Nothing Like a Dame : Alexandre Dumas – “La Dame de Monsoreau” or “Chicot the Jester”

Alexande Dumas’ (and Auguste Maquet’s) “La Dame de Monsoreau” picks up six years after the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre from “Queen Margot”. Catherine of Medici’s pervasive influence still contaminates the body politic like a traceless poison. Her son, Henry III, a king as devted to his prayers as he is to his young strapping friends (the so-called “mignons”), sees his throne threatened by two Dukes, (D’Anjou and De Guise) not to mention his namesake of Navarre, (who, spoilers, will in time step up to the role of Henry IV, since Henry III is “the last Valois”.)

But this is one of Dumas’ most accomplished romances, so those Wars of Religion, in which the devout happily murdered their brethren  at the drop of a Pater Noster, take a backseat to the love story of Bussy D’Amboisse, (proud and heroic), and beautiful Diane de Meridor, the titular dame. A series of dastardly abductions and attempts upon Diane’s virtue have resulted in a forced, exceedingly unhappy marriage between her  and the despicable and decrepit Count of Monsoreau, whose all-encompassing jealousy is, if we’re to be fair, more than justified. Bussy is too honorable to pursue a married woman; should the Count of Monsoreau catch a sword to the chest in a duel, though, then the widow will be up for grabs, so almost every male character in the novel is out to court Lady Di and stab Monsoreau – except King Henry III, who was “immune to the delights of the gentler sex”, if Dumas’ portrait has any accuracy to it, (not always a given.)

Both of those plot threads, the historical and the romantic, present Dumas in fine form, nimbly swinging back and forth between scenes of romantic melodrama and heightened courtly tension. But it’s something else that propels “La Dame de Monsoreau” to the front ranks of Dumas’ histories: the portrait of Chicot the Jester. Now, whether Chicot belongs more to Dumas or Maquet is worth arguing about (my own theories lean to the latter.) But less arguable is that the novel’s alternate title, “Chicot the Jester,” is fully earned.

Chicot, irrepressible prankster and soldier of absurdism, is the King’s official stand-up comedian, and unofficial counsellor. The real Chicot inherited his role from the equally famous Triboulet, but no dwarf or hunchback was he: out of the famous court jesters, Chicot was the only one authorized to carry a rapier, at a time when bearing arms was no constitutional right but a King-given honor. Equally apt at literal and metaphorical ripostes, Chicot earned general admiration, and poets of the time dedicated ballads to him:

“Chicot was once a fool, and like a fool would prance,

But lately he’s become the wisest man in France,

Punching with his punchlines everything in sight:

When the kings are wrong, the buffoons are right.”

The Valois trilogy continues with “The Forty-Five.”





One thought on “Nothing Like a Dame : Alexandre Dumas – “La Dame de Monsoreau” or “Chicot the Jester”

  1. Pingback: No One Fights Like Gascons : Alexandre Dumas – “The 45 Guardsmen” | THE PAGEAHOLIC

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