A summary of the play by Molière

This document was originally published in The Drama: Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization, vol. 7. ed. Alfred Bates. London: Historical Publishing Company, 1906. pp. 163-165.

With The School for Husbands (L'École des Maris) Molière threw all his previous achievements into the shade, whether as regards character, plot, situation or dialogue. In selecting his materials he would appear to have had in mind the Adelphi of Plautus and Lopé de Vega's Discreta Enamorada. His obligation to these works, however, was slight, as a comparison of them with School for Husbands will show. Two brothers, Ariste and Sganarelle, with Molière as the latter, are respectively guardians of two sisters, Léonor and Isabelle, the former personated by Armande Béjart. Each intends to espouse his ward, but treats her in a different way. Ariste, reposing implicit confidence in Léonor, concedes her full liberty of action; Sganarelle, suspicious and tyrannical, seeks to cut Isabelle from all intercourse with the world. The wisdom of Ariste is justified by the event; but the other suitor, in addition to forfeiting any regard Isabelle may have had for him, is made a go-between for the benefit of a more favored lover, whose name is Valèrie. In many points this groundwork is new, and for all that constitutes the excellence of the play, especially the robust manliness and good sense of Ariste, the delicacy with which Isabelle is exhibited in difficult circumstances, and the piquancy of the character of the soubrette, as played by Madelein Béjart, Molière was indebted only to his own genius. For the rest, School for Husbands was triumphantly successful. Loret tells us that it became the "delight of all Paris." Not long afterward it was represented by the same players before the court at Vaux, where, as in the capital, it added to the reputation of the dramatist.

Molière's reputation was already high enough to compensate him for the sacrifices he had made to obtain it. In the comedy of character and incident he had left Corneille far behind, at the same time infusing into his dialogue a vivacity and grace not to be found in that of the author of Cinna and Polyeucte. Indeed, it is not too much to say that School for Husbands gave its author a place in the very foremost rank of comic poets, and from this time a new play from his pen was looked forward to with the keenest interest. Still more rapid, perhaps, was the progress he made at court. It required less intelligence than Louis XIV possessed to perceive that Molière would add to the glories of the reign just begun, and his admiration of the dramatist was not improbably blended with a feeling of strong personal regard for one whose noble qualities of heart were as conspicuous as his intellectual gifts, whose conversation and manners were those of a lettered gentleman, and who bore himself in the presence of his sovereign with a deference wholly free from the taint of servility. In the words of Bazin, "Molière was now to enjoy something more than a disdainful protection at the hands of the king. From the moment these two men--the one a monarch freed from leading-strings, the other an unrivalled comedian but still timid moralist--became well acquainted, a tacit understanding subsisted between them--an understanding that the latter might dare everything, with full assurance of protection, upon the sole condition of respecting and amusing the former. No public treaty to which the faith of a monarch is solemnly pledged could have been fulfilled more sincerely; at no time, and in no circumstance, was the shield thrown over the poet withdrawn. He was no poor knight-errant, pursuing his mission at his own risk and peril, exposed to vengeance and apprehensive of being abandoned to his fate. He received confidence and strength from a caprice, for once enlightened, of sovereign power; his genius gave him all the rest."



Back to Molière Index

Home · Theatre Links · Script Archive · Bookstore · Email · © 2002