Dom Juan by Molière / Sganarelle

Sganarelle is the French descendant of the zanni Brighella of the Commedia dell'Arte. His name derives from the Italian “ sgannare ” and means “ dessiller ” in French, or to “ open the eyes ”. Moreover, Molière created the character of Sganarelle, whom he plays himself on stage, according to the custom of the Italian comedians. He appears in several of his plays be it L'École des maris, Le Mariage forcé, L'Amour médecin or Le Médecin malgré lui.
In Dom Juan or the Feast of Stone, he is Dom Juan's valet and his privileged interlocutor. As in most plays of comedy of the classic age, the master/valet duo has here a fundamental role, and the play is structured around their differences, their confrontations and the dialogues that they exchange. Sganarelle keeps many features of the Italian valet, in particular his cowardice and he embodies the voice of the people in his speeches and his simple and reassuring beliefs. His common sense and his wiles allow him to face his master with assurance, while perfectly aware of the social limits not to be crossed.
He makes himself a man of wit, and does not miss the chance to shine by making a beautiful speech about tobacco or medicine when the opportunity arises. He knows his master to perfection and regularly warns strangers of the danger that he represents (Gusman, Elvire, Charlotte and Mathurine). Nevertheless his affection for Dom Juan is undeniable and he is as much his double as his opposite, his mirror as his judge.
It is the reason why his game is ambiguous, as immediately condemned by the enemies of Molière. Thus after his conversion, his former protector the Prince de Conti speaks of Sganarelle in these terms :
After having made an atheist with great wit speak all the most horrible profanities (Dom Juan), the author entrusts God's reason to a valet, who, to uphold it, utters all the impudence in the world. His master's accomplice, he gives the impression of preaching morals (…) to have the pleasure to hear him ridicule good principles.

Sganarelle is the reflection of the complexity of Molière's play and his role is as important as that of his master. He accentuates his provocations until the last scene. If his final lamentation on his lost wages, engulfed by his master's death, have borrowed their lightness from the Commedia dell'Arte, they also reverse the whole moral expression of the play. For this reason they were deemed so scandalous at the time.
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