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Money and merit in French Renaissance comedy.


Pierre Corneille (1606-84) began his career as a playwright in 1629, with a tremendous hit. The plot of Melite, ou les fausses lettres (as it was called in the original edition) revolves around the two supremely aristocratic virtues of love and friendship: Eraste and Tirsis both profess to love the eponymous Melite, and she must distinguish which love is truer. Eraste, who is rejected, must then overcome his impulse toward revenge and recover the generosity of his friendship with Tirsis. In its outline, this story is one that could easily have come from one of the chivalric or pastoral romances that were so popular at the time and, as several scholars have pointed out, which clearly influenced Corneille's early work. (1) The distinctiveness of Melite, however, is that Corneille constructed this abstract exercise in secular casuistry in a concrete, and even realistic, social setting and language, which evidently had a strong appeal to the Parisian audiences of his day. (2) It is obvious that audiences saw something they liked in Corneille's characters and their world, but it is less obvious what that was, or what the playwright had intended them to see.

The comic genre itself encouraged such a setting. As one sixteenth-century theorist puts it, "comedy has been called ... the mirror of life, because it introduces non-noble characters, whose appropriateness [bienseance] must be maintained according to the state and condition of each one." (3) The bienseance of the popular characters clearly requires a more-or-less-developed model of society and social hierarchy, while the language of mirror suggests that that hierarchy, or the mores that underlie it, should be subjected to critique, at least if comedy was to avoid accusations of serving no useful purpose, or of even promoting immorality. (4) This in turn suggests that comedy might be a good place to investigate how writers and audiences understood the definition and misdefinition of social groups. The very existence, or status, of comedy within French literature at a given time can be revealing in this respect. As Tzvetan Todorov has said, when constituting genres "a society chooses and codifies the speech-acts that correspond most closely to its ideology." (5) While this selection and codification is, of course, carried out by specific individuals and groups rather than by a monolithic and impersonal society, the principle is a sound one. Indeed, for French writers and audiences, the choice and development of the comic genre could be a way of expressing and promoting ideological agendas on both the correct composition of society (beneath the princely level on which tragedy operated), and on the dangers and anxieties that the dynamism of comic intrigue posed to this social order.

Corneille, like many of his less-successful predecessors, took the opportunity in his comedies to investigate the boundaries of aristocratic (though not necessarily noble in a technical, legal sense) behavior, and its contrast with potentially threatening social forces. The ideal of Melite, and of early French comedy in general, was a society characterized by stability, moral transparency, and a kind of individual autonomy. This was, as Jonathan Dewald has said of European aristocracy more generally, an "ideological vision ... removed from the demands of market exchange ... governed by a different economic and social calculus." (6) And, indeed, the omnipresent threats to this ideal tended to be organized around the phenomena of money, monetary exchange, and counterfeit: all forms of social interaction that replace natural worth and identity, and settled social values like nobility, with external, arbitrary, and easily manipulated values. While such concerns have been widespread in modern Western culture, they were particularly pressing in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century France. This was in part because of a major realignment of the social structure due to the conversion of government posts into property (venal office-holding), though political upheavals and an intermittently dynamic economy opened other avenues of social mobility as well. (7) Corneille himself, and most other early comic playwrights, took part in this transformation, or tried to, and their plays must be read as elements of their strategy in this game. French Renaissance comedy was largely devoted to stories about the perils and possibilities of socioeconomic mobility, written by men who were themselves engaged in this delicate business. Ultimately, comedy provided a model of gentility into which the authors could plausibly hope to fit themselves.

In the case of Melite, the line separating intrinsic, noble worth from an arbitrary economic-monetary calculus falls initially between the two main male characters. In the first scene of the play, Eraste, in the best courtly and Petrarchan tradition, complains of his mistress' inflexible obduracy, while Tirsis accuses Eraste of economic irrationality: "You know that you are destined for richer families / where there are better deals." Eraste, significantly, replies to this suggestion with an indirect, and not yet serious, threat of a duel: "My love takes offence at that, and would be pained / to take advice from filthy avarice." The implication that Eraste's wealth makes him a social superior to Melite is, paradoxically, a threat to his honor, one that he devotes the remainder of the play to expunging. Tirsis gives a clue to the reasoning behind this paradox when he claims that he would happily marry a wealthy but unattractive woman. "Her income, for me, would take the place of merit." (8) To be judged by one's income is to have one's merit ignored, and to have it implied that one's position in the social hierarchy is external to one's being and, ultimately, arbitrary. (9)

When Tirsis, despite his lesser wealth, wins Melite's love, he thus demonstrates a merit presumptively superior to his friend's, and Eraste feels his honor doubly offended. Eraste's response is interesting. He does not accept Melite's judgment on the relative merits of her two suitors, and he briefly proposes seeking redress in the approved noble manner, by demonstrating his physical and psychological merit in a duel.
 [Tirsis] is as good as dead:
 my valor, my resentment, and my love all agree....
 If you can resolve to die a brave man,
 a challenge will tomorrow name the place and time. (10)

Rather than sending his friend the written challenge (cartel) that would instigate such a contest, though, he resorts simultaneously to counterfeit and to the exercise of his purely economic power. For the considerable and carefully specified sum of ten pistoles, he gets a neighbor to deliver forged love letters, supposedly from Melite, to the worthless Philandre. In other words, instead of writing a letter that would confirm his own merit and having it delivered by a noble second, Eraste writes a letter that fraudulently repeats, and ironically confirms, Melite's negative judgment of his merit. In doing so, he places himself within the world of arbitrary commercial exchange as opposed to that of true merit. Eraste's apostrophe to the hired neighbor thus redounds on his own head:
 These common souls act only for money
 and, having no stake in anyone's plans
 their service and faith belong to whoever gives the most;
 when they are blinded by that treacherous metal
 they no longer know right from wrong. (11)

From this point on, Eraste is left to find his way back from the dishonor into which he has plunged himself. On a literary level, this takes the form of a long detour through the noble genres of tragedy and romance, and of classical myth. After a series of deceptions and misapprehensions, Melite comes to believe that Tirsis is dead, while Eraste thinks both lovers have perished. This in turn drives Eraste mad, and he finds himself in a Hades of his own imagination. He berates himself for not having dueled with Tirsis--"My courage, at need, having found itself too timid / to attack Tirsis except by treachery"--and undertakes a double redemption. On the one hand, he demonstrates his martial virtue to the imaginary hosts of the underworld, brandishing his sword and admonishing them that "You do not know me well: in a faithless man's body / I bear the courage and strength of Alcide [Hercules]. / I will overthrow everything in these black realms." (12) On the other hand, having frenetically demonstrated the noble courage he lacked earlier, Eraste submits to the judgment of Minos and Tiresias: or, more concretely (after he has been restored to reason), to that of Melite, which he should have accepted in the first place. (13) Not coincidentally, this episode also allows Eraste to literally internalize a rather impressive classical erudition that he had previously expressed in the easily-mocked cliches of Petrarchanism and preciosite, thus conforming to new canons of honest, educated discourse. (14) Forgiven, he decides to marry Tirsis's sister (and Philandre's abandoned fiancee) Cloris, a development that is largely gratuitous in the economy of the plot, but that signifies an equality of family honor based, now, not on wealth, but on friendship, love, and nobility of character.

To read Melite in this way is to do something more--or, at least, something more precise--than to reiterate the vulgar Marxist critique of French comedy in the Grand Siecle as a satire of the commercial bourgeoisie on behalf of the feudal nobility. (15) The social conflict in Melite is not between socioeconomic classes--indeed, it seems largely internal to the character of Eraste--but between ways of ordering society. Indeed, some of Eraste's actions are probably best understood as reflections of a cultural tension between a nobility based on merit as it was then understood, and a nobility based on fortune and power. (16) Thus, as Kristen Neuschel has shown, correspondence could serve as a kind of theater of French noble honor, where one could at least temporarily defy a lack of economic, political, and military resources based on claims of inherent social status. (17) When Eraste forges letters to fraudulently debase Tirsis's merit and inflate Philandre's, he is abusing this system of autonomous nobility.

At the same time, the duel--to which Eraste endlessly defers his appeal--could be, and was conceived as, another even more striking theater of noble autonomy. It asserted the irreducible value of noble mores in the face of strong pressure from the absolutizing monarchy. When Melite first appeared on the stage the most spectacular example of this pressure, the highly unpopular 1627 execution of the comtes de Montmorency-Boutevilles and des Chapelles for dueling, was still fresh in the public mind. (18) More to the point, for our purposes, is the comment of a somewhat obscure essayist with indirect but significant connections to Corneille's literary project. Speaking of the duel sometime around the turn of the century, Antoine du Verdier says "it seems ... that this is a true means whereby the richest and most powerful lord, may not offend a minor one, who, being a gentleman like himself by the equality of arms, may demand satisfaction for the offence man-to-man from one who is richer, which he could not do otherwise." (19) The same idea of the duel as abstracting nobility from economic and political difference appeared also in the most famous cartel of the early seventeenth century, in which the Chevalier de Luz urged the far more "opulent" Chevalier de Guise, "not to use your quality as an excuse to avoid that to which your honor obliges you." (20) Eraste's failure to challenge Tirsis is, from this perspective, a failure to conform to the ideal of measuring honor and merit on a level playing field, and a descent instead into a mad and hellish world where fraud and fortune (in both senses of the term) determine concrete social hierarchy.

This set of concerns over money and the foundations of the social order maintained its prominent place in the structure of French comedy in the wake of Melite, at least through the age of Moliere. Scholars have traced this process and its implications in some detail. (21) Here, on the other hand, rather than tracing the fortune of this theme after Melite, I propose to trace its origins, and to show that, in this respect, Corneille was the heir of the comparatively little-known tradition of French Renaissance comedy, and of the social conditions in which it developed. The conflict between a social and erotic order governed by noble merit and one governed by the cash nexus was central to the genre from its very beginnings. (22) In contrast to Melite, however, which presents this nexus in extremely general and abstract terms, Renaissance comedies tended to explore its specificities, including various mercantile transactions and, above all, corruption and venal office-holding--the latter having been a major political issue mainly prior to the institution of the "Paulette" tax in 1604. They also gradually developed a more sophisticated vision of a competing social ideal, based on a rather ineffable idea of personal merit and the rejection of an economic calculus. Not surprisingly, this entire critique suited well the interests of its authors, men seeking to rise into the nobility through wit, learning, and the purchase of offices, but the success of Melite suggests that it ultimately developed a rather broader appeal.


One of the earliest original French comedies was La Tresoriere, written by a student at the University of Paris named Jaques Grevin (ca. 1539-70) and staged at the College of Beauvais on 5 February 1559. According to the printer, it was "written at the command of King Henri II to be used at the celebrations of the marriage of Mme. Claude, duchesse de Lorraine, but deferred because of various difficulties." (23) This marriage of the king's daughter to Charles de Lorraine, of the powerful Guise family, was highly political. It was a triumph of one of France's great aristocratic factions, but it coincided with the return to influence of the rival faction's leader, Constable Anne de Montmorency, after a period of captivity: one may speculate that the difficulties Grevin encountered were political in nature. (24) More particularly, both Grevin and the Guises might well have heard something like the rumor reported by the Venetian ambassador a few months later: that, after implementing the peace then being negotiated at Cateau-Cambresis, the king intended to "reform his household and judicial matters, and above all those of the finances with these receivers and treasurers, it being said that since the Constable's absence there is a deficit of several millions of francs." (25) Not only did the French believe that corrupt treasury officials were undermining state and society but, it seems, they were inclined to blame the Guise for this state of affairs.

The character of the venal royal officer supplies the motive force for La Tresoriere, and a genuine obsession with monetary transactions provides its structuring theme. The hero of the play, a soldier and gentleman named Loys, has been literally bidding for the favor of the Treasurer's wife (named Constante, by antiphrasis). His rival is the Protonotary, who holds a venal office in the courts. (26) For the first half of the play the characters do almost nothing but try to get their hands on hard cash. The Treasurer hopes that "the profit" of an upcoming voyage "will outweigh the inconvenience," which of course includes leaving his wife unsupervised. Loys wishes to collect back wages that the Treasurer owes him, finally agreeing to kick back almost a fifth of the sum in return for prompt payment. (27) The Protonotary, finding in his courtship that "the money from my benefice is insufficient for such expenses" and nevertheless wishing "to maintain myself respectably on my own income," turns to his servant Boniface. The latter, a trickster like all servants in such comedies, supplies the need by borrowing 150 ecus from Constante herself. (28)

This is an essentially commercial transaction--Boniface promises her "a good return that they will give him for his benefice" (29)--but it also carries the corrupt suggestion that Constante, who immediately invites the Protonotary to an assignation, is purchasing sex. Thus, when Boniface tells over and recognizes the coins he has received, the effect is vertiginous.
 They are all of full weight:
 I have received them at the same rate
 that this lady got them for.
 I recognize this one,
 and this double ducat, too,
 as well as a noble and an angel.
 These were for some gold bracelets
 that Monsieur gave her one day. (30)

We are in a world of pure circulation, where one must pay in order to get paid, and where the coins one has given to adorn and, eventually, possess a beloved body are returned simultaneously in the expectation of further monetary gain, and for the promise of reciprocal sexual favors. Loys proceeds to give Constante fifty of his own hard-won ecus in lieu of a gold chain, since he "know[s] of none beautiful enough ... the return / I expect is worth the expense." Just as coined gold has displaced the lovers' gifts of bracelets and necklaces, its manic circulation has dissolved the social relations of love and of state service. The Treasurer even describes his profitable transaction with Loys as a corrupt purchase of political favor: "the maintenance / of courtiers is our stock in trade." When Constante, waiting for the Protonotary, sighs "Has love lost the purity of its alloy [or 'law']? / will it now be of no account?", she is being disingenuous, but she is also giving voice to the near-complete displacement of morally authentic personal relations by cash. (31)

This purely economic regime also short-circuits the correct reward of merit. Obviously this is the case with respect to royal service: the Treasurer profits by doing his job dishonestly, while Loys's services to the crown are not correctly recompensed. The same is true, if rather less insistently, for love. Thus, the Protonotary laments that Constante's "fine grace, / her soft speech and appearance ... certainly merit / the love of a far greater lord." Nevertheless, he triumphs over the wealthier Loys, whose lineage "was worthy of the grace / of a better-born lady." (32) Only Loys's rejection of monetary values for military and aristocratic ones restores order to this mess. He rejects not just Constante, but, more importantly, the commercial transactions she values and through which she is valued:
 No, no, I have had enough of her;
 she thinks, then, that I value
 her merchandise more
 than my honor. I am no longer
 one of those who give cash
 to keep myself in her grace:
 I am of too noble a lineage.

He and his servant proceed to retrieve from the Treasurer at swordpoint the receipt for his wages, plus a twenty-five-ecu gratuity. The Protonotary escapes with the money Constante has given him, and, finally, "the company / here present" is invited to "eat up / the Treasurer and all his goods." (33)

While this play bears some resemblance to Melite in its broad thematic outlines, a number of differences are immediately obvious. Political and military considerations, not to mention the influence of medieval farce, are much more visible. Most importantly, Grevin's resolution of the problem of money is far less satisfactory than Corneille's. Despite Loys's rhetorical turn to martial nobility, his military intervention plays as farce, as characters alternately grovel and run in and out of various attics and cabinets. Constante is simply dismissed at the end, retroactively nullifying the stakes of the contest for her favors. Even worse, considering the play's circumstances and historical juncture, is the ambiguous legality of Loys's actions. To the extent that he restores the correct observance of royal service, he does so through private violence and armed robbery. "Are we in a province / where no one fears the prince?" asks Constante's servant; this fear is hardly mitigated when Loys and the servant, as part of their extortion, threaten to take the Treasurer as a prisoner to the Concergerie "as just recompense / for having pillaged the moneys of France." (34) This might seem like good fun and even a salutary warning under the reign of a strong warrior-king who was about to bring order to his financial administration, but it could hardly be a serious social model. As France collapsed into civil war after Henri II's death, it would only appear less apposite.

Though exceptionally insistent in its thematization of monetary circulation and its dangers, La Tresoriere was in many ways typical of the earliest French comedies. Etienne Jodelle's L'Eugene, written about six years earlier, features the same pairing of a venal benefice-holder (the eponymous Eugene, a nonresident abbot) and a noble soldier (Florimond, just back from Henri II's campaign in Germany). Here, too, the clerk has bested the soldier in love, winning Alix while Florimond was at war and, for his greater convenience, marrying her off to the gullible Guillaume at the cost of a 300-ecu dowry. And here, too, the soldier seeks redress of his erotic and financial losses through force, seizing from Alix the presents he had previously given her and threatening all and sundry with death. Even compared to La Tresoriere, though, the world of L'Eugene is a willfully chaotic one, not far removed from farce. The power of money to derange social relations is omnipresent and almost uncontested. Even the warfare that distinguishes Florimond is at its mercy: "it depends only on gold, / which is the nerve of every war, / whether or not he [Charles V] takes all the territory / that we made our own this year." (35) Both Florimond and Eugene's chaplain and sidekick Messire Jean devote speeches deploring the nobility's tendency to spend their patrimony in pursuit of high status and for the sake of mere appearances. Appropriately, the priest deplores those nobles "of whom one sells his land, / another lets go a windmill, / and another cuts down all his timber / to equip a warlike unit," while the soldier complains of those who "sell their land ... mortgage their goods" and "sell their equipment, / weapons, horses, and harnesses, / and all to spend money for luxuries." (36)

More concretely, Eugene consistently uses money to pervert religion. The play begins with a discussion between Eugene and Jean that makes clear that they exercise their benefices for their own carnal satisfaction rather than out of any spiritual duty. Obviously, Eugene's dowering of Alix perverts marriage, both socially and religiously, compounding fornication with adultery and breaking the vow of celibacy the abbot should have taken. (37) Finally, in order to pay off Alix's husband's debts and restore his own illegitimate rights to her, Eugene sells his creditor a curacy for a ridiculously low price. (38) That this play deals with ecclesiastical rather than civil venality contributes to its somewhat old-fashioned atmosphere, but the principle of corruption is the same here as in La Tresoriere: the Protonotary refers to his office as a benefice, and in fact the law governing venal offices was, at this time, broadly the same as the law governing ecclesiastical benefices.

There is a certain blockage in these early comedies, an inability or unwillingness to satisfactorily reconcile a hierarchy of merit, personified by the military nobility, with the social power of money, personified by both the mercantile and the office-holding classes. Whether Jodelle and Grevin felt no need for such a resolution, or whether they were unable to produce one, is impossible to say. Certainly, the development of comedy conducive to, or even centered around, this reconciliation was by no means doomed to failure. As late as 1620, Pierre de Troterel wrote an eccentric little comedy in which a married Huguenot gentleman seduces his servant by the simple expedient of paying her and, when his wife discovers his infidelity, saves his position by bribing the servant who had denounced him with "a handful / of quarts d'ecu." (39) Even here, though, while the institution of marriage was undermined, the social hierarchy was not: the seduced servant even wound up marrying a man of her own social class. More significantly, though, French comic playwrights soon began to create an account of how the social disruption caused by money might be healed or avoided.


This reconciliation is discernible in three plays written around 1570: Le Muet insense by Pierre le Loyer (1550-1634), L'Escolier by Francois Perrin (ca. 1533-1606), and Les Neapolitaines by Francois d'Amboise (1550-1619). The heroes of all three plays are students, as most likely were the authors, and thus are of a somewhat liminal social status. By itself this points in the direction of a reconciliation of money and social order, since, then as now, higher education was generally accepted as a legitimate means to convert money (behind a screen of supposed hard work and intellectual merit) into social status. (40) In all three plays, money continues to be an agent of deception, masking the characters' true social position and worth. However, the characters also show an increasing concern with the possibility of legitimate social mobility. In all three cases, however, it remains profoundly unclear how this mobility could function in practice, and the authors are constrained to resolve their plots with more-or-less jury-rigged contrivances in order to restore the social hierarchy to a satisfactory condition.

The protagonist of Le Muet insense is "a student born into a good family," called only "l'Escolier." (41) Trying to win the hand of Marguerite, the daughter of a local merchant, he deploys the power of money through the baroque expedient of hiring a magician. Le Loyer was something of a scholar of the occult, and his magician, or "Astrologer," begins with Ficinian spiritual magic and, later, when foiled by Marguerite's mother, turns to demonic magic. (42) The demon's only effect, though, is to leave the Escolier mute with terror, a scene that foreshadows Eraste's madness in Melite. Both episodes share the same structural purpose: demonstrating the naturalness of real love by striking its counterfeiters with insanity. Le Loyer extricates his hero from this fix with a coincidence: the Escolier's father, Sire Thomas, appears and discovers that Marguerite's father is his "old companion / with whom I learned / how to handle my merchandise." Thomas then delivers as a soliloquy a classic apology for the mercantile estate:
 In all this round world,
 none is so hard to undertake
 as the merchant's;
 for the sake of a gain
 too often quit uncertain,
 it makes us work body and soul,
 and across land and sea and through the fire
 and through far-away lands
 it makes us flee poverty. (43)

This passage seems designed to illustrate the traditional view that it was the utility of moving goods around the world, the effort expended, and, above all, the risk incurred by merchants in doing so, that morally justified their profits. (44) When the fathers then meet amid pledges of mutual solidarity, they have no problem resolving the marriage and the plot. The proper basis for love and marriage, it seems, is not just patriarchal authority, but patriarchal authority grounded in a legitimate and natural economic order: one that is, as it were, inscribed in the very landscape of the world and, for a moment at least, that participates in the natural stability of an aristocratic order.

If this play stresses a clear, if rather artificial, resolution of the social problem of arbitrary monetary power, Perrin's Les Escoliers returns insistently to the nature of this problem. Maclou, an "old bourgeois," is putting his son Sobrin through university to fit him for an already-purchased ecclesiastical benefice "with a very good revenue." He is not satisfied with his son's progress, though:
 I have spared no money
 I have opened my purses and storehouses
 to give you the "long robe,"
 and now they're stealing
 my money, my hopes, and my time. (45)

In fact, instead of studying, Sobrin is competing with a fellow student, Corbon, "the son of little Josse the used-clothing dealer," for the affections of a young woman named Grassette. While Corbon is serious about academic pursuits, Sobrin prefers to haunt the beau monde, where he can learn "a thousand social graces" and become a gentleman. (46) Just as the play's situation centers on the use of money for social advancement, its intrigue revolves around the use of money for social control. Sobrin's pedagogue Finet gains the support of Grassette's servant, and between them they concoct a scheme for Sobrin, impersonating Corbon, to meet and seduce Grassette. Sobrin is to go in disguise to the house of Grassette's father, "counterfeit a villager," and "ask for wine in return for money." Finet is confident that the father, "who is diligent / When it comes to discussing money, / Will immediately show you to Grassette." (47) The plan succeeds, Sobrin easily seduces Grassette, rewards Corbon with the benefice he does not want, and, after a few more obstacles, settles down to respectable married life with his paramour.

The play thus ends with a much-improved fit between the merits and social positions of the protagonists, but this process is more complex than in Le Muet insense. The two fathers' avarice, borrowed from the ancient New Comedy, has been comprehensively adapted to the specificities of sixteenth-century French society. Both men are to be condemned: Grassette's father because he prefers his mercantile passion to the protection of his daughter's honor, and Sobrin's because he attempts to deny his son the easy and honorable life open to him, while placing him illicitly in an ecclesiastical post. Perrin is much more enthusiastic about social mobility than le Loyer, provided it is managed in the correct way: in Le Muet insense, study turns a respectable merchant's son into a mad sorcerer, while in Les Escoliers it turns a used-clothing dealer's son into a very respectable prior while, we are led to believe, a merchant's son becomes a gentleman. Perrin certainly depicts this resolution positively, but it remains somewhat troubling in its arbitrariness and casual fraudulence: as Corbon soliloquizes, "Virtue is poor and importunate, / But goods are the domain of fortune." (48) The lesson seems to be that social prominence should certainly be founded on wealth, yet divorced from a market where labor creates wealth at the expense of honor and religion.

Francois d'Amboise took this simultaneous defense and critique of hard-earned mercantile wealth to its highest level in his comedy Les Neapolitaines, probably written around 1570 during a brief stint spent teaching at the College des Lombards before he began a spectacularly successful judicial career. The play presents the story of Augustin, son of a wealthy Parisian merchant who "raised him carefully, first in letters and then in the respectable career of a merchant." (49) The plot is both elegant and intricate. Both Augustin and Dieghos, a Spanish-Neapolitan noble on the run from the law, are courting Angelique, the mistress of a recently deceased nobleman exiled from Naples for plotting against the Spanish government. Augustin enlists the help of Camille, another Neapolitan noble studying at the University of Paris, who proceeds to betray his friend by raping Virginie, the legitimate daughter of Angelique's late lover. Augustin relies on his family's wealth to underwrite his courtship of Angelique. When his father, distressed by his spendthrift ways, cuts him off, Augustin unsuccessfully tries to convince him that this was an attempt to cultivate court nobles, who "give your children the means to seek estates and benefices, if they are worthy people, something that all your cash would otherwise be unable to do." He then turns to Camille, of whom his servant has learned "from a banker, that he has received a good sum of money." (50) Meanwhile, Dieghos, as a powerful nobleman, has social stature on his side, especially since he is in a position to aid or impede efforts to restore Virginie's noble birthright. D'Amboise never quite resolves the tensions created by Augustin's apparent attempt to rise in society through money and the dramatic need to have him best his social betters. Except for Angelique, the entire Neapolitan crew ultimately returns home when a gem-merchant on business in Paris conveys the news of a favorable turn in Naples' political situation, symbolically trumping the economic register with the sociopolitical. With the scenery of nobility dismantled, Augustin is left with an expensive common mistress and nothing more. It is as if d'Amboise had no clear idea of how a son of mercantile wealth could actually function nobly in a world of nobles.

In fact, while all three of these plays raise exactly that issue, none of them answer it. The merchant fathers of Le Muet insense are structurally secondary, while the Escolier is a hapless jerk, and the plot remains ultimately within the world of the mercantile bourgeoisie. The upwardly-mobile young men of Les Escoliers talk about how they should live, but their ideals remain largely undramatized and their tactics questionable. Like Sobrin, Augustin in Les Neapolitaines seems headed for a life of gentility, but we have no real idea how or why. Whatever explanations one may find for this failure in the broader society, it clearly also has to do with the artistic immaturity both of the playwrights and of the genre, such as it was. Engaging, interesting, and well-rounded comic protagonists remained beyond the capacities of French comedy and, consequently, so did the creation of a viable new social model. The heroines, meanwhile, are almost entirely passive: like Alix and Constante, they are the subjects of commercial transactions, but having gained a tenuous virtue, they lose the capacity to engage in such transactions themselves, and thus remain unsuitable to either inspire or recognize true merit on the part of their lovers. (51) Their favors cost the price of a magic ring, a benefice, or a pot of wine, and in this sense they had hardly evolved from the courtesans of the New Comedy. These problems were at least partially solved a few years later by a man who, coincidentally or not, was put in charge of France's currency.


Odet de Turnebe (1552-81) was a true son of the French Renaissance: his father Adrien (1512-65) had been one of the leading classicists of his generation and a member of the group that institutionalized the new learning in Paris. (52) He had a brief but distinguished career as a magistrate: "he was first a barrister in the court of Parlement of Paris, and finally was appointed to the office of first president of the Cour des Monnaies in Paris; while getting confirmed he died of a hot fever in 1581 at the age of twenty-eight." (53) In the intervals of these achievements, he wrote one play, a comedy entitled Les Contens, published posthumously. Technically and artistically, it was the best comedy written in French before Melite. (54) In outline, its plot is very similar to that of Les Escoliers (which Turnebe might well have read): two young men, Basile and Eustache, are rivals for the hand of Geneviefve. Basile gains entrance to the young lady's house disguised as Eustache and seduces her; after this, he is able to obtain her mother's consent for their marriage. Beyond this, however, the plays are very different. The suitors in Turnebe's play are similar in class and character: their milieu seems bourgeois, though the action is set in the aristocratic parish of St. Germain l'Auxerrois, next to the Louvre. (55) A third suitor, Rodomont, is a soldier, but he is the worthless miles gloriosus (boastful soldier) of Latin and Italian comedy rather than the noble d'epee (sword-noble) familiar from Jodelle and Grevin. Finally, Geneviefve is an active character, choosing Basile over Eustache and overcoming her widowed mother Louyse's preference for the latter.

Several consequences follow from these structural changes. First of all, the play becomes explicitly the story of a woman's choice of lovers triumphing over her parent's financial calculation. The most detailed information Turnebe gives on Louyse's motivations comes from Geneviefve's attempt in the first scene to change her mind. Eustache's main attraction seems to be that he is an only son, but Geneviefve counters that he is also "young enough to eat up all my goods and his own": at any rate, it is not yet the case that "all the good deals are past." Rodomont, whom Louyse favors briefly at the end of the play, "enjoys an income of at least four thousand livres." (56) The almost-Weberian rationality of this deal-making, though, is belied by its abject failure: monetary calculus, it appears, is incompatible with the arena of love.

Another character, Thomas, a successful merchant but a cuckolded husband, doubles this mercantile aspect of Louyse: together, the two characters illustrate the dangers of monetary calculus in matters of marriage. Thomas's wife, Alix, works as a prostitute in her spare time and for her own amusement. That Alix bears the name of Jodelle's heroine is no doubt deliberate: she and her husband recall the characters of the 1550s, and of farce. Thomas's main plot function is to remove the soldier Rodomont from the scene at an opportune moment by having him arrested for debt. The whole situation is a morass of dishonesty: Rodomont, of course, has reneged on his debts and is arrested only because he is unable to satisfy the arresting officers' demand for a bribe, while Thomas, as he later admits, grossly overcharges Rodomont for the merchandise in question in the first place. The merchant profits from the situation, but as he returns home, he unwittingly passes Alix in the street. He recognizes her only as "some fine piece in disguise who is going to put horns on the highest goods of some poor husband," but rather than investigate further decides that "it's better to go into my house to see if all my ecus are of full weight." (57) The contrast between the good ecus he chooses to tell over and the counterfeit wife, a "bonne piece" by antinomy, whom he ignores, emerges as a central metaphor in the play. (58)

By the standards of French comedy, the extent and complexity of disguise and concealed identity in Les Contens are considerable. The action takes place during Carnival, when maskers roam from house to house. In order to gain access to Geneviefve, Basile disguises himself as Eustache twice (once before the action starts), and Rodomont, before the sergeants interrupt him, disguises himself as Basile disguised as Eustache. Needless to say, Rodomont is also nothing like the noble and fearless warrior he claims to be. One effect of this theme is to provisionally place money and love on the same footing: Thomas needs to verify his wife in the same way he verifies his ecus, and the various lovers need to establish each others' identity in the same way Louyse should verify the solvency of Geneviefve's suitors. This is something rather more complex than the simple condemnation, seen in earlier plays, of various commercial relationships. As with the plays of the 1570s, but perhaps even more thoroughly, social mobility is not in question here, at least not in any systematic way. As in Melite, the underlying action of Les Contens is the triumph of a value system represented by the central couple. This is not merely the triumph of love over social constraint, for this constraint takes the particular form of a system of monetary calculation.

Turnebe sums up this triumph with a neat bit of intertextuality. After his sexual conquest of Geneviefve, Basile's love does not fade: "To the contrary, having discovered so much beauty and sweetness ... I now burn with the desire to possess them, which leaves me no rest because of my fear that they may be snatched from me. I am like a miser who, afraid that his ecus may be stolen, passes again and again by the place where they are buried, and, when he is away from them, nevertheless leaves his heart with his treasure." (59) His behavior, in fact, is exactly that of the miserly father in Plautus's Aulularia, then recently adapted in French by way of Lorenzino de Medici's Italian. (60) When the object of obsession changes from money to Geneviefve's physical beauty and social graces, however, Basile's behavior approximates that of a romantic hero rather than that of a comedic lover. For example, already well before the pastoral became a dominant force in French literature, Turnebe brings his play to an ideal space where artifice is stripped naked, financial calculation is transcended, and lovers judge each other on intrinsic "perfections," "courtoisie," beauty, "gentillesse," and merit. (61) This was precisely the space in which Corneille would construct his first comedies almost half a century later. Moreover, Turnebe's mastery of the comic genre and, particularly, the subtle touch with which his characters allude to Roman literature, demonstrates the same sublimation of hard-won erudition into an unscholastic honnetete (seemliness) that Eraste will enact sixty years later.


For reasons that have never been convincingly explained, the production of regular comedies modeled on Terence and Plautus ceased almost completely in France between the 1580s and the 1620s. Changing literary tastes (especially the vogue of the commedia dell'arte and other irregular forms) no doubt played a major role, as surely did the paroxysms of the Wars of Religion after 1584. (62) At any rate, Corneille would have found the genre more-or-less as Turnebe and d'Amboise had left it, whether he knew the texts directly or through the intermediary of his immediate predecessor and acknowledged influence, Alexandre Hardy (ca. 1570-1632). (63) In important ways, though, the social context and the social issues in which the earlier comic tradition had developed were still very much active in Corneille's youth. This can be seen most clearly, and its significance best understood, if one steps back from the texts of the various comedies and examines the lives of their authors, and in particular the social, as distinct from the literary, function that these plays might plausibly have performed. From this point of view, the continuity of the comic tradition is very striking, as is the consistency with which it sought to create a social ideal specifically suitable for the rising class of royal officers.

Jodelle and Grevin combined literary and social ambition in a manner characteristic of the Renaissance. Both were students at the University of Paris when they wrote their comedies. Both identified with the new movement in French vernacular literature associated with the Pleiade, and Jodelle figures in every list of its seven members. (64) Both men, while of bourgeois extraction--unlike, for example, Ronsard and du Bellay, who were younger sons of noble families--also clearly aspired to careers as courtiers. (65) Grevin succeeded, ending his days as physician to his former literary patron, Marguerite de France, Duchess of Savoy. In his case, at least, writing plays served to further his aspirations: according to his first biographer, his theater "was doubtless what served most to spread his reputation in the world." (66) Jodelle was an even purer, if less happy, example of this phenomenon. While he styled himself ecuyer (esquire), his father had been a Paris bourgeois who, it seems, purchased a noble fief. In the elegant words of his biographer, Jodelle is "at the same time a noble and a parvenu ... and needs to force his tone, to exaggerate slightly, to demonstrate the sense of elegance that, according to him, ought to make him fully accepted in the world that is already and not yet his own." (67) Jodelle's life was highly unsettled, but it was largely defined by his associations with nobles, both of the robe and of the sword. He even engaged in the popular aristocratic pastime of getting himself condemned to death and then somehow pardoned. One thing he clearly lacked, though, was money to support his pretensions. His estate was chronically mortgaged to the hilt and, despite an emergency five-hundred-livre grant from the king, it was auctioned off after his death to repay an impressive parade of creditors. (68) For Jodelle, the nexus of money, merit, and the noble life was at all times an inescapable, lived reality.

If one takes together the classicizing and Augustan aspirations of the Pleiade and the social aspirations of young would-be courtiers, it is easy to understand how comedy in particular would serve the needs of a Jodelle or a Grevin. Besides being another ancient Italian genre to be translated into French, comedy sought to mirror the society the playwrights were attempting to navigate--Jacques Peletier du Mans, whose theoretical statement to this effect we noted earlier, was another bourgeois member of the Pleiade. More specifically, Jodelle and Grevin chose to portray the world of commercial circulation (from which they came and which was paying their tuition), contrasting it with an ideal of military service to the king, which was calculated to appeal to the warlike Henri II. The next generation of comic playwrights, however, had a different social perspective. Their aspirations lay universally within the realm of venal officeholding, whether in the judiciary or in the Church. They were thus at once more independent of royal favor and court culture than their predecessors, and less able to distance themselves from the exchange of money for social distinction.

Le Loyer, Turnebe, and d'Amboise were all lawyers who began practicing before the Parlement of Paris (the traditional first step in the robe cursus honorum) and later took up posts in the judiciary. Le Loyer was merely successful. D'Amboise and Turnebe moved into the high circles that brought at least formal participation in royal councils. While Perrin spent most of his life as a cathedral canon in the provincial town of Autun, he wrote Les Escoliers while a student in Paris, and dedicated it to Pierre Jeannin, one of the presidents in the Parlement and later Chancellor of France, suggesting that he too had ambitions in the world of the robe. Realizing such ambitions, however, required many things. Like the path of courtier-poets, it demanded native ability, education, and the favor of the king and of great nobles. These things certainly cost money and required a noticeable degree of self-dramatization (if not self-counterfeiting), which might well induce anxiety about the possibility of a social order based on stable identity. (69) A judicial or ecclesiastical career, however, also required hard cash, for such offices in France usually required payment to the crown or to the previous holder. While in the sixteenth century judicial careers were quickly becoming the most common way for French families to achieve juridical nobility and social status, they also threatened to systematically replace merit with money in both church and the state.

For the playwrights of the 1570s, comedies seem to have served multiple purposes. These authors did not particularly flatter old-noble pretensions, as the previous generation had tended to do, but they did certainly explore some of the same anxieties over the venality from which they themselves benefited. At the same time, the plays cover up this venality in an interesting way, by demonstrating their authors' wit and learning. This could be seen as justifying their promotion in the organs of church and state. Just as importantly, it could contribute directly to this promotion, since the last Valois kings frequently distributed important offices (at least partially) as rewards to scholars. To give just one example, when Turnebe's death caused the post of first president of the Monnaies to escheat to the crown, Henri III gave it to the royalist historian Claude Fauchet, who had already served as second president by royal favor. (70) D'Amboise's career was furthered at every stage by such largesse, first on account of his father, a court surgeon, and then on account of his own legal and literary work. (71) Comedies certainly played a subsidiary role in establishing a reputation for learning, but they were not to be dismissed.

Finally, of course, comedies increasingly dramatized the kind of noble life that rising officers hoped to lead. It was a noble life explicitly open to the sons and daughters of the mercantile bourgeoisie, but one they moved into by assimilation, either explicitly (like Sobrin in Les Escoliers) or implicitly (like the young men of Les Contens). Some, like le Loyer and d'Amboise, seem to have played with the idea of valorizing and ennobling the mercantile class itself, but there was little future for such a project in France. Turnebe's solution, in which a generic nobility of spirit overwrote bourgeois values, was to prove the lasting one. (72) It only required the addition of a substantial public to produce the situation described by Helen Harrison, in which Corneille's early comedies had as their "ideological function ... to reinforce the cohesiveness of the admiring audience" across lines of robe and sword, noble and commoner. (73) This kind of construction of a partially new social ideal in order to serve a particular group's interests is not an unfamiliar idea: it is not too different from the "civilizing process" whereby, according to Norbert Elias, the French monarchy house-trained the nobility. (74) Elias's account has met with considerable skepticism in recent years, particularly from those who stress the nobility's success in maintaining its own autonomous prestige and values. (75) The Renaissance comedies suggest that court nobles were not the only group capable of constructing influential accounts of aristocratic deportment and character: if not down from the king, they might come up from the "rising bourgeoisie." (76)

In the sixteenth century, such rising bourgeoisie, whose existence was in some respects made possible by the kind of ideological work performed by these comedies, seem, like George Huppert's parvenu "bourgeois gentilshommes," to have existed in considerable numbers. (77) Turnebe's shadow, Claude Fauchet, is as good an example of this group as any, marrying his son into the country nobility and sending him to fight in the king's armies, while preparing a genteel retirement for himself on his estates. (78) In the seventeenth century, though, another even purer instance of the ideal would arise: the intellectual as a noble, royal servant. Corneille himself, by the magic of his own literary production, was a pioneer of that model. Like so many earlier comedies, Melite was the jeu d'esprit of a young legal officer. Just around the time he would have written it, Corneille began his career in the robe, quite modestly, as attorney general in two minor royal courts in his hometown of Rouen. As he started his long, slow social ascent, he must have meant the play to demonstrate its author's merit, and to reveal him as witty, well-educated, and eloquent: perfect qualities for a young lawyer. In fact, as Corneille put it himself in the examen to the 1660 edition, "Its success was surprising." Not only did the play establish the French theater on a new level, it also "equaled all the best work that had been produced to date, and made me known at court." (79) Indeed, by 1660 Corneille was, thanks to his plays, a noble, a courtier, and a wealthy man. Moreover, he was, arguably, a man who had risen by his own merits, by equaling and surpassing the greatest works of his age in the full view of all.

Corneille was not shy about promoting this interpretation of his career, but he also offered, at various times, another reading more in line with the subtleties of his own play. In 1637, on the heels of his massive success with Le Cid, Corneille published a brief poem entitled "Excuse a Ariste." Nominally an apology for failing to produce other lyric poetry, it was in fact a self-promotional assessment of the author's own career. In it, Corneille claims to be "content with the success that merit gives" in his public, theatrical work. In this way, it seems, he was able to capture something of the situation in the good old days (of the Pleiade, perhaps):
 Parnassus, once adored in France,
 gave its favorites a new golden age;
 our fortunes grew at the price of our caprices,
 and it was a voucher for good benefices. (80)

Corneille effectively admits that writing is, for him, a mode of social and economic advancement, one that his personal wit and merit have made at least somewhat effective in the absence of the kind of culturally-based venality that had been possible in the sixteenth century. He then turns to the question of how he had come to his vocation. Love had first inspired his poetic efforts, though in a matter slightly askew from the commonplaces so dear to Eraste:
 it was thus that I learned to rhyme
 my happiness began when my soul was taken captive;
 I gained glory in losing my freedom.
 Charmed by two bright eyes, my verses charmed the court,
 and what name I have I owe to love. (81)

Corneille's Philis recognized and publicized his merit, as Melite did for Tirsis, and, like the characters in the play, she brought him into a noble social world where he more than held his own. (82)

Other sources provide a bit more detail about this incident, and from them we learn that Corneille's poetic triumph in fact arose phoenix-like from the failure of his family's traditional strategy for social mobility. Philis seems to have been one Catherine Hue--daughter of a well-to-do family of the Rouennais robe--whom Corneille had hoped at one point to marry. Later accounts, including Corneille's own, suggest that she loved him, which may or may not have been the case. Instead, however, she married a maitre in the Chambre des Comptes of Rouen. This magistrate's position, infinitely more exalted than the minor offices Corneille's father could buy him, required considerable wealth and carried with it personal and, ultimately, heritable nobility. (83) Like Etienne Jodelle, who had first brought a comedy based on ancient models to the French stage, Corneille knew from personal experience how money could (and did) triumph in the early modern French social order. Unlike Jodelle, Corneille was successful not just in satirizing this phenomenon, but in turning his critique to constructive account. He died a wealthy and deeply respected nobleman, and he left to France not just a model of literary production already central to its culture, but ideals of social conduct and worth whose influence was felt for many years. (84)



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*The ideas in this paper were first developed in a 2003 National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar directed by Karen Newman. Further research and writing were supported by a Wimmer Foundation Faculty Summer Research Grant from Duquesne University, and a version was presented to the Pittsburgh Area Early Modern Group on 3 December 2005. My particular thanks to Professor Newman, Barbara Bowen, Elaine Parsons, Orest Ranum, Francois Rigolot, and Matthew Vester for their comments on various drafts. This paper also owes a great deal to my study with the late Gerard Defaux, to whose memory it may serve as an inadequate but sincere tribute. All translations are my own.

(1) See, for example, Garapon.

(2) On Corneille's thematization of a simple and direct style in Melite, see Reiss.

(3) Peletier du Mans, 186 (2.7): "la Comedie a ete dite ... le mireoer de la vie: par ce qu'an ele s'introduiset personnes populeres: desqueles faut garder la bienseance." (Peletier utilized an eccentric orthography: I omit his extensive diacritical marks.) Peletier faithfully reproduces the conventional wisdom of his and Corneille's own day; compare the "Discours de l'utilite et des parties du poeme dramatique": Corneille, 1862-68, 1:25-26, 36.

(4) The locus classicus is Euanthius, 172 (4.2): "between tragedy and comedy, then, among other differences this first of all stands out, that in comedies the actions are of men of mediocre fortune assailed by small perils, and with happy endings, and in tragedy, entirely to the contrary, there are mighty characters, great terrors, sad endings; and for the one there is confusion at first, and tranquility at last, but in tragedy things are arranged in the other order, since tragedy depicts a life to be fled, and comedy one to be pursued; finally, that the plots of all comedies are fictional, while tragedy often deals with historical truth" ("inter tragoediam autem et comoediam cum multa tum inprimis hoc distat, quod in comoedia mediocres fortunae hominum, parui impetus pericula laetique sunt exitus actionum, at in tragoedia omnia contra: ingentes personae, magni timores, exitus funesti habentur; et illic prima turbulenta, tranquilla ultima, in tragoedia contrario ordine res aguntur; tum quod in tragoedia fugienda vita, in comoedia capessenda exprimitur; postremo quod omnis comoedia de fictis est argumentis, tragoedia saepe de historia fide petitur"). This treatise was prepended (without notice of authorship) to the manuscripts and early editions of Aelius Donatus's commentaries on Terence; also important is an immediately subsequent citation of Donatus 1:22: "Cicero said that comedy is an imitation of life, a mirror of customs, an image of truth" ("comoediam esse Cicero ait imitation vitae, speculum consuetudinis, imago veritatis").

(5) Todorov, 51: "une societe choisit et codifie les actes [de parole] qui correspondent au plus pres a son ideologie."

(6) Dewald, 12.

(7) The classic account of this process is Mousnier. For more reflection on how it functioned in the social world from which Corneille and Renaissance comedy emerged, see Giesey.

(8) Corneille, 1950, 12 (act 1, scene 1, lines 51-54): "Tu scais qu'on te souhaitte aux plus riches maisons / Ou de meilleurs partis.... / Mon amour s'en offence, et tiendroit pour supplice / D'avoir a prendre advis d'une sale avarice."; 15 (1.1.114): "Son revenu chez moy tiendroit lieu de merite." As with most of his early plays, Corneille revised Melite extensively for the 1660 publication of his collected works. In adapting a play written around 1628 to the very different social and critical environment at the dawn of the Sun King's reign, Corneille blurred much of the social specificity that will concern us here: this in itself is evidence of Melite's value as a document of social history. All quotations in the text thus follow the 1633 edition, but significant changes will be noted.

(9) Reducing love to a calculus of merit produces its own difficulties, threatening a collapse back into the economic: this is explored by Harrison, 54-59. Still, this is, as it were, a higher-order problem than the one that concerns us at the moment.

(10) Corneille, 1950, 37 (2.3.475-76, 481-82): "[Tirsis] vaut autant que mort, / Ma valeur, mon depit, et ma flame en sont d'accord.... Si tu peux te resoudre a mourir en brave homme, / Des demain un cartel, l'heure, et le lieu te nomme." Corneille suppressed this proposal of a duel in his 1660 revision of the play, presumably for fear of offending Louis XIV.

(11) Ibid., 47 (2.6.622-26): "Ces ames du commun font tout pour de l'argent / Et sans prendre interest au dessein de personne / Leur service, et leur foy sont a qui plus leur donne, / Quand ils sont eblouys de ce traistre metal, / Ils ne distinguent plus le bien avec le mal." Again, this passage was suppressed in 1660, replaced with the single line "Ces ames du commun n'ont pour but que l'argent."

(12) Ibid., 98 (4.6.1423-24, suppressed in the 1660 edition): "Mon courage au besoin se trouvant trop timide / Pour attaquer Tirsis autrement qu'en perfide"; 105 (4.9.1555-57): "Vous me coignoissez mal, dans le corps d'un perfide / Je porte le courage, et les forces d'Alcide, / Je vay tout renverser dans ces Royaumes noirs." The name Alcide for Hercules is ostentatiously erudite.

(13) As Fumaroli, 1996, 37-38, quite correctly points out, Eraste's forgiveness carries a religious, as well as a social valence. Indeed, the two are closely linked, since social nobility could be seen either as the outward sign of divinely bestowed grace--for a more-or-less-contemporaneous version of this argument, the strong of stomach can consult, for example, Rebreviettes d'Escoeuvres--or as a gratuitous act of the sovereign.

(14) The standard account of how erudite studies of the ancient languages were integrated into seventeenth-century French rhetoric is Fumaroli, 1980.

(15) Probably the most thoroughgoing expression of this is Alter.

(16) On the broad manner in which noble merit was then understood, see Smith.

(17) See, especially, her reading of the Prince de Conde's letters at the nadir of his fortunes: Neuschel, 65-68.

(18) For a thorough account of this affair, see Billacois, 247-75. I am doubtful about Billacois's sociological analysis of reactions to this incident, which (he claims) split along a divide between the feudal nobility and the rising bourgeois-absolutist nexus.

(19) Du Verdier, 604: "il semble ... que cest un vray moyen, que le plus riche & puissant Seigneur n'offence le plus petit, lequel estant Gentil-homme comme luy par l'egalite des armes, d'homme a homme pourra tirer raison de l'offence d'un plus opulent, ce qu'il ne pourroit autrement." Du Verdier dedicated the Diverses lecons to Anne d'Urfe, who was, according to the dedicatory epistle, an embodiment of true nobility. Anne's son Honore gained fame as the author of the pastoral romance Astree, which provided Corneille's generation with its dominant model of noble love deliberately removed from economic and political realities. On du Verdier's essays and their sociopolitical thinking, see Campangne.

(20) Billacois, 461: "ne mettrez en avant vostre qualite pour eviter ce a quoy vostre honneur vous oblige." This incident occurred in 1613. Luz's appeal was successful, in that Guise accepted the challenge and killed him.

(21) Newman. See especially Harrison; Force.

(22) The regular comedy of the French Renaissance remains a distinctly obscure genre. The basic surveys are Jeffrey; Lebegue; Lazard, 154-207; Mazouer, 311-73. The best study of economic anxiety in French Renaissance literature is certainly Cave, who ends at the point when the comic genre emerged.

(23) Grevin, 5: "faicte par le commandement du roy Henri II pour servir aux nopces de madame Claude duchesse de Lorraine, mais pour quelques empeschemens differee."

(24) According to Cloulas, 566-67, Montmorency took charge of the celebrations surrounding the Guise marriage. Cloulas does not document this claim; Baumgartner, 209, makes the opposite (equally undocumented) claim, that Charles de Lorraine's brother, Francois, Duc de Guise, for the occasion "performed Montmorency's office of grand-maitre to perfection."

(25) Calendar of State Papers Italy, 86 (Ambassador Giovanni Michiel to the Doge and Senate of Venice, Paris, 15 May 1559); see Baumgartner, 247. It may be worth noting that Antoine, 44, is inclined to give Montmorency credit for the major overhaul of the financial bureaucracy carried out in Henri II's reign.

(26) The term prothonotaire has puzzled commentators. Judging from some occurrences in Brantome, 3:47 (Grands capitaines Francois, 133-34), it was used at the court of Francois I to indicate a young clerk with a taste for dissolution and the high life. Our Protonotary appears to be an officer in one of the Parisian central courts: at the end of act 2, scene 1, his servant asks him "go wait for me in the Palais [de justice]," to which he replies that "The Secretary should meet me there on some business" (Grevin, 31: "allez m'attendre / Dans le palais ... Le Secretaire / M'y doit trouver pour quelque affaire"). The Protonotary presumably means one of the secretaires d'etat, or perhaps one of the secretaires-greffiers of the Conseil Prive. This strongly suggests that his benefice is secular rather than ecclesiastical.

(27) Loys is owed 300 livres for three months' wages, apparently for a military or household office in the king's service. Through his servant, he agrees to quit the Treasurer of this and the following quartier in return for 600 livres (260 ecus) less 115 livres (fifty ecus at the official rate). The Treasurer borrows the money from his neighbor Sulpice.

(28) Grevin, 16 (act 1, scene 2, line 161): "Le gain recompense[ra] le mal"; 29 (2.1.386-87): "l'argent du benefice / Ne suffit a telle despense"; 30 (2.1.395-97): "estre entretenu / Honnestement du revenu / Qui m'appartient."

(29) Ibid., 34 (2.2.466-67): "une bonne recompense / Qu'on donne pour son benefice"--it is unclear whether this is supposed to mean that the Protonotary will sell his office for a profit, or that it will allow him to engage in some kind of insider trading.

(30) Ibid., 38 (2.2.524-31): "ils sont tous de poix, / Je les ay eus tous pour le pris / Que ceste dame les a pris. / Je recognoy bien cestuy-ci, / Et ce double ducat aussi, / Un noble, un angelot encor: / C'estoit pour des brasselets d'or / Que Monsieur luy donna un jour." In this play, only the coins are honest.

(31) Ibid., 47 (3.2.686, 689-91): "n'en scache point d'assez belle ... la recompense / Que je pretends vault la despence"; 39 (2.3.555-56): "le maintien / De gens de court est nostre bien"; 54 (3.5.822-23): "L'amour donc n'aura plus de loy? / On n'en fera donc plus de compte?" The pun on the meaning of loy was current at the time: I discuss another example in Parsons, 62.

(32) Ibid., 28 (2.1.376-79): "bonne grace, / Son doux parler et son maintien ... meritent bien / L'amour d'un bien plus grand seigneur"; 9 (1.1.31-33): "fust digne d'avoir la grace / D'une dame de plus hault lieu." This language makes another appearance when Loys praises his servant saying "you would merit the wages offered by a greater lord" (11 [1.1.74-75]: "Tu merites de recevoir / D'un plus grand seigneur le loyer"), and again later when, learning of the Protonotary's success, he demands, "is it possible that this gentle Protonotary is playing on my merit?" (62 [4.1.979-81]: "Se peult-il faire / Que ce gentil Protenotaire / Soit jouissant de mon merite?").

(33) Ibid., 68 (4.3.1084-91): "Non, non, je n'ay que faire d'elle; / Elle pense donc que je prise / Davantage sa marchandise / Que mon honneur. Je ne suis plus / De ceux qui donnent des escuz / Pour m'entretenir en sa grace: / Je suis d'une trop noble race"; 84 (5.3.1406-08): "la compagnie / Qui est ceans mangeroit bien / Le Tresorier et tout son bien."

(34) Ibid., 71 (4.4.1139-40): "Sommes-nous en une province / Ou l'on ne craigne point le Prince?"; 75 (5.1.1229-30): "pour juste recompence / D'avoir pille l'argent de France."

(35) Jodelle, 27 (2.2.744-47): "il ne tient a l'or / Qui est le nerf de route guerre / Qu'il ne prenne toute la terre / Que ceste annee avons fait nostre." This was, of course, the most banal of commonplaces.

(36) Ibid., 55 (4.3.1528-31): "dont l'un vend sa terre, / L'autre un moulin a vent chevauche, / Et l'autre tous ses bois esbauche / Pour faire une lance guerriere"; 22 (2.1.596-603): "vendent leur terre ... engaigent leur bien [ou] vendent leur equipage, / Harnois, chevaux, et attelage, / Et tout pour despendre en delices." Messire Jean is referring to service as a knight in the compagnies d'ordonnance, the most aristocratic arm of the French military.

(37) Since no abbey appears in the play, Eugene is presumably a commendatory abbot, drawing the revenue of an office that is actually exercised by a vicar--he may even be a layman. This system, widely practiced throughout the Old Regime, was considered almost universally abusive.

(38) The cure pays 120 livres a year, and the creditor pays 200 ecus (460 livres) for it, receiving 26 percent interest. The official interest rate on perpetual rentes was then 8 percent.

(39) Troterel, 41: "Par le moyen d'une poignee / De quars d'ecus." On this work, which is frankly libertine, see Perret, 123-48.

(40) A good sign of the gap between the social worlds of these plays is that in L'Eugene, Florimond's friend Arnault announces that he gave up his studies to follow the profession of arms because "these days, the brightest wits prefer to become soldiers rather than to remain part of the stupid throng" (Jodelle, 30 [2.2.854-56]: "ores les meilleurs esprits / Aiment mieux soldats devenir / Qu'au rang des badauts se tenir").

(41) Le Loyer, 1576, fol. 66v: "Un Escolier ne de bonne famille."

(42) What fame le Loyer has rests on his treatise on ghosts and spirits: see le Loyer, 1608. Interestingly, this book discusses (bk 2, chap. 9, 154-67) a case heard on appeal in the Parlement of Paris in 1580 that closely parallels the story of Le Muet insense: a young man, failing to seduce a girl of good family, bought a powder from a magician and poured it in her decolletage (he was brought up on assault and sorcery charges after she became sick). On Ficinian magic, see Walker.

(43) Le Loyer, 1576, fol. 99r-v: "compagnon ancien, / Et avec lequel j'ay apprise / L'emploite de ma marchandise"; "Entre tous les estats qui sont / Ici dedans ce monde rond, / Nul est de si dure entreprise / Comme est l'estat de marchandise, / Laquelle sous couleur d'un gain / Le plus souvent bien incertain, / Nous travaille le corps & l'ame, / Et par mer, par terre, & par flame, / Et par le pais escarte / Nous fait fuir la pauvrete."

(44) On this scholastic theory, see le Goff, 78-79; more extensively, Baldwin, 39-41, 52, 63-67.

(45) Perrin, 7: "bourgeois veillard"; 8: "Je n'ay espargne mes deniers, / J'ay ouvert bourses et greniers, / Pour te donner la longue robe, / Et que maintenant on derobe / L'argent, l'esperance et le temps.... Je t'ay acquis un benefice / Qui est de fort bon revenu." In the ordinary language of the time, la longue robe implied a royal office involving legal judgment, not an ecclesiastical benefice. Like the Protonotary calling his office a benefice, this is an example of the interchangeability of civil and ecclesiastical venality in the mid-sixteenth century.

(46) Ibid., 18: "Fils de Josseaume le frippier"; 28: "Mille rares honnestetez."

(47) Ibid., 70: "contrefaire un villageois" and "Demander du vin pour l'argent"; 62: "qui est diligent, / Quand il faut parler de monnoye, / Mettra soudain Grassette en voye."

(48) Ibid., 74: "Vertu est pauvre et importune / Mais les biens sont pour la fortune."

(49) D'Amboise, 41 (2.5): "l'[a] fait nourrir soigneusement, premierement aux lettres, puis au louable exercise de marchandise."

(50) Ibid., 44 (2.7): "a vos enfans donnez le moyen d'esperer des estats et des benefices, s'ils sont gens de bien, ce que tous voz escuz ne scauroyent faire"; 50 (2.8): "par un banquier qu'il a receu une bonne somme de deniers."

(51) The women of French Renaissance comedy have attracted a certain amount of recent scholarly attention. In particular, Forestier analyzes their general passivity while stressing the importance (by contrast with Roman models) of their consistent honesty and appearance, however briefly, on stage. See also Schrenck.

(52) Lefranc is the best account of Adrien Turnebe's role in midcentury French cultural politics.

(53) La Croix du Maine, 2:203 (s.n. "Odet de Turnebe"): "il fut premierement avocat en la Cour de Parlement, et enfin il fut pourvu de l'etat de premier President en la Cour des Monnoyes a Paris, a la poursuite duquel etat il mourrut d'une fievre chaude l'an 1581, age de vingt-huit ans." The source for la Croix du Maine's narrative, repeated without attribution by subsequent biographers, appears to be the inscription on Turnebe's funerary monument, which does not appear in the Epitaphier du vieux Paris and would have been destroyed when the church of St. Andre des Arts was demolished. There is no trace of his appointment in the archives of the Cour des Monnaies, but this is what one would expect, given that he was never confirmed.

(54) Turnebe is a modern edition; Aulotte a full-dress critical study; and Beecher an English translation.

(55) Another character, Rodomont, at one point refers to Basile as "a little Parisian bourgeois" (Turnebe, 129 [act 5, scene 3]: "un petit bourgeois de Paris"). This is certainly not to be taken literally, but it presumably has at least some plausibility as an insult.

(56) Ibid., 14 (1.1): "assez jeune pour manger tout mon bien et le sien" and "tout les bons marchez soient passez"; 132 (5.5): "joist pour le moins de quatre mille livres de rente." Eustache's later interactions with Alix and her pimp Saucisson suggest that Geneviefve's misgivings are not entirely misplaced. Eustache's father Girard replies to Louyse's comment about his income with "I really believe that he would dispose of that much, and more, if it were not for his debts," while Louyse's brother fears that Rodomont, like the soldiers Messire Jean deplored in L'Eugene, "might make bold with my niece's goods, and that he might use the money from his marriage for a mount" ("Je croy bien qu'il en jouiroit, et de plus, s'il ne devoit rien"; "se fist brave des biens de ma niepce, et qu'il employast l'argent de son mariage a se monter").

(57) Ibid., 92-93 (4.1): "quelque bonne piece deguisee qui va planter des cornes au plus haut des biens de quelque pauvre mary" and "il vaut mieux que je me retire en ma maison, pour voir si tous mes escus sont de poix."

(58) For some general reflections on the play of counterfeiting imagery in Renaissance comedy, see Forman, 2000 and 2001.

(59) Turnebe, 125 (5.3): "Au contraire, ayant descouvert tant de beautez et douceurs ... je brule maintenant d'un ardent desir de les posseder, lequel ne me laisse en repos pour la crainte que j'ay qu'on ne me les ravisse. Ainsi qu'un avaricieux qui, ayant peur qu'on ne luy derobe ses escus, passe et repasse cent fois en un jour autour du lieu ou ils sont ensevelis. Et quant il en est absent, son coeur neantmoins ne laisse d'estre avec son thresor." Just before this, Basile says that "Even if I possessed all the honors and riches of the world, it will never be possible for me to repay the hundredth part of the debt I owe her, unless she is willing to take as cash the good will and constant love I bear her: the which I feel growing hourly in my heart, engraving with its golden strokes ... the handsome portrait of my beautiful Geneviefve" ("Il ne sera jamais en ma puissance, quand ... je possederois tous les honneurs et richesses de l'univers, d'acquiter la centiesme partie de l'obligation qu'elle a sur moy, si ce n'est qu'il luy plaise de prendre pour argent contant ma bonne volonte et la ferme amour que je luy porte. Lequel je sens d'heure en heur croistre dans mon coeur et avec ses traits d'or y engraver ... le beau pourtrait de ma belle Geneviefve").

(60) In Larivey, 1579; see also the modern edition, Larivey, 1987. Like Perrin, Larivey was by profession a lawyer-turned-canon.

(61) Basile and Geneviefve describe each other in these terms in their dialogue immediately after the passage just quoted. There is a noticeable similarity, if not necessarily any direct influence, between this conversation and the conversations between Melite and Tirsis in the last act of Corneille's play.

(62) See Perret.

(63) Corneille's own account of the sources of Melite, in the examen he appended to the 1660 edition, was that "I had as a guide only a little common sense, along with the example of the late M. [Alexandre] Hardy, whose vein was more productive than polished, and of a few moderns who were beginning to be produced, and who were no more regular than he" (Corneille, 1950, 135: "je n'avois pour guide qu'un peu de sens commun, avec les exemples de feu M. Hardy, dont la veine estoit plus feconde que polie, et de quelques Modernes, qui commencoient a se produire, et n'estoient pas plus Reguliers que luy"). None of Hardy's regular comedies survive.

(64) For a convenient collation of four contemporary lists, see Bellenger, 9. Remy Belleau, who appears on some lists of the seven, also wrote a comedy, La Reconnue. Interestingly, and in contrast to the rest of the core of the Pleiade, all three members of this "Pleiade generation" of comic playwrights seem to have been Protestants at or near the time they wrote--a symptom, perhaps, of their discomfort with the contemporary social order. On Grevin's close relations with Ronsard and the rest of the Pleiade prior to the Wars of Religion, see Pinvert, 320-39.

(65) For a literary analysis of Ronsard's professional and economic strategies, see Desan, 117-48.

(66) Colletet, 79: "fust sans doute ce qui espandit le plus sa reputation dans le monde."

(67) Balmas, 5: "al tempo stesso nobile e 'parvenu' ... ed ha bisogno di forzare il tono, di esagerare leggermente, di ostentare i sentimenti di ricercatezza, che debbono, secondo lui, farlo pienamente accogliere in questo mondo che e gia e non e ancora il suo." Balmas reproduces notarial documents that style Jodelle's father "bourgeois de Paris," while the son is always styled "escuyer, seigneur du Limodin."

(68) Ibid., 70-74, 801 (the condemnation to death by the Chatelet, known only from a motion in Parlement to unfreeze Jodelle's assets for the payment of a creditor); 823-24 (donation from Charles IX, 20 October 1572); 734-37, 827-30 (sale of the estate at Limodin to pay debts totaling nearly 3,000 livres). On the pardoning of violent acts committed by upper-class men in sixteenth-century France, see Davis, 36-76.

(69) One thinks, of course, of phenomena studied in Greenblatt, 1973 and 1980.

(70) See Espiner-Scott, 50-51. That the office would escheat on the death of an owner who had not duly resigned it was the law; that it was then given to Fauchet for free or at a discount is an inference based on his failure, or refusal, to buy it when it was previously on the market.

(71) This is a theme of Ughetti.

(72) This seems more-or-less to confirm Maza's controversial thesis that the ideology of nobility and state service prevented any possibility of a self-conscious bourgeoisie in Old Regime France.

(73) Harrison, 61.

(74) See Elias, 1978, especially part 2 (35-217); Elias, 1983. The most detailed application of this theory to the specificities of the first half of the seventeenth century is Ranum, 1980.

(75) See, for example, Duindam; Carroll, 75-76. The latter also contains some interesting remarks on the development of dueling (77-82, 112-15).

(76) It might also be worthwhile to think of this process of social idealization in terms of the practices of distinction discussed by Bourdieu.

(77) See Huppert.

(78) Due to civil war, this retirement did not work out as he had hoped, which is how we come to know the details of his social ambitions: see, in particular, Archives Nationales, Z1B 383, piece dated 12 July 1591 (interrogatory of Fauchet when he joined the royalist Chambre des Comptes at Tours).

(79) Corneille, 1950, 135: "le succes en fut surprenant ... il egala tout ce qui s'etait fait de plus beau jusque-la, et me fit connaitre a la Cour."

(80) Corneille, 1862-68, 10:76, 1. 45: "content du succes que le merite donne"; 10:75, 11. 22-26: "Le Parnasse, autrefois dans la France adore, / Faisoit pour ses mignons un autre age dore, / Notre fortune enfloit du prix de nos caprices, / Et c'etoit une blanque a de bons benefices." Corneille may have had Ronsard in mind, though the term mignons is redolent of the reign of Henri III. The 1862 editors interpret blanque as a game of chance, but Corneille almost certainly refers to payment vouchers issued by fiscal officers.

(81) Ibid., 10:77, ll. 60-63: "ce fut par la que j'appris a rimer. / Mon bonheur commenca quand mon ame fut prise: / Je gagnai de la gloire en perdant ma franchise. / Charme de deux beaux yeux, mon vers charma la cour; / Et ce que j'ai de nom je le dois a l'amour."

(82) A roughly contemporary libel, L'Anatomie du Cid, provides another perspective on this social advancement: "He had insistently pursued letters of nobility, which his importunities caused to be granted to him, so that, if he is not the first poet of our age, he is at least the first gentleman of his family" (Mongredien, 63: "Il a poursuivi, avec beaucoup d'instance, des Lettres de noblesse que ses importunites lui ont fait accorder; de sorte que s'il n'est pas le premier poete du siecle, il est au moins le premier gentilhomme de sa race").

(83) Ibid., 47-51.

(84) There is a large literature on Corneille's heroes as social models, though it focuses almost entirely on the tragedies and tragicomedies: see the classic study of Benichou; or, more recently, Ranum, 2002, 195-228.
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Title Annotation:Melite, ou Les Fausses Lettres by Pierre Corneille
Author:Parsons, Jotham
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Sep 22, 2007
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