Friday, 30 October 1998

Molière: Les Fourberies de Scapin (1671)

Translation: As That Scoundrel Scapin, by John Wood, 1953
Edition: Penguin, 1984
Review number: 153

That Scoundrel Scapin is definitely not an exact translation of the title of Molière's play, but it is difficult to imagine an alternative which doesn't sound a little odd in English - a fourberie is a deceit, or lying trick.

In Molière's output, there are about five really well known plays, and then lots of others which are very obscure, particularly in English. Among the obscure plays, most are very stereotypical commedia dell'arte standard plots - in fact, most of them have identical plots. This makes Molière's plays, like those of Marivaux, seem to me to be rather interchangeable and anonymous, however much fun in themselves. As so often with genre writing, as this kind of comedy is (though a genre now pretty much extinct), it is only when the conventional gestures are transcended that a true masterpiece results.

To anyone with a passing acquaintance with the genre (i.e. anyone who has read more than one or two plays by either writer), it will not come as a surprise to learn that Scapin is a reascaly servant, or that his tricks are played to bring about the marriage of his young master Octavio against the opposition of Octavio's father. The tricks in fact have little to do with the resolution of the plot, which rests on a conventional (and most unlikely) revelation that the girl he loves is in fact secretly the very woman his father wants him to marry. Not Molière's best.

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