Nicolas Foucquet (1615–80) was a well-read man, but, like most Frenchmen of his time, he had probably scarcely heard of Shakespeare, and almost certainly never seen or read his plays. Had he done so, he might have taken note of Macbeth’s remarks about ‘vaulting ambition which o’erleaps itself and falls on th’other’, for his ambition was rash and excessive, and his fall precipitous.
Foucquet was a Breton, and a member of a rising family of merchants and lawyers. His father moved to Paris, obtained a post as counsel in the Parlement, and served Cardinal Richelieu. The family was pious, and Nicolas’s mother was devoted to good works. As a young man he got