THE STORY: Jupiter, king of the Gods, has again become enamored with a mortal woman, Alcmena, wife of the military general, Amphitryon. During the general’s absence in the field, Jupiter assumes Amphitryon’s form, and is gladly welcomed home and into Alcmena’s bed. The god Mercury aids in the deception by assuming the role of Amphitryon’s valet, Sosia. The next morning, the real Sosia arrives to tell Alcmena that her husband will soon return home, but he is thwarted by his own double (Mercury), who, protecting Jupiter inside the house, berates and confuses Sosia, beating him up as he forces Sosia to flee. Alcmena and Jupiter (as Amphitryon) take leave of one another amid eloquent and passionate speeches befitting young newlyweds. Cleanthis, Alcmena’s maid and Sosia’s wife, is envious of such romantic fervor, and reproaches Mercury (whom she believes to be her husband) for his want of tenderness toward her. Mercury’s mischievous replies contribute to the unhappiness of Cleanthis’ and Sosia’s quarrelsome marriage, which in a number of scenes throughout the play will provide a counterpoint to the behavior of their employers. When the real Amphitryon arrives home, his wife declares she has already welcomed him, and that he has but lately left her after a night of love. Amphitryon flies into a baffled rage, denies it all, calls Alcmena a faithless woman and goes off to seek her brother, a fellow soldier, who can testify that Amphitryon was with his battalion the night before. Jupiter, perceiving a further opportunity for human passions, reappears as Amphitryon, and convinces Alcmena he meant no insult in his rash actions. His ornate contrition and repeated threats of suicide persuade Alcmena to forgive him. Later the real Amphitryon returns home again, having failed to find his brother-in-law, and is told by Mercury (as Sosia) that Amphitryon is at home with his bride. Throughout the remaining action, which includes a confrontation between the two Amphitryons, the young general is in a state of vengeful fury. This gives way to stupefaction at the close, when the impostor gods reveal themselves. Mercury introduces Jupiter, restores an intact identity to Sosia, and flies to Heaven. Jupiter speaks appeasingly to Amphitryon, promises him many future blessings (among them a son named Hercules), and vanishes in his turn. Considering the damage that has been done to the marriage of Amphitryon and Alcmena, the “happy ending” leaves them with an ironic hope for the future.
This lively and intelligent version of Molière’s classic comedy shares honors with Mr. Wilbur’s translations of Tartuffe
, The Misanthrope
, The School for Wives
, and more.