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orgon-and-lisette.jpg (175638 bytes)
Orgon and Lisette scheme together.
(Charles Sutherland and Lisa Lauren)






The Game of Love and Chance, by Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux

Translated for the stage by Robert Bethune

The Game of Love and Chance is available on DVD and as a printed book.

A full video production based on the world premiere of this translation is available on DVD.
Also available on DVD as part of our collection, Sex in the Age of Reason.

The translation is also available as a printed book which may be ordered directly from Amazon.com.

The play and the playwright as seen by the translator

As I wrote in the program for the first production of this translation, Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux is one of France’s best loved playwrights. A contemporary of Moliere, he is the playwright, other than Moliere himself, most often performed at the famous Comedie Francaise, the theater founded by–yet again–Moliere himself. Marivaux also wrote for the Italian commedia dell'arte troupes (the Comedie Italien) upon their return to France. The Game of Love and Chance is among the repertoire performed by the Italian players in 1730. Since then, it has often been performed by the Comedie Francaise and by many other companies in France and wherever French is spoken. Performances in translation are becoming more frequent, but it has taken the rest of the world some time to come to an appreciation of this playwright, known for the delicacy of his language, his skill at subtle, yet comic characterization, and his graceful view of the human heart.

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Dorante flirts with Sylvia, whom he thinks is the maid Lisette.
(Rima Yazbek and J. D. Hennig)

A particular attraction of Marivaux for me as a translator is his language. It is remarkably deft, light, and expressive, with a delightful, shapely elegance. When characters are bantering, as his characters constantly do, the language is quick and supple; when characters become serious, as his characters sooner or later become, his language serves their thoughts and concerns with subtlety and skill. Preserving these qualities in clear, easily heard and spoken English has been a delightful challenge.

All great comedy is serious at heart. This one is no exception. Sylvia, the ingenue, and the problems of her heart are at the heart of this play. Underneath the classic commedia plot with its double identity switch, there is a very serious purpose: how shall I judge the person I shall love and marry? When my society is built upon masks, how do I get a look at my lover's true face? How can I see my lover's true face while hiding my own, lest he should see it and love me not? She finds her way through a web of intrigue and deceit--much of it of her own weaving--because she is sincere and intelligent, and because the rest of the web-weavers, though they delight in her struggles, do genuinely love her--they are, after all, her own family.

How the story is told

Sylvia is distraught. As her maid, Lisette, struggles to dress her and arrange her hair, Sylvia tries to think through her problem--what is she to do about a husband? She is very, very doubtful about marriage; the marriages she can observe, in her strictly limited circle, are not happy ones. The men do not show their true faces; they hide behind masks, and the masks they show to the world are deeply fraudulent: the civil, polite, polished gentleman abroad is a silent, bitter, harsh and unloving figure in the home. Lisette does not bother her head about all this; she simply dreams of a man--almost any man!

Orgon brings the news to his daughter that he has arranged a marriage for her, but despite her immediate fears, he assures her that he does not mean to force anything upon her: if she does not like the young man, it's over, no more to be said. He has invited the young man to visit.

That's when Sylvia has her idea. She asks her father to allow her to change places with her maid, so that she can observe the young man, Dorante, when his guard is down. Her father is surprised, but he loves a good intrigue, and he is even more taken with Sylvia's idea because he knows--as she does not--that Dorante has asked to do the same thing: he will arrive disguised as his servant, Arlequin, and his servant will be disguised as Dorante. Dorante's father has advised Orgon of this in a letter, unbeknownst to any of the young people. Orgon spills the beans to his son, Mario, and Mario is delighted to have the chance to wreak havoc in the whole affair.

There is a great deal of comedy that comes out of the working-out of all this intrigue, but along the way, something really rather serious happens: both Sylvia and Dorante find themselves fallling very deeply in love with someone they believe is completely unsuitable--a mere servant. As they reveal more and more of their feelings, they become more and more upset by it, and more and more afraid for their own happiness and, to their credit, the happiness of the other person.

Finally, Dorante can stand it no longer. He is an honest man, and will not deceive someone he cares deeply about. But when he does so, he runs into something else: the fact that none of these people can resist a good masquerade.

From Act II scene xiii:

Dorante

You need to know that the man who is with your mistress is not who you think he is.

Silvia

(sharply)

Who is he then?

Dorante

A valet.

Silvia

And?

Dorante

I am Dorante myself.

sylvia.jpg (159550 bytes)
Orgon and Lisette scheme together.
(Charles Sutherland and Lisa Lauren)

Silvia

(aside)

Ah! I understand my heart so clearly now!

Dorante

I wanted to use this disguise to be able to see and judge your mistress before marrying her. My father gave me his permission to do this, but now everything seems like a nightmare: I hate the mistress I’m supposed to marry, and I love the servant who can find nothing in me but a new master. What am I to do now now? I blush to say it of her, but your mistress has no taste at all. She is so taken by my valet to that she will marry him if they let her! What do I do now?

Silvia

(aside)

Let’s keep him in the dark about me just a little longer.

When finally she can avoid it no longer, she confronts him with the final test: if she is only a maid, and he is a man of the nobility, how will he treat her?

Silvia

Let me go, hold me, whichever, but if you love me, don’t question me like that! You’re afraid I might not care for you. You’re overjoyed when I keep quiet. What do my feelings matter to you?

Dorante

Do they matter to me, Lisette? Can you doubt that I worship you?

Silvia

No, especially not when you repeat it so much. But why work so hard to persuade me? What do you want me to do, Monsieur? I’m speaking from the heart. You love me, yes, but loving me isn’t a serious matter for you; you have a thousand ways to get rid of me any time you wish! Think of the distance between you and I. Think of the thousands of little obstacles this will put in your path, all the people who will make sure you feel them, the amusements available to a man of your rank—all that will make you fall out of the very love you urge on me so forcefully. It might well make you smile even as you leave here today, and for good reason. But what about me, Monsieur? When I think of all those things, they make me so afraid. What if it happened? What would help me recover from the shock? Who could ever repay me for losing you? Who would you want to fill your place in my heart? Do you understand that if I loved you, no one, not even the noblest man on earth, could ever touch my soul again? Judge for yourself how it would be with me, and have the generosity to hide your love from me. Even as I speak, I shy away from telling you that I love you in the state I see you in. If I tell your heart how I feel, your heart might overcome your head, and so you see that I hide my feelings from you.

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Dorante declares himself to Sylvia, even though he thinks she is Lisette..
(Rima Yazbek and J. D. Hennig)

Dorante

Oh! My darling Lisette, I finally understand you. Your words have gone through me like wildfire. I worship you, I honor you; rank, birth and fortune simply disappear before a soul like yours. I would be ashamed of myself if my pride should ever again come between us. My heart and my hand are yours.

Silvia

It’s true—you do so very well deserve that I should take them. Shouldn’t I be generous enough to hide the pleasure that it gives me? And do you think this can possibly last?

Dorante

Then you do love me?

Silvia

No! No…but if you ask me again, so much the worse for you.

Dorante

I just don’t think I’m afraid of your threats any more.

And shortly thereafter, she takes pity on him and reveals herself to him. Meanwhile, the servants, who both think the other to be noble, have been going through the same process:

From Act III scene vi:

Arlequin

Oh, mademoiselle, we have so much to talk about! How do you feel about, uh, engineers?

Lisette

What about engineers?

Arlequin

Well, for example, an engineer, ah, uh, a—wardrobe engineer.

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Lisette thinks about that handsome young man.....
(Lisa Lauren)

Lisette

A wardrobe engineer! So I’m definitely not talking to Dorante, am I?

Arlequin

He’s my, uh, my supervisor.

Lisette

You jackass!

Arlequin

(aside)

Why does everybody call me that?

Lisette

Just look at this ape. Just look at him!

Arlequin

Hey! That was a pretty good somersault I did there!

Lisette

Just a little while ago I begged for his favor, I humiliated myself for this monkey!

Arlequin

I’m sorry, Mademoiselle, but if you would rather have love than glory, I can do much better for you than any gentleman!

Lisette

(laughing)

Ha! Ha! Ha! How can I keep myself from laughing? If this is dignity, there’s only one choice I can make... Come on, come on, my dignity is all forgiveness, and that’s what makes it so nice.

Arlequin

All is forgiven, kind lady? Oh, but my love will show you such gratitude for this!

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Orgon waits to see the effect of his announcement on Sylvia.
(Charles Sutherland)

Lisette

Shake hands, Arlequin; yes, you played me for a fool, but is Monsieur’s wardrobe engineer any better than Mademoiselle’s chambermaid?

Arlequin

Mademoiselle’s chambermaid!

Lisette

She’s my—supervisor. As it were.

Arlequin

You false…!

Lisette

Take your revenge.

Arlequin

Just look at this little monkey! Just an hour ago, I was a mass of confusion and misery for her!

Lisette

Back to the facts. Do you love me?

Arlequin

By God I do. You’ve changed your name, but you haven’t changed your face, and as you know, we promised to be true to each other despite any little mistakes we might make.

Lisette

So come on. It does us no harm; let’s make each other feel better. It hasn’t hurt us at all. Why, don’t we still know how to laugh? And speaking of laughter—it looks to me as though your master is still in the dark about my mistress, but don’t tell him a thing. Let’s just let things work out any way they can. I think that’s him coming now. Monsieur, your ever-so-humble servant.

Arlequin

And I? Your ever-so-noble valet, Mademoiselle!

And the play unwinds in a delightful scene of reconcilation, leading to a dance finale.

Sex in the age of reason

For me, this play is part of a cycle. With The Mistress of the Inn, The Game of Love and Chance, and Minna von Barnhelm, we have a very fair selection, from three different languages, of a very interesting phenomenon: the romantic comedy of the age of reason. In an age that so greatly valued the head, what did people make of the heart? We can observe that the heart was taken very seriously indeed. In all three plays, people give very serious consideration to the problems of love; they examine carefully who their lover is, why they love that person, and how they should love that person in return. The answers are not always obvious, and are shot through with a spirit of fun; whaever else your lover may be, playing tricks on your love--especially if you hope to teach something at the same time--is always within bounds, though the outcome is never guaranteed. Every one of these lovers who tries to teach, winds up learning as well.

Production details

There are six named characters. Marivaux does not actually specify any locales; it is easy to stage the play in one location. The play requires only one property--a letter. It can be done with lots of physical comedy if desired, especially involving Arlequin. It is difficult to imagine a play more skillfully written for ease of production; its nature in this respect is a tribute to Marivaux's consummate professionalism.

Files available for download

A video clip of the moment when Dorante reveals who he really is--to the woman who is not who he thinks she is! Dorante is played by J. D. Hennig; Syvia by Rima Yazbeck.

A PDF file of the last two scenes of the play, in which Sylvia unwinds her intrigue with Dorante.

A form you may use to request a royalty quotation.

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All text and images on this page are copyright 2005 Robert Bethune.

Photographs are from a production done by MCRT at Riverside Arts Center, Ypsilanti, Michigan.