieved his goal.
I once admired him, when he was courting you,
But by his actions he soon lost my favor.
He knew that, God be thanked, I enjoyed writing,
But never once did he ask to hear my work.
(Clitandre enters quietly, avoiding being seen.)
ARMANDE: I wouldn’t stand for it, if I were you,
That Henriette would ever be his bride.
Of course it would be wrong to think that I
Am speaking here as a girl with a personal interest,
Or that the dirty trick he played on me
Created a secret spite deep inside my soul.
The heart is fortified against such blows
Through the solid succor of philosophy,
Which raises us above it all;
But treating you like that, that goes the limit.
It does you honor to deny his wishes,
As he’s the kind of man you should detest
To my own knowledge, just between us two,
He never showed the least respect for you.
PHILAMINTE: The little dolt!
ARMANDE: Whatever fame your merit earned
His tongue was frozen: not a word of praise.
PHILAMINTE: The brute!
ARMANDE: And twenty times I read him new poems,
Fresh from your pen, which he never liked one bit.
PHILAMINTE: The snot-nosed brat!
ARMANDE: Sometimes we’d fight about your writing,
And you wouldn’t believe the foolish things he said…
CLITANDRE: Whoa! Easy now, I beg you. A bit of charity,
Madame, or at least a bit of honesty.
What harm have I done to you? And what is my offense
To fire against me all your eloquence?
To try to destroy me, and take such pains
To make me hateful to people I need?
Come on, speak, why this awful rage?
I’d like Madame to be the judge.
ARMANDE: If I’m enraged, as has been charged,
I’d have no lack of motives.
You’d have deserved it, as first love
Creates such sacred rights on souls
To warrant loss of fortune, and even life
For making love to someone else.
There’s no horror equal to changing vows;
The faithless heart is a moral monster.
CLITANDRE: Madame, do you call it infidelity
To do what you yourself so cruelly demanded?
All I did was obey the rules you set down
And if I offended you, you’re the only cause.
From the first, your charms had all my heart.
Two years it burned with constant heat;
I spared no pains, duties, tributes, services,
All by way of loving sacrifice.
All my ardor, all my care, got me nowhere with you;
I found you opposed to my sweetest entreaties.
What you refused I offered to another.
You see: Madame, is it my fault or yours?
Did my heart run away, or is it you who pushed it?
Did I leave you, or did you send me away?
ARMANDE: Monsieur, do you call it opposing your wishes
To strip them of the parts that are vulgar
And to try to distill them to the purity
In which perfect love consists of beauty alone?
You couldn’t keep your thoughts of me
Free and clear of the commerce of the senses.
And you had no taste for the sweetest appeal
Of the union of hearts without bodies.
You could only pine with a love that was gross;
With all the appurtenances of the union of matter;
And, to feed the fires ignited in you,
We’d need a marriage, and all that ensues.
Ah! What strange love! And how far the beautiful spirits
Are from burning with these earthly fires!
The senses have no part in all their loves,
And their loving fire wants to marry only their hearts;
It skips all the rest as a shameful thing.
It’s a flame pure and simple, like celestial fire;
The sighs it creates are all chaste,
And there’s no inclination to dirty desires.
Nothing impure is mixed in its conduct;
You love out of love, and nothing else.
The ecstasy is in and of the mind,
And you never even notice that you have a body.
CLITANDRE: I’ve noticed that, madame, unfortunately,
I have, you’ll pardon the expression, a body as well as a soul,
I feel it hanging on so, I can’t just let it go;
I can’t get the hang of that sort of detachment;
Heaven has denied me your philosophy,
So my body and soul are always walking hand in hand.
There’s nothing more lovely, as you have said,
Than those purified vows that hitch up two minds,
Those weddings of hearts and those sweet tender thoughts
So thoroughly stripped of all truck with the senses;
But that sort of love is too subtle for me;
I am a bit gross, as you have accused me;
I love with my whole self, and when it is returned
I want, I do confess, the entire person.
It’s nothing to be ashamed of;
And, no offense to your noble sentiments,
I see in the world people fit in my pattern,
And that marriage is still in fashion.
And passes for a relationship that’s decent and pleasant.
I wanted to be your husband,
But the liberty of harboring such a thought
Shouldn’t have given you leave to act offended.
ARMANDE: Well, monsieur, well, since without listening to me
Your bestial feelings must be satisfied;
Since, to bind you to faithful love
You must have ties of flesh, carnal chains,
If my mother agrees, I’ve made up my mind
To consent to give you the thing in question.
CLITANDRE: It’s too late, madame, another has taken the position;
It would be very bad form to repay her this way,
To abuse the safe harbor and wound the goodness
Where I fled to escape from your cruelty.
PHILAMINTE: Really, monsieur, did you count on my vote
When you pledged yourself to this other marriage?
And amidst your imaginings, do you know, if you please,
That I have another groom in mind for Henriette?
CLITANDRE: Oh! Madame, have a look at your choice, I beg you;
Expose me to less ignominy,
And don’t condemn me to the shameful fate
Of becoming the rival of Trippeldolt.
The love of great minds, which in your book leaves me out,
Couldn’t set me up against a less worthy adversary.
There are some (well, I’d say many) whom the wretched taste of today
Has given credit for being superior minds;
But Monsieur Trippeldolt hasn’t managed to fool anyone;
They all see through the scribbling he bestows on us.
Outside these walls he’s valued at his true worth.
What never fails to floor me is seeing you
Going in ecstasies over balderdash
That you’d deny was yours if you’d written it yourself.
PHILAMINTE: If you judge him so differently from us,
It’s because we see him with different eyes than you.
TRIPPELDOLT: I’ve come to report some earthshaking news.
While we were sleeping, madame, we had a close call:
A nearby planet has traveled all that distance
And fallen right into our vortex;
And if it had encountered our earth on its way
It would have shattered to pieces like a glass.
PHILAMINTE: Hold that thought for another time,
Monsieur wouldn’t make head or tails of it;
He swears his allegiance to ignorance
And hates above all the mind and knowledge.
CLITANDRE: The truth of that needs a bit of adjustment.
Let me explain, madame: I only hate
Knowledge and learning that screw people up.
These things are grand and beautiful in themselves,
But I’d rather be in the ranks of the ignorant
Than become a learned person like certain ones I know.
TRIPPELDOLT: For me, I don’t believe, no matter what you say,
That knowledge could damage anything at all.
CLITANDRE: And I insist that in fact as well as theory,
Knowledge can produce humongous dolts.
TRIPPELDOLT: That’s quite a paradox.
CLITANDRE: Though I’m not very clever,
Proving my point, I think, would be pretty easy.
Even if I couldn’t find a rationale, I’m sure
I could find some prominent examples.
TRIPPELDOLT: Naming some wouldn’t prove anything.
CLITANDRE: I wouldn’t have to go far to make my case.
TRIPPELDOLT: I don’t see any prominent examples.
CLITANDRE: I see them so well my eyes ache.
TRIPPELDOLT: I’ve always believed it was ignorance
That made great fools, not knowledge.
CLITANDRE: Your beliefs are all wrong, I guarantee you,
As a learned fool is more foolish than an ignorant fool.
TRIPPELDOLT: Common sense contradicts your maxims,
As “fool” and “ignorant” are synonymous terms.
CLITANDRE: If you’d care to look at common usage,
The connection is greater between “pedant” and “fool.”
TRIPPELDOLT: Foolishness in the one manifests its purest state.
CLITANDRE: And study in the other enhances its nature.
TRIPPELDOLT: Knowledge has inherently an evident distinction.
CLITANDRE: Knowledge in a dolt is all the more galling.
TRIPPELDOLT: Ignorance must have great attraction for you,
Since you’re so eager to fight for it.
CLITANDRE: If ignorance attracts me so strongly,
It’s because certain scholars are up in my face.
TRIPPELDOLT: Those certain scholars could, if you knew them,
Be the equals of certain great men.
CLITANDRE: Yes, in the opinion of those certain scholars,
But not in the minds of certain folks.
PHILAMINTE: It seems to me, monsieur, that…
CLITANDRE: Oh, madame, if you please,
Monsieur is strong enough not to need reinforcements.
I’ve got enough with one rude assailant,
And if I’m defensive, it’s only since I’m attacked.
ARMANDE: But the offensive sharpness of each reply
CLITANDRE: Another second? Then I quit the field.
PHILAMINTE: In scholarly discourse, combat is permissible
As long as there’s no personal attack.
CLITANDRE: Huh? My God, in all this there’s nothing he takes offense at;
He’s a master at absorbing abuse
He’s heard a lot worse about all his other attributes,
But his ego’s untouched; he just laughs it all off.
TRIPPELDOLT: I’m untouched by this combat, but I’m not surprised
To hear monsieur support this proposition.
He’s a man of the court, that’s all I need to say.
The court, as we know, sets no store by the mind.
It’s in its interest to foster ignorance,
So it’s as a good courtier that he is defending it.
CLITANDRE: You’ve really got it in for our poor little royal court,
Whose misfortune is great that on a daily basis
All you intellectuals just grouse about it,
Blaming it for all of your problems,
Indicting it for its rotten taste.
It’s not alone to blame for all of your flops.
Let me tell you, Monsieur Trippeldolt,
With all the respect to which your name is due,
That you would do well, your colleagues and you,
To speak of the court in more moderate tones;
If you look at it rightly, it’s not quite so dumb
As all of you are pleased to imagine;
It has common sense in full view of all;
At the court, good taste can be cultivated,
And the collective brain-power there (and I’m not a flatterer)
Is worth all the obscure knowledge of pedantry.
TRIPPELDOLT: As to its great taste, monsieur, we see its effects.
CLITANDRE: And where do you see, monsieur, that its judgment is wrong?
TRIPPELDOLT: What I see, monsieur, for example in the sciences
There’s Boseau and Snookibus, national treasures,
But all of their merit, which is plain to see,
Attracts neither attention nor subsidy from the court.
CLITANDRE: I see your chagrin, and how modesty forbids you
From including yourself in the list;
And, not to speak of yourself,
What do they do for the country, your clever heroes?
How does their writing serve the State
By accusing the court of horrible injustice
And complain everywhere that their distinguished names
Have failed to attract either favor or funding?
Their brains are really vital to France!
It seems to these pinheads that since they’ve been published
In handsome coffee-table editions
Now they’re important national figures
Who forge the destiny of crowned heads with their pens;
Who ought, for providing the slimmest of volumes
To have pensions come flowing into their accounts;
Who have the eyes of the universe fixed on them;
Whose glorious names ring out everywhere.
In science they’re doubtless great prodigies
For memorizing what had been written before,
For carrying around, for thirty years, eyeballs and eardrums;
For devoting nine or ten thousand all-nighters
Wallowing in Greek and Latin;
And for cramming their brains with a murky jumble
Of all the old gobbledygook that molders in books;
People habitually drunk on their knowledge,
Rich above measure in senseless babble,
Devoid of common sense, endlessly awkward,
But so full of effrontery and ridicule
That they bring ill repute to knowledge and the mind.
PHILAMINTE: Your anger’s overwhelming, you’re so carried away,
But it’s clear that what’s riling you
Is the thought that you’re the rival to such a…
JULIEN: The scholar who recently paid you a visit,
And to whom I have the honor of serving as valet,
Exhorts you, madame, to peruse this note.
PHILAMINTE: No matter how important what I’m being asked to read,
Let me tell you, my friend, that you’re acting like a fool,
Butting in when I am engaging in discourse;
And you really should address yourself to the help,
And be introduced by a valet with some manners.
JULIEN: I’ll note that down, madame, in my memoirs.
PHILAMINTE: “Madame, Trippeldolt has been bragging that he’s going to marry your daughter. I warn you that his entire philosophical project is to tap your bank account, and that you’d better not conclude this marriage before reading the poem I’m writing about him. While I’m adding the finishing touches, by which I will depict him in his true colors, I am sending you Horace, Virgil, Terence, and Catullus, with marginal notes and underlinings where I show you all the passages he’s pirated.”
That’s it! This splendid wedding I’ve promised myself
Attacked by so many enemies.
And this massing of forces today leads me
To confound all this envy with a lightning strike
So it feels that all the effort it’s taken
To prevent, will actually hasten the event.
Report all that right away to your master
And tell him that I so want him to know
How much store I set by his noble warnings
And how much I deem them worthy of heeding.
This very night I shall marry my daughter to Monsieur Trippeldolt.
(To Clitandre) You, monsieur, as a friend of the family
Can sign their contract as a witness;
And I warmly invite you to attend.
Armande, have someone go fetch the justice of the peace,
And don’t forget to notify Henriette about it too.
ARMANDE: To notify my sister there’s really no need.
I’m sure that monsieur will take good care of that.
In a flash he’ll be running to bring her the news
And influence her heart to rebel against you.
PHILAMINTE: We’ll see which one has more power over her,
And whether I can drag her back to her duty.
ARMANDE: I’m so sorry, monsieur, that with all of your plans
Things aren’t turning out as you had hoped.
CLITANDRE: I’m going now, madame, to bend all of my might
To ensure that you won’t need to feel that regret.
ARMANDE: I fear that your efforts will prove to be fruitless.
CLITANDRE: It could be that your fear will be baseless.
ARMANDE: I truly hope so.
CLITANDRE: I do believe it,
And know I can count on your help.
ARMANDE: Yes, I’ll do my all to be of service.
CLITANDRE: And be sure that I’ll never forget it.
CLITANDRE: Without your support, monsieur, I’m a goner:
Madame your wife has rejected my suit.
She’s dead set on having Trippeldolt as her son-in-law.
CHRYSALE: Oh no! Some madness has surely seized her.
Why the hell want this Monsieur Trippeldolt?
ARISTE: It’s because he’s distinguished himself rhyming in Latin
That he’s taken the lead on his rival.
CLITANDRE: She wants the wedding this very evening.
CHRYSALE: This evening?
CLITANDRE: This evening.
CHRYSALE: Then this evening my will
Is to thwart her and marry you two.
CLITANDRE: To draw up the contract she’s sent for the J.P.
CHRYSALE: And I’ll have him draw up the one that I want.
CLITANDRE: And madame (Henriette) will be informed by her sister
Of the marriage to which she must pledge her heart.
CHRYSALE: And I will command, with overwhelming force,
That she give her hand to this other union.
Hah! I’ll show them, when it comes to laying down the law
If there’s any other master in this house than moi.
(To Henriette) We’ll be back. Wait for us.
Forward, follow me, brother, and you too, son-in-law.
HENRIETTE (To Ariste): You’ve got to keep him in this mood, I beg you.
ARISTE: I’ll do anything for you two.
CLITANDRE: Whatever promises of help we get,
My fervent hope, madame, is for your heart.
HENRIETTE: My heart? You can be sure of it.
CLITANDRE: Nothing makes me happier than having its support.
HENRIETTE: You see what knots they’re trying to bind it with.
CLITANDRE: As long as it beats for me, I’ve nothing to fear.
HENRIETTE: I’ll try everything to fulfill our sweetest desire,
And if all my efforts don’t give me to you,
I will shut myself in a convent,
Which will keep me from going to anyone else.
CLITANDRE: May God on high protect me now
From receiving this proof of your love.
HENRIETTE: It’s about the marriage that my mother is planning
That I wanted to speak with you, monsieur, one on one.
I think, for all the hubbub that’s beset our home,
That I can still make you listen to reason.
I know you think that with my wedding vows
I’ll bring you a whopping dowry;
But money, which so many folks make a fuss over,
For a true philosopher has little appeal;
So disdain for earthly goods and frivolous fortunes
Should be seen in your deeds, not just heard from your lips.
TRIPPELDOLT: But none of that speaks to what charms me in you;
Your dazzling features, eyes piercing yet sweet,
Your grace and your aura, those are the goods, the treasures
That attracted my yearnings, my wishes, my heart.
Those are the only jewels that I love.
HENRIETTE: I am much indebted for your generous devotion,
This kindly love is somewhat confusing,
And I regret, monsieur, that I can’t return it.
I admire you as much as anyone can,
But there is an impediment to loving you.
A heart, as you know, cannot divide in two,
And Clitandre is already the master of mine.
I know that he’s so much less worthy than you,
That I’m really no good at choosing a spouse,
That with all of your talents you really would please me;
I see that I’m wrong, but I simply can’t help it,
And all that my reasoning can do for me
Is anger me at myself for such blindness.
TRIPPELDOLT: The gift of your hand, which I’ve been urged to seek,
Will win me the heart now owned by Clitandre;
Through a thousand sweet attentions I believe I can hope
To find the key to open up your heart.
HENRIETTE: No. My soul is attached to its original vows,
And cannot be swayed, monsieur, by all your attentions.
Freely I dare to explain myself here,
And nothing I’ll say should shock you.
This passionate feeling that swells in the heart
Has nothing to do with merit.
Caprice is a part of it, and when someone pleases us
It’s often we have no idea why it’s so.
If I loved, monsieur, by choice and through wisdom
You’d have all my heart and my care;
But you see, love is governed otherwise.
Leave me, I beg you, to my blindness,
And do not participate in this violence
Being planned for you: to force me to obey.
As a good man, you won’t rely
On the power my parents have over me.
How awful it would be to destroy one you love:
To win a heart via any means but appealing to itself.
Do not push my mother to attempt
To exercise her right to overpower my wishes.
Retract your love for me, and bring to another
The bounties of a heart as worthy as yours.
TRIPPELDOLT: And how can this heart make you happy?
Impose on it some laws that it’s able to obey.
Is it able to cease to love you?
Only, madame, if you cease to be so lovable,
And to beam from your eyes such celestial appeals…
HENRIETTE: Hey! Monsieur, that’s enough of your bull.
You’ve got all of your Phyllises, your Irises, your Phoebes
You find so irresistible in your poetry
For whom you swear so much loving fidelity…
TRIPPELDOLT: That’s my brain speaking there, it is not my heart.
I’m in love with them only as a poet;
In reality I love the adorable Henriette.
HENRIETTE: Oh, please, monsieur…
TRIPPELDOLT: If that should offend you,
Be prepared for unceasing offense.
My passion, ‘til now shining on unseeing eyes,
Fixes its desires upon you forever.
Nothing can stop my amorous desires,
And even if your beauties condemn my efforts,
I cannot refuse the support of a mother
Attempting to crown my urgent flame,
And, provided I obtain a goal so enchanting
Provided I have you, it doesn’t matter how.
HENRIETTE: But you should know that you risk a bit more than you think
When you’re willing to violate a heart;
That you might have a problem, to speak very frankly,
If you marry a girl against her wishes,
As she might resort, in defying her restraints,
To those measures every husband must dread.
TRIPPELDOLT: A threat such as that doesn’t faze me;
A philosopher must be ready for anything.
Spared by his reasoning from all vulgar weaknesses,
He rises above all that sort of thing,
And keeps himself from allowing any hint of bother
From any circumstance that’s out of his control.
HENRIETTE: In truth, monsieur, you amaze me.
I didn’t know that philosophy,
For all its evident wonders, could teach a man
To bear so constantly disasters.
This firmness of mind, so special in you,
Entitles you to get abundant cause to display it,
To have a worthy woman who would take
Continual loving care to let you show it to the world.
But as, to tell the truth, I’d never think myself
The right one to give it all the fame it merits,
I leave it to someone else, and swear to you
That I renounce the prize of seeing you as my spouse.
TRIPPELDOLT: We’ll soon see how this business will end;
The justice of the peace will finish it.
CHRYSALE: Ah, daughter, I’m so glad to see you.
Come along, it’s time to fulfill your obligations
And subjugate your wishes to the will of your father.
My wish is to teach your mother how to live;
And, to defy her more starkly, voilà, in her face,
Martine, whom I have re-hired to ply her craft herein.
HENRIETTE: Praiseworthy resolutions, father!
Now keep yourself in this frame of mind; don’t change.
Keep your willpower firm
Resist all appeals to your good nature.
Don’t give in, and do what you must
To keep mother from winning over you.
CHRYSALE: What! Do you take me for a limp noodle?
HENRIETTE: Heaven forbid!
CHRYSALE: Beg pardon. Am I some kind of fool?
HENRIETTE: I’m not saying that.
CHRYSALE: Do you think me incapable
Of the firm positions of a reasonable man?
HENRIETTE: No, father.
CHRYSALE: Is it that I don’t have, at this stage of my life,
The brains to be master in my own house?
HENRIETTE: Oh but you do.
CHRYSALE: And that I’m so weak-spirited
That I let my wife lead me around by the nose?
HENRIETTE: Oh, no, father.
CHRYSALE: Yeah? What is it then?
I find it odd that you speak to me this way.
HENRIETTE: If I’ve disturbed you, I really didn’t mean to.
CHRYSALE: This is my castle. My will herein must be obeyed in every respect.
HENRIETTE: Very well, father.
CHRYSALE: No-one but me can give an order here.
HENRIETTE: You’re absolutely right.
CHRYSALE: It’s I who hold the title “head of the family.”
HENRIETTE: I’m with you there.
CHRYSALE: I’m the one who marries off my daughter.
HENRIETTE: Oh yes.
CHRYSALE: It’s God who gave me total power over you.
HENRIETTE: Who would deny it?
CHRYSALE: And, to take a spouse,
I’ll have you know that it’s your sire
You must obey, and not your dam.
HENRIETTE: Oh me, you’re touching there on my fondest hopes.
Make us obey your orders, that’s all I want.
CHRYSALE: We’ll see about my wife, that rebel in our midst…
CLITANDRE: Here she is, coming with the justice of the peace.
CHRYSALE: Everyone back me up.
MARTINE: Leave it to me, and I’ll be sure
To egg you on, if that’s what it takes.
PHILAMINTE (to the JP): Couldn’t you change your primitive style
And draw us up a contract worded more elegantly?
JUSTICE OF THE PEACE: Our style is okee-dokee, and I would be playing the fool,
Madame, to try to change a single word of it.
BÉLISE: Ah! Barbarism in the very heart of France!
Couldn’t you at least, as a favor, monsieur genius,
In place of Euros, pounds, or francs,
Express the dowry for us in drachmas and obols,
With references to several Olympian gods?
JUSTICE OF THE PEACE: You want me to…? Madame, if I were to grant your wishes,
I’d be the butt of the jokes of all my colleagues.
PHILAMINTE: It’s useless to complain about his barbarism.
All right monsieur; here’s your table, sit and write.
(Noticing Martine) Ah! Ah! The impudence to dare to show her face!
Why, pray tell, is she back, flouncing about my house?
CHRYSALE: I’ll tell you why when we have time, by and by,
But now we’ve got more pressing matters to conclude.
JUSTICE OF THE PEACE: Shall we proceed to the contract? Then where is the bride?
PHILAMINTE: I’m marrying off my younger daughter.
JUSTICE OF THE PEACE: All right.
CHRYSALE: Yes, there she is, monsieur. Her name is Henriette.
JUSTICE OF THE PEACE: Very well. And her intended?
PHILAMINTE: The husband I’m giving her is monsieur. (indicating Trippeldolt)
CHRYSALE: And the one that I, the party of the first part,
Wish her to marry is monsieur… (indicating Clitandre)
JUSTICE OF THE PEACE: Two grooms? That’s beyond the customary number.
PHILAMINTE: Why have you stopped?
Write it down, write it down, monsieur, Trippeldolt for my son-in-law.
CHRYSALE: For my son-in-law, write it down, write it down, monsieur: Clitandre.
JUSTICE OF THE PEACE: Let’s try to get together, people. Use mature judgment,
And try to agree who will be your son-in-law.
PHILAMINTE: Do as I say, do as I say, monsieur, put down my choice.
CHRYSALE: Listen to me, listen to me, monsieur, read my lips.
JUSTICE OF THE PEACE: Tell me which of you two I should obey.
PHILAMINTE (to Chrysale): So! You’re determined to oppose my wishes.
CHRYSALE: I can’t allow a man to seek my daughter’s hand
Only for the wealth he sees in my household.
PHILAMINTE: Really? Somebody here cares about your wealth?
And that would be a concern worthy of a scholar?
CHRYSALE: Bottom line: for her husband I have chosen Clitandre.
PHILAMINTE: And for her husband here’s who I have chosen.
My choice is final, it’s a done deal.
CHRYSALE: Yeah, you’re carrying on here like some sort of queen.
MARTINE: It ain’t for the woman to give orders, and I’m down with
The man, no nevermind what, bein’ on top,
CHRYSALE: Well said.
MARTINE: Fire me a hundred times, if you like,
Still the hen don’t sing before the cock.
CHRYSALE: No doubt about it.
MARTINE: And everybody gits a big ole guffaw outta the house
Where the wife wears the pants.
CHRYSALE: It’s true.
MARTINE: If I had a husband, I tell you,
I’d want him to show he had big ones.
I don’t want him acting like no rodeo clown;
And if I got it in mind to pull his chain,
If I chewed him out, I’d say he oughta
Slap me around til I lowered by voice.
CHRYSALE: Now you’re talking.
MARTINE: You got your head on your shoulders, sir,
To git for your daughter a good-lookin’ stud.
MARTINE: Why the hell would you turn down Clitandre?
And why the hell, if you don’t mind my askin’,
Stick her with a pantywaist who’s all the time spoutin’ Shakespeare?
She needs a husband, not a perfessor;
And since she don’t want to learn any Grease or Latin,
She flat-out don’t need Monsieur Trippeldolt.
PHILAMINTE: It’s a trial, but we must bear all her nonsense.
MARTINE: Book-men are only good for preaching from a pulpit;
For my husband, as I’ve said a thousand times,
I would never choose no brainiac.
Brains ain’t what you need around the house,
And books don’t mix with marriage;
If I ever marry, I only want a man
Who don’t know an A from a B (beg pardon, madame),
And would only be a professor in how to please a wife.
PHILAMINTE: Is it over? Have I heard enough, patiently enough,
From your worthy spokesperson?
CHRYSALE: She spoke the truth.
PHILAMINTE: And now, to cut short this argument,
My wishes must be carried out absolutely.
Henriette and monsieur will be married immediately;
I have spoken, I order it, don’t answer back;
If you’ve given your word to Clitandre,
Fulfill it by giving him the hand of her elder sister.
CHRYSALE: Well, there’s a way out of this predicament.
What do you think? You agree?
HENRIETTE: Aaaah! Father!
CLITANDRE: Oh, monsieur!
BÉLISE: I could propose a solution
That might very well please him more;
But we’d have to establish a type of love
As pure as the morning star.
We’d have to resolve the mind/body dualism
To welcome the mind and banish the other.
ARISTE: I’m so sorry to disturb this joyous ceremony
With the sorrow I must bring into this place.
These two letters make me the bearer of double sad tidings
And I feel profoundly the pain that I bring you.
The one for you (Philaminte) comes from your lawyer
The other, for you (Chrysale) comes from Lyon.
PHILAMINTE: What news is so sad
That it’s worth bothering us now?
ARISTE: When you read this letter you will know.
PHILAMINTE: “Madame, I have prevailed upon your brother-in-law to bring you this letter, which will tell you what I did not dare tell you myself. The great neglect you have shown for your business affairs was the reason why the clerk of the special master in your case did not alert you, and the judgment, which you should have won, has gone totally against you.”
CHRYSALE: You’ve lost your lawsuit!
PHILAMINTE: Don’t make such a fuss!
I’m not at all disheartened by this loss.
Come on, try to display a soul that’s not so common
And brave the material shocks of fortune.
“The lack of care that you have shown has cost you four hundred thousand Euros, which must be paid, plus expenses, and that’s your sentence by order of the court.”
Sentence! This usage of a noble word is shocking;
It’s only appropriate for criminals.
ARISTE: You’re right, it’s wrong,
And you’ve got reason to protest.
It should have said that you’re kindly entreated
By order of the court to pay immediately
Four hundred thousand Euros plus expenses.
PHILAMINTE: Let’s look at the other.
CHRYSALE: “Monsieur, the friendship that binds me to your brother makes me take an interest in everything that concerns you. I know that you have placed all your assets in the hands of Monsieur Bugdov and Monsieur Baggs, and I must inform you that on the very same day they both filed for bankruptcy.”
Oh my God! Just like that, my entire fortune lost!
PHILAMINTE: Oh, don’t make such a vulgar fuss! Really, all of that means nothing.
A true philosopher would never mourn the loss of things,
For whatever he loses, he still retains his self.
Let’s finish our business, and quit your wailing.
(Indicating Trippeldolt) His richness is enough both for him and for us.
TRIPPELDOLT: No, madame, stop pushing this business.
I can see that everyone opposes this marriage,
And I would never desire to force anyone.
PHILAMINTE: This thought came to you rather suddenly!
It follows on the heels of our misfortune.
TRIPPELDOLT: I’ve finally had enough of this resistance
I’d rather take a pass on all this bother,
And just don’t want a heart not freely given.
PHILAMINTE: I see; I see you now, and it isn’t flattering:
What ‘til now I had refused to believe.
TRIPPELDOLT: You can see in me whatever you like
And I don’t much care how you take it;
But I’m not the sort of man to take the insults
Of the offensive rebuffs that now I wash my hands of;
I insist on being treated with more deference,
And to those who won’t comply: Kiss off! (Exit.)
PHILAMINTE: He truly revealed his mercenary soul!
What he just did so little befits a philosopher!
CLITANDRE: I don’t claim to be one of those, but in the end,
Madame, I ally myself with your future;
And I stand forth to offer you, along with my self,
Whatever wealth my future may bring me.
PHILAMINTE: Your generous offer is very endearing;
Your reward is receiving your amorous wish.
Yes, monsieur, I give you Henriette, whom you’ve eagerly…
HENRIETTE: No, mother, I’ve changed my mind.
Permit me to resist your will.
CLITANDRE: What! You’re opposed to my happiness?
And it’s now, when everyone agrees…
HENRIETTE: I know how little wealth you have, Clitandre,
And I’ve always wanted you for my husband,
When by satisfying my sweetest wishes
I could see that the wedding would set you up;
But now that we’ve suffered such reversals,
I cherish you so much that, in this awful situation,
I refuse to let you bear our adversity.
CLITANDRE: Any fate with you is totally agreeable;
Any fate without you entirely unbearable.
HENRIETTE: Love, in its delirium, always talks like that.
Let’s avoid the cares that regret may bring.
Nothing would erode the warmth of the tie that binds us
So much as the worrisome lack of basic human needs,
And often couples begin to accuse each other
For all the dark distress that supplants their love.
ARISTE: Is that the only motive – what we just heard –
That makes you resist this marriage with Clitandre?
HENRIETTE: If not for that, you’d see me running to his arms.
I only spurn his hand because I cherish him so.
ARISTE: Then let’s get ready for a wedding feast.
What I brought you was bogus news;
It was a stratagem, a surprising trap
That I wanted to try to serve your loves,
To disillusion my sister-in-law, and let her know
What her philosopher was capable of when put to the test.
CHRYSALE: Praise God!
PHILAMINTE: It warms my heart
To think of the grief of that cowardly deserter
That’s the punishment for his lowly avarice,
To see the rich joy of the wedding celebration.
CHRYSALE: I knew all along that you’d marry her.
ARMANDE: So to satisfy their wishes you sacrifice me!
PHILAMINTE: You’re not being sacrificed at all;
And you have the solace of philosophy
So serenely you can watch the fulfillment of their love.
BÉLISE: He’ll have quite a struggle ripping me from his heart.
So often men marry out of sudden despair
And at the end of their life wonder “Where is she? Oh, where?”
CHRYSALE: All right, monsieur, follow my orders explicitly
And draw up the contract precisely as I have decreed.