Molière’s “L’Avare:” Doublings



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L’Avare by François Boucher (drawing) and Laurent Cars (engraving) (Photo credit: Pinterest)


  • Plautus (c. 254 – 184 BCE)
  • commedia dell’arte
  • French 17th-century misers: sources
  • Hellenic (ancient Greek) sources
  • French medieval farces and fabliaux
  • translations into English

As indicated in a previous post, Molière‘s L’Avare, The Miser, was first performed on 9 September 1668 at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal. It is a five-act play, in prose, inspired by Roman dramatist Plautus‘ (254 – 148 BCE) Aulularia, the Pot of Gold. As we have seen, it is also rooted in the commedia dell’arte as well as Italian comedies and tales, and in France’s own medieval farces and the largely scatological fabliaux.

However, Molière also drew his material from La Belle Plaideuse (1655), by François le Métel de Boisrobert, which features a father-as-usurer, and Jean Donneau de Visé‘s La Mère coquette (1665), where a father and son are in love with the same woman.[1]

L’Avare is one of Molière’s better-known comedies and it was translated into English by Thomas Shadwell (1772) and Henry Fielding, the author of Tom Jones. However, it was not a huge success in Molière’s own days. It has been speculated that Molière’s audience expected a play written in verse, the nobler alexandrine verse (12 feet or syllables), first used in the twelfth-century Roman d’Alexandre.


L’Avare (

The dramatis personæ is:

Harpagon, father to Cléante, in love with Mariane.
Cléante, Harpagon’s son, lover to Marianne.
Valère, son to Anselme, lover to Élise, and “intendant” to Harpagon
Anselme / Dom Thomas d’Alburcy, father to Valère and Mariane, and 
Master Simon, broker.
Master Jacques, cook and coachman to Harpagon.
La Flèche, valet to Cléante.
Brindavoine, and La Merluche, lackeys to Harpagon.
A Magistrate and his Clerk.
Élise, daughter to Harpagon.
Mariane, daughter to Anselme.
Frosine, an intriguing woman.
Mistress Claude, servant to Harpagon.

The scene is at Paris, in Harpagon’s house.

Act One

We will be focusing on the manner in which the young couples featured in the Miser, L’Avare, manage to overcome the obstacle to their marriage. Short of a miracle, they are condemned to do as their father’s greed dictates. All the elements of L’Avare’s plot are introduced in the first act of the play, which reflects the Græco-Roman origins of comedy and tragedy. As a five-act play, Molière’s L’Avare is a ‘grande comédie,’ not a farce (Molière wrote both), and its plot is the archetypal struggle, also called the agôn, between, on the one hand, the alazṓn of Greek comedy, or the blocking character, and, on the other hand, the eirôn, the young couple and their supporters: valets, maids, zanni. In other words, it is a traditional blondin-berne-barbon plot. The young couples will succeed in marrying.

A Comedy of Manners and A Comedy of Intrigue

  • doublings: two young couples and two fathers
  • Harpagon is the father of Élise and Cléante
  • Anselme is Valère and Mariane’s father, which we do not know until the fifth act (V. v) of the comedy

L’Avare is both a comedy of manners, a form we inherited mostly from Greek dramatist Menander, and a comédie d’intrigue, a comedy where the plot prevails. As the portrayal of a miser, L’Avare is a comedy of manners (see the full text in Wikisource and eBook #6923). Harpagon’s greed constitutes the obstacle to the marriage of Cléante (Harpagon) and Mariane as well as the marriage of Valère and Élise (Harpagon).

Cléante gambles and wins, which allows him to buy elegant clothes and court Mariane, but he does not have sufficient money to marry and must therefore go to a moneylender. Ironically, the moneylender happens to be Harpagon himself who demands no less than the now metaphorical “pound of flesh” (Shylock) as repayment. The moneylender episode—act two, scene two (II. i) [II. 2]—shows to what extent Harpagon’s greed is an obstacle to the marriage of our young couples. The plot advances in that Cléante cannot obtain a loan that might enable his marriage. Another “trick” must be devised. However, plot and manners (greed) are inextricably woven.

Obstacles to Two Marriages

  • “genre” art
  • a family tyrant

The action takes place in Harpagon’s house in Paris and can be described as genre arta depiction of ordinary people engaged in ordinary activities. Will G Moore has remarked that Molière’s characters

“[a]re concerned with everyday life; the stuff of which it was made was by tradition the doings of ordinary people in ordinary surroundings.”[2]

L’Avare is a five-act comedy, but it is written in prose, not verse, and Harpagon, our blocking character, is an enriched bourgeois. Although he does not feed his horse properly, he owns a carriage and he has servants. As depicted by François Boucher, the interior of his house is rather elegant. However, he is extremely greedy and he behaves as though he owned his children. He is a domestic tyrant. In act one, Harpagon states that he has arranged for his children to marry, but has not consulted them. Cléante will marry a “certain widow,” our tyrant has just heard of, and Élise will be “given” to Mr. Anselme, a gentleman who will not request the customary dowry, or “sans dot

Quant à ton frère, je lui destine une certaine veuve dont ce matin on m’est venu parler; et, pour toi, je te donne au seigneur Anselme. (Harpagon to Élise, [I. iv])
[As to your brother, I have thought for him of a certain widow, of whom I heard this morning; and you I shall give to Mr. Anselme. [1. 6] [eBook #6923]

Élise does not know Mr Anselme and refuses to marry him, threatening to commit suicide. As for Harpagon, he plans to marry Mariane, who loves his son (Cléante). For Harpagon, Mr Anselme is a perfect choice because Élise will marry at no cost to the miser: “sans dot.” (I. iv FR) (I. 6 EN) 

Harpagon’s Rigidity

Valère will attempt to save Élise from a marriage to a person other than himself. Valère, Harpagon’s “intendant,” begs Harpagon to free Élise. However, the objections he presents are followed by Harpagon’s “sans dot” (without a dowry). Molière’s blocking characters are inflexible or rigid. This rigidity is the feature Henri Bergson (18 October 1859 – 4 January 1941) attached to the comical or comedic in his Laughter. Valère’s objections having been rebuked by a litany of “sans dot,” he is literally speechless. He simply repeats what the Harpagon, the miser, has told him:

Lorsqu’on s’offre de prendre une fille sans dot, on ne doit point regarder plus avant. Tout est renfermé là-dedans, et sans dot tient lieu de beauté, de jeunesse, de naissance, d’honneur, de sagesse, et de probité. (Valère à Harpagon, I. v)
[When a man offers to marry a girl without a dowry, we ought to look no farther. Everything is comprised in that, and “without dowry” compensates for want of beauty, youth, birth, honour, wisdom, and probity.] (I. 10[eBook #6923]

But there is some hope. As the story goes, Valère’s father, Dom Thomas d’Alburcy, is believed to have drowned when he and his family (his wife, Valère and Mariane) were fleeing Naples. It appears, however, that Dom Thomas has survived and that he is a man of means. Valère was looking for him when he met Élise. At her request, he decided to stay near her and made himself Harpagon’s “intendant,” but someone else is looking for Valère’s father.

Mais enfin, si je puis, comme je l’espère, retrouver mes parents, nous n’aurons pas beaucoup de peine à nous le rendre favorable. J’en attends des nouvelles avec impatience, et j’en irai chercher moi-même, si elles tardent à venir. (I. i)
[However, if I can find my parents, as I fully hope I shall, they will soon be favourable to us. I am expecting news of them with great impatience; but if none comes I will go in search of them myself.] [I.1]

The curtain will then fall on an anagnorisis  (V. v) [V. 5], a recognition scene. However, when Anselme enters Harpagon’s house and hears that there is opposition to the contract he has come to sign, he tells Harpagon that he will not coerce a woman into a mariage, which frees Élise. He also remarks that he will not “lay claim to a heart which has already bestowed itself,” thereby allowing Mariane, his daughter, to marry Cléante, Harpagon’s son, rather than Harpagon.

Ce n’est pas mon dessein de me faire épouser par force, et de rien prétendre à un cœur qui se serait donné ; mais pour vos intérêts, je suis prêt à les embrasser ainsi que les miens propres. (Anselme to Harpagon [V. v])
[It is not my intention to force anybody to marry me, and to lay claim to a heart which has already bestowed itself; but as far as your interests are concerned, I am ready to espouse them as if they were my own.] (V. 5) [eBook #6923]

Anselme seems a fine gentleman whom the anagnorisis (V. v) [V. 5], the dénouement (see Dramatic Structure, Wikipedia), will identify as Valère and Mariane’s father. A greedy Harpagon has chosen Anselme as the perfect groom because Anselme would marry Élise without requesting the customary dowry, or at no cost to the miser: “sans dot.” (I. v) [I. 5]


Qu’il faut manger pour vivre, et non pas vivre pour manger. (III. i)

A Comedy of Intrigue

  • a plot or intrigue
  • a chiasmus (a mirror image in a sentence)
  • a quiproquo (a misunderstanding)
  • the doubling of the father figure (mirror image)

Harpagon’s greed is enormous, so students are taught that Molière concentrates on manners rather than the plot. He does, but in L’Avare, although the plot is mainly episodic, manners and plot (intrigue) are inextricably linked. For instance, when Harpagon is having a meal prepared to celebrate the marriage(s) that are to take place that very day, Harpagon hears Valère say that il faut manger pour vivre and not vivre pour manger, that one should eat to live and not live to eat, Harpagon so loves Valère’s witty chiasmus, that he wants these words engraved in gold and placed above his fireplace. (III. i) [III. 1] It is unlikely that Harpagon would use gold to celebrate greed, but it is true to character and comical. The meal he is planning often ends comedies and may solemnize a wedding.

Moreover, it is a quiproquo, a comical misunderstanding which, in L’Avare, leads to the anagnorisis. When Harpagon realizes his cassette has disappeared and may have been stolen, he loses his composure and accuses Valère, at the instigation of Maître Jacques. Maître Jacques resents the trust Harpagon has placed in Valère. If he could, Harpagon would have Valère drawn and quartered. Valère has not stolen Harpagon’s cassette, but he and Élise have signed a promise to marry another. Valère has ‘robbed’ Harpagon, but it is Élise he has taken, not a cassette. (V. iii & iv) [V. 3 & 4] [eBook #6923]

Anselme first steps foot on the stage as the battle rages. Given Élise’s promise, he cannot and would not marry her. However, Valère stands accused of a theft and wants to tell his story. The anagnorisis has now begun. To give himself credibility, Valère says that he is the son of Dom Thomas d’Alburcy, which Anselme hesitates to believe because he is a friend of Dom Those and, to his knowledge, all members of Dom Thomas’ family drowned as they were trying to flee Naples, which is not the case.Valère says that he was rescued by Pedro, a servant, and later adopted by the captain of the ship he and Pedro were allowed to board. He can prove his identity. As he speaks, Mariane realizes that Valère is her brother.

For their part, Mariane and her mother were also saved, but their helpers were corsaires, pirates, who enslaved them. Following ten years of enslavement, they were released and they returned to Naples where they could not find Dom Thomas d’Alburcy. They therefore picked up a small inheritance in Genoa and moved to Paris. Mariane’s mother is Valère’s  mother and Dom Thomas d’Alburcy’s wife. As he watches this scene, Dom Thomas learns that no member of his family died leaving Naples. He has just found his children and his wife. He would not stand in the way of Valère and Mariane’s marriage who wish to marry Harpagon’s children. Le sieur Anselme knows le sieur Harpagon.

Le Ciel, mes enfants, ne me redonne point à vous, pour être contraire à vos vœux. Seigneur Harpagon, vous jugez bien que le choix d’une jeune personne tombera sur le fils plutôt que sur le père. Allons, ne vous faites point dire ce qu’il n’est point nécessaire d’entendre, et consentez ainsi que moi à ce double hyménée. (V. v)

[Heaven, my dear children, has not restored you to me that I might oppose your wishes. Mr. Harpagon, you must be aware that the choice of a young girl is more likely to fall upon the son than upon the father. Come, now, do not force people to say to you what is unnecessary, and consent, as I do, to this double marriage.] [V. 5] [eBook #6923]


Molière’s L’Avare has an intrigue which resembles the intrigue of most comedies. A young couple wishes to marry, but a blocking character, or alazṓnprevents their marriage. However, Molière has doubled the young couple who are a brother and sister wishing to marry a brother and a sister, so Molière has therefore doubled the father figure which happens during the anagnorisis. As Dom Thomas d’Alburcy, Anselme is the eirôn who allows the young couples to marry.

The anagnorisis, the recognition scene, does not take place unannounced. As mentioned earlier, as he despairs,Valère tells Élise that he hopes to find his father who may still be alive. Act one (I. i) [I. 1] has prepared the reader or spectator:

Mais enfin, si je puis comme je l’espère, retrouver mes parents, nous n’aurons pas beaucoup de peine à nous le rendre favorable. (Valère à Élise, I. i)
[However, if I can find my parents, as I fully hope I shall, they will soon be favourable to us.] [I. 1] [eBook #6923]


Der Geizigue, Harpagon & La Flèche by August Wilhelm Iffland, 1810 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


In L’Avare, Molière does not use a deus ex machina. He simply introduces a second father figure who will allow the young couples to marry and will pay all costs. L’Avare‘s young couple are in fact very resourceful, but one cannot marry without money. Mariane (Dom Thomas) recoils at wishing Harpagon’s death, feelings that are reciprocated by Cléante (Harpagon).

Mon Dieu, Frosine, c’est une étrange affaire, lorsque pour être heureuse, il faut souhaiter ou attendre le trépas de quelqu’un, et la mort ne suit pas tous les projets que nous faisons. (Mariane à Frosine, III. iv)
[Oh, Frosine! What a strange state of things that, in order to be happy, we must look forward to the death of another. Yet death will not fall in with all the projects we make.] [III. 8] [eBook #6923]

Que veux-tu que j’y fasse ? Voilà où les jeunes gens sont réduits par la maudite avarice des pères ; et on s’étonne après cela que les fils souhaitent qu’ils meurent. (II. i)
[What would you have me do? It is to this that young men are reduced by the accursed avarice of their fathers; and people are astonished after that, that sons long for their death.] [II. 1] [eBook #6923]

When his father falls, accidentally, Cléante is worried:

Qu’est-ce, mon père, vous êtes-vous fait mal ? (III. ix)
[What’s the matter, father? Have you hurt yourself?] [III. 14] [eBook #6923]

Critic Northrop Frye states that “[t]he tendency of comedy is to include as many people as possible in its final society: the blocking characters are more often reconciled or converted than simply repudiated.”[3]

As for Harpagon, although he may he has been tyrannical, when Dom Thomas and the young couples leave to bring good news to Dom Thomas’ wife, Harpagon is off to see his dear cassette. His cassette, a casket, his vital to Harpagon.

Et moi, voir ma chère cassette. (I. vi)
And I to see my dear casket. [1. 6] [eBook #6923]


I have already suggested that Molière uses doubling and fusion of functions.[4] Harpagon is a miser and will remain a miser ready to sacrifice his children. It is a sad reflection on humanity but perhaps less sad than the intervention of a deus ex machina. Dom Thomas d’Alburcy is a  major member of the play’s society, the intervention of a second father figure allows the happy ending the play demands. An anagnorisis may not be as dazzling a dénouement as the intervention of a deus ex machina, the prince in Tartuffe and a godlike figure in Dom Juan, but all’s well that ends well. 

Love to everyone



Commedia dell’arte


Sources and Resources

The Miser is a Wikisource eBook (Charles Heron Wall, translator)
The Miser is an Internet Archive publication EN
The Miser is a Project Gutenberg publication [eBook #6923] EN
The Miser, Henri Fielding is an eText EN
L’Avare is a publication FR
Molière21 is a research group
Le Salon littéraire FR
The Miser is a LibriVox text publication (YouTube)
Laughter, Henri Bergson is an Internet Archive publication EN

[1] L’Avare in Maurice Rat, Œuvres complètes de Molière (Paris : Éditions Gallimard, coll. La Pléiade, 1956), p. 968.
[2] Will  G. Moore, Molière, a New Criticism (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1968 [1949], pp. 69-70.
[3] Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 [1957]), p. 165.
[4] Micheline Bourbeau-Walker, « Le Misanthrope, ou la comédie éclatée, » in David Trott & Nicole Boursier, eds. L’Âge du théâtre en France (Edmonton, Alberta: Academic Printing and Publishing, 1988 ), 53 – 63. (papers from a conference held in Toronto, May 14 – 16, 1987) ISBN 0-920980-30-9 — PQ527.A33 1988

The Miser


L’Avare by Jean Degrassi, 1955 (

© Micheline Walker
1 December 2016

Reading “Dom Juan” (Part Three)


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File:Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard - Don Juan and the Statute of the Commander - WGA8046.jpg

Dom Juan et la statue du Commandeur par Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard (théâ

Our dramatis personæ is:

DON JUAN, son of Don Louis
SGANARELLE, valet of Don Juan
DONNA ELVIRA, wife of Don Juan
GUSMAN, horseman (écuyer) to Elvira
DON CARLOS, brother of Elvira
DON ALONSE, brother of Elvira
CHARLOTTE, peasant-girl
MATHURINE, peasant-girl
PIERROT, peasant
LA VIOLETTE, a lackey of Don Juan
RAGOTIN, a lackey of Don Juan
M. DIMANCHE, merchant
LA RAMÉE, swordsman (spadassin)

Set in Sicily

We left Dom Juan wishing his father dead, which so shocked Sganarelle that he spoke “nonsense,” yet told the truth. He could not speak directly because Dom Juan did not want to hear about “le Ciel,” Heaven. Sganarelle wrapped the truth into a lie. His speech is eloquence (IV. v, p. 56).


  • The beggar
  • Two and two makes four
  • Dom Juan to the rescue
  • The Mausoleum
  • Liberty in love

The Beggar

Earlier (III. ii), Dom Juan had given a beggar a Louis d’or, asking him to swear.  The Poor Man didn’t swear; he would rather starve. So, Dom Juan left him the Louis d’or “pour l’amour de l’humanité” (for the love of mankind).

Two and two makes four

In my last post, I wrote that Dom Juan’s belief is:

Je crois que deux et deux sont quatre, Sganarelle, et que quatre et quatre sont huit.
Dom Juan à Sganarelle (III. i, p. 36)
[I believe that two and two makes four, Sganarelle, and that four and four makes eight.]
Dom Juan to Sganarelle (III. 1, p. 31)

Dom Juan to the rescue

In the following scene (III. iv), Dom Juan saves Dom Carlos from attackers, not knowing he is Elvire’s brother:

La partie est trop inégale, et je ne dois pas souffrir cette lâcheté
Dom Juan à Sganarelle (III. ii, p. 39)
[One man attacked by three? The match is too lopsided, and I cannot allow such baseness.]
Dom Juan to Sganarelle (III. 2, p. 34)

Dom Juan saves Dom Carlos’ life, incurring a debt. However, when his brother, Dom Alonse, joigns him, Dom Carlos learns that he was saved by the family’s “mortal enemy.”

Ô Ciel, que vois-je ici? Quoi, mon frère, vous voilà avec notre ennemi mortel?
Dom Alonse (III. iii, p. 42)
O, Heavens! What am I seeing? What? My brother, you are here with our mortal enemy?
Dom Alonse (III. 3, p. 36)

For the two brothers, having Dom Juan at arm’s length is a perfect opportunity to avenge their offended sister. But Dom Carlos postpones the moment they will avenge Done Elvire, Dom Juan’s abandoned wife. Dom Juan likes Dom Carlos who is indebted to Dom Juan.

Il est assez honnête homme, il en a bien usé, et j’ai regret d’avoir démêlé avec lui.
Dom Juan à Sganarelle (III. v, p. 45)
[He seems quite honorable, he used me well, and I am sorry now to be mixed up in this affair with him.]
Dom Juan to Sganarelle (III. 5, p. 39)

Il vous serait aisé de pacifier toutes choses.
Sganarelle à Dom Juan (III. v, p. 45)
[Sir, it would be easy enough for you to make peace.]
Sganarelle to Dom Juan (III. 5, p. 39)

Although he has killed the Commandeur and abandoned his wife, Done Elvire, Dom Juan’s life could be spared, Molière has situated the duel before the curtain rises. So, the death of the Commandeur remains a serious issue, but… Sganarelle is “all-too-human.”[1] He fears. But Dom Juan, his master, is a Grand Seigneur.

Et n’y craignez-vous rien, Monsieur, de la mort de ce commandeur que vous tuâtes il y a six mois?
Sganarelle à Dom Juan (I. ii, p. 9)
But do you fear nothing, Sir, from the death of the commander that you killed here six months ago?
Sganarelle to Don Juan (I. 2, p. 7)

J’ai eu ma grâce de cette affaire.
Dom Juan à Sganarelle (I. ii, p. 9)
[I had my right in this affair.]
Dom Juan to Sganarelle (I. 2, p. 8)
Oui, mais cette grâce n’éteint pas peut-être le ressentiment des parents et des amis, et…
Dom Juan à Sganarelle (I. ii, p. 9)
[Yes, but your right did not perhaps vanquish the resentment of his family and friends, and…]
Dom Juan à Sganarelle (I. 2, p. 8)

The courts may have cleared Dom Juan of wrongdoing, but the Commandeur had a family. When one thinks that “two and two makes four,” one excludes elements that cannot be quantified. Don Juan believes he was cleared, so he washes his hand. Fatal error!

Liberty in love

Our pèlerins are then visited by Done Elvire who wishes Dom Juan could lie to her, and return to her. Would that urgent business had taken him. One could say that she pardons lies, but that is questionable. She has been abandoned and a loving wife just might roll back reality not to have been abandoned. But Dom Juan loves “liberty in love:”

Oui, mais ma passion est usée pour Done Elvire, et l’engagement ne compatit point avec mon humeur. J’aime la liberté en amour, tu le sais, et je ne saurais me résoudre à renfermer mon cœur entre quatre murailles. Je te l’ai dit vingt fois, j’ai une pente naturelle à me laisser aller à tout ce qui m’attire. Mon cœur est à toutes les belles, et c’est à elles à le prendre tour à tour, et à le garder tant qu’elles le pourront.
Dom Juan à Sganarelle (III. v, p. 45)
[Yes; but my passion for Elvira is spent, and such jessies do not suit my humor. I love liberty in love, as you know, and I could not resign myself to enclosing my heart between four walls. I have told you twenty times, I have a natural inclination to let myself veer towards everything that attracts me. My heart belongs to all the beauties, and it is up to each of them in turn to assume it and to keep it as long as they can.]
Dom Juan to Sganarelle (III. 5, p. 39)

The Mausoleum

In Act Three Scene Four  Dom Juan and Sganarelle inadvertently enter the Commender’s burial ground. Sganarelle tries to pull Dom Juan away:

Monsieur, n’allez point là.
Sganarelle à Dom Juan (III. iv, p. 46)
[Sir, you shouldn’t go there.]
Sganarelle to Dom Juan (III. 4, p. 40)

Cela n’est pas civil, d’aller voir un homme que vous avez tué.
Sganarelle à Dom Juan (III. v, p. 46)
It would not be civil to go see a man that you’ve killed.
Sganarelle à Dom Juan (III. 4, p. 40)

But Dom Juan thinks it a civilité to approach the Commender’s coffin. In fact, the coffin opens and reveals a beautiful mausoleum and the Statue of the Commender. Sganarelle marvels effusively as Dom Juan assesses matters:

Ah, que cela est beau! les belles statues! le beau marbre! les beaux piliers! Ah, que cela est beau, qu’en dites-vous, Monsieur?
Sganarelle à Dom Juan (III. iv, p. 46)
[Ah! So beautiful! Beautiful statues! Beautiful marble! Beautiful pillars! Ah, it’s so beautiful! What do you say about it, Sir?]
Sganarelle to Dom Juan (III. 4, p. 40)

Qu’on ne peut voir aller plus loin l’ambition d’un homme mort, et ce que je trouve admirable, c’est qu’un homme qui s’est passé durant sa vie d’une assez simple demeure, en veuille avoir une si magnifique pour quand il n’en a plus que faire.
Dom Juan à Sganarelle (III. v, p. 46)
[That one cannot see the ambition of a dead man go any farther than this: and what I find most amazing is that a man who occupied, during his life, a simple enough abode, would want such a magnificent one for when he has nothing left to do.]
Dom Juan à Sganarelle (III. 5, p. 40)

At this point the statue comes alive. It bends its head and Dom Juan quite boldly asks Sganarelle to invite the Statue to supper.

Il aurait tort, et ce serait mal recevoir l’honneur que je lui fais. Demande-lui s’il veut venir souper avec moi.
Dom Juan à Sganarelle (III. v, p. 46)
[And he would be wrong; and it would be to receive but poorly the honor that I do him. Ask him if he would like to dine with me.]
Dom Juan to Sganarelle (III. 5, p. 40)


Costume de Don Juan

Don Juan. Costume de M. Geffroy (d’après Devéria) (théâ

ACT FOUR:  Civilités

  • Monsieur Dimanche
  • Dom Louis
  • Done Elvire

Monsieur Dimanche

Dom Juan uses civility (faisant de grandes civilités) to send away monsieur Dimanche (Sunday), his creditor. Form as substance …

Dom Louis

In Scene Four, Dom Juan listens to his father who would like his son to convert. Dom Juan is a womanizer who has left his wife.

Dom Juan does not respond. Instead, he invites his father to sit down so he would be more comfortable. Dom Louis leaves and as we know, as soon as he is out of hearing, Dom Louis wishes him dead.

Dom Juan has asked his valet never to remonstrate if “le Ciel” is a factor. But Sganarelle wraps the truth into a lie. He speaks obliquely.

Done Elvire

Dom Juan is then visited by a changed Done Elvire. She is veiled and preparing to go to a retraite, perhaps a convent, and wishes to pull out Dom Juan from a precipice. He must repent. But she goes on to say how much she has loved him:

Je vous ai aimé avec une tendresse extrême, rien au monde ne m’a été si cher que vous, j’ai oublié mon devoir pour vous, j’ai fait toutes choses pour vous, et toute la récompense que je vous en demande, c’est de corriger votre vie, et de prévenir votre perte. Sauvez-vous, je vous prie, ou pour l’amour de vous, ou pour l’amour de moi.
Done Elvire à Dom Juan (IV. vi, p. 58)
[I loved you, Don Juan, with extreme tenderness, and nothing in the world was dearer to me than you. For you, I abandoned my duty, for you, I did everything; and all the recompense that I ask of you, is to correct your life, and avert your eternal loss. Save yourself, I beg you, either from love of yourself, or for love of me.]
Done Elvire to Dom Juan (IV. 6, p. 51)

As Elvira speaks, Sganarelle cries:

Tu pleures, je pense.
Dom Juan (IV. vi, p. 70)
You’re crying, I believe.
Dom Juan (IV. 6, p. 51)

We can also hear Sganarelle say “pauvre femme” and “cœur de tigre” (heart of a tiger). Unbelievably, Dom Juan is charmed. He invites Elvire to spend the night in his home. She refuses. One suspects that Elvire has said more than she wanted.

Sais-tu bien que j’ai encore senti quelque peu d’émotion pour elle, que j’ai trouvé de l’agrément dans cette nouveauté bizarre, et que son habit négligé, son air languissant et ses larmes ont réveillé en moi quelques petits restes d’un feu éteint? 
Dom Juan à Sganarelle (IV. vii, p. 59)
[You know I think I felt a little glimmer of emotion for her, and even found something rather pleasurable in this new extravagance. Her careless clothes, languishing air and tears seemed to reawaken in me a few embers of a doused fire.]
Dom Juan to Sganarelle (IV. 7, p. 52)

The Statue has come for supper and invites Dom Juan to join “it” for supper the following day. Dom Juan accepts the Statue’s invitation saying that he will be accompanied by Sganarelle.


James Doolittle writes that “for Dom Juan the excellence of humanity consists in a man’s realization of his manhood by functioning fully as a man, not as an angel, not as a beast, not in passive potentiality, but in active fact. He must have the aspiration, the will, the knowledge, and the courage actively to prove himself superior to the rest of nature, as well as to whatever conventional opposition he may encounter which it does. This is what the Poor Man [the beggar] does, and Dom Juan wishes to function in like manner.”[2]

Let us keep the above in mind and continue reading.

At the very beginning of Act Five, Dom Juan makes his father believe that he has converted. Dom Louis can’t wait to tell his wife. Sganarelle wonders why Dom Juan does not yield the statue? It moves and speaks:

Vous ne vous rendez pas à la surprenante merveille de cette statue mouvante et parlante?

Dom Juan is perplexed:

Il y a bien quelque chose là-dedans que je ne comprends pas, mais quoi que ce puisse être, cela n’est pas capable, ni de convaincre mon esprit, ni d’ébranler mon âme, et si j’ai dit que je voulais corriger ma conduite, et me jeter dans un train de vie exemplaire, c’est un dessein que j’ai formé par pure politique, un stratagème utile, une grimace nécessaire, où je veux me contraindre pour ménager un père dont j’ai besoin, et me mettre à couvert du côté des hommes de cent fâcheuses aventures qui pourraient m’arriver. Je veux bien, Sganarelle, t’en faire confidence, et je suis bien aise d’avoir un témoin du fond de mon âme et des véritables motifs qui m’obligent à faire les choses.
Dom Juan à Sganarelle (V. ii, pp. 63-64)
[I admit there was something in it that I don’t understand; but it was still not powerful enough to either convince my mind or shake my soul; and if you heard me say that I would amend my conduct and embark on an exemplary life, it was a design formed out of pure policy, a useful stratagem, a necessary grimace that I adopted in order to manage a father of whom I have need, and to protect myself, in the eyes of men, from a hundred irritating adventures which might arise. But I am really glad, which might arise. But I am really glad, Sganarelle, that I can confide in you, and I am happy that my soul has a witness to the real motives which oblige me to do the things I do.]
Dom Juan to Sganarelle (V. 2, pp. 56-57)

The fact that the statue moved is something Dom Juan cannot understand. His response is to become a hypocrite so he will be protected. He is so pleased Sganarelle can understand. But Sganarelle cannot understand. Don Juan does not believe in God, yet would feign devotion:

Quoi? vous ne croyez rien du tout, et vous voulez cependant vous ériger en homme de bien?
[What? Though you don’t believe in anything at all, you would take the pose of a pious man?]

Sganarelle is furious and will now remonstrate, without wrapping the truth into a lie:

O Ciel! qu’entends-je ici? Il ne vous manquait plus que d’être hypocrite pour vous achever de tout point, et voilà le comble des abominations. Monsieur, cette dernière-ci m’emporte, et je ne puis m’empêcher de parler. Faites-moi tout ce qu’il vous plaira, battez-moi, assommez-moi de coups, tuez-moi, si vous voulez, il faut que je décharge mon cœur, et qu’en valet fidèle je vous dise ce que je dois. Sachez, Monsieur, que tant va la cruche à l’eau, qu’enfin elle se brise; …
Sganarelle (V. ii, p. 65)
[Heavens! Am I hearing this? All you lacked before to perfect your arsenal was this hypocrisy! And presto! Here it is: the acme of abominations. Sir, this latest manner is just insufferable and I can no longer bite my tongue. Do to me what you will, beat me, knock me senseless, kill me, if you wish: but I must air out my heart, and as a faithful valet I must tell you what I should. Know, Sir, that the more times a jug goes to the well, at last it will break; …]
Sganarelle (V. 2, p. 58)

Dom Carlos and Dom Alonse return. They are ready to overlook Dom Juan’s escapade, but cannot let their sister become a recluse. Dom Juan must return to his wife. Our seducer switches to false piety to get rid of them. The society of the play has been fooled! Has it? No, the society of the play has doubled itself. The statue, the infinite, takes Dom Juan by the hand and throws him into a fiery abyss. He does not resist. He knew. He always knew …

Except for giving the beggar a Louis d’or and saving Dom Carlos, what has Dom Juan done that would allow him to claim superiority. Why should the statue, the infinite, be honoured to have supper with him?

A hero, he isn’t. We are told that he has “seduced” several women and forced fathers to fight duels they could not win, Dom Juan being much younger, stronger, and the superior swordsman.

He falls in love with Charlotte and promises marriage, only to turn his attention to what may be a lovelier face: Mathurine.

Jean Rousset has called him “un homme de vent,” a man of wind.[3] He will go the way the wind blows.

But Dom Juan, who so wishes to break barriers, is not belittled by Molière. What a fine opportunity to use machines.

Dom Juan is a five-act play, as in “grandes comédies,” but the plot formula used by Molière is that of the farce: trompeur trompé, the deceiver deceived.

Don Juan2

Dom Juan par François Boucher (théâ


Sources and Resources

[1] W. G. Moore, Molière: a New Criticism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956 [1949]), p. 96.
[2] James Doolittle, The Humanity of Molière’s Dom Juan in Jacques Guicharnaud, Molière, A Collection of Critical Essays (Englewood Cliffs, N.J. : Prentice-Hall, 1964), p. 101.
[3] Jean Rousset, L’Intérieur et l’extérieur : Essais sur la poésie et sur le théâtre au XVIIsiècle (Paris : Librairie José Corti, 1968), p. 138.


Love to everyone 💕
I apologize for the delay.

Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Là ci darem la mano

Rodney Gilfry – Don Giovanni
Liliana Nikiteanu – Zerlina


Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard (

© Micheline Walker
16 August 2019







Reading “Dom Juan” (Part Two)


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Sganarelle par Dugazon (théâ (BnF)

Our dramatis personæ is:

DON JUAN, son of Don Louis
SGANARELLE, valet of Don Juan
DONNA ELVIRA, wife of Don Juan
GUSMAN, horseman (écuyer) to Elvira
DON CARLOS, brother of Elvira
DON ALONSE, brother of Elvira
CHARLOTTE, peasant-girl
MATHURINE, peasant-girl
PIERROT, peasant
LA VIOLETTE, a lackey of Don Juan
RAGOTIN, a lackey of Don Juan
M. DIMANCHE, merchant
LA RAMÉE, swordsman (spadassin)

Set in Sicily

Dom Juan and Sganarelle

At the end of my first reading of Molière‘s Dom Juan (Part One), I quoted Sganarelle, Dom Juan’s valet, a role played by Molière. La Grange played the role of Dom Juan.

When Sganarelle hears Dom Juan say that he wishes his father, Dom Louis, were dead, he is indignant, but Dom Juan does not allow him to speak about “le Ciel,” heaven. Sganarelle’s living depends on Dom Juan. So, when Dom Juan dies, he thinks of his wages: Mes gages ! mes gages ! mes gages ! (My pay! My pay! My pay! ) (Sganarelle I. vi; I. 6). However, although Dom Juan will not accept remonstrances, Sganarelle manages to wrap the truth inside a lie. Such a response demonstrates ingenuity.

Will Moore writes that Dom Juan is “master” and Sganarelle, “man,” and that exchanges between master and man are: 

… a dialogue on humanity. The master is inhuman in his scorn of others. The man is all too human. [1]

Man says:

Oui, Monsieur, vous avez tort d’avoir souffert ce qu’il vous a dit, et vous le deviez mettre dehors par les épaules. A-t-on jamais rien vu de plus impertinent? Un père venir faire des remontrances à son fils, et lui dire de corriger ses actions, de se ressouvenir de sa naissance, de mener une vie d’honnête homme, et cent autres sottises de pareille nature. Cela se peut-il souffrir à un homme comme vous, qui savez comme il faut vivre? J’admire votre patience, et si j’avais été en votre place, je l’aurais envoyé promener. Ô complaisance maudite,à quoi me réduis-tu ?
Sganarelle à Dom Juan (IV. v,  pp. 56- 57)
[Yes, Sir, you are wrong to have suffered what he said to you and you should have thrown him out on his ear. Has anyone ever seen such impertinence? For a father to come and reproach his son, to tell him to correct his actions, to remember his birth, to lead the life of an honorable man, and a hundred others stupidities of a like nature! That it should be borne by a man like you, who knows how one must live! I marvel at your patience; and f I had been in your place, I would have sent him packing. O evil complicity! To what have you reduced me?]
Sganarelle to Dom Juan (IV. 5, p. 50)

We meet Sganarelle in Act One, Scene One. Dom Juan is out of hearing, so Sganarelle  tells Guzman that his master is forever marrying. He also points to the dichotomy in Dom Juan himself. Dom Juan un grand seigneur, méchant homme.Act One, Scene One also allows Molière to tell about Dom Juan’s numerous marriages.

Molière’s plots are as simple as possible. When the curtain rises, Dom Juan has abandoned Done Elvire, whom he took away from a convent and we are told that six months earlier he killed the Commandeur. Molière’s Dom Juan does not contain a seduction scene nor a duel, which is consistent with bienséances (étiquette), a rule in seventeenth-century theater.

However, the play ends with the death of Dom Juan. The statue of the Commandeur  comes alive at the end of Act Three. The Commandeur, is the stone guest. Dom Juan invites him to dinner the following day and, to Sganarelle’s horror, the statue comes to dinner and invites Dom Juan to dine with him the following day, which is when the Commandeur takes his hand and throws him into a fiery abyss. In Act One, Scene Two, Sganarelle asks Dom Juan whether he fears revenge on the part of the Commandeur. Dom Juan doesn’t, but Sganarelle believes friends and relatives might be angry. In Act One, Scene Three, Done Elvire visits Dom Juan. Dom Juan will not go home to his wife. She will therefore focus on revenge. 

For the most part, I will skip Act Two (summary), the scene where Dom Juan nearly drowns, but is saved by Pierrot and falls in love with two peasant-girls: Charlotte and Mathurine, promising each one that he will marry her. Pierrot loves Charlotte. This scene contains a comedic element. Dom Juan runs from girl to girl whispering to each that she’s the one. At the end of Act Two, La Ramée warns that twelve horsemen are looking for Dom Juan.

Don Juan par Ed. Héd. (1)

Pierrot, Charlotte, Dom Juan et Mathurine par Edmond Hédouin (théâ BnF

Master and Man

However, I would like to contrast “master” and “man,” or master’s religion and man’s religion.

In Act Three, Scene One, Dom Juan says:

Je crois que deux et deux sont quatre, Sganarelle, et que quatre et quatre sont huit.
Dom Juan à Sganarelle (III. i, p. 36)
[I believe that two and two makes four, Sganarelle, and that four and four makes eight.]
Dom Juan to Sganarelle (III. 1, p. 31)

Dom Juan is an atheist, but Sganarelle believes in God and marvels at what the human body can do:

Mon raisonnement est qu’il y a quelque chose d’admirable dans l’homme, quoi que vous puissiez dire, que tous les savants ne sauraient expliquer. Cela n’est-il pas merveilleux que me voilà ici, et que j’aie quelque chose dans la tête qui pense cent choses différentes en un moment, et fait de mon corps tout ce qu’elle veut? Je veux frapper des mains, hausser le bras, lever les yeux au ciel, baisser la tête, remuer les pieds, aller à droit, à gauche, en avant, en arrière, tourner…
Il se laisse tomber en tournant.
Sganarelle à Dom Juan (III. i, pp. 36-37)
[Well, my argument is that there is something admirable in man, no matter what you might say, which all the learned men cannot explain. Is it not a marvel that I am here, and that I have something in my head which makes me think a hundred different things at once, and that can make my body do what it would? That I can clap my hands, raise my arms, lift my eyes to Heaven, lower my head, move my feet, go to the right, go to the left, forwards, backwards, turn …
He falls while turning.
Sganarelle to Dom Juan (III. 1, p. 32)

Pascal wrote that there were two entries to the soul: the mathematical and the intuitive mind [EBook # 18269]). L’esprit de finesse does not exclude l’esprit de géométrie (mathematical). On the contrary. Sganarelle is uneducated, but it turns out that he is right and that Dom Juan is wrong. Molière is true to the legend in which a statue, the Stone Guest, kills Dom Juan. Valets are not necessarily inferior to their master. Even the humble can sense what they cannot formulate. Sganarelle runs out of words and wishes Dom Juan had stopped him.

Oh dame, interrompez-moi donc si vous voulez, je ne saurais disputer si l’on ne m’interrompt, vous vous taisez exprès, et me laissez parler par belle malice.
Sganarelle à Dom Juan (III. i, p. 36)
[Oh! Damn, interrupt me, if you please: I cannot argue with you if you don’t interrupt me: and you’re being silent as a stump out of deliberate malice.]
Sganarelle to Dom Juan (III, 1, p. 32)

In Act Three, Scene Two, Dom Juan and Sganarelle meet a beggar. The beggar gives them directions, but he is poor and needs money. Dom Juan asks him to swear. The poor man refuses the money, but Dom Juan leaves a Louis d’or behind pour l’amour de l’humanité, for the love of humanity. (III. ii. p. 32)

In Act Three, Scene Three, Dom Juan saves Dom Carlos, Done Elvire’s sister, whom he doesn’t know. In Scene Four, Done Elvire’s other brother, Dom Alonse, enters and recognizes Dom Juan. Dom Carlos succeeds in delaying the revenge. In Act One, Guzman was surprised that a man of Dom Juan’s rank would leave a wife he married despite l’obstacle sacré of a convent.

These two scenes soften Molière portrayal of Dom Juan, but in Scene Five, as our pélerins continue walking in the direction of the city, they inadvertently reach the commandeur‘s monument. Dom Juan asked Sganarelle to invite the commandeur for supper the next day. Dom Juan remains defiant. In fact, this seems bravura, but it could also be mindlessness, insouciance, or perhaps a sense that one cannot escape one’s fate. Why else would Dom Juan silence Sganarelle? He may well feel guilty, but the consequences are unavoidable, by Dom Juan’s own mathematical standards: “two and two makes four.”

Which takes us to an essay by James Doolittle on the “humanity” of Molière’s Dom Juan and a reference to Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote.

We close here. There will be a third and final part.


Sources and Resources

Molière plays featuring Sganarelle are:

Le Médecin volant (The Flying Doctor) (1659)
Sganarelle, ou le Cocu imaginaire (The Imaginary Cuckold) (1660)
L’École des maris (The School for Husbands) (1661)
Le Mariage forcé (1664)
Dom Juan (1665)

[1] W. G. Moore, Molière, a New Criticism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956 [1949]), p. 96.

Love to everyone 💕

A. VIVALDI: «Filiae maestae Jerusalem» RV 638
[II.Sileant Zephyri],
Ph.Jaroussky/Ensemble Artaserse

© Micheline Walker
11 August 2019

A Delay


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Dugazon dans Sgnanarelle du Festin de pierre

Sganarelle par Dugazon (théâ

Above is an image of Sganarelle praising tobacco. Molière‘s Dom Juan is an obscure play. As the curtain lifts, Sganarelle,  Dom Juan’s valet, is praising tobacco. A critic called this praise of tobacco an encomium, but a paradoxical encomium. I believe I found this information in a book or article by Patrick Dandrey.

I read several books on Molière before entering a sabbatical I would devote to writing my book on Molière. It didn’t happen. The Chair of my department called me in and asked me to prepare two new courses in areas I was not familiar with. I could not say no because I feared him.

When I returned to work, I realized that during my absence, no one upgraded the language lab component. It took me two months to upgrade it. So, my workload triggered a serious episode of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. I was vulnerable and accepted to move to Sherbrooke. That was a mistake. One should not make serious decisions when one is unwell.

However, here I am preparing my final will. My mind took me back to what had been my home: Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

My University eliminated me, using a ruse, because of an illness I could manage, given normal circumstances. I can work on a full-time basis, if assigned a normal load of courses. What my university did to me was very wrong.

Beware of wills.

So, we are returning to Dom Juan and specifically to the relationship between Dom Juan, the character, played by La Grange, and Sganarelle, Molière’s role.

Love to everyone 💕

Michel Lambert
“Ma bergère est tendre et fidelle,” air sérieux
Stephan van Dyck
Musica Favola Ensemble

© Micheline Walker
10 August 2019


Reading “Dom Juan” (Part One)


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Max_Slevogt_-_Der_Sänger_Francisco_d'Andrade_als_Don_Giovanni_in_Mozarts_Oper_-_Google_Art_Project (2)

Portrait of Francisco D’Andrade in the title role of Don Giovanni by Max Slevogt, 1912 (

Our dramatis personæ is

DON JUAN, son of Don Louis (Don Juan Tenorio)
SGANARELLE, valet of Don Juan
DONNA ELVIRA, wife of Don Juan
GUSMAN, horseman to Elvira
DON CARLOS, brother of Elvira
DON ALONSE, brother of Elvira
DON LOUIS, father of Don Juan
CHARLOTTE, peasant-girl
MATHURINE, peasant-girl
PIERROT, peasant (in love with Charlotte
LA VIOLETTE, a lackey (un laquais) of Don Juan
RAGOTIN, a lackey of Don Juan
M. DIMANCHE, merchant
LA RAMÉE, swordsman (un spadassin)
A GHOST (un spectre)

Dom Juan

(Bold characters are mine.)

  • Introduction
  • Dom Juan condemned
  • Sources


I keep finding versions of Tirso de Molina’s The Trickster of Seville or the Stone Guest, the first Don Juan. However, this post is about Molière’s Dom Juan, a play in five acts and in prose, first performed on 15 February 1665 at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal. It was written rapidly and premiered less than a year after Molière’s Tartuffe (May 1664). Tartuffe, was first performed during Les Plaisirs de l’Isle enchantée, but it was condemned by the parti /cabale des dévots, not the once powerful Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement. la Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement had ceased to be active, faux dévots remained. In fact, secret societies were abolished in 1660. 

Dom Juan withdrawn from the stage

Dom Juan ou le Festin de Pierre  was very successful, financially and otherwise, which did not prevent Louis from asking Molière to withdraw his play after 15 performances. Louis XIV may have been advised to ask Molière to withdraw Dom Juan by the archbishop of Paris (24 March  1664 – 1 January 1671) and his Louis XIV’s former tutor, Hardouin de Péréfixe de Beaumont (1606-1671). Hardouin de Péréfixe was a friend of Louis XIV and, to my knowledge, he was not an enemy of Molière.


Molière‘s Dom Juan is based on the legend of Don Juan, as told by Spanish baroque dramatist Tirso de Molina, the author of  El Burlador de Sevilla y convidado de Piedra (The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest). The Stone Guest is a statue of a Commandeur whom Don Juan killed when he attempted to avenge his dishonoured family. The Commandeur or Governor’s daughter, Doña Ana, was seduced by Don Juan.

It is unlikely that Molière’s was familiar with Tirso de Molina‘s El Burlador de Sevilla y convidado de Piedra (The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest). Molière borrowed from French contemporaries :

  • Dorimon(d)’s Le Festin de pierre ou le Fils criminel [the criminal son] (1559) and the
  • Sieur de Villiers’ plagiarized Le Festin de pierre ou le Fils criminel (1661).

Villiers was known as Philipin. He was an actor at l’Hôtel de Bourgogne, Paris’ finest theatrical venue. Dorimond and Philipin wrote tragi-comédies, a blend of comedic and tragedic elements. Versions of the Don Juan legend are often called a dramma giocoso, an Italian designation for comedies that are not altogether comedic. (See Dramma giocoso,  It seems, in fact that Le Festin de pierre ou le Fils criminel (Dorimond and Villiers) would have Italian sources:

So, Molière’s Dom Juan would be rooted in Italian comedy, which brings to mind Mozart’s Don Giovanni (K. 527), composed on a libretto written by Mozart’s Italian librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte. All versions of the Don Juan myth are rooted in Tirso de Molina’s Trickster of Seville, the Stone Guest (1625), but although these versions constitute a network, they may differ from country to country, and Lorenzo Da Ponte was an Italian librettist.

Dom Juan

  • Leporello’s “catalogo and “l’épouseur à toutes mains.
  • Rights and justice: a world upside down
  • Woman and God: a doubling
  • Sganarelle and Dom Juan: reproaches

There are similarities between Dom Juan and Don Giovanni. For instance, Leporello’s “catalogo,” i.e. quantity, is Sganarelle’s “l’épouseur à toutes mains,” (every hand’s groom) Don Giovanni and Dom Juan accumulate seductions, promising marriage. In Act One, Scene 1, when Gusman, Done Elvire’s horseman, speaks with Sganarelle, Molière’s role, Sganarelle says the following:

Tu me dis qu’il a épousé ta maîtresse, crois qu’il aurait plus fait pour sa passion, et qu’avec elle il aurait encore épousé toi, son chien, et son chat. Un mariage ne lui coûte rien à contracter, il ne se sert point d’autres pièges pour attraper les belles, et c’est un épouseur à toutes mains[.]
Sganarelle à Gusman (I. i, p. 3)
[You tell me that he has married your mistress: believe too that he will do much more for his passion than this, and that he would also marry you, your dog and your cat.  A marriage costs him nothing to contract; he uses no other traps for the lovelies, and blithely marries on all sides.]
Sganarelle to Guzman (I. 1, p. 3)

In fact, Molière’s Dom Juan piles up his conquests. He compares himself to Alexander the Great:

Enfin, il n’est rien de si doux, que de triompher de la résistance d’une belle personne; et j’ai sur ce sujet l’ambition des conquérants, qui volent perpétuellement de victoire en victoire, et ne peuvent se résoudre à borner leurs souhaits. Il n’est rien qui puisse arrêter l’impétuosité de mes désirs, je me sens un cœur à aimer toute la terre; et comme Alexandre, je souhaiterais qu’il y eût d’autres mondes, pour y pouvoir étendre mes conquêtes amoureuses.
Dom Juan à Sganarelle (I. ii, pp. 6-7)
[There is nothing so sweet as to triumph over the resistance of a beautiful woman, and in this matter I have the ambition of conquerors, who march perpetually from victory to victory, and know no limits to their wishes. There is nothing that can halt the impetuosity of my desires: I have a heart to love all the world; and like Alexander, I wish that there were other worlds, so I could march in and make my amorous conquests there as well.]
Dom Juan to Sganarelle (I. 2, p. 6)

For Molière’s Dom Juan, satisfaction is yet another conquest. It is not to be found in genuine love and in sexual gratification, which may also characterize Don Giovannis protagonist, Don Juan. If Dom Juan has left Done Elvire, his wife, it is because he has tired of her. He must seduce other women:

Mais lorsqu’on en est maître une fois, il n’y a plus rien à dire, ni rien à souhaiter, tout le beau de la passion est fini, et nous nous endormons dans la tranquillité d’un tel amour; si quelque objet nouveau ne vient réveiller nos désirs, et présenter à notre cœur les charmes attrayants d’une conquête à faire.
Don Juan à Sganarelle (I. ii, p. 6)
[But let us be master once, nothing more is left to say or to wish; the beautiful part of passion is done, and we would sink into the tranquility of such a love, if some new object did not come to awaken our desires, and present to our heart the alluring charms of another conquest.]
Dom Juan to Sganarelle (I. 2, p. 6)

Rights and justice: a world upside down

Moreover, in Dom Juan’s world, women have a right to be “conquered” by him in the name of justice. In this respect, what Dom Juan calls justice are a series of transgressions at two levels, societal and sacred. When Dom Juan claims women have a right to him, he turns societal norms upside down. Not only does Dom Juan wish to go from victory to victory, but all women have a right to be “conquered,” which is arrogant, but a comedic element. Molière was writing a comedy and comedies are Saturnalian.

… la constance n’est bonne que pour des ridicules, toutes les belles ont droit de nous charmer, et l’avantage d’être rencontrée la première, ne doit point dérober aux autres les justes prétentions qu’elles ont toutes sur nos cœurs.
[No, no: constancy is only suitable for buffoons: all beautiful women have the right to charm us, and the advantage of being seen first should not steal from the others the just claims they have on our hearts.
j’ai beau être engagé, l’amour que j’ai pour une belle, n’engage point mon âme à faire injustice aux autres; je conserve des yeux pour voir le mérite de toutes, et rends à chacune les hommages, et les tributs où la nature nous oblige.
Dom Juan à Sganarelle (I. ii, p. 6)
[I would be bound in vain; and the love I have for one beautiful woman does not oblige my soul to commit an injustice against the rest; I reserve the right of my eyes to see the merit of all, and to render to each the tributes obliged by nature.]
Dom Juan to Sganarelle (I. 2, p. 5)

This is an upside-down view of social norms and conventional morality. It is also sinful, l’oubli du Ciel, and defies reason. Guzman is Done Elvire’s horseman (écuyer). Done Elvire and her brothers, Dom Carlos and Dom Alonse, will never persuade Dom Juan to return home to his wife. At the end of Act Two, La Ramée, a swordsman, tells Dom Juan that:

Douze hommes à cheval vous cherchent, qui doivent arriver ici dans un moment,
je ne sais pas par quel moyen ils peuvent vous avoir suivi, j’ai j’ai appris cette nouvelle d’un paysan qu’ils ont interrogé, et auquel ils vous dépeint. L’affaire presse, et le plus tôt que vous pourrez sortir d’ici, sera le meilleur.
La Ramée à Dom Juan (II. v, pp. 31-32)
[Twelve men on horseback are looking for you and might arrive here at any moment. I don’t know how they have followed you; but I learned of it from a peasant they had questioned. Time presses, and the sooner you leave the better.]
La Ramée to Dom Juan (II. 5, p. 28)

Society and God: a doubling

Twelve horsemen may be seeking Dom Juan, but he will not go back home. Done Elvire’s party, her brothers Dom Carlos, Dom Alonse and his men, may find Dom Juan, but he will defy both the society of the play and God: the “sacred obstacle of a convent,” (“l’obstacle sacré d’un couvent”) (I. i, p. 2). He will feign devotion and speak as though he and God were on a nearly equal footing.

Guzman wonders why Dom Juan would be unfaithful to his wife. He so wanted to marry Done Elvire that she left a convent.

Quoi, ce départ si peu prévu, serait une infidélité de Dom Juan? Il pourrait faire cette injure aux chastes feux de Done Elvire?
Gusman à Sganarelle
Non, c’est qu’il est jeune encore, et qu’il n’a pas le courage.
Sganarelle à Gusman
Un homme de sa qualité ferait une action si lâche?
Gusman à Sganarelle
Eh oui; sa qualité! La raison en est belle, et c’est par là qu’il s’empêcherait des choses
Sganarelle… (I. i, p. 2).

[What? Could it be that this unforeseen departure is due to an infidelity on the part of Don Juan? Could he be capable of such an injury to Donna Elvira’s chaste fires?
Guzman to Sganarelle
[No, but he is still young, and does not have the heart ….]
Sganarelle to Guzman
Could a man of his quality commit an action so vile?
Guzman to Sganarelle
Oh, yes, his quality! That’s vain reasoning, for it’s by this quality that he holds himself above all things.]
Sganarelle to Guzman (I. 1, pp. 2-3)

The society of the play cannot convince Dom Juan that there would be safety in living honourably. When Dom Juan puts on the masque of the faux dévot, when he feigns devotion, Done Elvire’s brothers are powerless. Dom Juan is an aristocrat who uses marriage, a sacrament, to sin. As Sganarelle points out:

il faut que le courroux du Ciel l’accable quelque jour[.]
Sganarelle à Gusman (I. i, p. 4)
[It’s enough that the wrath of Heaven will overtake him some day; ]
Sganarelle to Guzman(I. 1, p. 3)

Sganarelle and Dom Juan: reproaches

Yes, Dom Juan is too young, he uses his rank to seduce women, and he has no obvious love for God. In fact, it has been suggested that the legendary Don Juan waits too long before saying an Act of Contrition. (See Dom Juan, An Act of Contrition will free a sinner of sinfulness. But Molière’s Dom Juan does not repent. However, when Sganarelle tells Juan that he disapproves of his marrying woman after woman. But he invites Sganarelle to express an opinion on his behaviour. Dom Juan, he will not allow reproaches. He is defiant until the very end, but he is pushed into hell. Sganarelle tells him that he is make fun, or mocking Heaven, which bothers Dom Juan. Dom Juan is incorrigibly bombastic. He is truly too young and he doesn’t have a heart.

En ce cas, Monsieur, je vous dirai franchement que je n’approuve point votre méthode, et que je trouve fort vilain d’aimer de tous côtés comme vous faites.
Sganarelle à Dom Juan (I. iii. p. 6)
[In that case, Sir, I would say honestly that I do not approve at all of your habits, and that I find it deplorable to love on all sides as you do.]
Sganarelle to Dom Juan  (I. 3, p. 5)

Ma foi, Monsieur, j’ai toujours ouï dire, que c’est une méchante raillerie, que de se railler du Ciel, et que les libertins ne font jamais une bonne fin.
Sganarelle à Dom Juan (I. iii, p. 8)
Holà, maître sot, vous savez que je vous ai dit que je n’aime pas les faiseurs de remontrances. (I. iii, p. 8)
[My faith! Sir, I’ve always heard it said that it’s an evil mocking to mock Heaven, and that libertines never find a good end.
Sganarelle to Dom Juan (I. 3, p. 7)
Hey! Dr. Dunce Scotus! I’ve made it clear before that I have no love for the makers of reproaches.]
Sganarelle to Dom Juan (I. 3, p. 7)

As Sganarelle points out so aptly: Dom Juan is “jeune encore” (I. i, p. 2), or he is “still young” and he doesn’t have a heart (I. 1, pp. 2-3). He believes his title has bestowed upon himself complete immunity.

La vertu est le premier titre de noblesse.
Dom Louis’ tirade (IV. iv, p.55 ; IV. 5, pp. 49-50)

Sganarelle has listened to Dom Louis, Dom Juan’s father. Dom Louis would like his son to live up to his rank. As soon as his father can no longer hear him, Dom Juan says: 

Eh, mourez le plus tôt que vous pourrez, c’est le mieux que vous puissiez faire. Il faut que chacun ait son tour, et j’enrage de voir des pères qui vivent autant que leurs fils. Il se met dans son fauteuil.
Dom Juan à son père, trop loin pour l’entendre (IV. v, pp. 56-57
[And die as quickly as you can, it’s the least you could do. Every dog should have its day, and it fills me with rage to see fathers who live as long as their sons.]
Dom Juan to his father who is out of hearing distance. (IV. 5, p. 50)

Oui, Monsieur, vous avez tort d’avoir souffert ce qu’il vous a dit, et vous le deviez mettre dehors par les épaules. A-t-on jamais rien vu de plus impertinent? Un père venir faire des remontrances à son fils, et lui dire de corriger ses actions, de se ressouvenir de sa naissance, de mener une vie d’honnête homme, et cent autres sottises de pareille nature. Cela se peut-il souffrir à un homme comme vous, qui savez comme il faut vivre? J’admire votre patience, et si j’avais été en votre place, je l’aurais envoyé promener. Ô complaisance maudite, à quoi me réduis-tu?
Sganarelle à Dom Juan (IV. v, pp. 56-57)
[Yes, Sir, you are wrong to have suffered what he said to you and you should have thrown him out on his ear. Has anyone ever seen such impertinence? For a father to come and reproach his son, to tell him to correct his actions, to remember his birth, to lead the life of an honorable man, and a hundred others stupidities of a like nature! That it should be borne by a man like you, who knows how one must live! I marvel at your patience; and if I had been in your place, I would have sent him packing. O evil complicity! To what have you reduced me?]
Sganarelle to Dom Juan (IV. 5, p. 50)


I am publishing this post without a conclusion. I have to stop working for lack of energy. Part of the conclusion has to do with Molière’s use of the truth to lie, or a lie to tell the truth. We will look at the last quotation of this post.

Sources and Resources

Les XVIIe de Roger Duchêne
Don Juan is a translation by Brett B. Bodemer (2010)
Dom Juan is a toutmoliè publication

Love to everyone 💕

Michel Lambert
“Vos mespris chaque jour” (Your scorn everyday)
Air sérieux
Stephan van Dyck
Musica Favola Ensemble

Don Juan4 (2)

© Micheline Walker
6 August 2019







Don Juan: the “Cycle” & the Traditions


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Portrait of Tirso de Molina

Portrait of Tirso de Molina (


Variations on a theme by Tirso de Molina

The Cycle
Don Juan belongs to the world. Wikipedia’s entry on Molière’s Dom Juan contains lists. In other words, there are several narratives, plays, poems, music, films, etc. featuring Don Juan, including Mozart’s Don Giovanni, an opera. But Don Juan, the lady-killer and murderer, was created by Spanish baroque dramatist Tirso de Molina (24 March 1579 – 12 March 1648), a monk in the Mercedarian (from mercy) order. On his return from a mission in Santo Domingo (1616-1618), Tirso resided in the Mercedarian monastery in Madrid.

According to Hé (please scroll down to a text and a video), Molina had read in the Chronique de Séville, that Don Juan, the murderer of Governor Ulloa, whose daughter he seduced, was led to hell by a live statue of the Governor, le commandeur. The body of the governor had been laid to rest in the burial ground of a Franciscan convent. In Dom Juan, a play by Molière, the rake suffers the same fate as Governor Ulloa’s Don Juan. In Molière’s Dom Juan, la statue du Commandeur, invites Dom Juan to dinner, takes his hand, which Dom Juan offers, and leads him to a fiery abyss (toutmolière.notice). 

Donnez-moi la main.
La Statue (V. vi, p. 70)
[Give me your hand.]
The Statue (V. 6, p. 132)

So, Molière’s Dom Juan belongs to a “cycle.”

The myth or legend may precede Tirso de Molina’s play, but former lady-killers would belong to an oral tradition. In the learned (written) tradition, the first Don Juan is the protagonist of Tirso de Molina’s The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest. The play was first performed in 1625 (toutmolière.notice).

Mozart’s Don Giovanni (K 257) (1787), written on a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, and Molière’s Dom Juan (1665) are the most famous versions of the Don Juan legend, but the legend may have different components. For instance, I mentioned, in an earlier post, that Molière’s Dom Juan contains little eroticismin which it differs from Tirso de Molina’s Don Juan, whose lady-killer is driven by his sexual appetite. Moreover, in Molière’s play, the commandeur is killed before the curtain rises and Dom Juan has tired of Done Elvire, his wife, who left a convent, l’obstacle sacré d’un couvent (I. i, p. 3) (the sacred obstacle of a nunnery [I. 1, p. 80]), to marry Dom Juan.

At this point, I will mention Don Juan Tenorio, a play written in 1844, by José Zorrillia. In Zorrillia’s play, Doña Inés de Ulloa has died and a statue of her has been erected. She comes to life again, as do various statues of commandeurs, and leads Dom Juan to heaven. Don Juan Tenorio has a happy ending. Doña Inés has been in purgatory atoning for Don Juan’s murdered victims: Don Luis, Doña Ana’s fiancé, and Don Gonzalo, Doña Ana’s father.

Don Juan Tenorio differs substantially from Molière’s and Mozart’s. But it remains that all versions of Don Juan, including Don Juan Tenorio, are variations on a theme by Tirso the Molina. 

Raimundo Madrazo, María Guerrero in the role of Doña Inés, who has just found a love letter from Don Juan, hidden in the pages of a book.[1]

Raimundo Madrazo‘s María Guerrero in the role of Doña Inés (Don Juan Tenorio) ( 


The Stone Guest (Pushkin’s), Don Juan and Doña Ana by
Ilya Repin, 1885 (

Two Traditions

  • Romantic
  • farcical

Don Juan Tenorio can be described as a romanticized Don Juan. The Don Juan cycle can be broken into traditions, such as the farcical and the Romantic. The Romantic Don Juan reaches beyond the limits of the human condition. This Don Juan has  intimations of immortality, etc. Lord Byron‘s Don Juan is a Romantic Don Juan. (See Don Juan [Lord Byron].)

Molière’s Dom Juan is enigmatic, but it can considered farcical. He is an inferior character who dares believe that all women are entitled to the brief attention he will bestow. Sganarelle tells Dom Gusman (Leporello in Don Giovanni), that Dom Juan is an “épouseur à toutes mains.” He has married so many women that it would take Sganarelle all day to name them:

dame, demoiselle, bourgeoise, paysanne, il ne trouve rien de trop chaud, ni de trop froid pour lui; et si je te disais le nom de toutes celles qu’il a épousées en divers lieux, ce serait un chapitre à durer jusques au soir.
Sganarelle à Don Gusman (I. i, p. 3)
[A lady, gentlewoman, citizen’s daughter, countrywoman; he thinks nothing too hot or too cold for him; and if I were to tell you the names of all those whom he has married in different places, I would not have finished until night.]
Sganarelle to Don Guzman (I. 1, p. 80)

In Leporello’s catalog there would be mille e tre.[1]

Alexander Pushkin also wrote a Romantic Don Juan, His Stone Guest is a poetic  drama based on Mozart’s Don Giovanni. It was part of his “little tragedies.” Pushkin did not mean it for the stage. However, Alexander Dargomyzhsky wrote an opera entitled The Stone Guest, based on Pushkin’s Stone Guest. Although the opera was left unfinished, it is/was Dargomyzhsky‘s most famous work. It was finished by César Cui and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, two of the Five composers. 

However, Molière’s Dom Juan is also the bombastic and a rather étourdi, scatterbrained, character. Dom Juan does not allow Sganarelle, Molière’s role, to reprimand him. He and God can settle issues between one another, which is fine material for a farce. God will not use a needle to deflate Dom Juan, but the Commandeur he has killed will come to life and push him into hell.

Va, va, c’est une affaire entre le Ciel et moi, et nous la démêlerons bien
ensemble, sans que tu t’en mettes en peine.
Dom  Juan to Sganarelle (I. ii, pp. 7-8)
[That’s enough. It’s an issue between Heaven and me, and we get along just fine without you bothering yourself about it.]
Dom Juan to Sganarelle (I. 2, p. 68)


Molière’s Dom Juan was written quickly and was condemned after 15 performances. It is a famous Don Juan, yet part of a cycle of seducers created by Tirso de Molina (1625). Tirso, who wrote approximately 300 plays, some of which were licentious, was at times reprimanded. In fact, he was sent briefly to Salamanca. His Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest, the first Don Juan, was written in the country where casuistry, a form of jurisprudence on moral issues, was developed. Casuistry could justify many sins.

We now turn to Molière Dom Juan which features Sganarelle, our last Sganarelle, Molière’s masque.


Sources and Resources

Love to everyone 💕


[1] In Mozart’s opera, Don Giovanni, the list of the mille e tre conquests of the hero, as sung by Leporello, beginning Madamina, il catologo è questo, Delle belle ch’amo il padron mio, produces a great and admirable effect. (Henri van Laun, The Dramatic Works of Molière, vol. 2, p. 81, footnote 5).

Madamina, il cataloguo è questo
Nicolai Ghiaurov (13 September 1929 – 2 June 2004), Bulgarian bass 


© Micheline Walker
30 July 2019

Listen, Mr. President


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U. S. President Donald Trump (the

Dear Donald,

We’ve had it, and I hope sincerely that you are not reëlected. Millions of Americans and millions of human beings on Planet Earth have to suffer paralyzing and deadly heat waves, while you dismiss “climate change” as “fake news.”

I would also like to speak to you about the fate of women in your country. Do not think for one minute that a woman should always be exposed to unwanted, not to mention yearly, pregnancies. Open planned-parenthood facilities, so women never have to undergo a life-threatening and unwanted abortion. The life of a woman is dear to her, dear to her husband/partner, and dear to her family. Let women be.

As well, tackle doctors. They deserve an excellent salary, but in no way do they need to be very wealthy. They may well be more compassionate than you thought. As well, tackle pharmaceutical companies. This discussion includes everyone. Everyone is part of the equation.

You are lucky to have a fine wife. She’s an immigrant! Will you deport her? In fact, will you deport yourself? Except for Amerindians, North-Americans are immigrants.

By the way, ordinary people do not need guns. If some Americans enjoy target practice, safe facilities are available.

I will not cover other issues, but I am asking you to

  • deal with the very real problem of climate change,
  • to open planned-parenthood clinics,
  • to make health care affordable, preferably free,
  • to stop deporting innocent immigrants,
  • to take guns away from ordinary citizens, and
  • to drive out poverty.

Dear Donald,

The current year is 2019. When will humanity be protected?

If you do not deal with the above-mentioned issues as quickly as possible, Americans, the World and the climate will deal with you.

I should say I rather liked you when you visited the United Kingdom. Melania looked gorgeous. As for the Queen, she is a professional.

Would that I could watch you a little more, but I’m trying to write a book on Molière and providing information to the excellent people who read my posts as a I write the book. I require funding, but I doubt that my university will provide it.

Donald, I had to get this off my chest.


Donald Trump holding a dove (Duck, duck, gray duck)


Photo credit: Google


© Micheline Walker
24 July 2019

Molière’s “L’École des maris,” “The School for Husbands” (The End)


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l'école des maris 2

L’École des maris (théâ

“Yes, death seems to me a hundred times less dreadful than this fatal marriage into which I am forced; all that I am doing to escape its horrors should excuse me in the eyes of those who blame me. Time presses; it is night; now, then, let me fearlessly entrust my fate to a lover’s fidelity.” (Isabelle, III. i, p. 33)
Translator Henri van Laun

Oui le trépas [death] cent fois, me semble moins à craindre,
Que cet hymen fatal où l’on veut me contraindre;
Et tout ce que je fais pour en fuir les rigueurs,
Doit trouver quelque grâce auprès de mes censeurs;
Le temps presse, il fait nuit, allons sans crainte aucune,
À la foi d’un amant, commettre ma fortune.
Isabelle (III. i, p. 38)

L’École des maris


When Valère and Isabelle leave at the curtain falls on Act Two, Valère has let Isabelle know that he will free within three days, or three days from the moment they part.

Isabelle cannot wait three days. Sganarelle will marry her the next day. What will she do? Once again, a forced marriage justifies the means, but these are not evil means. Isabelle has to lie. Molière’s ladies are very clever.

The Final Ruse

As soon as she hears that Sganarelle will marry her the very next day, Isabelle comes up with her best ruse. She tells Sganarelle that her sister is in love with Valère and that both are locked in her (Isabelle’s) room.

Sganarelle is pleased because he can now show his older brother, Ariste, that he knows best, that he was the better brother. He has raised Isabelle by confining her to a room. He believed that by locking Isabelle in her room, he would raise a virtuous spouse. But Isabelle has learned to despise Sganarelle. He expects Ariste to find Léonor in bed with Valère. No, Léonor is at a ball.

Isabelle runs to Valère’s house, so Sganarelle is perplexed:

Au logis du galant, quelle est son entreprise?
Sganarelle, seul (III. ii, p. 41)
[(Aside). To the gallant’s house! What is her design?]
Sganarelle, alone (III. 2, p. 36)

So, Isabelle frees herself, but although Sganarelle is surprised, his most important concern is to let his brother Ariste know that he has brought up une mondaine who is now in bed with Valère inside Isabelle’s room.

Ah je te promets bien, que je n’ai pas envie,
De te l’ôter l’infâme à ses feux asservie,
Que du don de ta foi je ne suis point jaloux,
Et que si j’en suis cru, tu seras son époux,
Oui, faisons-le surprendre avec cette effrontée,
La mémoire du père, à bon droit respectée;
Jointe au grand intérêt que je prends à la sœur,
Veut que du moins l’on tâche à lui rendre l’honneur;
Sganarelle à Isabelle (III. iii, p. 42)
[Oh, I can assure you I do not want to take from you a shameless girl, so blinded by her passion. I am not jealous of your promise to her; if I am to be believed, you shall be her husband. Yes, let us surprise him with this bold creature. The memory of her father, who was justly respected, and the great interest I take in her sister, demand that an attempt, at least, should be made to restore her honour. Hulloa, there!(Knocks at the door of a magistrate).]
Sganarelle (III. 4, p. 36

Sganarelle does knock on the Commissaire‘s door, who happens to be with a notary. How convenient, a contract can be signed that will restore Léonor’s honour. Sganarelle then knocks on his brother’s door (III. v).

Votre Léonor où, je vous prie est-elle?
Sganarelle à Ariste (III. v, p. 44)
[Where is your Léonor, pray?]
Sganarelle to Ariste (III. 6, p. 37)

Pourquoi cette demande? Elle est comme je croi,
Au bal chez son amie.
Ariste à Sganarelle (III. v, p. 44)
[Why this question? She is, as I think, at a friend’s house at a ball.]
Ariste to Sganarelle (III. 6, p. 37)

Sganarelle then tells his brother that Léonor is in bed with Valère.

L’énigme est que son bal est chez Monsieur Valère.
Que de nuit je l’ai vue y conduire ses pas,
Et qu’à l’heure présente elle est entre ses bras.
Sganarelle à Ariste (III. v, p. 45)
[The riddle is that her ball is at Valère’s; that I saw her go to him under cover of night, and that she is at this moment in his arms.]
Sganarelle to Ariste (III. 6, p. 38)

Ariste cannot believe what he has heard. Appearances are deceptive and Ariste would never have forced Léonor into a marriage.

L’apparence qu’ainsi sans m’en faire avertir,
À cet engagement elle eût pu consentir,
Moi qui dans toute chose ai depuis son enfance,
Montré toujours pour elle entière complaisance,
Et qui cent fois ai fait des protestations,
De ne jamais gêner ses inclinations.
Ariste to all (III. v, p. 47)
[Is it likely she could thus have agreed to this engagement without telling me? me! who in everything, from her infancy, ever displayed towards her a complete readiness to please, and who a hundred times protested I would never force her inclinations.]
Ariste to all (III. 8, p. 38)

In Scene Seven, Valère enters the house and tells that he has made a commitment to Isabelle.

Enfin quoi qu’il advienne,
Isabelle a ma foi, j’ai de même la sienne,
Et ne suis point un choix à tout examiner,
Que vous soyez reçus à faire condamner.
Valère à tous (III. vii, p. 48)
[To be brief: whatever be the consequence, Isabella has my solemn promise; I also have hers; if you consider everything, I am not so bad a match that you should blame her.]
Valère to all (III. 8, p. 40)

Sganarelle is so certain that Valère is in bed with Léonor that he signs a contract that makes Valère the husband of the woman who might be in his lodgings. The notary leaves a blank space for the name.

In Scene Eight, Léonor returns from the ball rather disappointed. Ariste wants to know why she has played a trick on him. Sganarelle learns that she wasn’t with Valère, Isabelle was, who, by contract, is now married to Valère.

Ariste is surprised. Why did Léonor not discuss this matter with her? Their friendship goes back to childhood.

Léonor tells Ariste that she would marry him the very next day, if he asked. The discussion is over.

Je ne sais pas sur quoi vous tenez ce discours;
Mais croyez que je suis de même que toujours,
Que rien ne peut pour vous altérer mon estime,
Que toute autre amitié me paraîtrait un crime,
Et que si vous voulez satisfaire mes vœux,
Un saint nœud dès demain nous unira nous deux.
Léonor à Ariste (III. viii, p. 51)
[I know not why you speak to me thus; but believe me, I am as I have ever been; nothing can alter my esteem for you; love for any other man would seem to me
a crime; if you will satisfy my wishes, a holy bond shall unite us tomorrow.]
Léonor to Ariste (III. 9, p. 41)

In the final scene, Isabelle apologizes to Léonor for having used a stratagem that could, temporarily, dishonour her sister. It was despair. Isabelle did not want to be forced into a marriage with Sganarelle. She might have killed herself. In fact, she had found a good man who will marry her and, ironically, Sganarelle himself has signed the marriage contract. Again, in L’École des maris, irony is Molière’s main literary device.

The play ends on the prospect of a double marriage. “Tout est bien qui finit bien.” (“All’s well that end well.”) As for Sganarelle, he is hoisted by his own petard.

L'école des maris par F. Boucher (3)

L’École des maris par François Boucher (théâ

l'école des maris par Desenne (4)

L’École des maris (Gravure Desenne)(théâ


The main figure in this play is irony. Sganarelle himself makes it possible for his ward, whom he wishes to marry to meet Valère and to know that he is sufficiently honourable for her to take refuge in his house. But, once again, we have seen the jaloux as is own victim. Molière’s jaloux is his own victim. Sganarelle is Sganarelle’s worst enemy. He signs a contract that will allow Isabelle to marry Valère, which is how Molière expresses an inner drama. It is also interesting to note that Ariste doubts very much that Léonor is in bed with Valère. He is right in trusting her. Léonor may be forty  years younger than Ariste, but he has brought her up gently. He has trusted her. The carte de Tendre proposes different kinds of love. If honnêteté there is, Ariste and Valère qualify. They are also examples of the galant homme, the gentleman.

Italy is the birthplace of refinement. Yet it could be that the Grand Siècle’s main achievement is lhonnête hommeSalons were created in 17th-century France and they endured. Préciosité went too far, which is what Molière mocked. Molière did not mock women. On the contrary. When Isabelle realizes that a lie can be put into the service of a good end, she uses a lie and shows resolve. Isabelle’s life would be taken from her if Sganarelle married her. She would be his possession, his slave. There’s no evil in what she does. Nor does Molière vilify Sganarelle. Sganarelle boasted, which farce does not allow.

Molière mixes plot formulas. In L’École des maris, he uses the “all’s well that ends well,” the traditional happy ending of comedy. However, it is not, at least not immediately, a happy ending for Sganarelle. Ariste deflates a boasting Sganarelle, a farcical element. But ironically, Sganarelle approves of Valère. He finds in him an honnête homme and feels sorry for him, which is good news for Isabelle. She can trust Valère by Sganarelle own standards and testimonial. All the ruses confirm that Valère loves Isabelle. Sganarelle stands between Isabelle and Valère. He is the obstacle to a marriage between the young lovers, while promoting their marriage.  He is the person Valère needed in Sganarelle’s household.

Sganarelle therefore combines several several comedic functions. He is the go-between in a love story, the senex iratus, or blocking character, in the same love storynot to mention the father, albeit a pater familias.



 Sources and Resources

Love to everyone  💕

La Fille au Roi Louis
Claire Lefilliâtre (soprano)
Le Poème harmonique (dir. Vincent Dumestre)


The Love Letter par Jean-Honoré Fragonard

© Micheline Walker
21 July 2019


Molière’s “L’École des maris,” “The School for Husbands” (Part Two)


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l'école des maris 4

L’École des maris (II. ix) (théâ

Let him [Valère], without more sighing, hasten a marriage which is all I desire, and accept the assurance which I give him, never to listen to the vows of another. (She pretends to embrace Sganarelle, and gives her hand to Valère to kiss.)
Isabelle to Valère (II. 14, p. 32)

The image above shows Valère after he has learned that Isabelle loves him as much as he loves her. Sganarelle, her guardian, is holding her, but Valère kisses her hand.

L’École des maris


Just before the beginning of Act Two, Ergaste, Valère’s valet, is surprised to hear that Valère has yet to tell Isabelle that he loves him. He has been looking at Isabelle for four months. Love may not have made him “inventif,” but he has not found, in Sganarelle’s house, servants who could help him. Traditionally, servants help the young couple. Léonor, Ariste’s ward, has a suivante, but Isabelle doesn’t and she is confined to her room.

Mais qu’aurais-tu pu faire?
Puisque sans ce brutal on ne la voit jamais,
Et qu’il n’est là dedans servantes ni valets,
Dont par l’appas flatteur de quelque récompense,
Je puisse pour mes feux ménager l’assistance.
Valère à Ergaste (I. iv, p. 16)
[Why, what could you have done? For one never sees her without that brute ; in the house there are neither maids nor men-servants whom I might influence to assist me by the alluring temptation of some reward.
Valère to Ergaste (I. 6, p. 19)

Knowing she will be forced to marry Sganarelle, her gardian, Isabelle, on the other hand, is very inventive, even if it means lying to Sganarelle and manipulating him. 

Ô ciel, sois-moi propice, et seconde en ce jour,
Le stratagème adroit, d’une innocente amour.
Isabelle, à part (II. i, p. 17)
[Heaven, be propitious, and favour today
the artful contrivance of an innocent love.]
Isabelle, alone (II. 2, p. 20)
Je fais pour une fille, un projet bien hardi;
Mais l’injuste rigueur, dont envers moi l’on use,
Dans tout esprit bien fait, me servira d’excuse.
Isabelle, seule (II. i, p. 17)
[(As she goes in). For a girl, I am planning a pretty
bold scheme. But the unreasonable severity with which
I am treated will be my excuse to every right mind.]
Isabelle, alone (II. 2, p. 20)

The First Ruse: a Message to Valère

In Scene Two, Sganarelle goes to Valère’s house to tell him that he is Isabelle’s guardian and that he will marry her.

Savez-vous, dites-moi, que je suis le tuteur,
D’une fille assez jeune, et passablement belle,
Qui loge en ce quartier, et qu’on nomme Isabelle?
Sganarelle à Valère (II. ii, p. 20)
[Tell me: do you know that I am guardian to a
tolerably young and passably handsome girl who lives in
this neighbourhood, and whose name is Isabella?]
Sganarelle to Valère (II. 3, p. 21)

Valère says he does. He may not, but he has been admiring her.

Si vous le savez, je ne vous l’apprends pas.
Mais savez-vous aussi, lui trouvant des appas;
Qu’autrement qu’en tuteur sa personne me touche,
Et qu’elle est destinée à l’honneur de ma couche?
Sganarelle à Valère (II. ii, p. 20)
[As you know it, I need not tell it to you. But do you know, likewise, that as I find her charming, I care for her otherwise than as a guardian, and that she is destined for the honour of being my wife?]
Sganarelle to Valère (II. 3, p. 21)

He tells Valère, that he is speaking to him on her behalf. She has noticed Valère, but Sganarelle states that only he has access to her heart.

Oui, vous venir donner cet avis franc, et net,
Et qu’ayant vu l’ardeur dont votre âme est blessée,
Elle vous eût plus tôt fait savoir sa pensée;
Si son cœur avait eu dans son émotion,
À qui pouvoir donner cette commission;
Mais qu’enfin les douleurs d’une contrainte extrême,
L’ont réduite à vouloir se servir de moi-même
Pour vous rendre averti, comme je vous ai dit,
Qu’à tout autre que moi son cœur est interdit;
Que vous avez assez joué de la prunelle,
Et que si vous avez tant soit peu de cervelle,
Vous prendrez d’autres soins, adieu jusqu’au revoir,
Voilà ce que j’avais, à vous faire savoir.
(I. ii, p. 21)
[Yes, makes me come to you and give you this frank and plain message; also, that, having observed the violent love wherewith your soul is smitten, she would earlier have let you know what she thinks about you if, perplexed as she was, she could have found anyone to send this message by; but that at length she was painfully compelled to make use of me, in order to assure you, as I have told you that her affection is denied to all save me; that you have been ogling her long enough; and that, if you have ever so little brains, you will carry your passion somewhere else. Farewell, till our next meeting. That is what I had to tell you.] (II. 4, p. 22)

L'école des maris par Ed. Héd. (2)

L’École des maris par Edmond Hédouin (théâ

l'ecole des maris1 (1)

L’École des maris (théâ

The Second Ruse: the Letter

In Scene Three, when Sganarelle comes home after speaking with Valère, Isabelle tells him that she fears he hasn’t understood. He has thrown a gilded box containing a letter into her room. Sganarelle would like to read the letter, but if the letter is read it be returned unsealed, Valère might think that she has read the letter. Therefore, as he carries the letter back to Valère’s house, Sganarelle does not know that it is a billet-doux, a love letter, Isabelle is sending to Valère.

« Cette lettre vous surprendra, sans doute, et l’on peut trouver bien hardi pour moi, et le dessein de vous l’écrire, et la manière de vous la faire tenir; mais je me vois dans un état à ne plus garder de mesures; la juste horreur d’un mariage, dont je suis menacée dans six jours, me fait hasarder toutes choses, et dans la résolution de m’en affranchir par quelque voie que ce soit, j’ai cru que je devais plutôt vous choisir que le désespoir. Ne croyez pas pourtant que vous soyez redevable de tout à ma mauvaise destinée; ce n’est pas la contrainte où je me trouve qui a fait naître les sentiments que j’ai pour vous; mais c’est elle qui en précipite le témoignage, et qui me fait passer sur des formalités où la bienséance du sexe oblige. Il ne tiendra qu’à vous que je sois à vous bientôt, et j’attends seulement que vous m’ayez marqué les intentions de votre amour, pour vous faire savoir la résolution que j’ai prise; mais surtout songez que le temps presse, et que deux cœurs qui s’aiment doivent s’entendre à demi-mot. »
Isabelle (II. V, p. 25-26)

“This letter will no doubt surprise you; both the resolution to write to you and the means of conveying it to your hands may be thought very bold in me; but I am in such a condition, that I can no longer restrain myself. Well-founded repugnance to a marriage with which I am threatened in six days, makes me risk everything; and in the determination to free myself from it by whatever means, I thought I had rather choose you than despair. Yet do not think that you owe all to my evil fate; it is not the constraint in which I find myself that has given rise to the sentiments entertain for you; but it hastens the avowal of them, and makes me transgress the decorum which the proprieties of my sex require. It depends on you alone to make me shortly your own; I wait only until you have declared your intentions to me before acquainting you with the resolution I have taken; but, above all, remember that time presses, and that two hearts, which love each other, ought to understand even the slightest hint.” Isabelle (II. 8, pp. 25-26)

The Third Ruse: Abduction

Having delivered the unsealed love letter (billet-doux), Sganarelle returns to Isabelle’s room. He tells his ward that Valère, a honnête homme, is very much in love with her:

Tous ses désirs étaient de t’obtenir pour femme,
Si les destins en moi, qui captive ton cœur,
N’opposaient un obstacle à cette juste ardeur;
Je le trouve honnête homme, et le plains de t’aimer[.]
Sganarelle à Isabelle (II. vii, pp. 32-33)
[… his only desire was to obtain you for a wife, if destiny had not opposed an obstacle to his pure flame, through me, who captivated your heart; that, whatever happens, you must not think that your charms can ever be forgotten by him; that, to whatever decrees of Heaven he must submit, his fate is to love you to his last breath; …]
Sganarelle to Isabelle (II. 11. p. 28)

Mais il ne savait pas tes inclinations,
Et par l’honnêteté de ses intentions
Son amour ne mérite…
Sganarelle à Isabelle (II. vii, pp. 29-30)
[But he did not know your inclinations; and,
from the uprightness of his intentions, his love does not
deserve . . .]
Sganarelle to Isabelle (II. 11, p. 28)

Est-ce les avoir bonnes,
Dites-moi de vouloir enlever les personnes,
Est-ce être homme d’honneur de former des desseins
Pour m’épouser de force en m’ôtant de vos mains?
Comme si j’étais fille à supporter la vie,
Après qu’on m’aurait fait une telle infamie.
Isabelle à Sganarelle (II. vii, p. 30)
[Is it good intentions, I ask, to try and carry people
off? Is it like a man of honour to form designs for marrying me by force, and taking me out of your hands? As if I were a girl to live after such a disgrace!]

N’avez-vous point de honte, étant ce que vous êtes,
De faire en votre esprit les projets que vous faites,
De prétendre enlever une fille d’honneur
Et troubler un hymen [marriage] fait tout son bonheur?
Sganarelle à Valère (II. viii, pp. 22-23)
[Are you not ashamed, considering who you are, to form such designs as you do? To intend to carry off a respectable girl, and interrupt a marriage on which her whole happiness depends?]
Sganarelle to Valère (II. 8, p. 30)

Valère is unconvinced. Sganarelle decides to take Valère to his home so Isabelle can speak to him.

Voulez-vous qu’elle-même elle explique son cœur?
J’y consens volontiers pour vous tirer d’erreur,
Suivez-moi, vous verrez s’il est rien que j’avance,
Et si son jeune cœur entre nous deux balance.
(Il va frapper à sa porte.)
Sganarelle à Valère (II. viii, p. 33)
[To set you right, I willingly consent to it. Follow me; you shall hear if I have added anything, and if her young heart hesitates between us two. (Goes and knocks at his own door).]
Sganarelle to Valère (II. 14, p. 30)

Isabelle resists:

Et voulez-vous charmé de ses rares mérites,
M’obliger à l’aimer, et souffrir ses visites?
Isabelle à Sganarelle (II. ix, p. 33)
[And do you wish, charmed by his rare merits, to compel me to love him, and endure his visits?]
Isabelle to Sganarelle (II. 14, p. 31)

Quoi mon âme à vos yeux ne se montre pas toute,
Et de mes vœux encor vous pouvez être en doute?
Isabelle à Valère (II. ix, p. 33)
[What! Is not my soul completely bared to your eyes, and can you still doubt whom I love?]
Isabelle to Valère (II. 14, p. 31)

Oui tout ce que Monsieur, de votre part m’a dit,
Madame, a bien pouvoir de surprendre un esprit,
J’ai douté, je l’avoue, et cet arrêt suprême,
Qui décide du sort de mon amour extrême,
Doit m’être assez touchant pour ne pas s’offenser,
Que mon cœur par deux fois le fasse prononcer.
Valère à Isabelle (II. ix, p. 34)
[Yes, all that this gentleman has told me on your behalf, Madam, might well surprise a man ; I confess I doubted it. This final sentence, which decides the fate of my great love, moves my feelings so much that it can be no offence if I wish to have it repeated.]
Valère to Isabelle (II. 14, p. 31)

The following quotation is central to a discussion of the play.

Non non, un tel arrêt ne doit pas vous surprendre,
Ce sont mes sentiments qu’il vous a fait entendre,
Et je les tiens fondés sur assez d’équité,
Pour en faire éclater toute la vérité;
Oui je veux bien qu’on sache, et j’en dois être crue,
Que le sort offre ici deux objets à ma vue,
Qui m’inspirant pour eux différents sentiments,
De mon cœur agité font tous les mouvements.
L’un par un juste choix où l’honneur m’intéresse,
A toute mon estime et toute ma tendresse;
Et l’autre pour le prix de son affection,
A toute ma colère et mon aversion:
La présence de l’un m’est agréable et chère,
J’en reçois dans mon âme une allégresse entière,
Et l’autre par sa vue inspire dans mon cœur
De secrets mouvements, et de haine et d’horreur.
Me voir femme de l’un est toute mon envie,
Et plutôt qu’être à l’autre, on m’ôterait la vie;
Mais c’est assez montrer mes justes sentiments,
Et trop longtemps languir dans ces rudes tourments:
Il faut que ce que j’aime usant de diligence,
Fasse à ce que je hais perdre toute espérance,
Et qu’un heureux hymen affranchisse mon sort,
D’un supplice pour moi plus affreux que la mort.
Isabelle à Valère (II. ix, p. 34)
[No, no, such a sentence should not surprise you. Sganarelle told you my very sentiments ; I consider them to be sufficiently founded on justice, to make their full truth clear. Yes, I desire it to be known, and I ought to be believed, that fate here presents two objects to my eyes, who, inspiring me with different sentiments, agitate my heart. One by a just choice, in which my honour is involved, has all my esteem and love; and the other, in return for his affection, has all my anger and aversion. The presence of the one is pleasing and dear to me, and fills me with joy; but the sight of the other inspires me with secret emotions of hatred and horror. To see myself the wife of the one is all my desire; and rather than belong to the other, I would lose my life. But I have sufficiently declared my real very sentiments; I consider them to be sufficiently founded on justice, to make their full truth clear. Yes, I desire it to be known, and I ought to be believed, that fate here presents two objects to my eyes, who, inspiring sentiments ; and languished too long under this severe torture. He whom I love must use diligence to make him whom I hate lose all hope, and deliver me by a happy marriage, from a suffering more terrible than death.]
Isabelle to Valère (II. 14, p. 31)

At this point, it becomes clear in Valère’s mind that Isabelle wants Valère to take her away from Sganarelle. There is one more ruse, in Act Three.

Que sans plus de soupirs,
Il conclue un hymen qui fait tous mes désirs,
Et reçoive en ce lieu, la foi que je lui donne,
De n’écouter jamais les vœux d’autre personne.
Isabelle à Valère (II. ix, p. 35)
[Let him, without more sighing, hasten a marriage which is all I desire, and accept the assurance which I give him, never to listen to the vows of another. (She pretends to embrace Sganarelle, and gives her hand to Valère to kiss.)]
Isabelle to Valère (II. 14, p. 32)


I need to stop, because I have run out of space. Note the double entendre used by Isabelle. Isabelle is as clever as zanni and, ironically, she uses Sganarelle as go-between. This is the height of irony. She says the opposite of what she means, but the proof of her love is her constant presence in Valère’s home. Sganarelle goes back and forth between his house and Valère’s. Why would Isabelle/Sganarelle forever visit Valère if she did not love him? These are artful stratagems. There is considerable irony in Sagnarelle’s respect for Valère. It should be noted that Sganarelle has taught Isabelle law. This play is difficult to read. A mere performance does not allow one to see Molière’s artfulness.


 Sources and Resources

Love to everyone  💕
Apologies, I was very tired and my eyesight was blurred. I have quoted this play at great length, which is necessary in a comédie d’intrigue: twists and turns.

Jan Petit qui danse (Occitania, after 1643)
Le Poème Harmonique  (dir. Vincent Dumestre)

L'école des maris par Lalauze (2)

L’École des maris par Lalauze Gravure (théâ

© Micheline Walker
21 July 2019


Molière’s “L’École des maris,” “The School for Husbands” (Part One)


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L’École des maris was a great success for Molière, but it is a three-act farce written in verse, the twelve-syllable, or “pieds,” alexandrine verse. The play has ancient roots. It was written by Menander (born c. 342—died c. 292 BCE) and featured two brothers. Menander’s play was entitled (the) Adelphoe (The Brothers). Menander was the foremost dramatist of Greek New Comedy. According to Britannica, Menander’s “Second Adelphoe (Les Adelphes) constitutes perhaps his greatest achievement.” L’École des maris’ Greek roots may explain the use of le vers noble and, therefore the degree of tension characterizing the play. We associate the celebrated Aristophanes (c. 446 – c. 386 BCE) with Old Comedy.

Roman playwrights Terence (c. 195/185 – c. 159? BC) and Plautus were influenced by Greek comedy, but they wrote comedies which were considered erudite by Renaissance playwrights: the commedia sostenuta. Terences Adelphoe is rooted in Menander’s play and features two brothers. It may have been Molière main source. The play also borrows from Giovanni Boccacio’s Decameron (Book III, 3). Boccacio’s (16 June 1313 – 21 December 1375) The Decameron was a main source of stories. These are plague stories devised by individuals who have fled Florence to avoid the plague.

Closer to Molière are Juan Ruiz de Alarcón y Mendoza’s (1581-1639) Le Mari fait la femme (The Husband makes the Wife), Dorimond’s La Femme industrieuse (1661), Larivey’s Les Esprits (1653) and Boisrobert’s Le Comble de l’impossible (The Height of the Impossible), which borrowed from Lope de Vega.

Molière dans Sganarelle de l'école des maris (3)

Sganarelle dans L’École des maris (théâ

Our characters are:

  • Sganarelle, 40 years old (Molière)
  • Ariste, 60 years old and Sganarelle’s older brother
  • Valère, in love with Isabella
  • Ergaste, Valère’s valet
  • A Magistrate
  • A Notary
  • Isabella, in ward to Sganarelle
  • Léonor, Isabella’s sister, in ward to Ariste
  • Lisette, Leonor’s maidservant


  • two brothers & two world views (Weltanshauung)
  • enters Valère, the young lover

In Act One of The School for Husbands, the spectator-reader is introduced to Molière’s two brothers and, whatever the source of the play, the brothers are Molière’s brothers and the comedy altogether Molière’s. Sganarelle will develop into The School for Wives’ Arnolphe, but he is the coarse Arnolphe and altogether selfish and cruel. He is putting  Isabelle into the service of his needs.

Il me semble, et je le dis tout haut,
Que sur un tel sujet, c’est parler comme il faut.
Vous souffrez que la vôtre, aille leste et pimpante,
Je le veux bien: qu’elle ait, et laquais, et suivante,
J’y consens: qu’elle coure, aime l’oisiveté,
Et soit des damoiseaux fleurée en liberté;
J’en suis fort satisfait; mais j’entends que la mienne,
Vive à ma fantaisie, et non pas à la sienne;
Que d’une serge honnête, elle ait son vêtement,
Et ne porte le noir, qu’aux bons jours seulement.
Qu’enfermée au logis en personne bien sage,
Elle s’applique toute aux choses du ménage;
À recoudre mon linge aux heures de loisir,
Ou bien à tricoter quelque bas par plaisir;
Qu’aux discours des muguets, elle ferme l’oreille,
Et ne sorte jamais sans avoir qui la veille.
Enfin la chair est faible, et j’entends tous les bruits,
Je ne veux point porter de cornes, si je puis,
Et comme à m’épouser sa fortune l’appelle,
Je prétends corps pour corps, pouvoir répondre d’elle.
Sganarelle à Ariste (I. ii, pp. 5-6)
[It seems to me, and I say it openly, that is the right way to speak on such a subject. You let your ward go about gaily and stylishly ; I am content. You let her have footmen and a maid; I agree. You let her gad about, love idleness, be freely courted by dandies ; I am quite satisfied. But I intend that mine shall live according to my fancy, and not according to her own ; that she shall be dressed in honest serge, and wear only black on holidays ; that, shut up in the house, prudent in bearing, she shall apply herself entirely to domestic concerns, mend my linen in her leisure hours, or else knit stockings for amusement; that she shall close her ears to the talk of young sparks, and never go out without some one to watch her. In short, flesh is weak; I know what stories are going about. I have no mind to wear horns, if I can help it ; and as her lot requires her to marry me, I mean to be as certain of her as I am of myself.]
Sganarelle to Ariste (I. 2, p. 13)

Isabelle tries to say something, but she is told to keep quiet:

Taisez-vous; Je vous apprendrai bien s’il faut sortir sans nous.
Sganarelle à Isabelle (I. ii, p. 6)
Hold your tongue; I shall teach you how to go out without us.
Sganarelle to Isabelle (I. 2, p. 13)

Moreover, Sganarelle is days away from forcing Isabelle into a marriage she loathes. Ariste and Sganarelle signed a contract that gave them the right not only to bring up their respective ward as they pleased, but also stipulated that they marry their wards. Molière has introduced the contract George Dandin brandishes claiming he has a right to his wife.

Mon Dieu, chacun raisonne, et fait comme il lui plaît.
Elles sont sans parents, et notre ami leur père,
Nous commit leur conduite à son heure dernière;
Et nous chargeant tous deux, ou de les épouser,
Ou sur notre refus un jour d’en disposer,
Sur elles par contrat, nous sut dès leur enfance,
Et de père, et d’époux donner pleine puissance;
D’élever celle-là, vous prîtes le souci,
Et moi je me chargeai du soin de celle-ci;
Selon vos volontés vous gouvernez la vôtre,
Laissez-moi, je vous prie, à mon gré régir l’autre.
Sganarelle (I. ii, p. 5)
[By Heaven! each one argues and does as he likes. They are without relatives, They are without relatives, and their father, our friend, entrusted them to us in his last hour, charging us both either to marry them, or, if we declined, to dispose of them hereafter. He gave us, in writing, the full authority of a father and a husband over them, from their infancy. You undertook to bring up that one ; I charged myself with the care of this one. You govern yours at your pleasure. Leave me, I pray, to manage the other as I think best.]
Sganarelle to Ariste (I. 2, p. 13)

Ariste has been a kind and easy-going father and, despite the contract, he is not planning a forced marriage:

Qu’il nous faut en riant instruire la jeunesse,
Reprendre ses défauts avec grande douceur,
Et du nom de vertu ne lui point faire peur;
Mes soins pour Léonor ont suivi ces maximes,
Des moindres libertés je n’ai point fait des crimes,
À ses jeunes désirs j’ai toujours consenti,
Et je ne m’en suis point, grâce au Ciel, repenti;
J’ai souffert qu’elle ait vu les belles compagnies,
Les divertissements, les bals, les comédies;
Ce sont choses, pour moi, que je tiens de tout temps,
Fort propres à former l’esprit des jeunes gens;
Et l’école du monde en l’air dont il faut vivre,
Instruit mieux à mon gré que ne fait aucun livre:
Elle aime à dépenser en habits, linge, et nœuds,
Que voulez-vous, je tâche à contenter ses vœux,
Et ce sont des plaisirs qu’on peut dans nos familles,
Lorsque l’on a du bien, permettre aux jeunes filles.
Un ordre paternel l’oblige à m’épouser;
Mais mon dessein n’est pas de la tyranniser,
Je sais bien que nos ans ne se rapportent guère,
Et je laisse à son choix liberté tout entière,
Si quatre mille écus de rente bien venants,
Une grande tendresse, et des soins
Si quatre mille écus de rente bien venants,
Une grande tendresse, et des soins complaisants,
Peuvent à son avis pour un tel mariage,
Réparer entre nous l’inégalité d’âge;
Elle peut m’épouser, sinon choisir ailleurs,
Je consens que sans moi ses destins soient meilleurs,
Et j’aime mieux la voir sous un autre hyménée,
Que si contre son gré sa main m’était donnée.
Ariste à tous (I. ii, p. 8)
[Have it so; but still I maintain that we should instruct youth pleasantly, chide their faults with great tenderness, and not make them afraid of the name of virtue. Leonor’s education has been based on these maxims. I have not made crimes of the smallest acts of liberty, I have always assented to her youthful wishes, and, thank Heaven, I never repented of it. I have allowed her to see good company, to go to amusements, balls, plays. These are things which, for my part, I think are calculated to form the minds of the young; the world is a school which, in my opinion, teaches them better how to live than any book. Does she like to spend money on clothes, linen, ribands what then? I endeavour to gratify her wishes; these are pleasures which, when we are well-off, we may permit to the girls of our family. Her father’s command requires her to marry me; but it is not my intention to tyrannize over her. I am quite aware that our years hardly suit, and I leave her complete liberty of choice. If a safe income of four thousand crowns a-year, great affection and consideration for her, may, in her opinion, counterbalance in marriage the inequality of our age, she may take me for her husband; if not she may choose elsewhere. If she can be happier without me, I do not object; I prefer to see her with another husband rather than that her hand should be given to me against her will.]
Ariste to all (I. 2, pp. 14-15)

Leonor will marry Ariste.

l'école des maris 4

L’École des maris (théâ


In fact, far from teaching Isabelle obedience, privations and confinement have prepared her to flee at any cost. As for Sganarelle, he has acted much as the School for Wives Arnolphe will. He has kept Agnès away from the world believing she would be a loving wife and never turn him into a cuckold.

Agnès will grow into a woman and fall in love when she meets Horace, as does the School for Husband’s Isabelle when she meets Valère. A scientist must be methodical, but we cannot separate reason from instinct, or intuition.

Well, although Isabelle has received very little education and has not been exposed to the world, she uses Sganarelle himself as the means of contacting Valère and escaping. Sganarelle is about to force Isabelle into a marriage with a man she loathes, so she uses the means to justify the end. Both Ariste and Sganarelle have a right to marry their wards, Ariste, however would not coerce Leonor into marrying him.

However, Isabelle will find a way to speak to Valère and, ironically, she will use
Sganarelle to lead her the young man she has seen and is attracted to. Their eyes have spoken for four months.

At the end of Act One, Valère and his valet, Ergaste, return to their home to dream up a stratagem that will liberate Isabelle.

What am I to do to rid myself of this vast difficulty, and to learn whether the fair one has perceived that I love her ? Tell me some means or other.
Valère to Ergaste (I. 6. p. 19)
That is what we have to discover.
Let us go in for a while the better to think over.
Ergaste to Valère (I. 6. p. 19)

I will break here and go through the plot in my next post. Molière’s L’École des maris is considered a comédie d’intrigue: twists and turns. Until now, it has been a comedy of manners (une comédie de mœurs): two conflicting views on how to raise a young woman have been expressed. We will now see how an extremely clever Isabelle frees herself, with a little help for Léonor, and uses Sganarelle to achieve her goal.


Sources and Resources

[1] The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Menander
Encyclopædia Britannica (last edited February 05, 2019)
(accessed July 17, 2019)

Love to everyone 💕

J’avois crû qu’en vous aymant. Brunete (Paris, 1703)
Les Musiciens de Saint-Julien (dir. François Lazarevitch)
Claire Lefilliâtre (soprano)

l'école des maris par Desenne (3)

L’École des maris, Gravure Desenne (théâ BnF

© Micheline Walker
19 July 2019



Vive la France


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La Liberté guidant le peuple par Eugène Delacroix, 1830 (

Eugène Delacroix‘ “Liberty Guiding the People,” is a symbol of France and, perhaps, its main pursuit: liberté. Delacroix, an illegitimate son of Talleyrand, chronicled the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire.

However, “Liberty Guiding the People” is associated with the July Revolution, when France toppled Charles X. The Revolution lasted three days. The new king would be Louis-Philippe, Duc d’Orléans. The Orléans were the cadet branch of the Bourbon kings. Louis-Philippe was the son of Philippe Égalité who espoused early objectives of the French Revolution: equality. He voted in favour of the execution, by guillotine, of Louis XVI, his cousin. Louis-Philippe II, duc d’Orléans, was guillotined on 6 November 1793.

On 14 July 1789, a crowd stormed the Bastille Prison. But the Revolution had begun on 20 June 1789. Delegates to the Estates General had found the door to the room where they met locked. They took refuge in an interior tennis court and vowed “not to separate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the kingdom is established.” (See Tennis Court Oath, Le Serment du Jeu de Paume,



Love to everyone 💕

Hector Berlioz‘s La Marseillaise

Earliest known picture of Jeu de Paume from a Book of Hours (c. 1300)

Earliest known picture of Jeu de Paume from a Book of Hours (c. 1300) (commons.wikimedia)

© Micheline Walker
14 July 2019