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NETHERLANDS – CIRCA 2002: Angelica and Cleanthes’ duet, scene from the second act of The Imaginary Invalid by Moliere (1622-1673), 1673, by Cornelis Troost (1696-1750) oil. The Netherlands, 18th century. Berlin, Bauhaus-Archiv, Museum Für Gestaltung (Bauhaus Museum) (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

During the weekend, I reread parts of W. G. Moore’s Molière, a New Criticism and I added this sentence to my article: “[t]he plot of Le Malade Imaginaire is … little more than the various gullibilities of a hypochondriac.”[1] This sentence and the image at the top of this post simplify Le Malade Imaginaire. Argan needs help and finds a doctor in the young man his daughter wishes to marry, not to mention that he may help himself …

Early in the play, I. i & ii, Argan is counting his money and then rings for help. He is alone and he is gullible and vulnerable. When Toinette enters his room, she says to Argan that he is being milked, which explains why he needs a doctor as a relative.

In the image placed above, Angélique and Cléante are singing in order to communicate their feelings. This is is not a play-within-a-play. It is a ploy, but Argan and the doctors are watching. Argan does not want a young man, including a singing teacher, to be alone with Angélique. Argan wants Angélique to marry a doctor. Idée fixe.

An Anagnorisis

Therefore, we could look at the third and final act as a form of anagnorisis, effected through a play-within-a-play and serving Argan’s needs first, and, second, the young couple’s needs.

First, the doctors leave because they have been insulted. Argan is desperate, but in comes Toinette playing doctor. These scenes are theatrical, but Argan’s fancy will not go away. He is a hypochondriac, which is a real illness, so he needs a doctor (V. viii). By helping her master, Toinette also helps Angélique and Cléante. 

Toinette as doctor leaves and re-enters as Toinette.

Second, Argan agrees to feign death twice, although it scares him.

  • Argan’s wife is seen as a fortune hunter
  • Argan recognizes his own blood in Angélique’s grief.

Argan lifts obstacles to the marriage of the young lovers. Cléante may marry Angélique, if he agrees to become a doctor, which he does.

But Béralde also suggests that Argan could be his own doctor. Brilliant! The inference is that problems can be solved from within: 

Mais, mon frère, il me vient une pensée. Faites-vous médecin vous-même. La commodité sera encore plus grande, d’avoir en vous tout ce qu’il vous faut.
Béralde à Argan (V. scène dernière, p. 68)

[But, brother, it just strikes me; why don’t you turn doctor yourself? It would be much more convenient to have all you want within yourself.]
Béralde to Argan (V. last scene)

However, Argan needs doctors, and Cléante says he is ready to do anything.

En tout cas, je suis prêt à tout.
Cléante à tous (V. scène dernière, p. 68)

[Anyhow, I am ready for everything.]
Cléante to all (V. 5. Last scene)

The rest is an interlude during which Argan is turned into a doctor. So, all’s well that ends well.


Viewed as an agnanorisis, the spectacles of the final act boil down to

  • delivering Argan of parasites (not doctors), and
  • ensuring the young couple marries.

But most importantly, it is suggested that we can find help within ourselves, or within our household. Toinette and Béralde do not mistreat Argan. He is a beloved father and although comedy leads to the marriage of young lovers, which means overcoming a father’s, the pater familias, resistance, the final society of the play includes the father. Everyone accepts Argan’s fancy. We all have petites lubies, whims.

When I was a student, professors used the terms play-within-a-play and théâtre dans le théâtre interchangeably. The main example was Pierre Corneille‘s L’Illusion comique (1636), which was also considered a mise en abyme. Additionally we read Jean Rotrou‘s Le Véritable Saint-Genest (1647). In fact, Rotrou wrote a play entitled L’Hypochondriaque (1631), but it is not a forerunner of Le Malade imaginaire. 

Antecedents to The Imaginary Invalid are Molière’s plays on doctors:

However, Le Médecin malgré lui is rooted in a thirteenth-century fabliau entitled Le Vilain Mire (Wikisource FR). Mire meant médecin in medieval French. Le Médecin malgré lui will be discussed in my next post which will also include a few words on Le Médecin volant and L’Amour médecin. These are very short farces.  

I did not mention Élomire hypocondre ou les Médecins vengés (1670, according to Maurice Rat [2]). It is a comedy published by Le Boulanger de Chalussay. The text is available through Amazon and other booksellers. Élomire is an anagram of Molière. Molière was not a hypochondriac. He suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis. The comedy was never performed.


Sources and Resources

[1] Will G. Moore, Molière a New Criticism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1949), p. 72.
[2] Maurice Rat, ed., Les Œuvres complètes de Molière (Gallimard: Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1956). p. 998.


I thank you most sincerely for helping me write my book.

Love to everyone 💕

Jean-Baptiste Lully

© Micheline Walker
9 April 2019