(in a "licentious translation" from Molière's comedy)
Prospect Park Books
What is meant by “licentious translation”? Oscar Mandel’s Amphitryon remains part-Molière, but it is also an original comedy inasmuch as a variety of inventions salt-and-pepper the French original, which, be it noted, was itself an adaptation of previous plays on the Amphitryon matter. This Molière-Mandel Amphitryon is preceded by an informative Introduction.
Mercury is lolling in a cloud. Enter Night, in a chariot pulled by two horses. She lights the stars.
MERCURY. Stop, dear Lady Night. Jupiter has sent me to have a word
with you in private. We need your help.
NIGHT. Oh, it’s you, Lord Mercury! I’d never have known you, stretched out like a pasha.
MERCURY. Running on fool’s errands for Jupiter has worn me out. So I decided to snuggle into a cloud while waiting for you.
NIGHT. I hope you’re being funny, Mercury. A god oughtn’t to say he’s worn out.
MERCURY. Gods aren’t made of iron, you know.
NIGHT. That’s true. But divine decorum must be kept up all the same. When a word threatens our sublimity, it should be left to mankind, where it belongs. Gods may rest, but only men are worn out.
MERCURY. It’s easy for you to talk, pillowed in your carriage and pulled along by a couple of thoroughbreds. But look at me: a pedestrian divinity! And whose fault is it? The poets’, damn their cheek, who gave each god a comfortable situation in life, but left me on my feet like a village mail-carrier. Is this justice? I am Jupiter’s own messenger: an acknowledged celebrity. And in all modesty, considering the work I do for him, I deserve a coach more than anybody else in heaven.
NIGHT. What’s to be done? Poets obey their own “inner necessity,” if you’ll excuse the expression, not ours; and one’s thankful these days if one understands three of their words in succession. But why are you down on them? They’ve tied the dearest wings to your heels.
MERCURY. True. Now I fly faster. Does that wear me out any less?
NIGHT. Have it your way, Lord Mercury. What can I do for you?
MERCURY. Oh—I’d almost forgotten. It’s about Jupiter. He has found a new love and asks you please to spread your dark cloak over it. I imagine you have heard that Jupiter is sometimes in love. You may even have heard that he sometimes neglects the theological virtues, turns as human as Tom, Dick and Harry, and practices tricks, I hate to say it, to seduce the girls if they happen to be reluctant. Tonight it’s Alcmena’s turn. While her husband, General Amphitryon, is out of town with the Theban army, Jupiter, disguised as that same Amphitryon, is relieving his godly urges in Alcmena’s arms.
NIGHT. How very odd. I never heard of a lover masquerading as a husband.
MERCURY. As a rule there are more effective ways of pleasing a lady. But Amphitryon and Alcmena are newlyweds. She is still aflame over the idea of a spouse.
NIGHT. Well, bravo for Jupiter, but I’ll never understand the reason for these disguises of his.
MERCURY. He wants to taste a bit of everything. It’s divine wisdom, make no mistake about it. Because it’s a bore to be always the chief, the terror of the underlings, looking as if a mosquito wouldn’t bite you. And how do you make love with a crown on your head that weighs a ton, and a thunderbolt in each hand? No, Jupiter is a connoisseur of pleasures and knows how to stoop for them. In order to penetrate wherever he pleases, he gives himself the slip, so to speak, and runs about in disguises.
NIGHT. Fair enough, if he only paraded as a man. But when I see him turn into a swan, a serpent, or a bull, I think it’s downright unrefined, and I don’t wonder that it makes people talk.
MERCURY. Let the fools talk. These transformations are delightful in their own mysterious way. What do your prudes understand? Jupiter understands. He is a gourmet, I tell you. He knows that our dumb creatures aren’t half as dumb as people think.
NIGHT. Well, let him be careful. One of these days he’ll be turned out to beg in the street by some thin god who works hard, makes large promises to the mob, and stays clear of women. [Mercury groans] You’ll be retired too. Mark my words.
MERCURY. And you?
NIGHT. I am the night. I’m always needed.
MERCURY. Shall we get back to the present and be cheerful?
NIGHT. By all means. But if the girl is making Jupiter happy, what else does he want, and how can I help?
MERCURY. Keep the darkness dark a bit longer. Tell your horses to go slow. Give him time to display his talents. And delay his rival’s return.
NIGHT. Thank you very much! A respectable job for a lady! Do you know what they call this?
MERCURY. Don’t be prissy. What we ask of you is low only when the lowborn do it. We are in a position, I hope, to give fragrant names to anything we choose to do.
NIGHT. So be it. You know more about these matters than I. I’m an innocent. I bow to your experience.
MERCURY. Tut tut tut. Your reputation doesn’t bear looking into either, my sweet. You’ve covered up more than your share of dubious enterprises. I don’t think we two need to stand on ceremony with one another.
NIGHT. Enough! We are what we are. Period. Let’s not give mankind a chance to laugh by flinging unsavory truths at each other.
MERCURY. My lips are sealed. Well, my dear, you know what to do. My next assignment is to change from Mercury into Sosia.
MERCURY. Amphitryon’s lackey. What a come-down!
NIGHT. As for me, I’ll find a snug place in this hemisphere and just hover for a while.
MERCURY. I’m off!
NIGHT. Good night, Mercury!