Thursday, July 6, 2017

Wilbur, Richard. Molière: School for Wives and the Learned Ladies. FL: Orlando, Harcourt Brace & Co. 1978. pp 7-8.

  Any director of this English version will have to solve for himself certain problems of interpretation and staging, but I shall say what I think. It is my own decided opinion that Chrysalde is not a cuckold, and that Arnolphe’s second speech in Act I, Scene I is a bit of crude and objectionable ribbing. Chrysalde’s discourses about cuckoldry should be regarded, I think, both as frequently dubious “reasoning” and as bear-baiting; a good actor would know where to modulate between them. Arnolphe’s distaste for fuss and sophistication is likely to impress some as an endearing quality, but I do not see it so; rather, it is of a piece with the man’s anxiety to prove himself superior to a society whose ridicule he fears, and like the “honesty” of the Misanthrope’s Alceste, it entails posturing and bad faith. Finally, there is the fact that much of the slapstick in the plot – the throwing of the brick, Horace’s tumble from the ladder – occurs off stage, and that the on-stage proceedings consist in fair part of long speeches. I should be sorry to see any director right this apparent imbalance by introducing too much pie-throwing and bottom-pinching of his own invention. Once again, Dorante gives Molière’s point of view: the long speeches, he says, “are themselves actions,” involving incessant ironic interplay between speakers and hearers. To take the most obvious example, Horace’s addresses to Arnolphe are rendered wonderfully “busy” by the fact that he does not know he is addressing M. de la Souche, that Arnolphe cannot enlighten him, and that Arnolphe must continually struggle to conceal his glee or anguish. To add any great amount of farcical “business” to such complex comedy would be to divert in an unfortunate sense.
  This translation has aimed at a thought-for-thought fidelity, and has sought in its verse to avoid the metronomic, which is particularly fatal on the stage: I have sometimes been very limber indeed, as in the line “He’s the most hideous Christian I ever did see.” For a few words or phrases I am indebted to earlier English version in blank verse or prose. I must also thank [].

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