Pierre Marivaux

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Plays by Pierre Marivaux

The Game of Love and Chance

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Pierre Marivaux's play The Game of Love and Chance (Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard) is an 18th-century French comedy of manners in the Commedia dell'arte tradition, based on the simplest of plot devices, the exchanging places of master and valet, mistress and maidservant. It was first performed on 23 January 1730 by the Comédie Italienne.

This translation by Stephen Mulrine was published by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series in 2007.

In the play, a young woman, Silvia, is visited by her betrothed, Dorante, whom she does not know. To get a better idea of the type of person he is, she trades places with her servant, Lisette, and disguises herself. However, unbeknownst to her, her fiancé has the same idea and trades places with his valet, Arlequin. The 'game' pits the two false servants against the two false masters, and in the end, the couples fall in love with their appropriate counterpart.

Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux (1688-1763) was a French playwright, novelist, and journalist whose work is characterized by an extreme subtlety of language and feeling. This idiosyncratic style was referred to, originally disparagingly though now more respectfully, as Marivaudage. Marie-Nicolas Bouillet writes in her Dictionnaire Universel: 'It is this that constitutes Marivaudage - a fastidious affectation in the style, a great subtlety in the feelings, and an immense complication in the plots.'

Marivaux began his career as a journalist and haunter of fashionable salons. In 1720, however, he lost his fortune and quickly produced three plays, two of which, L'Amour et la Vérité and Arlequin Poli par l'Amour, were performed by the Comédie-Italienne whilst the third, Annibal, was performed by the Comédie-Française.

Although Marivaux continued to write for both companies, the majority of his plays were written for the Italian troupe, whose productions proved far more successful, perhaps because they better appreciated the refinements of his style.

In the 20th century Marivaux's sophisticated plotting, keen sense of psychological nuance, and strong female roles have gained increasing recognition. Recent decades have seen frequent revivals of his plays by the Comédie-Française. For many years it was thought that Marivaux's comedies were virtually untranslatable due to the subtlety of the language, but several of his works have been successfully performed in English since the mid 1970s.