comedy, Deceptive Appearances, jealousy, Le Cocu imaginaire, Molière, Self-Deceived Husband, Sganarelle, The Imaginary Cuckold
Sganarelle ou le Cocu imaginaire (The Imaginary Cuckold) is a one-act play consisting of twenty-four (24) scenes. It premièred on 28 May 1660, at the Théâtre du Petit-Bourbon, the first theater the troupe of Molière used after their return to Paris, in 1658. Molière’s comedians had found patronage, that of Monsieur frère unique du Roi, Louis XIV’s only brother. Monsieur‘s theater was the Petit-Bourbon, a theater Molière shared with la Comédie-Italienne, which is still a theater. Plays are performed in Italian. Molière’s comedians had become la troupe de Monsieur.
Molière’s Sganarelle ou le Cocu imaginaire was staged in the wake of his very successful Précieuses ridicules, which had premièred on 18 November 1659. Molière’s Précieuses ridicules earned his troupe considerable notoriety. Although Sganarelle, ou le Cocu imaginaire was not as successful as Les Précieuses ridicules, Sganarelle as a type is one of Molière’s perplexing characters: Arnolphe (The School for Wifes), Tartuffe‘s Orgon, The Misanthrope‘s Alceste, L’Avare‘s miser, The Imaginary Invalid‘s Argan and, above all, the jaloux among them. According to scholar Paul Bénichou, these characters, the jaloux above all, blend in almost equal proportions vanity and insecurity: vanité et inquiétude.
 Paul Bénichou, Morales du Grand Siècle (Paris: Gallimard, 1948), pp. 295-296.
Sganarelle ou le Cocu imaginaire has been associated with Boisrobert’s Les Apparences trompeuses (1656) and Scarron’s La Fausse Apparence (1657). Deceptive appearances are a familiar theme in 17th-century French literature. In his Pensées, Blaise Pascal writes that human beings are at the mercy of puissances trompeuses, deceptive powers, one of which is imagination. Sganarelle is an imaginaire, thirteen years before Le Malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid).
Therefore, although appearances may be deceptive, in Le Cocu imaginaire, Sganarelle is an imaginaire whose jealousy so thwarts reality that seeing his wife admiring the finely encased portrait of a good-looking young man triggers a series of misunderstandings, quiproquos, to which there does not seem to be an end.
It remains that Sganarelle ou le Cocu imaginaire‘s comedic plot formula is the usual all’s well that ends well, le tout est bien qui finit bien. However, the main obstacle to the young lover’s marriage does not appear to be Célie’s tyrannical father, a pater familias, but the imbroglio in which the self-deceived Sganarelle ensnares most members of the society of the play.
Given its depiction of jealousy, the play is a comedy of manners, but its numerous péripéties, twists and turns, also make it a comedy of intrigue. In fact, the mess is such that Célie’s suivante calls it a galimatias, a shemozzle. Célie’s suivante is the zanni of the comedy.
GORGIBUS, a citizen of Paris.
LELIO, in love with Celia. (Lélie)
SGANARELLE, a citizen of Paris and the self-deceived husband.
VILLEBREQUIN, father to Valère.
GROS-RENÉ, servant to Lelio.
A RELATIVE OF SGANARELLE’S WIFE.
CELIA, daughter of Gorgibus.(Clélie)
A PUBLICK PLACE IN PARIS.
A Pater Familias
As the curtain lifts, Clélie is crying because her father wishes to force a marriage with a man she does not love. Clélie loves Lélie:
Ah ! n’espérez jamais que mon cœur y consente
Clélie à Gorgibus (I. i.)
[Ah! never expect my heart to consent to that.]
Clélie to Gorgibus (I. 1) or Sganarelle, p. 47
Que marmottez-vous là, petite impertinente ?
Vous prétendez choquer ce que j’ai résolu ?
Je n’aurai pas sur vous un pouvoir absolu ?
Et par sottes raisons, votre jeune cervelle
Voudrait régler ici la raison paternelle ?
Gorgibus à Clélie (I. i) (Sganarelle)
[What do you mutter, you little impertinent girl? Do you suppose you can thwart my resolution? Have I not absolute power over you? And shall your youthful brain control my fatherly discretion by foolish arguments?]
Gorgibus to Clélie (I. 1)
It turns out, however, that Gorgibus has already agreed to a marriage between his daughter Célie and Lélie, a promise he cannot break on a whim.
J’aurais tort si, sans vous, je disposais de moi ;
Mais vous-même à ses vœux engageâtes ma foi.
Clélie à Gorgibus (I. i)
[Do you suppose, dear father, I can ever forget that unchangeable affection I owe to Lelio? I should be wrong to dispose of my hand against your will, but you yourself engaged me to him.]
Clélie to Gorgibus (I. 1).
After Célie’s conversation with Gorgibus and her suivante‘s comment to the effect that Lélie has been away too long, Célie faints and drops her portrait of Lélie. Sganarelle helps Célie.
Votre Lélie aussi, n’est ma foi qu’une bête,
Puisque si hors de temps son voyage l’arrête,
Et la grande longueur de son éloignement
Me le fait soupçonner de quelque changement
Suivante à Célie (I. ii)
[Upon my word, your Lelio is a mere fool to stay away the very time he is wanted; his long absence makes me very much suspect some change in his affection.]
Suivante à Lélie (I. 2)
Et cependant il faut… ah ! soutiens-moi.
Laissant tomber le portrait de Lélie.
Célie à sa suivante (I. ii)
[And yet I must—Ah! support me.]
(She lets fall the portrait of Lelio.)
Célie (I. 2)
Sganarelle’s Wife and the Portrait
Sganarelle’s wife suspects he is unfaithful. She has seen him help Célie when she fainted next to her suivante.
However, it so happens that she picks up the exquisitely encased, a jewel, portrait of a fine-looking young man and comments, aloud, that she has never seen anything more beautiful, praising both the workmanship and the young man’s likeness:
(En ramassant le portrait que Célie avait laissé tomber.)
Mais quel est ce bijou que le sort me présente,
L’émail en est fort beau, la gravure charmante,
Femme de Sg. (I. v) (p. 5)
(Taking up the picture which Celia had let fall.) But what a pretty thing has fortune sent me here; the enamel of it is most beautiful, the workmanship delightful; let me open it?)
Sg’s wife (I. 5)
…, sans l’apercevoir, continue.
Jamais rien de plus beau ne s’offrit à ma vue.
Le travail plus que l’or s’en doit encor priser.
Hon que cela sent bon.
Femme de Sg. (I. vi) (p. 6)
[(Not seeing her husband). I never saw anything more beautiful in my life! The workmanship is even of greater value than the gold! Oh, how sweet it smells!]
Sg’s wife (I. 6)
Now, Sganarelle is furious. This must be the portrait of the man cuckolding him:
Tu ne m’entends que trop, Madame la carogne ;
Sganarelle, est un nom qu’on ne me dira plus,
Et l’on va m’appeler seigneur Cornelius :
J’en suis pour mon honneur ; mais à toi qui me l’ôtes,
Je t’en ferai du moins pour un bras ou deux côtes.
Sg à sa femme (I. vi)
[(Snatching the portrait from her.) What, hussey! have I caught you in the very act, slandering your honourable and darling husband? According to you, most worthy spouse, and everything well considered, the husband is not as good as the wife?)
Sg to his wife (I. 6)
Meanwhile, having been detained, Lélie and Gros-René are rushing back to Paris because rumours have arisen concerning Lélie’s marriage to Célie. It could be endangered, which it is. The first person he sees is Sganarelle who soon recognizes him. Sganarelle has Lélie’s portrait, a pledge given to Célie. Sganarelle is holding a portrait which, is a portrait of him given as a gage, a pledge to Célie.
Je ne m’abuse point, c’est mon portrait lui-même.
Lélie, seul (I. ix)
[Heavens! what do I see? If that be my picture, what then must I believe?]
What do you say? She from whom you received this pledge…
Lélie to Sganarelle (I. 9)
Puis-je obtenir de vous, de savoir l’aventure,
Qui fait dedans vos mains trouver cette peinture.
Lélie à Sg. (I. ix) (p. 10)
[Will you inform me by what accident that picture came into your hands?]
Lélie to Sg. (I. 9)
(À part) D’où lui vient ce désir ; mais je m’avise ici…
Ah ! ma foi, me voilà de son trouble éclairci,
Sa surprise à présent n’étonne plus mon âme,
C’est mon homme, ou plutôt c’est celui de ma femme.
Lélie à Sg. (I. ix) ou (p.10 toutmolière.net))
[(Aside). Why does he wish to know? But I am thinking… (Looking at Lelio and at the portrait in his hand). Oh! upon my word, I know the cause of his anxiety; I no longer wonder at his surprise. This is my man, or rather, my wife’s man.]
Sganarelle, alone (I. 9)
Retirez-moi de peine et dites d’où vous vient…
[Pray, relieve my distracted mind, and tell me how you come by…]
Lélie à Sganarelle (I. ix)
…Mais faites-moi celui [l’honneur] de cesser désormais
Un amour qu’un mari peut trouver fort mauvais,
Et songez que les nœuds du sacré mariage…
Sg à Lélie (I. ix)
[… but henceforth, be kind enough to break off an intrigue, which a husband may not approve of; and consider that the holy bonds of wedlock…]
Sg to Lelio (I. 9)
Quoi, celle dites-vous dont vous tenez ce gage.
Lélie à Sg. (I. ix)
[What do you say? She from whom you received this pledge…]
Sg to Lélie (I. 9)
Est ma femme, et je suis son mari.
[Is my wife, and I am her husband.]
Sg to Lélie (I. 9)
Sganarelle needs a witness. In a scene reminiscent of George Dandin, he runs to fetch a relative, leaving behind a puzzled Lélie.
Ah ! que viens-je d’entendre ?
On me l’avait bien dit, et que c’était de tous
L’homme le plus mal fait qu’elle avait pour époux.
Lélie, seul (I. x) (pp. 12-23)
Alas! what have I heard! The report then was true that her husband was the ugliest of all his sex.
Lélie, alone (I. 10)
So astonished is Lelio that he nearly faints. As Sganarelle leaves, his wife looks after a distressed Lélie.
Sganarelle’s relative has good advice, but our jaloux thinks he has caught his wife, “in the act.” She is with Lélie.
Tâchons donc par nos soins… Ah ! que vois-je, je meure,
Il n’est plus question de portrait à cette heure,
Voici ma foi la chose en propre original.
Sg seul (I. xiv) (p. 14)
[Aside seeing them. Ha! what do I see? Zounds! there can be no more question about the portrait, for upon my word here stands the very man, in propria persona.]
Sg alone (I. 14)
Lélie is at his wit’s end. Destiny has betrayed him:
Ah ! mon âme s’émeut et cet objet m’inspire…
Mais je dois condamner cet injuste transport,
Et n’imputer mes maux qu’aux rigueurs de mon sort.
Envions seulement le bonheur de sa flamme.
(Passant auprès de lui, et le regardant.)
Oh ! trop heureux d’avoir une si belle femme.
Lélie seeing Sg. (I. xv) (pp. 14-15)
[Oh! my soul is moved! this sight inspires me with … but I ought to blame this unjust resentment, and only ascribe my sufferings to my merciless fate; yet I cannot help envying the success that has crowned his passion. (Approaching Sganarelle). O too happy mortal in having so beautiful a wife.]
Lélie, to himself, seeing and looking at Sg. (I. 15)
Célie has seen and heard Lélie, but he has not visited her. She decides to speak to Sganarelle and asks whether Sganarelle knows him.
Quoi, Lélie a paru tout à l’heure à mes yeux,
Qui pourrait me cacher son retour en ces lieux.
Clélie (I. xvi) (p. 15)
[Who can that be? Just now I saw Lelio.
Why does he conceal his return from me?]
Célie (I. 16)
Celui qui maintenant devers vous est venu
Et qui vous a parlé, d’où vous est-il connu ?
Célie à Sganarelle (I. xvi) (p. 15)
[Pray, sir, how came you to know this gentleman who went away just now and spoke to you?]
Célie to Sganarelle (I. 16)
Sgnarelle says he doesn’t him, but that his wife does. The young man is cuckolding him. Célie probes further. Why does Sganarelle look so sad?
Si je suis affligé, ce n’est pas pour des prunes
Et je le donnerais à bien d’autres qu’à moi
De se voir sans chagrin au point où je me voi.
Des maris malheureux, vous voyez le modèle,
On dérobe l’honneur au pauvre Sganarelle ;
Mais c’est peu que l’honneur dans mon affliction
L’on me dérobe encor la réputation.
Sganarelle à Célie (I. xvi)
[If I am sad it is not for a trifle: I challenge other people not to grieve, if they found themselves in my condition. You see in me the model of unhappy husbands. Poor Sganarelle’s honour is taken from him; but the loss of my honour would be small—they deprive me of my reputation also.]
Sg to Célie (I. 16)
Célie is very disturbed. Being in love with Sganarelle’s wife could explain Lélie’s secret return. She says that she was right!
Ah ! j’avais bien jugé que ce secret retour
Ne pouvait me couvrir que quelque lâche tour,
Et j’ai tremblé d’abord en le voyant paraître,
Par un pressentiment de ce qui devait être.
Célie (I. xvi)
[Ah! I find I was right when I thought his returning secretly only concealed some base design; I trembled the minute I saw him, from a sad foreboding of what would happen.]
Célie (I. 16)
Sganarelle bares his grief, in a soliloquy. However, he realizes that he is not the only husband to have been betrayed and that his affliction it is not worth dying for.
La bière [the grave] est un séjour par trop mélancolique
Et trop malsain pour ceux qui craignent la colique,
Et quant à moi je trouve, ayant tout compassé,
Qu’il vaut mieux être encor cocu que trépassé[.]
Sganarelle, seul (I. xvii)
[The grave is too melancholy an abode, and too unwholesome for people who are afraid of the colic; as for me, I find, all things considered, that it is, after all, better to be a cuckold than to be dead.]
Sganarelle, alone (I. 17)
But he is resentful and to avenge himself, he will tell everyone that his wife lies with Lélie. Morever, his bile is making him consider “some manly action.” He will return bearing arms, he will be incapable of using (scene 21).
Je me sens là, pourtant remuer une bile
Qui veut me conseiller quelque action virile[.]
Sganarelle, seul (I. xvii) (p. 18)
[I feel, however, my bile is stirred up here; it almost persuades me to do some manly action.]
Sganarelle, alone (I. 17)
Meanwhile, a spiteful Célie, dépit amoureux, tells her father that she will do her duty and marry Valère.
Faites quand vous voudrez signer cet hyménée,
À suivre mon devoir je suis déterminée,
Je prétends gourmander mes propres sentiments
Et me soumettre en tout à vos commandements.
Célie à Gorgibus (I. xviii) (p. 19-20)
[…I will sign the marriage contract whenever you please, for I am now determined to perform my duty. I can Célie to Gorgibus command my own inclinations, and shall do whatever you order me.]
Célie to Gorgibus (I. 18)
Lélie thinks mistakenly that Célie loves Sganarelle. Sganarelle thinks mistakenly that Lélio loves his wife. Sganarelle has returned bearing arms. Why is Lélie being attacked? Célie’s suivante is perplexed.
Ce changement m’étonne.
Suivante (I. xix) (p. 21)
[This change surprises me.]
Suivante (I. 19)
Et lorsque tu sauras
Par quel motif j’agis tu m’en estimeras.
Suivante à Célie (I. xix)
[When you come to know why I act thus, you will esteem me for it.]
Suivante à Célie (I. 19)
Apprends donc que Lélie,
A pu blesser mon cœur par une perfidie,
Qu’il était en ces lieux sans…
Célie à sa suivante (I. xix)
[Know then that Lelio has wounded my heart by his treacherous behaviour, and has been in this neighbourhood without…]
Célie to her suivante (I. 19)
Lélie asks Célie to remain where she is. (I. xx) (I. 20)
In Scene 21 Sganarelle returns bearing arms.
entre armé. Guerre, guerre mortelle, à ce larron d’honneur
Qui sans miséricorde a souillé notre honneur.
Sganarelle (I. xxi) (p. 20)
[I wage war, a war of extermination against this robber of my honour, who without mercy has sullied my fair name.]
À qui donc en veut-on?
(Turning round). Against whom do you bear such a grudge?
Lélie (I. xxi) (p. 20)
In scene 22, Sganarelle’s wife is angry at Célie, whom she suspects is her husband’s lover. But finally, Célie’s suivante decides to clear up the misunderstanding. Lélie and Célie are undeceived, but Célie has accepted to marry Valère. Lélie comforts her. Her father will keep his word, which Gorgibus is not ready to do. (I. 23)
But in scene 24, the last scene, Villebrequin, Valère’s father, comes to announce that Valère has married secretly, which frees Célie and Lélie.
So, all’s well that ends well. A “bonheur éternel” (eternal bliss) awaits our young lovers.
Molière seldom signed documents, but this dénouement is Molière’s signature. No one suffers and nearly everyone has been blinded. Molière is not punitive. All are preparing for the forthcoming wedding.
As for Sganarelle, he is not the only character to have been deceived. He gives the entire adventure a moral, as though the play were a moralité.
A-t-on mieux cru jamais être cocu que moi.
Vous voyez qu’en ce fait la plus forte apparence
Peut jeter dans l’esprit une fausse créance :
De cet exemple-ci, ressouvenez-vous bien,
Et quand vous verriez tout, ne croyez jamais rien.
Sganarelle, à part
[Was there ever a man who had more cause to think himself victimized? You perceive that in such matters the strongest probability may create in the mind a wrong belief. Therefore remember, never to believe anything even if you should see everything.]
Sources and Resources
- Sganarelle or the Self-Deceived Husband is [eBook #6681]
- Sganarelle ou Le Cocu imaginaire is a Wikisource publication
- Molière 21
Love to everyone 💕
My computer is working, but I am feeling rather fragile. You will find errors in this post and it is very long, due mainly to the bilingual translations. I apologize. Further articles on Molière will be shorter.
 Paul Bénichou, Morales du Grand Siècle (Paris: Gallimard, 1948), pp. 295-296.
15 June 2019
Swati Khatri said:
That’s such a nice piece of art
Thank you so much. One of the beauties of the internet is the ability to post illustrations. I don’t want anyone to pay to read my posts, and one of the advantages is freedom to put pictures. Have a very good day. Micheline 🙂