Love and Chance in Marivaux

Marivaux’s play “The Game of Love and Chance” is a short work composed in the Italian style of commedia dell’arte, using stock characters and humor to explore conventional themes. Specifically, “The Game of Love and Chance” is tailored to address the relationships between love, fortune, and factors such as reason and social class. Marivaux utilizes the social statuses and behaviors of the characters to suggest that love and chance, as seen through the prism of social class, are both powerful causal forces that overpower reason. It becomes evident early on in the play that love and fortune are both potent causal forces. The effects of these combined forces are most clearly seen in the psychological states of the characters under their influence. For instance, the emotional stability of the upper-class young woman, Silvia, is referred to both indirectly and as a form of self-commentary. Silvia has fallen in love against her will with Dorante, a nobleman disguised as a simple valet. Other characters are first to notice the changes that take place in Silvia. The servant Lisette states that Silvia “grow[s] passionate” at the mere mention of Dorante, and says that she “[does] not understand [Silvia’s] vicious mood” because she has “never seen [Silvia] in such a state” (339). Silvia’s brother, Mario, states that Silvia appears “strange,” “touchy,” and in “quite a frenzy,” and her father, Orgon, agrees that Silvia is “so distraught [he does] not recognize [her]” (345-346). Silvia eventually likewise criticizes herself in a brief soliloquy, proclaiming: “How wretched I feel! I am more than distressed. I feel burdened and disturbed” (347). In the context of the play, Silvia’s transformations, which take place after chance has suddenly inspired her to fall in love with an unexpected character, imply that the forces of chance and love are capable of causing extensive psychological modification. The verification of these changes by both the character being described and all of the characters assumed to be most familiar with her strengthen the argument that the forces are quite powerful indeed. It is also implied that the causal forces of love and chance are assumed to be so powerful because they are the laws of nature. For example, Silvia’s future relationship with Dorante is discussed in the opening of the play, before the couple has even met. Lisette states that for Silvia to reject or have contempt for the arranged marriage “is unnatural” (317). Although the couple has not yet met, in a sense this statement foreshadows how natural and easy it will be for Silvia to eventually embrace the changes that love causes. Similarly, fortune is implicated as a natural law. When Lisette and Arlequin, both lower-class servants, fall in love while disguised as upper-class individuals, Lisette comments on Arlequin by stating that “So much humility is not natural” (358). Since humility is a trait associated with lower-class members of society, and Arlequin at the time is thought to be an upper-class person, it is clear that social roles are thought of as naturally components of each class. Because fortune defines social class, it is implied that chance is a natural force acting upon individuals. In the play, both love and chance are portrayed as being more powerful than human reason. Characters continuously attempt to utilize reason to manage their personal lives, yet it appears that when one is under the influence of the deterministic forces of love and chance, reason is overpowered. Silvia, for instance, often reflects upon herself in a manner that indicates that she is engaged in an internal battle between the love that fortune has brought her to and her powers of reasoning. In all cases, Silvia seems to find herself acting in opposition to reason. For example, in one particular conversation with Dorante, Silvia exclaims: “Whether you go, whether you stay, whether you come back, all these movements must not affect me – nor do they, in fact…These are my resolutions! My reason allows me no others and I should not even let myself tell you about them” (341). However, despite her resolve, Silvia finds herself charmed by Dorante, and admittedly finds herself “rush[ing] into frenzies” whenever she is around him (340). Later, after Dorante reveals his identity and Silvia is still disguised as a maid, Silvia recognizes that similar forces are present within Dorante, stating: “He thinks that if he marries me he will betray his birth and his wealth…These are not light obstacles… I can almost feel the conflict in him. I want a battle between Love and Reason” (356). Mario responds by accurately predicting the victor of this battle, exclaiming: “And death to Reason, I suppose!” (356). When Dorante proceeds to ask the disguised Silvia for her love despite their apparent differences in social class and the rules of convention, it becomes clear that love indeed overcomes what reason may dictate for an individual. In fact, it is often the case that surrendering one’s reason and embracing the love that fortune has brought typically produces positive results. For instance, when Mario realizes that both Silvia and Dorante have decided to meet in disguise, he tells Orgon: “Well, Sir, since matters have taken this course I should leave them be” (323). By the end of the play, it is clear that this decision allows Dorante and Silvia to interact, forming the basis of their relationship. Yielding one’s reason to the forces of love and chance allows one to align him/herself with what these forces have decreed. For example, after both Silvia and Dorante have revealed their true identities, Silvia tells Dorante, “we both used the same masquerade to become better acquainted. That said, there is no more to say. You love me and I will never be able to doubt it” (365). It is clear that Silvia has finally discontinued her attempts to reason about Dorante, and acknowledged that the existence of his love is all that should be taken into consideration. Therefore, it is implied that happiness is often reached when one lets go of his/her reason and lines him/herself up with what natural forces have caused. The relationship between Arlequin and Lisette often humorously encourages this approach. When Lisette questions Arlequin about whether he should be reasonable rather about their relationship, Arlequin declares: “Reasonable? Oh, alas, I have lost my reason. Your lovely eyes are the rascals that took it away” (335). Thus, it again appears that reason is overtaken by the natural force of love. For Marivaux, this idea may have served as a commentary on the Enlightenment rationalism that was popular around the time that the play was first produced. Although love and chance have many similar characteristics, there is an interesting relationship between the two individual forces: they are related by social structure. Chance decides what social class a particular person belongs to, since people born into a certain class become another member of it. This is referred to quite often by many of the characters in the play. For instance, when Lisette reminds Arlequin that they “are not the masters of [their own] fate,” Arlequin agrees by stating: “That lies in the hands of our mothers and fathers” (337). Since the social status of the parents was similarly due to the fortune of their own parents, it is implied that all social roles are formulated by chance. More indirectly, social status is related to fortune because the fortune of certain lower-class individuals appears to be decreed in part by the upper-class members whom they work for. In reference to what should become of Arlequin, Orgon says: “His master will decide his fate” (347). Therefore, chance defines one’s social status. Social status, in turn, influences how a particular individual speaks and behaves. Each class has an expected and unique version of language and acceptable interactions, so examining these traits in a certain individual can often reveal his/her social status. For example, Silvia states that even when she is disguised as a lower-class maid, “there will be something in [her] manner that demands respect” (324). Dorante clearly recognizes that Silvia’s language and behavior do not match her lower-class status. Quickly upon meeting, Dorante states that even though he normally has “no great liking for [chambermaids’] company or attitudes,” he feels differently around Silvia, having “a constant desire to take off [his] hat” and “to treat [her] with such respect” (Marivaux 326.) This is a reflection on both Silvia and Dorante, since neither of their behaviors match their lower-class disguises. Silvia notices a similar disjunction between the mannerisms of Dorante and Arlequin with relation to their positions, and she states: “How strange fate is. Neither of those two men is in his proper place” (Marivaux 330.) This statement also helps elucidate the relationship between fortune and behavior: chance identifies an individual’s social status, and social status defines how an individual speaks and acts. Finally, a person’s language and behavior typically fosters specific relationships, somewhat regardless of what social class people may be in. The playful bantering between Lisette and Arlequin, juxtaposed to the more serious and more eloquent flirtation between Silvia and Dorante, is a good example of how interactions among members of the same class reflect their common mannerisms. Also, the characters often remark about each other’s behavior relative to their social class when discussing their love. For instance, after Arlequin and Lisette uncover their true identities, Arlequin tells Lisette: “You may have changed names but you have not changed your face and you know quite well that we promised to love each other in spite of all spelling mistakes” (Marivaux 360.) Thus, it is implied that the couple loves each other because of each person’s behavior and language, regardless of what social class they are apparently assigned to. Dorante makes a similar claim near the end of the play, telling Silvia: “There is no degree, no birth, no fortune that does not wither away before your love” (Marivaux 364.) In some ways, there appears to be a motif of love transcending social class. However, since relationships are based upon mannerisms that are defined by social status, indirectly social class is still responsible for arrangement of the personal affairs. Furthermore, at times it appears that love is a somewhat more powerful force than chance. For example, early in the play Silvia tells Dorante: “Fortune has used you ill,” since at the time he had the meager position of a valet, and Dorante responds: “Love has used me worse. I would rather be able to ask you for your love than to have all the riches on earth” (Marivaux 328.) Again, it appears that love transcends social statuses, although the love most likely would not have formed if Dorante hadn’t already learned to interact with people of a similar manner. However, Marivaux may be implying that under the right circumstances, love can be a more powerful influence upon an individual than chance. In either case, it is clear that love is related to chance through social structure. Chance defines an individual’s mannerisms based on their social class, and in turn those mannerisms align similar individuals and foster love. Thus, in Marivaux’s The Game of Love and Chance, love and chance serve as deterministic natural forces. Both forces are powerful and capable of causing major changes within an individual, and both overpower reason. The two forces are related to each other through social structure.