Saturday, 24 September 2011

Le jeu de l'amour et du hasard by Marivaux

One of my many required reading titles for between now and X-mas. I won’t be typing up reviews for all of them, but I really liked this one, so I thought it deserved a review all of its own! I wasn’t expecting much of it because, frankly, the front cover put me off even reading the book.

A bit of historical context: at this time, France was still bouncing back after the end of Louis XIV’s reign. Though his reign started well, it didn’t end all that well and it took a few years for Paris – and France – to recover. At the time when Le Jeu was written, there were two major theatre trends in Paris: French theatre, which took itself very seriously; and Italian theatre, which has more of a comic side to it. Le Jeu fits in the Italian trend, although Marivaux did also write pieces for French theatre.

Presentation: A short but fun play. My copy is a large paperback with 96 pages broken down into three acts and I don’t know how many scenes.

Story: Silvia isn’t particularly keen on the idea of marriage but when she finds out that she is to meet her newly betrothed, Dorante, that very same day she comes up with the perfect scheme: she and her maid will switch places, allowing her to form an opinion of Dorante without him knowing who she really is. When she asks her father’s permission to enact this scheme, he readily agrees, much to her surprise. Unbeknownst to Silvia (but known to her father), Dorante has had the exact same idea. Fun and games ensue.

Thoughts and impressions: As of the very first page, you know that Silvia is going to be one of those characters that just leave you groaning out loud. She was, right through to the end, though from the perspective of an early 18th century lady of class, I can understand where she’s coming from with her second set of theatrics.

This is not one but two plays within a play, more or less following the three rules of theatre that dominated the writing of French plays at that time. (The one rule that isn’t fully respected is ‘action’ as the piece could have ended had Silvia not played out her second, not entirely necessary, play.) However, I liked this added extra to the play and considering how it did add to both Silvia’s and Dorante’s characters in the end.

I found it funny how neither class, the regal Silvia and Dorante and the ‘help’ Lisette and Arlequin, was able to shake off their true status. Both Silvia and Dorante kept the clipped tones you would expect of members of the aristocracy while Lisette was always quite meek and softly spoken and Arlequin was downright rude! But it all adds up for a bit of short, easy to read fun.

Style: I admit that some of the subtler points of the style may have just completely gone over my head but I appreciated the humour in the piece. The author increases the ‘speed’ of the dialogue by repeating parts what was previously said. I think they even named this style after him!

Final verdict: One of the best pieces of French theatre that I’ve read so far. I was going to alternate scenes of this play with chapters of my English read but ended up ignoring my English book in favour of this and that says everything. 4 stars.

Extra notes: It was written in the early 1800's... of course there's no bad language or sex! 


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