an introductory note on the play by Molière

This article was originally published in The Dramatic Works of Molière. Henri Van Laun. New York: R. Worthington, 1880. pp. 3-4.

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THE BLUNDERER is generally believed to have been first acted at Lyons in 1653, whilst Molière and his troupe were in the provinces. In the month of November 1658 it was played for the first time in Paris, where it obtained a great and well-deserved success. It is chiefly based on an Italian comedy, written by Nicolo Barbieri, known as Beltrame, and called L'Inavvertito, from which the character of Mascarille, the servant, is taken, but differs in the ending, which is superior in the Italian play. An imitation of the classical boasting soldier, Captain Bellorofonte, Martelione, and a great number of concetti, have also not been copied by Molière. The fourth scene of the fourth act of l'Etourdi contains some passages taken from the Angelica, a comedy by Fabritio de Fornaris, a Neapolitan, who calls himself on the title-page of his play "il Capitano Coccodrillo, comico confidente." A few remarks are borrowed from la Emilia, a comedy by Luigi Grotto, whilst here and there we find a reminiscence of Plautus, and one scene, possibly suggested by the sixteenth of the Contes et Discours d'Eutrapel, written by Nöel du Fail, Lord of la Hérissaye. Some of the scenes remind us of passages in several Italian Commedia del' arte between Arlecchino and Pantaleone, the personifications of impudence and ingenuity, as opposed to meekness and stupidity; they rouse the hilarity of the spectators, who laugh at the ready invention of the knave, as well as at the gullibility of the old man. Before this comedy appeared, the French stage was chiefly filled with plays full of intrigue, but with scarcely any attempt to delineate character or manners. In this piece the plot is carried on, partly in imitation of the Spanish taste, by a servant, Mascarille, who is the first original personage Molière created; he is not a mere imitation of the valets of the Italian or classical comedy; he has not the coarseness and base feelings of the servants of his contemporaries, but he is a lineal descendant of Villon, a free and easy fellow, not overly nice in the choice or execution of his plans, but inventing new ones after each failure, simply to keep in his hand; not too valiant, except perhaps when in his cups, rather jovial and chaffy, making fun of himself and everybody else besides, no respecter of persons or things, and doomed probably not to die in his bed. Molière must have encountered many such a man whilst the wars of the Fronde were raging, during his perigrinations in the provinces.

There are too many incidents, which take place successively, without necessarily arising one from another. Some of the characters are not distinctly brought out, the style has often been found fault with, by Voltaire and other competent judges, but these defects are partly covered by a variety and vivacity which are only fully displayed when heard on the stage.


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