Intruders in the Play World: The Dynamics of Gender in Molière's Comedies

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Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996 - Literary Collections - 231 pages
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This study examines the nonparticipation of women in the male play world of Moliere's comedies, and the frequency with which women create their own separate and exclusive ludic space. "Otherness" frequently excludes female characters from participation in the realm of playful activity. Women are recurrently portrayed as intruders, cheats, and spoil-sports. In defining circles of ludic activity, the dramatist frequently draws a clear line of polemical demarcation and opposition between men and women.
Because L'Avare evolves within the parameters of economic bartering, it provides an excellent and analytical context for a study of the ingenue. Elise and Mariane's profound alienation is due primarily to their status as objects whose possession is sought after as prize or reward.
Unlike the ingenue, the servant girl frequently participates as a shrewd countertactician in the ludic sphere. Toinette in Le Malade imaginaire provides an enlightening example of this character type, but her hilarity is not so much a sign of participation in the play world as a direct attack upon it.
Women are seen as nonlaughers primarily because they are regarded as proponents of the serious moral norms and/ or the common sense of the "real world" outside the realm of play. They refuse to condone the existence of a separate male society of play. The wife is the most common incarnation of the spoilsport. In Le Bourgeois gentilhomme Madame Jourdain is characterized by her inability to enjoy and participate in the game. Her role as the spoilsport is a negative one but it becomes a very important foil to the dangers of a play world that attempts to exceed its boundaries and that borders on tragedy. Done Elvire in Dom Juan and Elmire in Le Tartuffe share certain characteristics in this regard, too.
A much more imposing presence is that of the comic heroine who invades male territory by usurping traditionally male roles. Any attempt to be like men must be suppressed because it endangers the very existence of the play world, which depends on the dialectics of difference and sameness to retain its exclusivity.
Most frightening of all, however, is the shadow of infidelity. It is woman's intrinsic means of retaliation. The female cheat who enters a separate space, a play world analogous to, yet apart from that of the male characters, is generally the adulteress or the coquette. Her game is played at man's expense and his public ridicule is symbolized by horns. Thus, it would appear that the ultimate threat to the play world established by male characters is the creation of a parallel hegemony in which the female wields power through deception.

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