To gain your heart I did everything I could to abuse those who stood in my way. You were the sole object of my machinations.
-Phocion, The Triumph of Love
In the gardens of a country estate, the rich youth Phocion and his servant Hermidas plot their way to ingratiating themselves with the rigidly reclusive owners of the house, the strict philosopher Hermocrate, his frigid and syntactically ornate sister Léontine, and their dim but noble ward Agis. There are, it emerges, secrets on both sides of this exchange. Agis's father, the late king, developed a mad passion for his sister-in-law, kidnapped her, and died, imprisoned by his enraged brother, who took over the kingship himself. In other words, the ethics of Agis's uncle's possession of the throne are complex. Agis was smuggled away after his mother's death (the plot of the play would have been vastly improved by making his mother the king's kidnapped sister-in-law, but alas, the incest route was the road less taken here), and Hermocrate is plotting an uprising against the current possessor of Agis's throne, his cousin Léonide, daughter of the wife-deprived usurper.
Phocion is desperate to join their household, after encountering Agis on a walk through the surrounding property and falling madly in love. Is this an unusually explicit (if not, strictly speaking, unusual) 18th century tale of homoeroticism? Only a little bit. Phocion, it turns out (of course), is Léonide in disguise, and she must go to great lengths to convince Agis that he is in love with her. First, she must reveal herself as a liar when it comes to her gender, and then she must overcome his learned repulsion for women (Agis was brought up by Hermocrate to believe that women would only divert him from his all-important political purpose), and finally she must uncover to him the nature of her political position, and convince him that she is not his most hated enemy.
She does this, of course, through a series of complicated amorous deceptions, convincing every member of the household that s/he is madly in love with them and cannot be turned away. The Triumph of Love is, it turns out, a tiny farce, not nearly as complex as what Marivaux does elsewhere with the genre (not to mention Shakespeare - but is that comparison really fair to any playwright?). It shows neither the verbal wit (although perhaps the French original is most linguistically clever) Marivaux is famous for, nor the superhuman complexity of the plots wrought by his colleagues across the channel during this period. It does, however, carry the odd distinction of being the only one of Marivaux's plays to have been turned into an English language film, starring (!?!?) Mira Sorvino, Ben Kingsley, and Fiona Shaw. Maybe I should watch a "staged" (i.e. filmed) version before I render my final judgement. You can read Roger Ebert's review of the film, as well as Mick LaSalle's less glowing evaluation (a hint: he titles his review "Triumph doesn't").
The Triumph of Love (1732)
Marivaux (Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux)
trans. James Magruder (1994)