Les Liaisons Dangereuses: The Theater of Love and Lust

Justin Moga

On Tuesday, October 9, a group of more than thirty Colgate students, staff and interns traveled to Syracuse Stage to see a performance of the play Les Liaisons Dangereuses adapted by Christopher Hampton. The play was in fact adapted from a novel written by Choderlos de Laclos in 1782 which focuses on the activities and exploits of members of the French aristocracy in and around Paris in the 1780s, just before the French Revolution.

As Associate Professor of French Patrick Riley explained before the play, within this example of French libertine literature, the protagonists found it entertaining to seduce people and later destroy them emotionally and socially. Seduction eventually became a means to destroy people rather than an objective within itself.

The two main characters of the play, la Marquise de Mertueuil and le Vicomte de Valmont, are both masters in this field. La Marquise courts social ruin by seducing men, but always finds ways to cover up her deeds. Le Vicomte seduces women and then simply brags to his friends about it, leaving the victim’s reputation tarnished.

The play begins with the Vicomte talking to the Marquise, his dear friend, adviser and ex-lover, about a challenge he has set for himself: to seduce the prudent, God-fearing, devoted wife of another man. The Marquise wagers that he cannot complete the task, making Valmont more resolved to do it. She also asks the Vicomte to do her a personal favor, as she wishes to get revenge on one of her former lovers. This request brings the rest of the cast into the play, in which reputations are destroyed and hearts are broken.

The play was immensely popular with the audience; the situational humor and the many innuendos caused spontaneous laughter in various seat sections. Audience members felt as if they were in the play because they were “in” on the secrets that the plot had created for the characters. Furthermore, the many facades the characters wore kept the audience attuned to the events that influenced the lives and actions of the characters.

The cast was dedicated to the production; none of the actors hesitated and almost all of them went through dramatic and sometimes comical changes in personality. When problems had been resolved and justice done by the end of the play, a sense of relief came over the spectators, who rose in thundering applause.