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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Sham Marquis and the Affected Ladies
By Molière (1622–1673)
 
        
From ‘Les Précieuses Ridicules’: Translation of Charles Heron Wall
  
  [The scene is the drawing-room of the provincial but ambitious ladies Mademoiselle Madelon and her cousin Mademoiselle Cathos, visiting Paris. Both are dressed in the height of fashionable absurdity. To them enters Mascarille, a clever valet, disguised by his master as a marquis and Parisian gentleman, for the purpose of tricking the silly young women and making them more sensible through the humiliation of their discovery. He plays his part with much gusto.]

MASCARILLE  [after having bowed to them]—Ladies, you will be surprised, no doubt, at the boldness of my visit, but your reputation brings this troublesome incident upon you: merit has for me such powerful attractions, that I run after it wherever it is to be found.  1
  Madelon—If you pursue merit, it is not in our grounds that you should hunt after it.  2
  Cathos—If you find merit among us, you must have brought it here yourself.  3
  Mascarille—I refuse assent to such an assertion. Fame tells the truth in speaking of your worth; and you will pique, repique, and capot 1 all the fashionable world of Paris.  4
  Madelon—Your courtesy carries you somewhat too far in the liberality of your praises; and we must take care, my cousin and I, not to trust too much to the sweetness of your flattery.  5
  Cathos—My dear, we should call for chairs.  6
  Madelon  [to servant]—Almanzor!  7
  Almanzor—Madame.  8
  Madelon—Quick! convey us hither at once the appliances of conversation.
[Almanzor brings chairs.]
  9
  Mascarille—But stay, is there any security for me here?  10
  Cathos—What can you fear?  11
  Mascarille—Some robbery of my heart, some assassination of my freedom. I see before me two eyes which seem to me to be very dangerous fellows; they abuse liberty and give no quarter. The deuce! no sooner is any one near, but they are up in arms, and ready for their murderous attack! Ah! upon my word I mistrust them! I shall either run away, or require good security that they will do me no harm.  12
  Madelon—What playfulness, my dear.  13
  Cathos—Yes, I see he is an Amilcar.  14
  Madelon—Do not fear: our eyes have no evil intentions; your heart may sleep in peace, and may rest assured of their innocence.  15
  Cathos—But for pity’s sake, sir, do not be inexorable to that arm-chair, which for the last quarter of an hour has stretched out its arms to you: satisfy the desire it has of embracing you.  16
  Mascarille  [after having combed himself and adjusted his canions]—Well, ladies, what is your opinion of Paris?  17
  Madelon—Alas! can there be two opinions? It would be the antipodes of reason not to confess that Paris is the great museum of wonders, the centre of good taste, of wit and gallantry.  18
  Mascarille—I think for my part that out of Paris, people of position cannot exist.  19
  Cathos—That is a never-to-be-disputed truth.  20
  Mascarille—It is somewhat muddy, but then we have sedan-chairs.  21
  Madelon—Yes, a chair is a wonderful safeguard against the insults of mud and bad weather.  22
  Mascarille—You must have many visitors? What great wit belongs to your circle?  23
  Madelon—Alas! we are not known yet; but we have every hope of being so before long, and a great friend of ours has promised to bring us all the gentlemen who have written in the ‘Elegant Extracts.’  24
  Cathos—As well as some others, who, we are told, are the sovereign judges in matters of taste.  25
  Mascarille—Leave that to me! I can manage that for you better than any one else. They all visit me, and I can truly say that I never get up in the morning without having half a dozen wits about me.  26
  Madelon—Ah! we should feel under the greatest obligation to you if you would be so kind as to do this for us; for it is certain one must be acquainted with all those gentlemen in order to belong to society. By them reputations are made in Paris; and you know that it is quite sufficient to be seen with some of them to acquire the reputation of a connoisseur, even though there should be no other foundation for the distinction. But for my part, what I value most is, that in such society we learn a hundred things which it is one’s duty to know, and which are the quintessence of wit: the scandal of the day; the latest things out in prose or verse. We hear exactly and punctually that a M. A has composed the most beautiful piece in the world on such-and-such a subject; that Madame B has adapted words to such-and-such an air; that M. C has composed a madrigal on the fidelity of his lady-love, and M. D upon the faithlessness of his; that yesterday evening the Sieur E wrote a sixain to Mademoiselle F, to which she sent an answer this morning at eight o’clock; that M. G has such-and-such a project in his head; that M. H is occupied with the third volume of his romance; and that M. J has his work in the press. By knowledge like this we acquire consideration in every society; whereas if we are left in ignorance of such matters, all the wit we may possess is a thing of naught and as dust in the balance.  27
  Cathos—Indeed, I think it is carrying the ridiculous to the extreme, for any one who makes the least pretense to wit, not to know even the last little quatrain that has been written. For my part, I should feel greatly ashamed if some one were by chance to ask me if I had seen some new thing which I had not seen.  28
  Mascarille—It is true that it is disgraceful not to be one of the very first to know what is going on. But do not make yourself anxious about it; I will establish an academy of wits in your house, and I promise you that not a single line shall be written in all Paris which you shall not know by heart before anybody else. I, your humble servant, indulge a little in writing poetry when I feel in the vein; and you will find handed about in all the ruelles of Paris two hundred songs, as many sonnets, four hundred epigrams, and more than a thousand madrigals, without reckoning enigmas and portraits.  29
  Madelon—I must acknowledge that I am madly fond of portraits: there is nothing more elegant, according to my opinion.  30
  Mascarille—Portraits are difficult, and require a deep insight into character; but you shall see some of mine which will please you.  31
  Cathos—I must say that for my part I am appallingly fond of enigmas.  32
  Mascarille—They form a good occupation for the mind; and I have already written four this morning, which I will give you to guess.  33
  Madelon—Madrigals are charming when they are neatly turned.  34
  Mascarille—I have a special gift that way, and I am engaged in turning the whole Roman History into madrigals.  35
  Madelon—Ah! that will be exquisite. Pray let me have a copy, if you publish it.  36
  Mascarille—I promise you each a copy beautifully bound. It is beneath my rank to occupy myself in that fashion; but I do it for the benefit of the publishers, who leave me no peace.  37
  Madelon—I should think that it must be a most pleasant thing to see one’s name in print.  38
  Mascarille—Undoubtedly. By-the-by, let me repeat to you some extempore verses I made yesterday at the house of a friend of mine, a duchess, whom I went to see. You must know that I’m a wonderful hand at impromptus.  39
  Cathos—An impromptu is the touchstone of genius.  40
  Mascarille—Listen.  41
  Madelon—We are all ears.  42
  Mascarille
  Oh! oh! I was not taking care.
While thinking not of harm, I watch my fair.
Your lurking eye my heart doth steal away.
Stop thief! Stop thief! Stop thief!—I say.
  43
  Cathos—Ah me! It is gallant to the last degree.  44
  Mascarille—Yes, all I do has a certain easy air about it. There is a total absence of the pedant about all my writings.  45
  Madelon—They are thousands and thousands of miles from that.  46
  Mascarille—Did you notice the beginning? “Oh! oh!” There is something exceptional in that “Oh! oh!” like a man who bethinks himself all of a sudden—“Oh! oh!” Surprise is well depicted, is it not? “Oh! oh!”  47
  Madelon—Yes, I think that “Oh! oh!” admirable.  48
  Mascarille—At first sight it does not seem much.  49
  Cathos—Ah! what do you say? These things cannot be too highly valued.  50
  Madelon—Certainly; and I would rather have composed that “Oh! oh!” than an epic poem.  51
  Mascarille—Upon my word now, you have good taste.  52
  Madelon—Why, yes, perhaps it’s not altogether bad.  53
  Mascarille—But do you not admire also “I was not taking care”? “I was not taking care.” I did not notice it; quite a natural way of speaking, you know: “I was not taking care.” “While thinking not of harm”—whilst innocently, without forethought, like a poor sheep, “I watch my fair”—that is to say, I amuse myself by considering, observing, contemplating you. “Your lurking eye”—what do you think of this word “lurking”? Do you not think it well chosen?  54
  Cathos—Perfectly well.  55
  Mascarille—“Lurking,” hiding: you would say, a cat just going to catch a mouse—“lurking.”  56
  Madelon—Nothing could be better.  57
  Mascarille—“My heart doth steal away”—snatch it away; carries it off from me. “Stop thief! stop thief! stop thief!” Would you not imagine it to be a man shouting and running after a robber? “Stop thief! stop thief! stop thief!”  58
  Madelon—It must be acknowledged that it is witty and gallant.  59
  Mascarille—I must sing you the tune I made to it.  60
  Cathos—Ah! you have learnt music?  61
  Mascarille—Not a bit of it!  62
  Cathos—Then how can you have set it to music?  63
  Mascarille—People of my position know everything without ever having learnt.  64
  Madelon—Of course it is so, my dear.  65
  Mascarille—Just listen, and see if the tune is to your taste: hem, hem, la, la, la, la, la. The brutality of the season has greatly injured the delicacy of my voice: but it is of no consequence; permit me, without ceremony  [he sings]:—
  Oh! oh! I was not taking care.
While thinking not of harm, I watch my fair.
Your lurking eye my heart doth steal away.
Stop thief! Stop thief! Stop thief!—I say.
  66
  Cathos—What soul-subduing music! One would willingly die while listening.  67
  Madelon—What soft languor creeps over one’s heart.  68
  Mascarille—Do you not find the thought clearly expressed in the song? “Stop thief! stop thief!” And then as if one suddenly cried out, “Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop thief!” Then all at once, like a person out of breath—“Stop thief!”  69
  Madelon—It shows a knowledge of perfect beauty; every part is inimitable; both the words and the air enchant me.  70
  Cathos—I never yet met with anything worthy of being compared to it.  71
  Mascarille—All I do comes naturally to me. I do it without study.  72
  Madelon—Nature has treated you like a fond mother: you are her spoiled child.  73
  Mascarille—How do you spend your time, ladies?  74
  Cathos—Oh! in doing nothing at all.  75
  Madelon—Until now, we have been in a dreadful dearth of amusements.  76
  Mascarille—I should be happy to take you to the play one of these days, if you would permit me; the more so as there is a new piece going to be acted which I should be glad to see in your company.  77
  Madelon—There is no refusing such an offer.  78
  Mascarille—But I must beg of you to applaud it well when we are there, for I have promised my help to praise up the piece; and the author came to me again this morning to beg my assistance. It is the custom for authors to come and read their new plays to us people of rank, so that they may persuade us to approve their work, and to give them a reputation. I leave you to imagine if, when we say anything, the pit dare contradict us. As for me, I am most scrupulous; and when once I have promised my assistance to a poet, I always call out “Splendid! beautiful!” even before the candles are lighted.  79
  Madelon—Do not speak of it: Paris is a most wonderful place; a hundred things happen every day there of which country people, however clever they may be, have no idea.  80
  Cathos—It is sufficient: now we understand this, we shall consider ourselves under the obligation of praising all that is said.  81
  Mascarille—I do not know whether I am mistaken; but you seem to me to have written some play yourselves.  82
  Madelon—Ah! there may be some truth in what you say.  83
  Mascarille—Upon my word, we must see it. Between ourselves, I have composed one which I intend shortly to bring out.  84
  Cathos—Indeed! and to what actors do you mean to give it?  85
  Mascarille—What a question! Why, to the actors of the Hôtel de Bourgogne, of course: they alone can give a proper value to a piece. The others are a pack of ignoramuses, who recite their parts just as one speaks every day of one’s life; they have no idea of thundering out verses, or of pausing at a fine passage. How can one make out where the fine lines are, if the actor does not stop at them and thus tell you when you are to applaud?  86
  Cathos—Certainly, there is always a way of making an audience feel the beauties of a play; and things are valued according to the way they are put before you.  87
  Mascarille—How do you like my lace, feathers, and etceteras? Do you find any incongruity between them and my coat?  88
  Cathos—Not the slightest.  89
  Mascarille—The ribbon is well chosen, you think?  90
  Madelon—Astonishingly well. It is real Perdrigeon.  91
  Mascarille—What do you say of my canions?  92
  Madelon—They look very fashionable.  93
  Mascarille—I can at least boast that they are a whole quarter of a yard wider than those usually worn.  94
  Madelon—I must acknowledge that I have never yet seen the elegance of the adjustment carried to such perfection.  95
  Mascarille—May I beg of you to direct your olfactory senses to these gloves?  96
  Madelon—They smell terribly sweet.  97
  Cathos—I never inhaled a better-made perfume.  98
  Mascarille—And this?  [He bends forward for them to smell his powdered wig.]  99
  Madelon—It has the true aristocratic odor. One’s finest senses are exquisitely affected by it.  100
  Mascarille—You say nothing of my plumes! What do you think of them?  101
  Cathos—Astonishingly beautiful!  102
  Mascarille—Do you know that every tip cost me a louis d’or? It is my way to prefer indiscriminately everything of the best.  103
  Madelon—I assure you that I greatly sympathize with you. I am furiously delicate about everything I wear, and even my socks must come from the best hands.  104
  Mascarille  [crying out suddenly]—Oh, oh, oh! gently, gently, ladies; ladies, this is unkind: I have good reason to complain of your behavior; it is not fair.  105
  Cathos—What is it? What is the matter?  106
  Mascarille—Matter? What, both of you against my heart, and at the same time too! attacking me right and left! Ah! it is contrary to fair play; I shall cry out murder.  107
  Cathos  [to Madelon]—It must be acknowledged that he says things in a manner altogether his own.  108
  Madelon—His way of putting things is exquisitely admirable.  109
  Cathos  [to Mascarille]—You are more afraid than hurt, and your heart cries out before it is touched.  110
  Mascarille—The deuce! why, it is sore from head to foot.  111
 
Note 1. Terms in piquet, a then fashionable game of cards. [back]
 
 
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