Go, Dog, Go!
My title is borrowed from a former teacher of mine, Stephen Booth, who gave a talk about the beautiful, using the classic children's book Go, Dog, Go! as his unlikely example. He pointed out there is not a lot of plot in Go, Dog, Go! The pleasures of the book come mostly from reader's enjoying the comparisons and contrasts of its repeated imagery: houses, toys, wheels, hats, and water. Some of the same pleasures are at work in Marivaux's Game of Love and Chance, which is also not an intensely plot driven play. We can anticipate the ending from the start, when unbeknownst to each other servants and masters have changed places during a courtship visitation. It doesn't take us more than a few seconds to know that despite all the confusions it will all be sorted out in the end with the lovers paired off happily with their own kind--this is France, 1730, well before the rigid codes of class were abolished by the revolution, and this is clearly a comedy. But while short of plot, the play is rich in variation. Marivaux (and his brilliant adapter, Stephen Wadsworth) invite us to see the same scenes played out between masters and servants--the same, only different. In one scene the Masters, disguised as servants, fall in love. In another,the two servants, also disguised, also fall in love. The masters have their own joy in having their hearts opened, and then their own torments when they realize they are in love with someone they can never be with and intensely disliking their presumed partners.
They are all giddy in love, and yet all deeply serious. They are all wearing masks, and yet we are all seeing their faces revealing and concealing themselves behind their masks. At times the play seems to be acted out in an infinite hall of mirrors, like the famous room in Versailles.
Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles
Yet in the Game of Love and Chance, it's not the visual excitement of glass and crystal that produces pleasure, but rather the experience of seeing these shimmering variations at play in the characters and their actions. Is there social and metaphysical significance in all of this, and portents of class mutability that were to come fifty years later? Very likely. Yet in the end, as Booth points out, it is the experience and not the meaning of a work of art that matters, and that most of the time works of art are actually what they seem to be. So it is with childrens' books, and so it is with this play, which, as its title suggests, is a kind of game. And the experience of this play is a particularly rich one as we watch the game being played out--with a surprising and somewhat disconcerting turn at the end. I find it beautiful. Go, Dog, Go! Go, Marivaux!