Thursday, July 6, 2017

Sices, David. Alfred de Musset: Comedies & Proverbs. MD: Baltimore, The Johnny Hopkins University Press. 1994. pp. xiv-xv.

    In my version I have sought to respect the lyricism and the realism of Musset’s theatre language, as well as its elegance. That has involved finding a suitably aristocratic diction for his protagonists, and a suitably comic one for his “puppets”: Claudio and Tibia in What Does Marianne Want?, the Prince of Mantua and Marinoni in Fantasio, the Baron, Mistress Pluche, and Masters Blazius and Bridaine in You Can’t Trifle with Love, André and, in a different sense, Clavaroche in The Candlestick, and the Baroness, the Curate, and in a still different sense, Van Buck in You Never Can Tell (the one-act comedies A Passing Fancy and A Door Has to Be either Open or Shut involve only aristocratic characters.) I have tried throughout to avoid the use of historical or biographical annotation, beyond that of my introductions to the plays. In those few cases where simple translation of a cultural reference would have been unclear, I have tried to work an equivalent into the text (for example, in A Door Has to Be either Open or Shut the Count mentions rodrigue, a character from Corneille’s Le Cid whom Frenchmen immediately recognise). Indeed, the only places where I have found notes of any kind unavoidable are those in which the French language offers the choice between an intimate and a formal “you.”
  My greatest concern has been to find an English equivalent for the tone of Musset’s French. The lyrical, passionate, and yet elegant diction of the youthful trio of plays gives way to a more sophisticated, aristocratic diction in the later four. Yet in all of them the sense of linguistic playfulness, of fantasy, of humour is never far away, whether it be thought the irony or the satire of What Does Marianne Want?, Fantasio, and You Can’t Trifle with Love, or through the more wordly humour in The Candlestick, You Never Can Tell, A Passing Fancy, and A Door Has to Be either Open or Shut. That is Musset’s quite original type of comedy, and a good part of what gives these plays such a lively presence on the French stage today. Indeed, the choice of these seven particular works was dictated by their enduring viability as drama, their continuing importance in the French repertory.

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