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g guillaume paumier

Le Libertin

Portrait painting of Denis Diderot by Louis-Michel van Loo

Louis-Michel van Loo // Public domain.

A play we staged in college where I played the title role of a philandering Diderot. In a bathrobe.

Morality, thievery, Encyclopédie

“Libertinage is the faculty to separate sex from love, mates from mating, in a word, libertinage is all about nuance and accuracy.” This is what a philandering Diderot tells his wife, as he is constantly solicited and needs to write the EncyclopĂ©die‘s article about Morality.

Le Libertin is a play by French author Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt (also adapted into a movie) that we staged with a group of friends from my college drama club back in 2006.

It was my first role in the main cast of a non-musical play. To make things more interesting, I played the lead role (Diderot) and had to play the whole thing naked under my bathrobe. The play actually opens with Diderot posing half-naked for a painting.

The story starts as Madame Therbouche is painting a nude of Diderot. The seance is interrupted when Diderot is asked, at the last minute, to write the article about Morality for the EncyclopĂ©die, because Rousseau suddenly can’t.


The play opens as Madame Therbouche is working on a painting of Diderot.

Diderot finds that the topic isn’t an easy one, especially when he’s seduced by Madame Therbouche, he’s solicited by the young D’Holbach as well (the daughter of his host), he suffers the wrath of his wife, he’s trying to parent his daughter AngĂ©lique, and he uncovers a plot to rob him.

The script is smart, incredibly funny and full of witty double entendres and innuendos. The situations are often comical, like when Diderot, confronted by the two women seducing him, claims he cannot choose between them because he’s stuck like Buridan’s ass.


Throughout the play, Diderot is solicited by both the young D’Holbach and Madame Therbouche.

Diderot’s very changing definition of Morality throughout the play is another source of amusement: it suits Diderot to prefer a liberal interpretation when he’s flirting, but he quickly falls back to conservative views when it’s his daughter’s virginity that’s at stake.

Working on this play and performing it on stage was a lot of fun. We had almost no budget, so the set, props and costumes were recycled and improvised from previous plays and personal items. The comedy quickly spread to the cast, and we had a lot of laughs during rehearsals.


Diderot is seduced by Madame Therbouche, but she turns out to be more interested in his precious art.

The encyclopedia theme was a hint to my other main extracurricular activity at the time: my involvement in Wikipedia. But from a personal perspective, there were a lot of reasons for me not to play the lead role. For one, I didn’t think I could learn and remember all the text, considering I was in almost every scene. It was also hard for me to imagine playing a womanizer, or knowing I’d be half-naked on stage during the whole play.

But I decided to take up the challenge, knowing I’d have to succeed because there was no turning back. In the end, I wasn’t disappointed; the play got a lot of praise. I was really proud, and happy I had pushed myself to do it.

And right there, as the red curtain fell, I knew I could do anything I set out to do.