A Game of Love and Chance by Marivaux

“Have you ever seen counterfeit money? Do you know what a dud coin is? Well, I am rather like that.”

A Game of Love and Chance is the third book from Emma in our virtual gift exchange. I was surprised at the choice of a play, but also more than happy to read it. I was lucky enough to see a superb production of The Triumph of Love a few years ago, so reading another play by Marivaux brought back some good memories. I now have a collection of several Marivaux plays: The Double Inconstancy, The False Servant, The Game of Love and Chance, Careless Vows, The Feigned Inconstancy and five one-act pieces. My edition is from Methuen World Classics, and it has the peculiar feature of including the cast members, so for A Game of Love and Chance, my copy states that this translation, from John Walters was commissioned by the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton, and was first performed on Feb. 20, 1986. Then comes the cast list of actors for this particular production.

The plot of A Game of Love and Chance is as follows:

Monsier Orgon wants his daughter, Silvia to marry Dorante, the son of an acquaintance.This is, rather importantly, an arranged marriage–but an arranged marriage with conditions. Orgon wants Silvia to meet Dorante and see if he pleases her. Silvia, however, has recently had a rather unpleasant experience of seeing a wife in tears and she realises that a man can show one face to the world while his wife sees the ‘real’ side. She gives her servant, Lisette, an example:

And then there’s Leander. People are happy with him when they see him, are they not? Well, let me tell you, at home he is a man who says not a word, neither laughs nor scolds–a frozen, solitary, unapproachable soul. His wife does not know him, she has no dealings with his mind. She is married only to a shape who emerges from an inner room to come to table, and withers all around him with a chilling apathy and torpor. Now there’s an entertaining husband for you! 

So Sylvia devises a plan. She decides to pose as her servant Lisette as she wants to be able to gauge Dorante’s true character. Is there a better way to see the ‘real’ person than to pose as (or to really be) a perceived social inferior?  

There’s a catch. Dorante has decided to do the same thing, so he switches places with his valet Harlequin. Subsequently, Harlequin courts Lisette (thinking that she’s the wealthy Silvia), and Dorante falls in love with Silvia (thinking she’s the lowly maidservant). Of course this is all very clever as then we see that Dorante’s motivated not by venal concerns but by love–whereas Harlequin thinks he’s going to land a rich wife and change his fortunes. The best part has to be that the audience is on the joke–along with Sylvia’s father, Orgon.

The dialogue is fast-paced and very witty. Here’s Harlequin and Lisette:

Lisette: I find it hard to believe that it hurts you so much to wait, Monsieur. You are only pretending impatience out of gallantry. You have barely arrived here, your love cannot be very strong. At the most, it can only be in its infancy.

Harlequin: You are mistaken, oh wonder of our age! A love such as ours does not stay long in the cradle. My love was born at your first glance, your second gave him strength, and the third made him a big boy. Let us try to marry him off as soon as possible. Look after him, since you are his mother.

Lisette: Do you find him mistreated then? Is he so forsaken?

Harlequin: Until he is fixed up, just give him your lovely white hand to keep him amused.

Is it just my dirty mind, or is there a sexual connotation there?

I didn’t care for some of the updated language. Perhaps it worked better on the stage. Here’s the arrival of Harlequin posing as Dorante:

Harlequin: A servant out there told me to come in here. He said my pa-in-law and my missus would be informed.

Silvia: you mean Monsieur Orgon and his daughter, I suppose, Sir?

Harlequin: Well, yes, my pa-in-law and my missus, as good as. I’ve come to wed, and they’re waiting for me so they can get married. It’s all agreed. we’ve only to go through with the ceremony, and that’s a mere trifle.

In the French version, Harlequin uses the term beau père instead.

One of things that struck me as I read the play is how much it reminded me of Shakespeare for its idea of the mixed up couples, but the informative intro to my copy states that Marivaux plays  “have an average of six main roles, with a minimum of five and a maximum of ten.” Just guessing here, but the Shakepeare plays seem to have a higher average number of characters. Another thing that was apparent in the play is of course the innate snobbery that the upper class couple Dorante and Silvia are capable of a higher sort of love while Harlequin and Lisette’s relationship is much more earthy. The laughs seem to be generated by Harlequin and Lisette rather than their upper class counterparts, so is Marivaux also saying that the servants enjoy life more?

Thanks Emma. I enjoyed this and since I have a free French version on the kindle, I’ll try reading it in French–although I think the translation I have includes some creative liberties.

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11 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Marivaux

11 responses to “A Game of Love and Chance by Marivaux

  1. I’m glad you liked it. I had noticed that you usually don’t read plays but I wanted you to discover a playwright I really like. If you haven’t seen it, L’esquive is based on this play and it’s an excellent film.
    I hope you didn’t smooth your reviews of the books I chose to spare my feelings, it seems almost impossible that I didn’t make a wrong choice so far.

    • There’s one yet to go but it hasn’t arrived yet. I’ll admit that I was a bit worried about reading a play as I’m a believer that reading Shakespeare in school ruined him for me. But I had fun with this–although I think I would have preferred a more conservative translation to be honest.

  2. I love reading plays. And I liked this one a lot when I read it.
    I studied quite in depth and find it has so many great elements.
    Don’t you like Oscar Wilde’s plays?

  3. Boy, Caroline goes right for the throat!

    Marivaux is a lot of fun. I must have read him in an older translation. The dialogue was more theatrical. Seven Comedies, tr. Oscar Mandel.

    Emma is right, the movie (Games of Love and Chance in English) is quite interesting in how it employs the play.

    • Sorry, Tom, what do you mean?

      I wish I’d bought an older translation of this. I bought my copy sight unseen and the copy sent wasn’t the one listed.
      I haven’t seen the film yet but intend to some time soon.

  4. Years of reading Shakespeare plays aloud in the classroom was a mind-numbingly boring experience. I grew to loathe Shakespeare, and it wasn’t a fault of his work obviously but I can still remember the collective groan in the classroom when we read the plays aloud taking turns as the teacher checked to see if we were still awake. So after that experience, I was put off of reading plays. When Emma selected the Marivaux for me, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it, but really it was just like reading anything else good.

    • Some of Shakespeare’s plays illustrate the worst that people wary of plays expect while Oscar Wilde can convert the most hardened.
      You as a film lover would like so many plays.
      How about newer British playwrights like Willy Russel and Alan Bennett?
      (Shirley Valentine and Talking Heads).
      Another play you would like – going for the throat again – “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” – and all Tennesse William’s.
      My personal favourite playwright is Giraudoux.
      For your one page/day project Yasmina Reza would be a nice choice.

      • I think it was the endless readling aloud of the plays that killed the desire to read plays for me. It certainly turned me off reading Shakespeare. I like both of the playwrights you mentioned and have enjoyed a few books from Bennett–although I heard that his latest “Smut” which I intended to get includes a rather upsetting rape scene.

        I’m not doing well on the one-page-a-day project. It has proved impossible to sustain on work days unfortunately.

  5. Pingback: La Locandiera by Carlo Goldoni | Book Around The Corner

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