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four-temperaments (2)

The Four Temperaments (Psychologia.co)

Medicine in the 17th Century

There had been progress. Ambroise Paré, a barber-surgeon who lived in the 16th century had advanced medicine, especially surgery. He is considered the father of surgery. One should also mentioned Guy Patin, who was doyen (dean) of the Faculty of Medicine in Paris (1650–1652) and professor in the Collège de France starting in 1655. He died one year before Molière’s Le Malade imaginaire (1673) was first performed. Although he was a rather poor doctor, he wrote a body of letters that are “an important document for historians of medicine.” (See Guy Patin, Wiki2.org.) It is believed Molière mocked Patin.

The Greeks investigated medicine. Hippocrates is considered the father of medicine. He coined the term Hippocratic Oath. In particular, Græco-Arabic medicine was based on humourism, or the idea that humans belonged to one of four temperaments: sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic. (See Psychologia.co)

Molière ridiculed blood-letting, the use of emitics, as well as the use of enemas. The use of enemas is now considered sexual assault, if the “patient” does not consent. Enemas are also used as a means of torture and humiliation.

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Molière as Sganarelle, Gravure de Simonin (Larousse)


Molière wrote four comedies in which he mocked doctors.

  1. Le Médecin volant (1645) (The Flying Doctor)
  2. L’Amour médecin (1665) (Dr Cupid)
  3. Le Médecin malgré lui (1666) (The Doctor in spite of himself)
  4. Le Malade imaginaire (1673) (The Imaginary Invalid)

I have removed L’Impromptu de Versailles from an earlier list. In the Imaginary Invalid, Béralde explains Molière. But characters in our first three plays do not refer to Molière. L’Impromptu de Versailles is an example of théâtre dans le théâtre.

It should be noted however that Sganarelle was played by Molière and would always be played by Molière until the dramatist’s death. The Flying Doctor originates in Italian comedy. 

Le Médecin volant (The Flying Doctor) is

  • a one-act farce (15 scenes) by Molière
  • written in 1645
  • its Paris premiere took place on 18 April 1659
  • it is of Italian origin featuring characters from the commedia dell’arte
    These are:
  • Gorgibus, an old nobleman, the father of Lucile (Pantalone),
  • Lucile, daughter of Gorgibus, engaged to Villebrequin (Innamorata),
  • Gros-René : Gorgibus’ servant, role created by René Berthelot,
  • Sabine, Lucile’s cousin, the source of all the intrigue in the play (Columbina),
  • Valère, Lucile’s lover (Innamorato),
  • Sganarelle, hero of the play, valet to Valère (Arlecchino), role created by Molière,
  • A Lawyer (Il Dottore).

In the first three plays mentioned above, love is the cure to a young woman’s feigned or real illness triggered by a heavy father who wishes to marry his daughter to a person the daughter does not love. Villebrequin is an older gentleman who may have fine qualities. However, Lucile wants to marry Valère. The dreaded marriage is approaching

Since Gorgibus, the father, believes his daughter is truly sick, he must find a doctor. Lucile’s cousin, Sabine, tells her story to Valère, the young lover (jeune premier) who asks Sganarelle (a role performed by Molière) to make believe he is a doctor. Gros-René, Gorgibus’ valet, is looking for a doctor. Sganarelle will be the suitable candidate. He need only wear the disguise. He hesitates, but money, dix pistoles, convinces him that he can play the role. The doctor is to advise Lucile to go outdoors to a little pavilion. She needs fresh air. Valère would go to the pavilion and take her away. In Le Médecin volant, the plan is as follows:

SABINE.— Vraiment, il y a bien des nouvelles. Mon oncle veut résolument que ma cousine épouse Villebrequin, et les affaires sont tellement avancées, que je crois qu’ils eussent été mariés dès aujourd’hui, si vous n’étiez aimé; mais comme ma cousine m’a confié le secret de l’amour qu’elle vous porte, et que nous nous sommes vues à l’extrémité par l’avarice de mon vilain oncle, nous nous sommes avisées d’une bonne invention pour différer le mariage. C’est que ma cousine, dès l’heure que je vous parle, contrefait la malade; et le bon vieillard, qui est assez crédule, m’envoie quérir un médecin. Si vous en pouviez envoyer quelqu’un qui fût de vos bons amis et qui fût de notre intelligence, il conseillerait à la malade de prendre l’air à la campagne. Le bonhomme ne manquera pas de faire loger ma cousine à ce pavillon qui est au bout de notre jardin, et par ce moyen vous pourriez l’entretenir à l’insu de notre vieillard, l’épouser, et le laisser pester tout son soûl avec Villebrequin.
Sabine à Valère (Sc I, p. 1)

[I have really much to tell you. My uncle is bent upon marrying my cousin to Villebrequin, and things have gone so far, that I believe the wedding would have taken place to-day if you were not loved by her. However, as my cousin told me the secret of all the love she feels for you, and as we were almost driven to desperation through the avarice of our niggardly uncle, we thought of a capital device to prevent the marriage: at the present moment my cousin affects to be ill, and the foolish old man, who is easily deceived, has just sent me to fetch a doctor. Could you not find one, some friend of yours, who would be on our side, and order the invalid to go into the country for a change of air? The old man will be sure to send my cousin to live in the pavilion, which is at the bottom of our garden. In that way you will be able to see her, unknown to our uncle, and marry her; then let him and Villebrequin curse as much as they please.]
Sabine to Valère (Sc. 1)

The above ploy is successful. Sganarelle accepts to play doctor after being given ten pistoles. Gros-René is sent to look for a doctor, but meanwhile Sabine, Lucile’s cousin, has managed to lead Sganarelle to Gorgibus’ home. Sganarelle meets a lawyer whose opinion of doctors is consistent with the views expressed by Molière’s characters. If one gets better, it has nothing to do with the remedies or knowledge of a doctor.

Ce n’est pas qu’on doive mépriser un médecin qui n’aurait pas rendu la santé à son malade, parce qu’elle ne dépend pas absolument de ses remèdes, ni de son savoir[.]
L’avocat à Sganarelle (Sc. 8, p. 7)[1]

[Not that any one should despise a doctor who has not given back health to his patient, since health does not altogether depend on his remedies or his knowledge: interdum docta plus valet arte malum.]
The lawyer to Sganarelle (Sc. 8)

However, a problem arises when Gorgibus meets Sganarelle wearing his valet clothes. Suddenly Sganarelle must play two roles: a doctor and a valet. Sganarelle tells Gorgibus that he has an identical twin and that they are not on good terms. Could Gorgibus help? Sganarelle goes in and out of a window, dressed as valet and then as a doctor. However, Gros-René picks up the doctor’s costume. There is but one Sganarelle: the valet.

Sganarelle fears being hanged[2] and tells Gorgibus that Valère is definitely “sortable,” a suitable husband.

In the final scene of the play, Gorgibus forgives Lucile and Valère and allows them to marry.


Sources and Resources

[1] Interdum docta plus valet arte malum: parfois le mal est plus fort que l’art
et que la science. (Ovide, OvidPontiques, livre Ier, chant III, v. 18).
[2] Cf. Le Médecin malgré lui.

Love to everyone 💕

Pierre_Mignard_-_Portrait_de_Jean-Baptiste_Poquelin_dit_Molière_(1622-1673)_-_Google_Art_Project_(cropped) (1)

Molière by Pierre Mignard (Wiki2.org)

© Micheline Walker
15 Avril 2019