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Title: Dialogue
Original Title: Dialogue
Volume and Page: Vol. 4 (1754), pp. 936–937
Authors : Edme-François Mallet, Jean-François Marmontel
Translator: Anne-Marie Feenberg-Dibon [Simon Fraser University,]
Subject terms:
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

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Citation (MLA): Mallet, Edme-François, and Jean-François Marmontel. "Dialogue." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Anne-Marie Feenberg-Dibon. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2004. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Dialogue," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 4. Paris, 1754.
Citation (Chicago): Mallet, Edme-François, and Jean-François Marmontel. "Dialogue." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Anne-Marie Feenberg-Dibon. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2004. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Dialogue," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 4:936–937 (Paris, 1754).

Dialogue. Conversation between two or more people, either orally or in writing. See Dialectic.

This word comes from the Latin dialogus , and is itself derived from the Greek διαλογος, which means the same thing.

The dialogue is the oldest form of writing, and is the one used by the earliest authors in most of their treatises. The archbishop of Cambray, M. de Fenelon, has very clearly demonstrated the power and advantages of the dialogue , which he uses in the preliminary exhortation of the pastoral letter in dialogue form. Even the Holy Spirit did not disdain to instruct us through dialogues . The church fathers followed the same path: Saint Justin, Saint Athanasius, Saint Basil, Saint Chrysostom etc., made very good use of them against Jews and Pagans as well as the heretics of their times.

Secular antiquity also used the art of the dialogue , not only for banter but also for the most serious matters. To the first genre belong the dialogues of Lucian, and to the second those of Plato. The latter, according to the author of a preface to M. de Fenelon's dialogues on eloquence, as a true philosopher only wants to strengthen his arguments and uses no other language than that of an ordinary conversation; everything is clear, simple and informal. On the other hand, Lucian introduces wit everywhere; all the gods and men he gives speech to have a lively and delicate imagination. Do we not understand right away that it is neither men nor gods who speak, but Lucian who makes them speak? Nevertheless we cannot deny that he is an original author who has been very successful in this kind of writing. Lucian made fun of people with subtlety and charm; but Plato taught them with seriousness and wisdom. M. de Fenelon knew how to imitate both, depending on the various subjects: in his dialogue s of the dead we find all of Lucian's delicacy and gaiety; in his dialogue s on eloquence he imitates Plato; everything appears natural and is designed to instruct; wit disappears to make way for wisdom and truth.

Among the ancients, Cicero has also given us models of dialogues in his admirable treatises on old age, friendship, on the nature of the gods, in his Tusculanae disputationes, his academic questions, in his Brutus, or on famous orators. Erasmus, Laurent Valle, Textor and others have also given us dialogue s. Among the moderns however, no one has excelled in this genre more than M. de Fontenelle, whose dialogues of the dead everyone knows. (G)

Even though every kind of dialogue is a scene, it does not follow that every dialogue is dramatic. The oratorical or philosophical dialogue is but the development of the opinions or feelings of two or more characters while the dramatic dialogue constitutes the material of an action. The first only tries to establish a truth while the objective of the second is to create an event. Both have their own objective which they have to reach by the shortest route. To the extent that the movements of the heart are faster than those of the mind, the dramatic dialogue has to be more direct and precise than the philosophical or oratorical dialogue .

A dialogue without objective equals a bad dialogue. This is generally true of eclogues, and especially those of Virgil. Remember the conversation between Meliboeus and Tityrus in the first bucolic. Mel: Tityrus, you are enjoying quite a good rest. Tit. A god has granted me this . Mel. Who is this benevolent god? Tit. I, simpleton, compared Rome with our little town . Mel. And what pressing reason brought you to Rome? Tit. The desire for freedom, etc. Virgil's admirers, among whom we are proud to be counted, cannot conceal that Tityrus does not answer Meliboeus' question, who is this god? At that point he should have said : I have seen him in Rome, this young hero for whom our altars are sending up smoke twelve times a year . Melib. In Rome! and who or what is taking you there? Tityrus. The desire for freedom, etc. This flaw is even more apparent in the third eclogue where two shepherds take turns speaking, without continuity, one about Jupiter, the other about Apollo; one about his Galatea, the other of his Amintas; then of some Philis and then again of Amintas and of Galatea, of Pollio, of Bavius, Maevius, etc. We are not speaking here of the faithfulness to nature and the images that make those pastorals so charming and which we admire in just as much good faith as his most zealous supporters. We are speaking here of the dialogue the devices of which the moderns understand so much better in this type of poetry. See the Pastor fido and the Amintis.

You cannot really say that an incoherent dialogue better represents a conversation of shepherds. In the pastoral as well as in the epic there must be fine nature; naiveté does not exclude verisimilitude.

As we have said, it is particularly important in dramatic poetry that the dialogue achieve its objective. As the subject is of great interest to each of the speakers, it is not plausible for either of them to lose sight of the topic or wander away from it. The character, who in an interesting situation stops to say charming and irrelevant things, is very much like the mother who in search of her son in the fields, dawdles on the way to pluck flowers.

While this rule has no real exceptions, there may be some apparent ones. There are scenes where something said by one of the characters does not interest the other. The one completely absorbed by his thoughts gives his own answers. Armide receives flattering comments on her beauty, her youth and the power of her charms. Nothing dispels the day dream in which is sunk. She is told about her triumphs and the captives she has made. That word alone touches a sensitive spot in her soul and her passion awakens and breaks the silence.

I do not triumph over the bravest of them all, Renaus, etc.

Like Armide, Merope hears without listening everything she is told about her good fortune and her glory. She had a son; she lost him and is waiting for him. That is the only emotion of interest.

So, Narbas is not coming! Will I see my son again ?

There are situations where one of the characters changes the subject of the dialogue on purpose, either out of fear, kindness or cunning; but even then, the dialogue is achieving its purpose although it might look like a diversion. However, it only makes these detours in slow situations; when passion becomes impetuous and moves fast, the deviations of the dialogue are no longer appropriate. A brook winds around while a torrent rushes forth.

According to the same principle, one of the necessary qualities of a good dialogue is to end at the right moment. As we mentioned in the art. on Declamation , there are situations where respect, fear, etc. are holding back passion and demand silence. In all other cases the dialogue is defective if the reply is held up; this is a defect that even the greatest masters have not always avoided. Corneille has given [p.937] both the instruction and the model for the attention that should be paid to truthfulness in the dialogue . In the scene between Augustus and Cinna, Augustus is about to convict a proud and seething young man of betrayal and ingratitude. The latter, out of respect alone should be forced to listen without interrupting unless faced with an explicit order. Thus Corneille prepares Cinna's silence in the most careful order; and those lines that have been so much, and so inappropriately condemned as superfluous, are the most dignified preparation for the most beautiful scene on stage. However, in spite of the order given by Augustus to Cinna to keep his tongue tied , as soon as he pronounces the line:

Cinna, you do remember and you want to murder me.

Cinna gets angry and wants to reply: a natural and truthful reaction, which the great painter of passion did not fail to grasp. Thus the reply must originate in the line that prompts it. Summaries should only be put in political deliberations and conferences.

With respect to the dialogue there are four types of scenes in tragedy: in the first, the speakers give themselves over to the movements of their soul, their only motive being to pour out their feelings. Those monologues are only suited to express violence and passion; in any other case, expositions not excepted, they must be excluded from drama as cold and superfluous. In the second case, the speakers have common designs to discuss, or interesting secrets to communicate. Such is the beautiful expository scene between Emilie and Cinna. This form of dialogue is cold and slow, unless it concerns a subject of pressing interest. In the third, one of the speakers has a project or feelings he wants to inspire in the other. Take for instance the scene between Nerestan and Zaire: as one of the characters is not involved in the action, the dialogue can neither be fast nor varied. Those kinds of scenes should be very eloquent. In the fourth kind, the speakers have opinions, or feelings or passions that conflict; this is the most suitable kind for the theater: in such a scene it often happens that not all the characters engage in the dialogue , even though they may all be part of the action and the situation. Dealing with emotion, such is the scene between Burrhus and Nero; with vehemence, between Palamedes, and Orestes and Electra; with politics, the scene between Cleopatra and Antiochus and Seleucus; dealing with passion, Phaedra's declaration. This particular form, like the preceding one, requires a more forceful and fervent style in as far as the dialogue there is less determining. Sometimes, the speakers all pour out their feelings and come into open conflict. In my opinion, those are the scenes that most need to stir the poet's imagination; however, there are few examples even in our best tragedians, apart from Corneille who brought the liveliness, force and verisimilitude of the dialogue to the highest degree of perfection. The extreme difficulty of those scenes comes from the fact that at the same time the subject has to be very important, and the characters perfectly contrasted; they should have opposite and equally intense interests, based on feelings that match each other; and that finally, the spectator’s mind must be swayed from one to the other by the forcefulness of their replies. There are models of this type in the deliberation between Augustus, Cinna and Maximus; the first scene in the death of Pompey which is a masterpiece of exposition; the scene between Horatius and Curiacius; between Felix and Pauline; the conference between Pompey and Sertorius; and finally several scenes between Heraclius and El Cid and above all, the admirable scene between Chimene and Rodriguez. According to the miserable Scuderus, it has been noted that this last scene contains too many studied stylistic effects, without him saying a word about the beauty of the dialogue , the nobility and naturalness of the emotions that make this scene into one of the most moving on stage.

In general, the desire to shine has done great damage to the dialogue in our tragedies. It seems difficult to bring oneself to cut off a character when he still has so many interesting things to say; good taste here becomes the victim of wit. This unfortunate excess was unknown to Sophocles and Euripides. If there is anything the moderns should envy them, it is the ease, precision, and the realism of their dialogue s.

The dialogue is even more neglected in modern comedies. This criticism does not apply to Moliere; his dialogue s are natural and in all of his plays there is not one single inappropriate reply. However, as much as this master of comedy adheres to the truth, so do his successors move away from it. The eagerness with which the public applauds tirades and portrayals, has made our comedy scenes into portrait galleries of cut-outs. A lover accuses his mistress of being a flirt; she replies with a definition of flirting. Such replies concern the word, almost never the thing itself. The rejoinder is sometimes pleasant, but only if it goes to the point. When a valet, trying to appease his master who threatens to cut off someone's nose, asks him:

What would you do, sir, with the nose of a church warden?

that word itself is the point. Jodelet saying The entire moon is even funnier. Its naiveté is excellent and this is not one of those puns we condemn in a dialogue.

Flaws in dialogue are generally due to lack of imagination in the scene and the defective structuring of the subject matter. If the composition were such that with each scene one started at one point to arrive at another point so that the dialogue would only be used to further the action, every response would be a new step in the unfolding of the intrigue; in short, a way of establishing, developing or preparing a situation or leading to a new one. However, in the initial draft, intervals without action are left. Those are the empty spaces that need to be filled: hence the excursions of the dialogue . See Intrigue. Article by M. Marmontel.