Thursday, May 02, 2013

Train Reading - Scaramouche and that dangerous gift of eloquence

This continues my theme from Tuesday's post, Train Reading - introducing Sabatini's Scaramouche_book_coverScaramouche. I had no idea when I read the book at school just how much I was learning about both theater and the French Revolution.

  Following the death of his friend Philippe de Vilmorin at the hands Marquis de la Tour d'Azyr in a forced duel, Vilmorin was killed because, in d'Azry's words, of his "gift of eloquence" that threatened the established order. Moreau leaves for Rennes to seek justice from the King's lieutenant in Brittany. Denied this, ridiculed, Moreau uses Vilmorin's own words and Moreau's own gift of eloquence to inflame the crowds first in Rennes and then in Nantes, in so doing setting events in train that would help lead to the French Revolution.

Now a fugitive, Moreau falls asleep on a great stack of hay in an open barn, He is woken by the sound of voices. At first he takes them seriously, although the story of threatened love seems a little melodramatic! Then he bursts out laughing when he realises that they are a travelling company, rehearsing in the Commedia dell'Arte style.

Climbing down, he discovers M. Binet's players. He is introduced to the cast who all use their stage names. There is Pantaloon, M. Binet himself. Polichinelle (Punch in English), Harlequin, Scaramouche, Colombine played by M Binet's lovely daughter Climene and so it goes on.  The image shows a 1683 representation of Colombine.  Colombine  

Before going on, Debbie reminded me in a comment that the Queen song Bohemian Rhapsody actually provides an introduction to  Commedia dell'Arte. One verse goes: 

Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango
Thunderbolt and lightning, very, very fright'ning me
(Galileo.) Galileo. (Galileo.) Galileo, Galileo figaro
Magnifico. I'm just a poor boy and nobody loves me

Now Sabatini clearly knows his theater. Moreau not only knows about Commedia dell'Arte, but has the advantage over M Binet in that he has read and enjoyed Molière. No M Binet has in fact lifted some of his ideas from Molière, something that he indignantly denies, but he doesn't have Moreau's understanding. Moreau' joins the company and then when Scaramouche is injured in an accident, he takes that part. It suits him, you see, because he remains anonymous behind the mask.

As a company member, Moreau' borrows shamelessly from Molière and provides the company with detailed guidance. His own gift6 of eloquence that had inspired the crowds in Rennes and then Nantes proves equally adept on stage. The company's success grows, and Moreau plans a series of moves that will promote the company. culminating first in performances in Nantes and then using that as as springboard for Paris itself.

If Moreau borrowed from Molière, then so did Sabatini, for Moreau's plans for the Binet troupe are very like the exact course that Molière followed with his own troop.

Sadly, things do not go according to plan. Moreau falls in love M Binet's daughter, the beautiful Climene. The troupe does arrive in Nantes and to considerable success. Sadly, the fickle Climene is seduced by none other than the  infamous Marquis de la Tour d'Azyr. Now truly feeling, in the words of Queen, I'm just a poor boy and nobody loves me, Moreau strikes back, With d'Azyr in the audience, Moreau uses that dangerous gift of eloquence to incite the packed theatre to turn against the Marquis.

The performance ends in a riot, d'Azyr escapes, but the company breaks up with  Moreau on the run again. If you are going to follow any more of this particular melodrama, you will just have to read the book! 

No comments: