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Sganarelle (Le médecin malgré lui)

Le Médecin malgré lui, Edmond Geoffroy

LE MÉDECIN MALGRÉ LUI

Our dramatis personæ are

Géronte, père (father) de Lucinde.
Lucinde, fille (daughter) de Géronte.
Léandre, amant (lover) de Lucinde.
Sganarelle, mari (husband) de Martine.
Martine, femme (wife) de Sganarelle.
M. Robert, voisin (neighbour) de Sganarelle.
Valère, domestique (servant) de Géronte.
Lucas, mari (husband) de Jacqueline.
Jacqueline, nourrice (wet-nurse) chez Géronte, et femme de Lucas.
Thibaud, père (father) de Perrin. (peasant)
Perrin, fils (son) de Perrin.

Le Médecin malgré lui is:

  • a three-act comedy;
  • rooted in Le Vilain Mire (mire = doctor), a 13th-century fabliau (most are obscene and some are scatological);
  • it was performed during the years Molière spent outside Paris, under different titles, and, before 1666, in Paris, under different titles;
  • it premièred in Paris, as Le Médecin malgré lui, on 6 August 1666, at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal;
  • according to Maurice Rat[1], it was preceded by, or played along a version of La Médecin malgré lui written by Donneau de Visé, entitled La Mère coquette (1665);
  • in the Vilain Mire, the king’s daughter can no longer speak because she has swallowed a fishbone;
  • other antecedents are Italian stories and El Acero de Madrid (Lope de Vega) and Tirso de Molina‘s La Fingida Arcadia;
  • Voltaire called it “très gaie et très bouffonne;” 
  • much is borrowed or belongs to an oral tradition;
  • Henry Fielding‘s Mock Doctor is a translation and adaptation of Le Médecin malgré lui. 
  • French composer Charles Gounod wrote an opera based on Le Médecin malgré lui.
Le médecin malgré lui par F. Boucher

Le Médecin malgré lui, François Boucher

ACT ONE

  • Martine beaten
  • neighbour intervenes
  • Martine’s revenge

Molière’s Médecin malgré lui (The Doctor in spite of himself) differs from Le Médecin volant (The Flying Doctor) and L’Amour médecin. Yes, mere clothes will transform Martine’s abusive husband into a doctor and will turn Léandre, our young lover, into an apothicary. But we have left the houses of well-to-do bourgeois to enter the dilapidated home Sganarelle shares with Martine and their children. He drinks away the money he earns as a woodcutter, while his wife takes care of four children.

J’ai quatre pauvres petits enfants sur les bras.
Martine à Sganarelle (I. I, p. 2)
[I have four little children on my hands.]
Martine to Sganarelle (I. 1, p. 4)

So he tells her to put them down:

Met-les à terre.
Martine à Sganarelle
(I. I, p. 2)
[Try putting them down.]
Sganarelle à Martine (I. 1, p. 4)

A neighbour, who has heard screams, tries to rescue Martine, but she and Sganarelle push him away, which may indicate fear on the part of Martine:

Mêlez-vous de vos affaires
Martine à Monsieur Robert (I. ii, p. 4)
[Mind your own business.]
Martine à Monsieur Robert (I. 2, p. 4)

Yet, Martine resents being married to Sganarelle and says so in I. iii, p. 5: I. 3, p. 9. Cocuage, cuckolding is used in mis-marriages. But Martine has a harsher revenge in mind and is mulling the question. 

At this point, she bumps into Valère and Lucas who are employees of Géronte, an older man, as the word suggests, and a well-to-do bourgeois. They are looking for a doctor who would cure Lucinde, Géronte’s daughter. She know longer speaks. Martine claims her husband is the man they need, but that he will resist and may have to be beaten.

La folie de celui-ci est plus grande qu’on ne peut croire: car elle va, parfois, jusqu’à vouloir être battu, pour demeurer d’accord de sa capacité: et je vous donne avis que vous n’en viendrez pas à bout, qu’il n’avouera jamais, qu’il est médecin, s’il se le met en fantaisie, que vous ne preniez, chacun, un bâton, et ne le réduisiez à force de coups, à vous confesser à la fin, ce qu’il vous cachera d’abord. C’est ainsi que nous en usons, quand nous avons besoin de lui.
Martine à Valère et Lucas (I. iv, p. 7)
[This one’s even crazier than you might think, because he will even let himself be beaten while denying who he is, and I advise you not to ask him point blank, because he will never admit he is a doctor, so great is his eccentricity, unless you take a stick and reduce him by repeated blows to admit to you at last what he denied before. That’s how we go about it when we need his services.]
Martine to Valère and Lucas (I. 4, p. 11)

So beating Sganarelle is what Valère and Lucas must do to convince him that he is a doctor.

V. Puisque vous le voulez, il faut s’y résoudre. Ils prennent un bâton, et le frappent.
Sg. Ah! ah! ah! Messieurs, je suis tout ce qu’il vous plaira.
Valère à Sganarelle (I. v. p. 11)
[V. Since you insist on having it this way, then, we must convince you.
(They each take a stick and beat him.)]
Valère to Sganarelle (I. 5, pp. 17-18)

Valère and Lucas threaten more blows, so Sganarelle ends up accepting to be a doctor.   

le-mc3a9decin-malgrc3a9-lui-par-ed.-hc3a9d. (2)
Le Médecin malgré lui, Edmond Hédouin

ACT TWO

  • Jacqueline to Géronte (marriage)
  • Sganarelle hits Géronte
  • meets Lucinde
  • flirts with the mild-maid
  • the young lovers
  • Léandre as apothecary
  • Sganarelle will help him

Sganarelle is about to be introduced to Géronte, but Jacqueline protests. All Lucinde needs is:  

un biau et bon mari, pour qui elle eût de l’amiquié
Jacqueline à Géronte  (II. i, p. 13)
[a fine, handsome husband, one that she even likes.]
Jacqueline to Géronte (II. 1, p. 22)

 Géronte insists that Léandre is not what Lucinde needs. Léandre has no money.

Ja. Que ne preniais-vous ce Monsieu Liandre, qui li touchait au cœur? Alle aurait été fort obéissante: et je m’en vas gager qu’il la prendrait li, comme alle est, si vous la li vouillais donner.
Gé. Ce Léandre n’est pas ce qu’il lui faut: il n’a pas du bien comme l’autre.
Jacqueline à Géronte (II. i, pp. 13-14)

[Ja. Why could you not contract with Mister Leandre, who touches her heart? She would have been very obedient; and I’d bet that he’d take her – even as is – if you arranged to give her to him.
Gé. This Leandre does not have what it takes. He lacks the means of the other.]
Jacqueline to Géronte (II. 1, p. 22)

When Sganarelle meets Géronte, he hits him with a bat (un bâton), which turns him into a doctor. They make up. He notices Jacqueline, the wet-nurse, and would like to be the baby she is looking after. Lucas, Jacqueline’s husband, objects:

Avec moi, tant qu’il vous plaira: mais avec ma femme, trêve de sarimonie.
Lucas à Sganarelle (II. ii, p.16)
[With me, share as much as you like. But with my wife, drop the ceremony.]
Lucas to Sganarelle (II. 2, p. 27)

Sganarelle meets Lucinde and says:

Voilà une malade qui n’est pas tant dégoûtante: et je tiens qu’un homme
bien sain s’en accommoderait assez.
Sganarelle à tous (II. iv, p. 17)
[This patient’s not too terribly repulsive, and I think a good healthy man might well improve her condition.]
Sganarelle to all (II. 4, p. 28)

Sganarelle speaks Latin, states that the liver is on the left side and the heart, on the right side. He uses a Hebrew word. Everyone is impressed. But Géronte tells him that one thing shocks him. The heart is on the left side and the liver on the right side. Sganarelle explains that doctors are using a new method.

He then suggests that Lucinde be served bread dipped in wine. However, he would like to examine Jacqueline who says she is just fine. He suggests a little blood-letting and a clyster, an enema. People who look very healthy may be sick. Géronte gives him money which he refuses as he takes it.

Léandre walks in to ask for Sganarelle’s assistance. Sganarelle is as uncouth as ever, but having learned that Lucinde is feigning illness to avoid marrying a man she does not love, Sganarelle accepts to assist in bringing the lovers together.

ACT THREE

  • clothes make the man (doctor, apothicary)
  • Sganarelle will be a doctor
  • Lucinde speaks
  • Léandre takes Lucinde away
  • Sganarelle to be hanged
  • Martine returns
  • Lovers return, Léandre’s inheritance
  • Géronte will allow the lovers to marry

Léandre is dressed as an apothecary. He hopes he will not be recognized and would appreciate knowing a few medical terms.

Il me semble que je ne suis pas mal ainsi, pour un apothicaire: et comme le
père ne m’a guère vu, ce changement d’habit, et de perruque, est assez capable, je crois, de me déguiser à ses yeux.
Léandre à Sganarelle (III. i, p. 23)
[It seems to me that I wouldn’t make a bad apothecary; and as her father has barely ever seen me, these clothes and this wig should be enough, I think, to disguise me.]
Léandre to Sganarelle (III. 1, p. 37)

Sganarelle tells him that he was made into a doctor, putting the clothes on, and will remain a doctor because it pays. Léandre pays him and everyone believes he is “a gifted man.”

Je ne sais point sur quoi cette imagination leur est venue: mais quand j’ai vu qu’à toute force, ils voulaient que je fusse médecin, je me suis résolu de l’être, aux dépens de qui il appartiendra. Cependant, vous ne sauriez croire comment l’erreur s’est répandue: et de quelle façon, chacun est endiablé à me croire habile homme
Sganarelle à Léandre (III. ii, p. 23)
[I don’t know how this idea came to them; but when I saw that they would stop at nothing to have me be a doctor, I resolved to become one, at no matter whose expense. You wouldn’t believe how the error spread, and in what way each person was bound and determined to believe that I was a gifted man.]
Sganarelle to Léandre (III. 2, p. 38)

Thibaut and his son Perrin visit Sganarelle. Thibaut says that Perrin’s mother suffers from “hypocrisie,” (hypocrisy). Sganarelle will not hear Perrin until he is given deux écus. He then diagnoses hydropisie (dropsy).  It could be that Perrin’s mother suffers from dropsy. (III. ii, p. 23-24; III. 2, p.

 

Géronte cannot find his daugther, nor Jacqueline, her husband. (Sc. 4.) But Géronte finds Sganarelle. The remedy prescribed by Sganarelle has not worked. He then sees the apothecary, whom Sganarelle needs. (Sc. 5.)

Jacqueline notices that Lucinde is walking. Géronte believes this will do her good. Meanwhile Sganarelle pulls Géronte away and holds him preventing him from seeing what the apothecary and his daughter are doing.

Cela lui fera du bien. Allez-vous-en, Monsieur l’Apothicaire, tâter un peu son pouls, afin que je raisonne tantôt, avec vous, de sa maladie. (En cet endroit, il tire Géronte à un bout du théâtre, et lui passant un bras sur les épaules, lui rabat la main sous le menton, avec laquelle il le fait retourner vers lui, lorsqu’il veut regarder ce que sa fille et l’apothicaire font ensemble, lui tenant, cependant, le discours suivant pour l’amuser.)
Sganarelle à l’apothicaire (III. vi, p. 27)
[That will do her good. (To Leandre.) Go on then, Mister Apothecary, take her pulse, so that I can confer with you about her illness. (At this point, he pulls Géronte to one end of the stage, and putting an arm on his shoulders, he puts his free hand under his chin, which he directs towards himself, as Géronte would rather gain a glimpse of what his daughter and the apothecary are doing. In so doing, Sganarelle delivers the following distracting discourse.)]
Sganarelle to the apothecary (III. 6, p. 43)

Sganarelle has just liberated Lucinde. Her lover is leading her out of the house.

Géronte says he will make sure his daughter does not see Léandre and Sganarelle agrees. But Lucinde reappears and tells her father:

Non, je ne suis point du tout capable de changer de sentiment.
Lucinde à Géronte (III. vi, p. 27)
[No, I am not at all capable of changing my feelings.]
Lucinde to G
éronte (III. 6, p. 44)

Géronte’s first reaction is one of joy. His daughter can speak.

Voilà ma fille qui parle. Ô grande vertu du remède! Ô admirable médecin! Que je vous suis obligé, Monsieur, de cette guérison merveilleuse: et que puis-je faire pour vous après un tel service?
Géronte à Sganarelle (III. vi, p. 27)
[Look! My daughter’s talking! O great glorious remedy! O admirable doctor! How can I ever thank you for this amazing cure! And what could I ever do for you after such a service!]
Géronte to Sganarelle (III. 6, p. 44)

But now that she can speak, Lucinde speaks her mind. She will marry Léandre, not Horace.

Oui, mon père, j’ai recouvré la parole: mais je l’ai recouvrée pour vous dire, que je n’aurai jamais d’autre époux que Léandre, et que c’est inutilement que vous voulez me donner Horace. 
Lucinde à Géronte (III. vi, p. 27)
[Yes, father, I’ve recovered my speech; but I have recovered it in order to tell you that I will have no other husband than Leandre, and that it is useless for you to force Horace on me.]
Lucinde to Géronte (III. 6, p. 44)
Et je me jetterai plutôt dans un couvent que d’épouser un homme que je n’aime point. 
Lucinde à Géronte (III. vi, p. 28)
[And I would rather throw myself into a nunnery than marry a man I do not love at all.]
Lucinde to Géronte (III. 6, p. 45)
J’épouserai plutôt la mort.
Lucinde to Géronte
(III. vi, p. 28)
[I would rather marry death.]
Lucinde to Géronte (III. 6, p. 45)[2]

Sganarelle calls the apothecary and suggests “a purgative flight” and matrimonium (marriage)

Pour moi, je n’y en vois qu’un seul [remède], qui est une prise de fuite purgative, que vous mêlerez comme il faut, avec deux drachmes de matrimonium en pilules.
Sganarelle à l’apothicaire (III. vi, p. 29)
For myself, I only see one way to do it, which is the taking of a purgative flight, that you will mix as you must with two grams of matrimonium and administer in pills.
Sganarelle to the apothecary (III. 6, p. 46)

Lucas reports that Lucinde has gone away with the apothecary. Sganarelle will be hanged.

Comment, m’assassiner de la façon. Allons, un commissaire, et qu’on
empêche qu’il ne sorte. Ah traître, je vous ferai punir par la justice.
Géronte à Lucas et Sganarelle (III. viii, p. 30)
Ah par ma fi, Monsieu le Médecin, vous serez pendu, ne bougez de là seulement.
Lucas à Sganarelle (III. viii, p. 30)
[What! Kill me in this way! Immediately, get me a Commissioner! And bar him from leaving! Traitor! I will have you punished by the letter of the law.]
Géronte to Sganarelle (III. 8, p. 48)
[Yes! Sir Doctor, you will hang. Don’t budge from the spot.]
Lucas to Sganarelle (III. 8, p. 48)

le médecin malgré lui par Granville

Le Médecin malgré lui, Grandville

Conclusion

Martine, Sganarelle’s wife, has been looking for her husband and hears that he will be hanged. But Lucinde and Léandre return and Léandre asks for Lucinde’s hand saying that he has just come into a substantial inheritance. Hearing that Léandre has money convinces Géronte. His daughter may marry Léandre. All’s well that ends well.

Molière has used a deus ex machina and kairos so Sganarelle is not hanged. The young couple learns about Léandre’s inheritance and come to tell Géronte at exactly the right or opportune moment. Sganarelle is about to be hanged. Kairos is a device found in fairy tales, mainly. In ancient Greece, time had two dimensions: chronos and kairos. Moreover, it so happens that Martine, Sganarelle’s wife is looking for her husband. The Sganarelle Martine finds is not altogether the same as the husband who was tricked into blows. In fact, he has facilitated the young lovers’ marriage. He prescribed a quick flight and marriage, when Léandre was still an apothicary or disguised. Sganarelle is younger than Géronte, but Géronte is raising a baby. So, there also been a doubling of the father figure.

The conversation among doctors in L’Amour médecin is exemplary, but what Sganarelle has learned and told Léandre is also a good description of doctors. Doctors lack the means to cure most illnesses, but know that when a person is sick, he or she will seek the help of a doctor. Doctors get rich preying on the fear of death. They are parasites and impostors, or, simply put, hypocrites. They can only make believe they can help the sick.

My colleague Ralph Albanese Jr has written about the dynamism of fear in Molière. Lucinde would rather be dead than married to Horace. Sganarelle beats his wife; he is beaten by Valère and Lucas and he hits Géronte. Géronte fears Lucinde will not recover. This is genuine fear.

In short, Le Médecin malgré lui is a comedy, but it is farcical in that it includes physical humour: blows. But at the end of the play, the sticks have disappeared and Martine will be the wife of a respected doctor. The clothes fit and they make the man. They bring him patients and money. Most importantly, Léandre and Lucinde will marry, as comedy dictates.

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Sources and Resources

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[1] Maurice Rat, ed., Œuvres complètes de Molière (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, coll. La Pléiade, 1956), p. 945.
[2] Cf. Rabelais, Tiers Livre, chap. XXXIV, où la femme qui a retrouvé l’usage de sa langue parle tant et tant « que le mari retourna au médicin pour remède de la faire taire. Le médicin répondit […] remède unique estre surdité du mary contre cesty interminable parlement de femme. » (toutmoliere.net)
“where a husband returns to the doctor for a remedy that will shut up his wife. The doctor responds […] that the only remedy is deafness on the part of the husband against this endless chatting of women.”

Love to everyone  💕

Charles Gounod – LE MÉDECIN MALGRÉ LUI – Sextet: “Eh bien! charmante demoiselle”
Han, hi, hon, han, han, hi, hon is Lucinde’s language.

© Micheline Walker
25 April 2019
revised 26 April 2019
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