Etudes Epistémè

1 - 2002 - Gilles Bertheau

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Gilles Bertheau: Passion et néo-stoïcisme dans The Revenge of Bussy d'Ambois de Chapman, p. 63


Written in a period when Chapman was engrossed in stoic philosophy, The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois stages a paradoxical hero who has received from his late brother Bussy the mission to revenge his murder on Montsurry. A strict follower of Epictetus's doctrine, Clermont D'Ambois has managed to strike a friendship with his brother's former enemy, the duke of Guise, whose party he vaguely supports. Torn between the demands of the revenge and those of his philosophy, Clermont is first unable to dismiss the control of his passions, which is the core of the stoic doctrine, to execute the task that justice towards Bussy requires. Besides, the purpose Guise and Clermont have set themselves (to be wise) is at odds with the moral corruption of the Court of Henry III, depicted by Chapman as a Machiavellian tyrant. Virtue, in these conditions, seem very difficult to achieve, all the more so as Clermont refuses to compromise, as his passionate sister Charlotte would like him to. In line with his doctrine, he also prefers masculine friendship to feminine love, which he associates with lust, and thus dismisses as alien to virtue. It is no wonder then that the duel between Montsurry and Clermont should be delayed until act V. Meanwhile, Chapman shows the virtue, moral and physical, of his character in the scenes which stage his arrest, organised by the sinister traitor Baligny. Clermont proves his nobleness in this episode, and when finally Montsurry accepts his challenge, Clermont is able to fight - and eventually kill - him as a noble Christian gentleman. Alas, dreaded by Henry since the beginning, Guise is assassinated by the king's guards. When Clermont is informed of his friend's death, and thus understands the little hope there is for virtue to triumph in such circumstances, he prefers to commit suicide rather than to accept the rule of the tyrant. But the wording of his last lines leaves a doubt as to his real motives, since it seems clear that he kills himself as much because he cannot bear the loss of his friend as to escape tyrannous political power. The playwright finally points out his character's imperfect stoicism.

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