Study Guide

The Three Musketeers Themes

  • Friendship

    The primary friendship featured in The Three Musketeers is between four young gentlemen devoted to the King. Their friendship allows them to combine forces and defeat evil powers that might otherwise prevail. Friendship is thus portrayed in an immensely positive light in The Three Musketeers – the friends never argue, and they are always there to share with each other and support each other.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. D’Artagnan, Aramis, Athos, and Porthos are all different people. Why do you think they end up being friends? What is the basis of the friendship?
    2. Does their friendship have any flaws? Is it ever complicated?
    3. Does the novel display any other instances of friendship? If no, what effect does that have on the story? If yes, how does it compare to the friendship of the four protagonists?

    Chew on This

    Out of the three Musketeers, D’Artagnan is closest friends with Athos.

    The Man from Meung, also known as the Comte de Rochefort, and D’Artagnan are likely to become friends.

  • Love

    Love takes an intensely idealized romantic form in The Three Musketeers as the heroes typically fall in love at first sight with a beautiful woman. Beautiful women in the novel are meant to be worshiped and protected; a man proves his love for a woman with the most extravagant acts he can imagine. This bears little resemblance to the way love is pictured in other novels where love is a potential source of friction or misery. In The Three Musketeers a woman’s love is a goal that many of the male characters work towards.

    Questions About Love

    1. Is it just us, or the Duke a little too obsessed with Anne of Austria? Do you think that he really loves her or that he loves the idea of her?
    2. D’Artagnan professes his love to three women: Constance Bonacieux, Milady, and Kitty. Was he speaking truthfully to any of them? How can you tell? Is he just the biggest player of all time?
    3. Is there a relationship between love and power in the novel? When you love someone, are you under their control, as is the case with D’Artagnan and Kitty?

    Chew on This

    The Duke loves the idea of being in love with the Queen of France; he doesn’t actually love her.

    D’Artagnan truly loves Constance Bonacieux.

    Despite being loved by both the Cardinal and the Duke of Buckingham, Queen Anne lacks the power to improve her life.

  • Pride

    In the world of The Three Musketeers, gentlemen are typically very proud and do not take insults lightly. A casual misunderstanding frequently results in a duel; in order to preserve their pride, men will fight to the death. Wounded pride is not always so easily resolved, however, and the desire for vengeance is one of the driving engines of the novel.

    Questions About Pride

    1. At first, D’Artagnan’s pride is portrayed comically since he shoots death-glares at everyone who laughs at his ridiculous horse. What are the other ways pride is portrayed in the novel?
    2. Athos is too proud to take money from the man he killed, and D’Artagnan is too proud to accept money from the Duke of Buckingham. Porthos and Aramis, meanwhile, freely accept money from their mistresses. Is there a relationship between pride and money?
    3. Is pride a positive or negative force in the novel? You might want to think about how pride is the cause of many fights and lies in the novel and balance that against its rather glorious portrayal.

    Chew on This

    Athos is by far the proudest of the four friends.

    The Cardinal’s pride is responsible for his attack on La Rochelle.

  • Society and Class

    The characters in this novel come from a number of different class backgrounds ranging from servant to king, but nobody disputes their place in the social hierarchy. Rather, they all understand the limitations that class places on their ambition and work within that framework. Also, being a member of the royalty does not necessarily correlate with power. In the novel, members of the monarchy are portrayed as figureheads while real power rests elsewhere.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. On one hand we have four young men – Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D’Artagnan – and on the other hand, we have their four servants – Grimaud, Mousqueton, Bazin, and Planchet. What is the master-servant relationship like between each of them? Are the servants similar to their masters? To what extent?
    2. How are appearance and class correlated?
    3. What does it mean to say that Milady is "only a queen while among queens" (56.4)?
    4. To what extent do the royal institutions carry any power? Cardinal Richelieu and the Duke of Buckingham, for instance, are the true powers behind the thrones in their respective countries. Are the royals just figureheads? What role do they play in the novel?

    Chew on This

    In The Three Musketeers, there is no correlation between class and money. You can be dirt poor but still belong to the upper class, while you could conversely be very wealthy but not considered as one of the elite.

  • Revenge

    As mentioned earlier, revenge is one of the engines propelling the novel forward. Whether insults are real or perceived, characters take immediate steps to redress the issue. No one in The Three Musketeers likes getting hurt; when they are injured or insulted, they make sure they get even.

    Questions About Revenge

    1. What is the relationship between pride and revenge according to the novel?
    2. Who is typically taking revenge on whom? Is there anyone in the novel exempt from these desires to exact revenge? Why are they exempt? What role does this characteristic play for the character?
    3. The Cardinal’s desire to destroy Queen Anne is driven by vengeance because she rejected his advances. To what extent is the situation of Milady and D’Artagnan parallel?
    4. In pursuing and trying Milady, is Athos spurned by vengeance or justice?

    Chew on This

    Milady exacts her revenge by using others because she lacks the physical strength to exact it by force.

    Revenge has nothing to do with Athos’s determination to try and sentence Milady. He is motivated purely by justice.

  • Ambition

    Ambition in The Three Musketeers is circumscribed by a character’s position on the social ladder. The characters as a whole, however, are quite an ambitious bunch. Thus the moments when they put their ambitions on hold are particularly telling moments, as well as the moments when their ambitious sides are let loose.

    Questions About Ambition

    1. In the socially stratified world of The Three Musketeers, what are the limits to a man’s ambition? Can Planchet, for instance, have the same ambitions as D’Artagnan?
    2. To what extent is Tréville a self-made man? What about D’Artagnan?
    3. Who is the most ambitious character in the novel? Why?
    4. How are the ambitions of the four friends similar or different?

    Chew on This

    Aramis is not serious in his ambition to be a priest.

    Aramis is serious in his ambition to be a priest.

  • Mortality

    In The Three Musketeers, life is given a very casual treatment. It’s definitely not a good thing when someone dies, but the survivors sure don’t spend much time crying about it. Glory, honor, and love are all presented as being more important than life, and as ideals worth dying for. The Three Musketeers is a work of historical fiction in which the main characters’ lives are frequently influenced by sweeping historic events. The contextualization might indicate that an individual life is not valuable outside of higher and grander ideals. That’s not to say that the main characters don’t enjoy life. On the contrary, they do, but they willingly and frequently risk their lives throughout the course of the novel.

    Questions About Mortality

    1. When do the four heroes risk their lives? Is there ever a time when they refuse to risk their lives?
    2. If dueling is illegal, why does everyone do it anyway?
    3. How do historical events coincide or effect individual characters’ lives in the novel?

    Chew on This

    Life is treated as secondary to love, honor, and glory in The Three Musketeers.

  • Loyalty

    Loyalty in The Three Musketeers is rarely earned and always blindly absolute. It is also a highly respected and coveted quality. Loyalty is a prized currency in the world of The Three Musketeers, where characters must count on the loyalties of others in order to secure their own protection. Loyalty is typically demonstrated by extremely daring and life-risking acts, and the compensation is usually not commensurate.

    Questions About Loyalty

    1. How is loyalty repaid in The Three Musketeers?
    2. How is loyalty demonstrated?
    3. Why is D’Artagnan loyal to the King? He could have walked into Paris and decided to side with the cardinalists.

    Chew on This

    Loyalty in The Three Musketeers is always blind.

    Loyalty in The Three Musketeers is always to a cause, and never to a person.