Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Modern Foreign Languages

Major Professor

Bryant Creel

Committee Members

Edmund J. Campion, Salvatore Di Maria, Heather Hirschfeld


This study on the liar as a comic figure centers on protagonists in five seventeenth-century comic plays: La verdad sospechosa (Ruiz de Alarcon), Melite, Le Menteur (Corneille), Tartuffe and Dom Juan (Moliere). It applies a model combining the concepts of "ironic comedy" (Frye), "the world as stage," metatheater, and theories of laughter. Through this model, supplemented by a comparative-literature approach and additional research, the study attempts to demonstrate that in the plays examined an alazon (impostor) is always punished for his contempt for an ideal of truth that is conceived mainly in secular terms, as well as that in the plays examined here gullibility is ridiculed and the alazon is represented as being expelled from a society in which his condemned behavior is actually widespread. In any case, the avenging agents are laughter and eirons thus emphasizing the liar's comic character.

La verdad sospechosa conforms most closely to Frye's definition of a classic ironic comedy, combining the Plautine motifs of mistaken identity and lying. The ending is comic because Don Garcia's expulsion as a pharmakos (scapegoat) is not carried out--he keeps his promise to marry Lucrecia, even though she is not whom Don Garcia thought she was. Le Menteur, an adaptation of La verdad sospechosa, deviates from this pattern. In the end, Dorante's only punishment for lying seems to consist of laughter and reprimands, but in La Suite du Menteur his broken promise to marry Lucrece has cost him nearly everything. Still, the principal dupes suffer as much or more than the liars in the Corneille plays, implying that lies may be entertaining, but taking them seriously has potentially dire consequences.

Moliere applies this lesson to Tartuffe, where the conspiracy to unmask hypocrisy is more successful against the dupe Orgon than Tartuffe. Fear makes the disillusioned Sganarelle play the dupe in Dom Juan, and he suffers a comic downfall. The uncomic punishments of Tartuffe (prison) and Dom Juan (Hell) confirm that they are realistically painted braggarts, who take their place as comic, undignified figures alongside Don Garcia, Eraste, and Dorante. The classic model of ironic comedy is broadened and bent but not broken.

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