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Frippery and feeling

An 18th century French playwright who has more to say than it seems.

By Craig Moyes   June 1999

Marivaux has a reputation as the theatrical equivalent of Watteau-staging gay, frilly scenes of no consequence. Voltaire once contemptuously remarked that Marivaux spent his time “weighing fly’s eggs in cobweb scales,” and this view of an overly refined, frivolous product of the Regency has stuck. Perhaps this is because Marivaux entered the French language (marivauder or marivaudage) meaning to “exchange gallant sophisticated banter” or to “bandy airy trifles.” Perhaps if Noel Coward had had a more euphonious name, the English might have coined a corresponding term.

Whatever the intention behind the original meaning of marivaudage-and most likely it was less…

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