Arthur Augustus Tilley.

The literature of the French renaissance (Volume 2) online

. (page 11 of 34)
Online LibraryArthur Augustus TilleyThe literature of the French renaissance (Volume 2) → online text (page 11 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

than any of its predecessors.

It was not long after the Corrivaux was written that Baif
proceeded to translate or adapt some of the comedies of
Plautus and Terence, viz. the Eunuchus (1565) 1 and the
Heantontimoroumenos* of Terence and the Miles Gloriosus of
Plautus. His adaptation of the latter, which he entitled
Le Brave, is a free and amplified rendering of the text, with
French names of persons and places substituted for those of
the original. Athens, for instance, becomes Nantes. The
play thus adapted with considerable skill to the taste of a
French audience was given before Charles IX at the Hotel
de Guise on January 28, 1567 :: .

Four years after this performance French Renaissance
comedy encountered a formidable rival for the patronage of
the court in an Italian company of actors called / Gelosi,
who paid a visit to Paris in 1571, remaining there till the
following year. In 1577 Henry III, who had seen their
performances in Venice on his return from Poland, persuaded
them to pay a second visit, which lasted till May, 1578.
Another Italian company, / Confidcnti, came to France in
1572, and again in 1584 and 1585 4 .

This trend of public favour, at any rate among the
lettered classes, in the direction of Italian comedy, is also

1 Published in 1573 m v °l- HI. oiLes/eux.
- Baif 's version of this is lost.

3 Published in the same year, and reprinted in vol. III. of Les Jcux ; see
Marty- Laveaux's edition, III. 283 ff.

4 Ch. Magnin, Les commencemens de la comedie Italienne en Frame in A\
deux mondes, xx. (1847), 1090 ft. ; A. Baschet, Les comediens italiens a la cour de
France, 1882. Lord Buckhurst, the author of Gorboduc, witnessed a performance
at Paris in March 1571 (Cat. of Slate Papers, Elizabeth, 1569-71, p. 413). There
was one at Blois on Jan. 25, 1577 and one at Paris in October of the same year
(P. de L'Estoile, Journal, 1. 179, 192, 201).



shewn by the fact that the best known and most voluminous
writer of French Renaissance comedy, Pier re de Larivey,
made his reputation by merely adapting Italian plays, while
the unsuitability of these adaptations for representation testifies
to the withdrawal of comedy from the stage.

Born in Champagne (probably at Troyes), of Italian
parents, Pierre de Larivey began his literary career by trans-
lating various Italian authors, Straparola, Firenzuola, Doni 1 .
He then turned his attention to comedy, and published in
1595 six plays with a general acknowledgement to certain
Italian writers, but without mentioning the particular plays
to which he was indebted. As a matter of fact all the plays
were translated or adapted from Italian originals, with modi-
fications to suit the taste of French readers. Thus, as in
Baif 's Le Brave^ the characters received French names, and
the scene was laid in France. Moreover a few scenes and
minor characters were suppressed. It is a process with which
we are quite familiar in England. The plays selected by
Larivey are all of the ordinary Italian type, pure comedies of
intrigue, the plot in every case being a variation of the theme
referred to by Vauquelin de la Fresnaye as the staple of
comedy 2 . The characters, equally conventional, are, as a
rule, mere puppets, who move in a sordid world unrelieved
by a glimmer of virtue or even of passion. On the other
hand, the intrigue is worked out with considerable ingenuity,
though, in Larivey's versions at any rate, there is little or
no regard for the requirements of the stage. But the great
merit is in the language, and of this a large share falls to the
adapter. It is true that he is merely a translator, indebted to
his models for ideas, sentiments, and even expression ; but
he writes in excellent French, and in a language which is at
once colloquial, natural, expressive and amusing, the language
of true comedy.

Of the individual plays the best known and the best is

1 The family name of Giunti was gallicised into L'Arrive or Larivey. Our
only authority for the little that is known of Larivey's life is P. Grosley, Q
inedites, 1. 19, 18 12.

2 See ante, p. 98.


Les Esprits, a version of the Aridosio of Lorenzino de' Medici,
itself based on the Aidularia and the Mostellaria of Plautus
and the Adelphi of Terence. The merits of the plot are
mainly due to the Latin originals, but Larivey has shewn
more independence than usual in his treatment of his imme-
diate model 1 . Ruffin, whose profession may be gathered from
his name, is an amusing scoundrel, descended from Plautus's
Ballio 2 , while the valet Frontin is no unworthy prototype of
Mascarille. Of the other plays, seeing they are mere adap-
tations, there is not much to be said. There are some good
scenes in Les Jalonx, a translation of the Gelosi of Vincenzo
Gabiani, and there is some extravagant fun in Le Morfondu,
a translation of La Gelosia of Grazzini, better known as
II Lasca. The remaining three are more reprehensible in
subject, and have little merit except that of language. One
of them in particular, Les Escoliers, which in point of style
ranks next to Les Esprits, is so unsuited to the stage as to
make it difficult to believe that Larivey had any idea of its
being acted 3 .

In 161 1 he published three more plays, Le Fidelle, Constance
and Les Tromperies*. They are much longer than the others,
and greatly inferior even in point of language, which has
become stilted and affected. If, as appears, they were origi-
nally written about the same time as the others, they were
doubtless revised under the influence of the tragi-comedies
which were just coming into fashion. Larivey died probably

1 IS Aridosio is published in vol. I. of Teatro italiano anlico, Florence 1888.
Larivey suppresses five minor characters, and alters Ser Jacomo prete to
M. Josse sorcier. A good deal of Act I. Sc. 3 is original, while such phrases as
elk eut la terre stir le bee ( — si morl) ; je resemble anx archevesques, jc ne marche
point si la croix ne va devant are of his own coinage.

2 The leno of the Pseudolus ; it is said to have been the favourite part of

3 Les Escoliers is a translation of La Zecca, a youthful production of Girolamo
Razzi, who afterwards became a monk. Of the other two Le Laquais represents
Dolce's // Ragazzo and La Veuve Niccolo Buonaparte's La Vedova.

4 In his dedication Larivey speaks of having found them with three others
loutes chargees de poussiere, mal en ordre, et ayans quasi leurs habits entiacment
rompus et deschirez. Le Fidelle is about twice as long as his ordinary plays, very
tedious, and badly written.


soon after this publication, for already in 1603 ne is spoken
of as a venerable old man. He was in priest's orders and a
canon of St Etienne of Troyes 1 .

The high-water mark of French Renaissance comedy is
reached in Les Contents of Odet de Turnebe, a son of the
great Hellenist, who died in 1581 at the age of twenty-eio-ht.
It was written about 1580, though not published till 1584.
The plot, of which some incidents are borrowed from Grevin's
Les Esba/iis, and others from the Alessandro of Alessandro
Ficcolomini, is mainly conventional and wholly improbable,
but it is not too intricate, and it is well worked out. Not
less conventional is the conduct of the play. The whole
dialogue takes place in the street, and there is a liberal use of
asides. But in spite of this conventional scaffold the play
rises into the region of true comedy. In the first place it has
a moral atmosphere, a feature wholly absent in the other
comedies of the period, with the one exception perhaps of Jean
de la Taille's Corrivaux. It is true that the lover's courtship
is conducted by the method which had become stereotyped
in Renaissance comedy, but it is a distinct advance in morality
that the girl should hesitate, that her mother should be
shocked, and that the lover should apologise. Secondly,
there are at least two characters who stand upon their feet,
Rodomont, the swaggering soldier of fortune, and Francoise,
an elderly lady of doubtful occupation, who foreshadows
Regnier's Macette and Moliere's Frosine. Thirdly, the play
is thoroughly national in tone, and even to some extent a
serious study of manners. Lastly, the dialogue is always

1 It is an interesting question to what extent Moliere was indebted to Larivey.
An instance which appears almost certain, unless Moliere was acquainted with
the Italian original, is the scene in Les Femmes savantes (Act II. Sc. 6), in which
the servant, Martine, is taken to task for her bad grammar and which corresponds
to a similar scene in Le Fidelle (11. 14) between a servant and a pedant. In
L'Avare numerous borrowings from Les Esprits have been noticed, hut in nearly
all the cases the resemblance is very slight. In one, however (1. 3 and 4- 11. 3),
the debt is obvious, and in the famous scene (iv. 7) in which the misei
that he has been robbed, though Moliere's principal model is Plautus, he may
also be indebted to Les Esprits, in. 6. See G. Wenzel in Archiv fur neueren
Spy. unci Litt. lxxxii. (1889) 63 ff. ; L'Avare, ed. E. G. W. BraunholU, 1897,
p. xli.


lively and natural, and is written in easy and correct
language. M. Rigal finds traces of the influence of the
Celestina, a new French translation of which by Jacques de
Lavardin had appeared in 1578- But it is open to doubt
whether this work of true genius, with its strange blending of
pedantry and passion, with its romantic conception and realistic
execution, which reminds one partly of Romeo and Juliet
and partly of the tavern-scene in the second part of Henry IV,
highly popular though it undoubtedly was in France, could
have served as a model to French writers. It was far more
likely that they should go to Italian comedy for their
Guillemettes and their Francoises than to the incomparable
Celestina 1 .

The Ncapolitaines of Francois d'Amboise, an advocate of
the Paris Parliament, to whom Larivey dedicated his plays,
was published in the same year (1584) as Les Contents,
though written considerably earlier. It is in every way
inferior. The plot is dull and the denoument feeble. The
dialogue, though well written, is wanting in vivacity and
vigour, and there is too much soliloquy. Don Dieghos, the
Spanish adventurer, is by no means the equal of Rodomont,
and the only character that has any claim to originality is
Angelique, a sentimental sinner of the modern romantic type,
who might almost have figured in a play by the younger

The superiority of the prose comedies did not altogether
drive from the field the comedy written in octosyllabic verse.
In 1586 Francois Perrin, a learned Canon of the cathedral
of Autun, published a comedy, which, like one of those of
his brother Canon of Troyes, was entitled Les Esco/iers-. It
shews no knowledge of the stage, but the language is clear
and agreeable and free from coarseness, and the dialogue is
confined to its proper business of working out the plot. As

1 P. Toldo points out that the ruffiana of Italian comedy differs from the Una
of classical comedy in being sometimes a sorceress and nearly always a religious
hypocrite {Rev. delist, litt. v. 247).

- He also published sonnets (1574), quatrains (1587) and two tragedies,
Sichem ravisseicr (1589) and Senaccherib (1599). He died in 1606. (See the
notice prefixed to the Brussels edition.)


the title implies the scene is laid in a University town, and
there is some sort of attempt to portray the social life of the
period. This, as well as the simplicity of the action, recall
Eugene rather than the later comedies written under Italian
influence. The author's statement that he found the play
among a heap of old papers would seem to imply that it was
a youii7ful work.

On the other hand, Jean Godard's Les Desguisez, published
in 1594, and also written in octosyllables, shews a strong
Italian influence, being founded on Ariosto's Suppositi, though
it cannot fairly be called an imitation of it. It has some
action of a boisterous and farcical kind, and for a wonder is
neither immoral nor indecent, but it is without real merit.
A special defect is the abuse of soliloquy in a half-rhetorical,
half-lyrical form, the very defect which is so noticeable in
Renaissance tragedy.

Finally, there may be mentioned a somewhat absurd, but
far from amusing play entitled Le mnet znsense, published in
1576 by Pierre le Loyer, a native of Anjou and a councillor
of the presidial court of Angers 1 . He was a man of consider-
able learning, and his prologue is full of references to Greek
and Latin writers of comedy. But his own play shews
decided traces of mediaeval influence. Some of the charac-
ters, the Scholar, the Astrologer, are unnamed, and one is
entitled Le Diable, muette pcrsonne. The style of the octosyllabic
verse is easy and good, but otherwise the play has little merit.
Le Loyer also wrote a comedy entitled La Nephelococugie in
the manner of Aristophanes 2 .

Thus, except for the plays of Montchrestien, it may be
said that both the tragedy and the comedy of the French
Renaissance came to an end soon after the year 1580. Both
had achieved one thing, a style. The verse of Gamier and
the prose of Odet de Turnebe and Larivey only require a more
refined taste and a more rigid self-criticism to make them
admirably suited to their respective tasks. But beyond this
little had been done. There is a really tragic note in Les J '/tires,

1 b. 1550— d. 1634.

2 See E. Egger, V Hellcnisme en France, II. 12, 1869.

T. II. 8


there is humorous study of character in Les Contents, and
there is some attempt at dramatic action in the romantic
drama of Bradamante, but these stand practically alone.
Quite apart from the question of stage representation, in
which the writers naturally failed from want of experience,
both Tragedy and Comedy are lacking in that connexion with
life which is the basis of all true drama. Yet Jodelle started
on the right path. With all their crudeness of execution
and style both his tragedy and his comedy have the root of
the matter in them. Cleopatre and Eugene alike carry out
their purpose in spite of adverse agencies. They are no
mere puppets, jerked here and there at the playwright's
pleasure. Cleopatre sacrifices her life, Eugene his sister's
virtue, deliberately and with open eyes. They are both
actors, not passive agents, in life's drama.

How was it then that with this promising beginning both
Tragedy and Comedy made so poor an ending ? The answer
is that both were led astray by false gods — tragedy by Seneca,
comedy by Ariosto. In both cases it was Grevin who took
the first decided step on the wrong path, Grevin, who,
ignoring his predecessor Jodelle, prided himself on being the
true pioneer of the classical drama. The result was that both
Tragedy and Comedy had to travel over a long and circuitous
road before they reached the goal of success. First fused
together as Tragi-comedy they had to learn in the hands of
Alexandre Hardy the art of the stage, losing in the process
all traces of style and distinction. Then once more they
had to be separated and to be re-clothed in a literary dress.
Above all they had to go back to the true starting point, the
study of human nature and the natural developement of human
action. This was the work of Corneille. Finally, when Moliere
had added to Corneille's study of abstract man the observa-
tion of individual men, the Ecole des femtnes could take its
place beside the Cid. But all this was a work of time ; it is
fifty-four years from Les Juives to the Cid; it is sixty-eight
from Les Contents to the Ecole des femtnes.


3. Pastoral drama.

It remains to say something about a new type of drama,
the pastoral, which began to be cultivated towards the close
of the sixteenth century. Like the first attempts of Italian
pastoral drama it was in its most rudimentary form merely a
dramatic eclogue, which was variously entitled an eclogue,
a pastorale, or a bergerie. Among the earliest— if not the
earliest— of these are Ronsard's third eclogue, written to
celebrate the marriage of Claude of France with the Duke
of Lorraine, and a pastorale by Jacques Grevin in honour
of the two marriages which sealed the peace of Cateau-
Cambresis. Both of these belong to the year 1559. The
first Italian pastoral drama of a more developed type is
generally supposed to be Beccari's // Sacrifizio, represented
at Ferrara in 1554. In France the same honour may
be claimed by Les Ombres of Nicolas Filleul, a native of
Rouen and a professor at the College of Harcourt at Paris 1 .
It was performed at the chateau of Gaillon in Normandy
on September 29, 1566, before Catharine de' Medici and
Charles IX. A few days previously there had been a repre-
sentation of four eclogues by the same writer. Except that
Les Ombres is in five acts separated by choruses, it cannot be
said to be much more dramatic in essence than the eclogues.
But the language is poetical and the versification skilful ;
with the help of good music and scenery it may well have
provided an agreeable entertainment for the illustrious guc-N
who witnessed it. The subject is the usual one of love-sick
men and hard-hearted maidens. But it should be noticed
that while one pair of lovers is represented by a shepherd
and a shepherdess, the other pair consists of a satyr and a
naiad, and that the satyr is not, as he afterwards became in
pastoral drama, the representative of biutish lust. Another
character is Cupid, to whom is assigned a long monologue,
and by whose arrows the hearts of the maidens are finally

1 He also wrote two tragedies, AchilU and La Lucrfce, the latter of which was
played on the same day as Les Ombres.



kindled. The title of the play is derived from the amorous
Shades who form the chorus.

It does not appear that this first attempt at regular pastoral
drama in France was followed up for some years. The next
mention of a pastoral play is that of the Chaste ber gere o f
Jacques de Fonteny, printed in 1578 1 . But in that year a
fresh impulse was given to the production of pastoral litera-
ture by the publication of Nicolas Colin's translation of the
famous Spanish pastoral romance, the Diana of Jorge de
Montemor 2 . Then in 1584 Pierre de Brach produced a
verse translation of Tasso's Aminta, which was followed in
1 593 by a prose version from the pen of La Brosse, and
in 1596 by another verse translation by G. Belliard. The
first French writer to be affected by these impulses from
without was Nicolas de Montreux, a gentleman of Maine,
who, under the pseudonym of Ollenix du Mont-sacre, pro-
duced in succession three pastoral dramas entitled Athlette
(1585), La Diane (1592), and L 'Arjmhie (1597). He also
wrote in imitation of the Diana the first French pastoral
novel, Les bergeries de Juliette (1588) 3 . All his three plays
shew marked traces of the influence of the Spanish romance ;
in all, especially the two later, there is a somewhat compli-
cated plot, and in all there is a considerable element of magic
inspired by the character of 'the wise Felicia.' On the other
hand, the description of Athlette as a fable bocagere is a
reminiscence of Aminta, favola boscareccia. By far the most
elaborate of the three plays is UArimene, which was played
before the Due de Mercoeur in 1596 at the famous chateau de
Nantes. It has twelve characters, including a valet and a
pedant who furnish an element of farce, and the acts are
divided by intermezzos on different mythological subjects, the
storming of heaven by the giants, the abduction of Helen,
the deliverance of Andromeda by Perseus, and the descent of
Orpheus to Hell, all of which must have required machinery
of an elaborate character.

1 I have not seen a copy of this play.

2 See ante, p. 52, n. 2.

3 It was translated into English by Robert Tofte (1610).


Nothing but a bare mention is needed for La Dieromene,
a prose pastoral imitated from II pentimento amoroso of Luigi
Groto by Roland Brisset of Tours (1596), who also trans-
lated Guarini's // Pastor fido (1593) 1 , and for 'a pastoral
tragi-comedy ' in verse, relating to the loves of Mylas and
Clorys, by Claude de Bassecourt, a gentleman of Hainault
(1594). The latter is modelled on the Amiiita, and partly
also on the Pastor fido. By the close of the sixteenth century
French pastoral drama, which during the next decade had a
considerable vogue, had become thoroughly stereotyped both
in plot and characters, and had lost all delicacy of sentiment
and distinction of style 2 . Hardy purged it of some of its
more absurd conventionalities, but from 161 1 to 1626 its
popularity was on the wane. Then Jean Mairet with his
Sylvie (1626), which is pastoral only in part, and his Silvanire
(1629), an adaptation of a play of the same name by D'Urfe,
brought it again into favour for a brief spell 3 . But in 1634
the same writer's Sophonisbe turned the current of fashion
towards tragedy, and pastoral drama disappeared from the
French stage.



ESTIENNE JODELLE, CEuvres et meslanges poetiques, 1574 (Picot, I.
no. 696). CEuvres, ed. Ch. Marty- La veaux (in La Pttiade francaise),
2 vols. 1868-70. Ancien theatre francais, iv (Cleopdtre, Didon, Engine),

Jacques Grevin, EOlitnpe ensemble les autres oeuvres, 1560. Le
Theatre, ensemble la seconde partie de FOlimpe et de la Gelodacrye, 1561.
Cesar is reprinted together with Muret's Julius Caesar, in Ausgaben und
Abhandlungen aus dem Gebiete der Rom. Phil. no. 52, Marburg, 1886.

Jean Bastier de la Peruse, La Mede'e tragedie. Et autres diverses
poesies [1557], Poitiers; CEuvres poitiques, ed. Gellibert des Scguins,

Andr£ de Rivaudeau, Les CEuvres, Poitiers, 1566; ed. C. Mourain
de Sourdeval, 1859.

1 Brisset also wrote five tragedies of which four were imitations of Seneca and

one of Buchanan's Jephthes.

2 See Rigal in Petit de Julleville, iv. 218—220.

3 See Silvanire, ed. R. Otto, pp. liv, lv.


Jean de la Taille, Saul le furieux, faicte selon Part. ..a la mode
des vieux Autheurs Tragiques plus une Remonstrance faicte pour le Roy
Charles IX....avec...autres Oeuvres, 1572. La Famine ou les Gabeonites
ensemble plusieurs autres Oeuvres poetiques, 1573 (contains Le Courtisan
retiri y Les Corrivaux and Le Negromanf). CEuvres, ed. R. de Maulde,
4 vols. 1879 ( v °l- IV - contains Les Corrivaux).

Jacques de la Taille, Daire, 1573; Alexandre, 1573.

Theodore de Beze, Abraham Sacrifiant, [Geneva] 1550; Geneva,
1856; ib. 1874.

LOUIS des Masures, Tragedies Sainctes, David combattant, David
triumphant, David fugitif, 1565; Antwerp, 1582.

Gabriel Bounin, La Soltane, 1561 (Bib. de P Arsenal); reprinted by
J. Venema in Ausg. und Abhandl. no. 81, 1888.

Claude Rouillet, Philanire tragedie francoise du latin de C. R.
(traduite par Vauteur lui-meme), 1 563 ; Tragedie francoise de Philanire
/em me d'Hypolite, 1577 (Bib. Nat).

Robert Garnier, Les Tragedies, 1585 (Picot, II. no. 1095); ed.
Wendelin Foerster, 4 vols. Heilbronn, 1883.

Antoine Montchrestien, Les Tragedies, Rouen [1601]; Rouen,
1604 ; ed. L. Petit de Julleville (Bib. Elzev.), 1891.

[Louis le Jars], Lucelle, tragi-comedie en prose, 1 576 ; Rouen,

R. Belleau, La Reconnue, 1573 ; Ancien theatre francais, IV.

PlERRE de Larivey, Les six premieres come'dies, 1579; Ancien theatre
francais, V-VTI.

Odet de Turnebe, Les Contents, 1584; Anc. tltiatre franc. VII.

Francois d'Amboise, Les Neapolitaines, 1584 (Picot, II. no. 1099);
Anc. theatre franc, vil.

Francois Perrin, Les Escoliers, 1586 (the only known copy is in the
Arsenal library) ; reprinted, Brussels, 1866, with a notice by M. P. L. ;
also in E. Fournier, Le theatre francais ait xvi e el au xvii e siecle, 187 1
(with Eugene, La Reconnue, Les Esprits, Les Contents, and Les Nea-

Jean Godard, Les Desguisez, 1594 ; Anc. theatre franc. VII.

Pierre le Loyer, Erotopegnie ou passetemps d' amour, ensemble une
comedie du Muet inseuse, 1576. CEuvres, 1579. La Nphe'loeocugie, in
Raretes bibliographiques (with a notice by G. Brunet), Turin, 1869.

Nicolas Filleul, Les Theatres de Gaillon, Rouen, 1566 (contains
Les Ombres).

Nicolas de Montreux (under pseud, of Ollenix du Mont-sacre),
Athlette, 1585 ; La Diane, [Tours] 1592; L'Arimene, 1597.

[Roland Brisset], La Dieromhie, Tours, 1591.

CLAUDE de BASSECOURT, Trage-comedie pastorale et autres pieces

Online LibraryArthur Augustus TilleyThe literature of the French renaissance (Volume 2) → online text (page 11 of 34)