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Book summary: The game of love and chance

Book summary: The game of love and chance

May 25, 2024 by Mylene in Book summary

The discreet Marivaux wrote a number of Comedies to entertain while pointing out social problems. In the game of love and chance, the roles are reversed, a master becomes a servant and vice versa. Marivaux denounces arranged marriages without love and the weight of society which governs master/valet relationships. I offer a short summary of this piece in what follows.

  • Author: Marivaux
  • Title in French: Le jeu de l’amour et du harsard
  • Publication date: 1730
  • Structure: play in 3 acts and prose
  • Number of pages: 128

Characters

  • Silvia – a headstrong young woman, engaged to Dorante
  • Dorante – a proper young man, engaged to Silvia
  • Mr. Orgon – Silvia’s father
  • Mario – Silvia’s brother
  • Arlequin – Dorante’s valet
  • Lisette – Silvia’s maid

Summary

Mr. Orgon would like his daughter, Silvia, to marry Dorante, the son of an old friend. Apprehensive about marrying a stranger, Silvia fears an arranged marriage and not falling in love with her future husband. She asks her father to disguise herself and pretend that she is Lisette, her servant. Lisette agrees without hesitation to take Silvia’s place. Silvia is interested in observing Dorante’s conduct to ascertain whether she is capable of marrying him. Mr. Orgon and Mario, Silvia’s brother, learned that Dorante had the same idea and traded places with his valet Harlequin. The two men keep the secret to themselves and will have fun gently teasing Silvia.

The adventure turns into a nightmare for Silvia because she realizes that she is attracted to a valet. Furthermore, the person who presents himself as his fiancé and is none other than Harlequin in disguise behaves rudely, which horrifies her.

Mr. Orgon wants to continue this game, even if Lisette expresses her concerns to him. Indeed, Lisette feels that Harlequin has feelings for her and she herself feels feelings for him. Lisette is loyal to Silvia and does not want to harm her. Monsieur Orgon, amused by the game, will tell poor Lisette that she can marry him if it suits her.

Analysis

  • The master/servant relationship: by reversing the roles, Marivaux questions social prejudices. Harlequin tries to play the role of the master, thinking that the master would act that way. But he exaggerates the features too much.

Silvia will learn that Dorante is the real suitor. She will continue to hide her true identity. As a modern woman, she wants to see if Dorante would go so far as to marry a servant.

  • A manifesto against the tradition of marriage of convenience imposed by parents. Mr. Orgon is forgiving and understanding, and wants his daughter to be happy by choosing her husband. He doesn’t seem to want to impose one on her.

There are two plots:

  • The relationship between the servants disguised as masters: Lisette and Harlequin.
  • The masters disguised as servants: Silvia and Dorante. The latter two have a simple relationship and appreciate each other from the start.

Continue reading

The Game of Love and Chance is regarded as a timeless romantic comedy, featuring numerous elements of the narrative, characters, and themes that have universal appeal and continue to convey the intricate nature of love across centuries.

This play has been performed over 1600 times by the Comédie Française, if you are in France you can easily find the show somewhere. We discussed this piece in the book club. In addition, you can find the video summaries by joining the reading club. To find out more, please join our Book Club.

Suggested reading

Book summary: The Woman with the Velvet Necklace

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