Gods behaving badly and men behaving monstrously in Molière’s classical comedies

This paper examines the theme of gods and monsters in Amphitryon and L’Avare, first produced at the Palais-Royal theatre in January and September 1668 respectively. In a bid to boost the flagging audiences of  L’Avare which seems initially to have been considered too prosaic, the short verse comedy Amphitryon was quickly added to the programme. Yet these two classically inspired comedies, which represent quite different orders of humour, have always been, like gods and monsters, an odd coupling. Written on either side of the triumphant performance of Georges Dandin as a comédie-ballet in the July Grand Divertissement, arguably the grandest moment in Molière’s career at court, Amphitryon and L’Avare may each be taken as a cas limite of Molière’s most familiar comic techniques: disguise, impersonation and imposture. This paper will examine the comic clash that would have resulted from a joint performance of their separate Plautan settings, which offered the dramatist yet another, more spectacular excuse for unprincipled behaviour of the kind that has become very popular in comedy of late, and has never failed to delight. 

Elizabeth Woodrough
Symposium Title: 
Gods, Men and Monsters – 2001
Author affiliation: 
Department of French, University of Exeter, UK