The Dog of Montarges
The Dog of Montargis, or Murder in the Wood was a 19th-century melodrama, based on the tale of Robert Macaire and his trial-by-combat with a dog. It arose from the Parisian actor and theatre director René Charles Guilbert de Pixérécourt and premiered on 18 June 1814 as Le Chien de Montargis, ou la Forêt de Bondy, mélodrame historique en trois actes et à grand spectacle at the Parisian Théâtre de la Gaîté on Boulevard du Temple, where it had an uninterrupted run in that theatre's repertoire until 1834. Like many melodramas, it had several English language adaptations. John Fawcett, manager of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, applied on September 17, 1814 for a license to present a two-act adaptation by William Barrymore, originally titled Murder Will Out with the alternate and more commonly used title The Dog of Montargis, or, The Forest of Bondy. The first performance was September 30. Other adaptations followed, including an 1816 three-act version attributed to Sir Henry Bishop, and a two-act version by Thomas Dibdin. Versions were performed at many playhouses in London and in the United States throughout the nineteenth century.
A German translation by Ignaz Franz Castelli, with music by Ignaz von Seyfried, premiered on 4 October 1815 at Berlin's Königliche Schauspiele. It already had a competitor in Vienna in September 1815, with Joseph August Adam's Der Hund des Aubri de Montdidier, oder der Zweikampf auf der Insel Notre-Dame. Ein romantisches Schauspiel in vier Aufzügen, but this did not become generally accepted alongside Castelli and Pixérécourt's version, and the piece soon spread throughout Europe, even being given at Weimar for the great dog-lover Charles Augustus starring Charles Augustus's lover Karoline Jagemann.
The plot is based on a legend from the 14th Century, that survived in a letter from Julius Caesar Scaliger. A knight and favourite of King Charles V, Aubry de Montdidier, is murdered in 1371 by his rival Robert Macaire in the forest near Bondy. Aubry's hound, the only creature that actually witnessed the murder, succeeds in bringing suspicion on Macaire. The king decides it would be God's will to allow the dog and the accused to fight.
The best-known version, allegedly by Michel de Montaigne, was recorded as a handwritten note in a copy of his Essais (Apology for Raimond de Sebond, livre II/12, where Plutarch quoted a story about the dog); but this is certainly a forgery. Pixérécourt gives eight sources for its dramatisation, including Jean-Baptiste de La Curne de Sainte-Palaye and Philippe-Auguste de Sainte-Foix.
A statue of the fight is still a landmark in the French community of Montargis.
The Dog of Montarges tells the story of a falsely accused mute and his acquittal. The play is part of a dramatic tradition known as melodrama, a genre that aims to connect with an audience at an emotional, visceral and sentimental level. A play in this tradition strives to show human emotions, and is therefore not given to subtlety in language or hidden ironies. It is also largely dependent on theatrical gestures that convey emotions that words cannot.
In the play, Dame Gertrude oversees an inn at which Eloi, Ursula and Bertrand work. They must entertain a group of soldiers (members of a higher class than that of the inn keepers) who have returned from battle. Upon the arrival of these soldiers, Colonel Gontram, Captain Aubri and the Lieutenants Macaire and Landry, the audience quickly learns that Aubri has been promoted to Captain and given the hand of the general's daughter in marriage. Macaire and Landry are jealous, and plot his downfall.
That night, in the Forest of Bondy, through which Aubri with his dog, Dragon, is passing to deliver a packet on behalf of the Colonel, Macaire and Landry attack and murder Aubri. They bury his body, confident that nobody witnessed the crime. Dragon runs away and Macaire and Landry flee the scene.
The next morning, Eloi, the mute worker at the inn who is betrothed to Ursula, is accused of the murder of Aubri because he (Eloi) is found with a pocketbook full of gold that belonged to Aubri. Aubri had, in fact, given this gold to Eloi so that Eloi could deliver it to Aubri's mother in Paris in the event that anything were to happen to Aubri during his dangerous night journey through Bondy. The circumstantial evidence is taken to prove Eloi's guilt, and Eloi, mute and unable to defend himself, is condemned to death.
A series of events then clears Eloi's name. A sash is found by the dog Dragon near Aubri's body in the Forest of Bondy that belongs to a member of the visiting regiment. Urusula concludes that whoever does not have a sash is the murderer. However, Macaire, to whom the sash belongs, takes another sash from the body of Aubri and uses it to feign his innocence. Finally, Ursula sees the sword in Macaire's scabbard. She takes it out and says that she gave the knot of thread tied around the sword to Aubri. Macaire, succumbing to his conscience, admits his guilt and is condemned to death. He incriminates Landry, who tries to escape, but is chased and mauled by Dragon.
The success of the theatrical version resulted from a trained dog with a silent role, which allowed a pantomime actor to portray the silent servant Eloi accused of murdering his master Aubry. He can defend himself, but due to his disability does not.
In the end he needs help from Aubry's dog Dragon, which is also mute. The dramatisation does not end in a fight like the legend; the mythical narrative is replaced by a search for clues like a modern detective story. The dog is killed by Aubry's foes, but the murderer is recognized by using a belt with which he had tied the dog on the scene.
The name for the breed, Briard, is sometimes called Chien d'Aubry, so it is suggested that a trained Briard may have been used in the role of the dog in Pixérécourt's version.
For the first German performances, a Viennese actor named Karsten with his trained poodles was used.
Carl Friedrich Zelter wanted to offer the Berlin premiere something positive. At the instigation of actress Karoline Jagemann, the melodrama was performed at the Weimar court theatre of the Grand Duke Charles Augustus, in April 1817. Because Goethe's opposition to this performance was unsuccessful, he asked to be dismissed from the theatre.
The aristocratic fondness for dogs and horses stood in direct competition with civic education aspirations since the 18th century. The piece was parodied by Joachim Perinet (Dragon, der Hund des Aubry oder: Der Wienerwald, 1816) and Pius Alexander Wolff (Der Hund des Aubry. Posse in einem Aufzug, 1818). Goethe's departure from the theatre was in turn dramatised as Der Hund des Aubri. Ein Zeitbild (1869) by Albert Lindner.
1909 a silent movie was made by Georges Monca for Pathé after a script by Romain Coolus.
Translator's note: These are in French and German.
- René de Pixérécourt: Le Chien de Montargis ou La Forêt de Bondy, Paris: Barba 1814
- Gustaf Gründgens: „Der Hund des Aubry“, in: Ders., Wirklichkeit des Theaters, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1953, S. 82–110
- Harald Wentzlaff-Eggebert: „Le Chien de Montargis“, in: Klaus Manger (Hrsg.): Goethe und die Weltkultur. Heidelberg: Winter 2003, S. 403–424. ISBN 3-8253-1499-5
Translator's note: These are in French.
- Barrymore, William; John Fawcett (1814). Murder Will Out, or The Dog of Montargis (Plays Submitted to the Lord Chamberlain ed.). Henry E. Huntington Library Larpent Collection 1826. p. 55.
- Bishop, Henry (1816). The Forest of Bondy, or, The Dog of Montargis: a Melo drama in 3 Acts, Founded on an Interesting Fact. Baltimore, Md.: J. Robinson.
Contains the note: “As performed at the Theatre-Royal Covent Garden, and at the theatres of Philadelphia and Baltimore.” Available at the University of Maryland McKeldin library.
- Dibdin, Thomas. The Dog of Montargis, or the Forest of Bondy: a melodrama in two acts. London: T.H. Lacy.
Available in mircoform at the University of Delaware library.
- http://perso.orange.fr/gatinais.histoire/Chien_de_Montargis.htm (French)
- Guilbert de Pixérécourt, Théâtre choisi, Paris: Tresse 1842, vol. 3 p.119
- Pixérécourt, Le Chien de Montargis, acte II, scène 10; p.166f