About the author

Alexandre Dumas was born in 1802 in France. During all of his childhood his country was engaged in war. His father was a general in Napoleon’s army and died when Alexandre was four-years-old. The Napoleonic Wars ended when he was thirteen, so he barely escaped being drafted into the army himself. Alexandre had very little formal education. For the most part, he was taught by a priest who recognized his brilliance.
Dumas’ first job was as an apprentice in a lawyer’s office. When he was twenty-one, he moved to Paris where he worked for the future King Louis Phillippe. It was at this time that he began to write plays. He was an instant success.
He then decided to write a history of France through novels. The first in the series was The Three Musketeers, which was published in 1845. He followed this success with Twenty Years After and then The Count of Monte Cristo, Ten Years Later, and The Black Tulip. Altogether, he produced so many works that people used to joke that there wasn’t enough time in one lifetime for one person to read them all, including Dumas himself!

Dumas reaped a fortune from his writings and lived extravagantly. He built himself a large house in the country. He built a theatre which produced only his plays. For a few years, he was the most popular writer in France. However, his novels went out of style after about 1850 because people thought the plots were too unbelievable. Dumas hadn’t saved his money, and so he went into debt, and was forced to escape north to Brussels, Belgium to avoid his creditors. In his later years, he wrote his memoirs which gave a very accurate account of what life was like in France in the nineteenth century. He died in 1870 at the age of sixty-eight.

About the play

Our play is an adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ famous French novel, The Three Musketeers. Dumas wrote the book in the nineteenth century, while the story itself is set in seventeenth century France. The title is a bit misleading, because the main character is not one of the three Musketeers. He is a young man named d’Artagnan, who leaves his family in rural Gascony, France, to travel to Paris in hopes of joining the king’s guards, the Musketeers. At the beginning of the play, D’Artagnan’s father gives him a brief farewell speech in which he outlines the themes of the novel and our play: honor, courage, and loyalty.

Soon after arriving in Paris, d’Artagnan falls in love with the queen’s dressmaker and confidante, Constance. As a result, he, along with his new friends, the three Musketeers, Porthos, Athos and Aramis, are pressed into service to foil a plot to ruin the queen. The four friends set off on a harrowing journey across France that embroils them in exploits of great daring and intrigue.

The queen’s husband, Louis XIII, the king of France, seems to be more concerned with matters of dress than with matters of state. One of his court ministers, Cardinal Richelieu, finds it easy to manipulate the king for his schemes. Queen Anne is not loyal to the king and has a boyfriend, the English noble, the Duke of Buckingham. The cardinal knows this, and seeking to disgrace the queen, hatches a plot to expose her illicit relationship with the Englishman.

The Three Musketeers is a historical novel. This means that while much of the action and some of the characters are fictional, the plot’s historical setting is real. There really was a King Louis XIII, a Queen Anne, a Duke of Buckingham and a Cardinal Richelieu. Underlying the humorous and adventurous action of the plot is the deadly serious historical conflict between the Catholic Church and the Protestant Huguenots.

Cardinal Richelieu was one of the king’s advisors, but as an officer of the church he also had an allegiance to the Catholic pope in Rome. There was no separation of church and state. And some historians claim that the cardinal was more powerful than King Louis XIII. During this period of history, France as a Catholic country, was engaged in driving the Protestant Huguenots out of the country. Lord Buckingham, Queen Anne’s
Even though the Musketeers are renowned for their sword fighting, their name comes from the long rifles, or muskets, which you see them using in the play to fight the Huguenots at La Rochelle.
boyfriend, was from Protestant England. England was aiding the French Protestants, so in Cardinal Richelieu’s eyes, Queen Anne’s liaison with Lord Buckingham not only was disloyal to theking, but also posed a political threat to the security of the country. In the cardinal’s mind, the queen was entangled in a romantic relationship with an enemy of France.

At the time in which this play is set, people in Europe did not have the freedom to choose their religion. If your king was Catholic, you were Catholic. If your king was Protestant, you were Protestant.

The Protestant Reformation began on October 31, 1517 in Wittenberg, Germany when Martin Luther nailed his list of grievances against the Catholic Church to the door of All Saints Church.
And any resistance to the state’s religious authority was met with armed fighting. Many people died for the right to have religious freedom.Since the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, Protestantism was gaining small, and in the view of the state, threatening footholds in France. The Protestants in France were called Huguenots, and several towns were controlled by them. At one point in the play, the Musketeers and d’Artagnan are having a picnic outside La Rochelle, a Huguenot stronghold, and take turns shooting at the Protestants and making cavalier jokes about them. D’Artagnan refers to the expendable Protestants as “heretics.” Heretics are traitors to the church. Although it isn’t mentioned in our play, the real Cardinal Richelieu ordered that La Rochelle be destroyed in 1628. (The town was eventually rebuilt and is now a busy yachting center on the Atlantic Ocean.)
While the play is full of masculine adventure, it is also full of passionate romance. Love is extremely important to the men in this play. You will notice that virtually all of the adventure and intrigue is set in motion by romantic relationships. During the century in which the action takes place, and when Dumas was writing in the nineteenth century, women didn’t have much power in French society and were generally thought of as weak. However, Dumas portrays his varied female characters as daring and strong while living within the confines of a restrictive society.

The Three Musketeers is a “swashbuckling” story. A swashbuckling soldier carried a sword or “rapier” and was quick on his feet, often adventurous and able to outdo formidable opponents. In the seventeenth century, to be able to fight well was considered one of the greatest talents to possess,
Even though the Musketeers are renowned for their sword fighting, their name comes from the long rifles, or muskets, which you see them using in the play to fight the Huguenots at La Rochelle.
and duels and sword fights were common. Fighting was so prevalent, that when d’Artagnan asks Constance how to find the Luxembourg where he has scheduled three duels, she tells him to point his sword down the street, and when someone strikes it with another sword, he will know he has found the right place.

About the fighting in the play

The action in the play is sometimes violent. Many times, the aggressive reactions appear silly because d’Artagnan and the three Musketeers seem to shoot or stab whoever gets in their way without even bothering to think of another, more peaceful, solution to the problem that confronts them. For example, on his first day in Paris, d’Artagnan finds himself scheduled to fight three duels, all arranged tosort out extremely trivial matters.

This belligerent behavior was partly a result of the fact that there was no democracy in seventeenth century France, and the majority of people did not have the vote or access to political power. Power was vested in those who were the strongest. Might literally made right. Power belonged to whoever was the best swordsman, or in the case of the king, whoever had the biggest army. For instance, Richelieu is a man of the church, yet even he maintains a murderous corps of armed guards in order to stay in power. This system of government, where only a small, powerful minority had rights, necessitated that people be able to physically fight in order to survive.

However, the French people eventually tired of this unfair class system, and the result was the French Revolution in 1789 which violently swept away the ruling monarchy and the nobles. Democracy took the place of the old class system, and people no longer had to use force to gain power. People were allowed to vote, and the intellect became a means of gaining access to power.

Despite their aggressive actions, d’Artagnan and the three Musketeers are not just brutes. They place a high value on intelligence, wit, and manners. Aramis is well-read and is studying for the priesthood. The Musketeers congratulate each other whenever they make a clever remark. The three Musketeers often recite poetry. D’Artaganan ends up scheduled to fight duels with Porthos, Aramis, and Athos because he has insulted the two men with his bad manners.


Things to do

Interview someone who is Protestant and ask them how their religion differs from Catholicism. Ask how their beliefs are similar. Find someone who is Catholic and ask them how their religion differs from Protestantism. How are their beliefs similar?
Read Alexander Dumas’ novel The Three Musketeers.
Write a story in which you are the hero.
Draw a map you imagine d’Artagnan might have used to travel from Paris to London, when he retrieved the jewels for the Queen.
Investigate how long it would take you to travel from Paris to London today if you rode the high speed train that passes under the English Channel. In the play and the novel, it takes d’Artagnan fifteen days to make the round trip.

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