"The Triumph of Love" is a disconcerting work. Many elements in it are of course, familiar and were more familiar still to the first audiences in 1972. The plot, in which the servants side with the young lovers to baffle and defeat the older generation, as a pedigree going back through Moliere and commedia dell'arte to Menander and Greek New Comedy. Equally traditional is the character of Harlequin, a vestigial survival of commedia dell'arte (the play was written for the Italian Comedians resident in Paris, who by this date were performing in both French and Italian).
Leonide, a reigning princess, wishes to restore the throne to the rightful heir, Agis, with whom she has fallen instantly in love and who lives in seclusion with a philosopher and his unmarried sister. A pert valet and a comical gardener attend them.
Leonide disguises herself and her servant as men and, once arrived at the philosopherâ€™s estate, manages instantly to extract vows of eternal friendship from Agis, declares undying love for the philosopher (who knows her to be a woman) and more undying love for the sister (who assumes he is a man).
Leonide is scheming and manipulative, is no sense the passive blushing heroine of traditional comedy. Her purposeful seduction of both men and women - albeit in a good cause, as she is at paints to point out - makes her as morally dubious as Don Juan.
"The Triumph of Love" systematically subverts stereotypes: generic, linguistic, social, sexual.
Image by Iain Lanyon