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In Act II scene 1 of Molière's 1668 comedy Amphitryon, the servant Sosie is trying to explain to his master Amphitryon that he has seen his doppelgänger but Amphitryon refuses to believe him, here is the extract:

SOSIE.
Oui, moi : non pas le moi d'ici,
Mais le moi du logis, qui frappe comme quatre.

AMPHITRYON.
Te confonde le Ciel de me parler ainsi !

I don't understand what Amphitryon is trying to convey. Is he saying that he wishes Sosie to be humiliated in front of the Heavens for talking to his master in a such a manner? He's using subjunctive so it's similar to "May God have mercy on me" and "Te" is the object so it could be "May the Heavens humiliate you". The sentence doesn't start with "Que" so it's quite confusing.

Also, my teacher says that exclamation point and the use of "confondre" means that Amphitryon hopes for an irrefutable conclusion in the form of blackmail. But since I don't understand the sentence, I don't understand how the explanation works either.

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    Effectively, the sentence is equivalent to "Que le Ciel te confonde de me parler ainsi". Rather old way I would say, but correct of course – Damien Jan 5 at 20:42
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    There seems to be a problem in your apprehension of terms: "the heavens" simply means "the sky" (literary); the home of God is "Heaven" or less often "Heavens". le Ciel (notice the capital lettre) in the sentence is defined as follows: (TLFi) . P. méton. Dieu, la Providence ou tout principe de transcendance. Signe, volonté du ciel; prier le ciel . – LPH Jan 6 at 11:55
  • @LPH I don't see what you're trying to say. I already know that the literal translation is "the sky" but it figuratively means "the heavens", meaning that Amphitryon is asking for divine intervention. – Pradana Aumars Jan 6 at 14:35
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    It seems to me that the article changes the meaning of "heaven" and makes of it plainly "the sky" as meaning only "the blue of the atmosphere"; this is confirmed by my dictionaries, although not explicitly; it still possible that something be missing. I thought you might find the same thing. See this for instance. – LPH Jan 6 at 14:43
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    There is something to which all along I haven't paid attention, a mere detail, nevertheless one that can't be neglected. It's this: "May Heaven humiliate you" is an imprecation the utterance of which can't be imputed to a christian soul; in other words, it is not likely you'll find something such as that in the literature: the godly authority punishes, destroys, reduces to a humbler condition but does not seek humiliation, is never acknowleged as seeking directly to humiliate, even if the result is inescapable; – LPH Jan 6 at 19:02
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I think it is a mild imprecation, just as when you would say in English of ages past, "Confound me", "Confound the day you were born", etc.

It is unusual to find the inversion "subject/verb" and not to find "que" but this inversion adds no extra meaning. One finds more often "Que le ciel te confonde".

  • Thank you for your answer, but could you also help with the use of the word "confondre" in this particular sentence? – Pradana Aumars Jan 6 at 14:37
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    @PradanaAumars I see nothing special in this usage of the word, not even a play on words on the account of the valet's person unbelievable duplication: this type of pun on words does not seem likely; "confondre" is to be taken simply, as for instance "put to shame". The allegated special signification of the exclamation point and the would be blackmail seem totally unsubstantiated; do you have more précisions? – LPH Jan 6 at 15:51
  • I was apparently wrong. It's not blackmail, it's simply a threat. In my teacher's words: "Ce subjonctif a valeur d'impératif : 'te confonde le Cie' = 'je veux que le Ciel te confonde', donc cela souligne une envie du personnage de voir son souhait réalisé. L'exclamation renforce son exaspération et c'est plus une menace que du chantage, une façon d'exercer une violence verbale sur le valet." – Pradana Aumars Jan 8 at 15:44
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    @PradanaAumars Le subjonctif provient de la forme habituelle « que/sujet/verbe +compléments », qui sert à exprimer les souhaits et à formuler des imprécations, et qui dans ce cas (rare) est elliptique comme le mot « que » n'y figure pas. Il n'est pas du tout question d'une valeur d'impératif. L'exclamation ne renforce pas son exaspération mais l'exprime une fois de plus, et plus fortement. Ce n'est pas en même temps une menace mais l'invocation d'une puissance supérieure, d'une supposée méchanceté que cette puissance (Dieu) serait supposée voir dans le comportement du valet ; (suite dessous) – LPH Jan 8 at 16:42
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    @PradanaAumars c'est un message de forte désapprobation dans une invocation du croquemitaine qui dévore les petits enfants pas sages; ce message ne laisse augurer d'aucun possible mauvais traitement à venir de sa part ; ce n'est même pas vraiment une menace voilée. C'est cependant sans aucun doute une façon de faire pression sur Sosie en insinuant que selon des principes supérieurs sa conduite est blâmable et en brandissant le spectre, pour ainsi dire, de représailles par intermédiaire. – LPH Jan 8 at 16:44

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