Our dramatis personæ are:
ARGAN, an imaginary invalid.
BÉLINE, second wife to ARGAN.
ANGÉLIQUE, daughter to ARGAN, in love with CLÉANTE.
LOUISON; ARGAN’S young daughter, sister to ANGÉLIQUE.
BÉRALDE, brother to ARGAN.
CLÉANTE, lover to ANGÉLIQUE.
MR. DIAFOIRUS, a physician.
THOMAS DIAFOIRUS, his son, in love with ANGÉLIQUE.
MR. PURGON, physician to ARGAN.
MR. FLEURANT, an apothecary.
MR. DE BONNEFOI, a notary.
TOINETTE, maid-servant to ARGAN.
The Imaginary Invalid is a comédie-ballet, but Molière having fallen out with Lully, the music for Le Malade imaginaire was composed by Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Pierre Beauchamp choreographed the comédie-ballet. It was performed for the first time on 10th February 1673 at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal. On 17th February, during the fourth performance of his play, Molière collapsed. He finished playing his role and was taken home where he hemorrhaged and died. He was 51. Molière, born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (1622-1673), suffered from tuberculosis.
Le Malade imaginaire is the fourth play in which Molière mocked doctors. There had been relatively recent progress in medicine. In the 16th century, Ambroise Paré, a French barber surgeon made advances in surgery and other areas of medicine. Other scientists were also studying the human body. However, during Molière’s life time, most doctors did more harm than good. Many of Louis XIV’s legitimate children died due to poor treatment at the hands of doctors. When Louis died, only one of his legitimate children had survived. A woman protected Louis XIV’s only heir by keeping him away from doctors.
The play is rooted in various plays that featuring a theatre in the theatre, a play-within-a-play, on Molière’s own plays and farces on doctors and medieval farces and fabliaux. In fact, Béralde, Argan’s brother, defends Molière himself, which I would call “nouveau théâtre.” The play is also rooted in Molière’s own L’Impromptu de Versailles FR (1663), a defence of Molière within Molière.
The Blocking Character or Alazṓn
Hypochondria is considered a medical diagnosis, but the society of the play does not view Argan as sick. His brother Béralde tells Argan that he is not sick. Toinette also suggests that Argan is not sick. When the curtain lifts, Argan is counting how much his treatments are costing him. Money is always important in comedies and plays a role in Argan’s choice of a husband for his daughter Angélique. She is to marry a doctor, as Argan needs an in-house doctor.
Toinette & her Master
Toinette, the maid, walks in and says, unrestrained by her position, that Argan’s doctors have found a “milk-cow:”
Ce Monsieur Fleurant-là, et ce Monsieur Purgon s’égayent bien sur votre corps; ils ont en vous une bonne vache à lait; et je voudrais bien leur demander quel mal vous avez, pour vous faire tant de remèdes.
Toinette à Argan (I. ii, p. 9)
[This Mr. Fleurant and Mr. Purgon amuse themselves finely with your body. They have a rare milk-cow in you, I must say; and I should like them to tell me what disease it is you have for them to physic you so.]
Toinette to Argan (I. 2)
Où est-ce donc que nous sommes? et quelle audace est-ce là à une coquine de servante de parler de la sorte devant son maître?
Argan à Toinette (I. V, p. 16)
[What have we come to? And what boldness is this for a scrub of a servant to speak in such a way before her master?]
Argan à Toinette (I. 5)
Quand un maître ne songe pas à ce qu’il fait, une servante bien sensée est en droit de le redresser.
Toinette à Argan (I. V, p. 16)
[When a master does not consider what he is doing, a sensible servant should set him right.]
Toinette to Argan (I. 5)
Nous lisons, des anciens, Mademoiselle, que leur coutume était d’enlever par force de la maison des pères les filles qu’on menait marier, afin qu’il ne semblât pas que ce fût de leur consentement, qu’elles convolaient dans les bras d’un homme.
Thomas Diafoirus à Angélique (II. vi, p. 42)
Les anciens, Monsieur, sont les anciens, et nous sommes les gens de maintenant. Les grimaces ne sont point nécessaires dans notre siècle, et quand un mariage nous plaît, nous savons fort bien y aller, sans qu’on nous y traîne. Donnez-vous patience; si vous m’aimez, Monsieur, vous devez vouloir tout ce que je veux.
Angélique à Thomas Diafoirus (II. vi, p. 42)
[We read in the ancients, Madam, that it was their custom to carry off by main force from their father’s house the maiden they wished to marry, so that the latter might not seem to fly of her own accord into the arms of a man.
Thomas Diafoirus to Angélique (II. 6)
The ancients, Sir, are the ancients; but we are the moderns. Pretences are not necessary in our age; and when a marriage pleases us, we know very well how to go to it without being dragged by force. Have a little patience; if you love me, Sir, you ought to do what I wish.]
Angélique to Thomas Diafoirus (II. 6)
Fortunately, we have doublings, particularly in the case of Argan. Béralde is Argan’s brother and a benevolent uncle, which may explain why Angélique mistakenly agreed to marry Thomas Diafoirus. She probably thought her uncle had spoken to Argan.
The New Wife: Béline
Argan has remarried. Béline flatters Argan as much as possible, but as comedy would have it, a second wife may be a fortune hunter. She is, in fact, the archetypal and often derided belle-mère (mother-in-law):
Chacun a son but en se mariant. Pour moi, qui ne veux un mari que pour l’aimer véritablement, et qui prétends en faire tout l’attachement de ma vie, je vous avoue que j’y cherche quelque précaution. Il y en a d’aucunes qui prennent des maris seulement pour se tirer de la contrainte de leurs parents, et se mettre en état de faire tout ce qu’elles voudront. Il y en a d’autres, Madame, qui font du mariage un commerce de pur intérêt; qui ne se marient que pour gagner des douaires; que pour s’enrichir par la mort de ceux qu’elles épousent, et courent sans scrupule de mari en mari, pour s’approprier leurs dépouilles. Ces personnes-là à la vérité n’y cherchent pas tant de façons, et regardent peu la personne.
Angélique à Béline (II. vi, p. 43)
[We all have our own end in marrying. For my part, as I only want a husband that I can love sincerely, and as I intend to consecrate my whole life to him, I feel bound, I confess, to be cautious. There are some who marry simply to free themselves from the yoke of their parents, and to be at liberty to do all they like. There are others, Madam, who see in marriage only a matter of mere interest; who marry only to get a settlement, and to enrich themselves by the death of those they marry. They pass without scruple from husband to husband, with an eye to their possessions. These, no doubt, Madam, are not so difficult to satisfy, and care little what the husband is like.]
Angélique to Béline (II. 7)
Béline would not force Angélique to marry Thomas Diafoirus, but she would have her locked up in a convent.
Écoute, il n’y a point de milieu à cela. Choisis d’épouser dans quatre jours, ou Monsieur, ou un couvent. Ne vous mettez pas en peine, je la rangerai bien.
Argan à Angélique (II. vi, p. 44)
[Listen to me! Of two things, one. Either you will marry this gentleman or you will go into a convent. I give you four days to consider. (TO BÉLINE) Don’t be anxious; I will bring her to reason.]
Argan to Angélique (II. 8)
Early in the comedy, we learn that Angélique and her younger sister Louison have lost their mother. Angélique discusses her “lover” with Toinette (I.iii and iv, pp. 9-10). Therefore, one assumes that, in the eyes of Angélique and her younger sister Louison, Toinette is more than a servant. She may not be a surrogate mother, but she is also a doubling, un dédoublement. Were she not, Béline, Argan’s second wife, would be too powerful. For instance, Argan wants to make a Will and Béline herself brings in the notary (I. vi, p. 79; I. 8).
The real threat, however, is Argan’s wish to have a doctor as his son-in-law. Argan is marrying his daughter to Thomas Diafoirus, so his needs are satisfied. That is his reason:
Ma raison est, que me voyant infirme, et malade comme je suis, je veux me faire un gendre, et des alliés médecins, afin de m’appuyer de bons secours contre ma maladie, d’avoir dans ma famille les sources des remèdes qui me sont nécessaires, et d’être à même des consultations, et des ordonnances.
Argan à Toinette (I. V, pp. 13- 14)
[My reason is, that seeing myself infirm and sick, I wish to have a son-in-law and relatives who are doctors, in order to secure their kind assistance in my illness, to have in my family the fountain-head of those remedies which are necessary to me, and to be within reach of consultations and prescriptions.]
Argan à Toinette (I. 5)
Comedy as a genre seldom creates fathers so objectionable that, as the curtain falls, they cannot re-enter the society of the play. L’Avare‘s Harpagon is happy to have found his precious cassette and his children are marrying at no cost to him. In the Imaginary Invalid, Toinettes says to Argan:
Moreover, not only does Angélique have a surrogate mother, but, as mentioned above, Molière has also created a surrogate father. Béralde, Argan’s brother, is an uncle and an avuncular figure. He visits Argan to propose a husband for Angélique:
J’étais venu ici, mon frère, vous proposer un parti pour ma nièce Angélique.
Béralde à Argan (II. ix, p. 49)
I came here, brother, to propose a match for my niece, Angélique.
Béralde to Argan (II. 12)
Argan gets angry, revealing a degree of strength he claimed he did not possess when his brother arrived. He also shows his total dependence on doctors. He needs to put a doctor in his household.
Béralde on Doctors and Molière
At this point, a long discussion takes place regarding Argan’s medical needs, medicine, doctors and Molière (III. iii, p. 51-58). In Béralde’s eyes, his brother Argan is perfectly healthy, which could be, but hypochondria is an illness in itself. In Molière’s comedies, characters are as they are. No one can change fancies and obsessions, or chimères. L’Avare‘s Harpagon is a miser and will remain a miser. Monsieur Jourdain is made into a mamamouchi and, in the end, although all his doctors leave, Argan allows Cléante to marry Angélique, provided he becomes a doctor. Clothes suffice. They make you into what you appear.
Béralde explains Molière to his besotted brother. Molière was very sick. His sickness was all he could bear. The doctors of the day knowing little about medicine could have incapacitated him:
Il [Molière] a ses raisons pour n’en point vouloir, et il soutient que cela n’est permis qu’aux gens vigoureux et robustes, et qui ont des forces de reste pour porter les remèdes avec la maladie; mais que pour lui il n’a justement de la force, que pour porter son mal.
Béralde à Argan (III. iii, p. 55)
[He has his reasons for not wishing to have anything to do; he is certain that only strong and robust constitutions can bear their remedies in addition to the illness, and he has only just enough strength for his sickness.]
Béralde to Argan (III. 3)
Béralde criticizes doctors, but reasonably so. Who could have cured Molière of turberculosis? He at least did not lose time seeking the help of doctors and losing energy through blood-letting, une saignée, a favourite remedy in 17th-century medicine.
But in come the doctors ready to give Argan his enema. There were all kinds of enemas, not just water. But Béralde gets after the doctors who end up leaving, which is a tragedy for Argan who is convinced he needs the care of a physician, even if it means forcing his daughter to marry Thomas Diafoirus. Thomas Diafoirus believes that forcing a woman into a marriage is acceptable.
Le Théâtre dans le Théâtre
The doctors having left Toinette, a servant and caregiver to Angélique and Louison, decides to play doctor. She diagnoses a lung problem, which was Molière’s disease. She also suggests treatments that Argan cannot accept: the removal of an eye and an arm. This is a play.
The doctors having left, the time has also come to discuss Angélique’s marriage. Argan wishes to do as his new wife has suggested, which is to throw Angélique into a convent. But Béline should be coming home soon. So, Toinette asks Argan to make believe he is dead. Feigning death is also theatrical. When Béline is informed of his death, she thanks heaven:
Le Ciel en soit loué. Me voilà délivrée d’un grand fardeau. Que tu es sotte, Toinette,
de t’affliger de cette mort!
Béline à Toinette (III. xii, p. 65)
[Heaven be praised. I am delivered. How silly of you, Toinette, to be so afflicted at his death.]
Béline to Toinette (III. 16)
Va, va, cela n’en vaut pas la peine. Quelle perte est-ce que la sienne, et de quoi servait-il sur la terre? Un homme incommode à tout le monde, malpropre, dégoûtant, sans cesse un lavement, ou une médecine dans le ventre, mouchant, toussant, crachant toujours, sans esprit, ennuyeux, de mauvaise humeur, fatiguant sans cesse les gens, et grondant jour et nuit servantes, et valets.
Béline à Toinette (III. xii, p. 65)
[Pooh! it is not worth the trouble. What loss is it to anybody, and what good did he do in this world? A wretch, unpleasant to everybody; of nauseous, dirty habits; always a clyster or a dose of physic in his body. Always snivelling, coughing, spitting; a stupid,
tedious, ill-natured fellow, who was for ever fatiguing people and scolding night and day at his maids and servants.]
Béline to Toinette ((III. 16)
Béline quickly asks Toinette to help her get to the money.
Argan feigns death a second time, another theater. When Angélique hears that her father has died, she is devastated.
Ô Ciel! quelle infortune! quelle atteinte cruelle! Hélas! faut-il que je perde mon père, la seule chose qui me restait au monde; et qu’encore pour un surcroît de désespoir, je le perde dans un moment où il était irrité contre moi? Que deviendrai-je, malheureuse, et quelle consolation trouver après une si grande perte?
Angélique à Toinette (III. viii, p. 67)
O heavens! what a misfortune! What a cruel grief! Alas why must I lose my father, the only being left me in the world? and why should I lose him, too, at a time when he was angry with me? What will become of me, unhappy girl that I am? What consolation can I find after so great a loss?
Angélique to Toinette (III, 20)
Doublings play an important role in The Imaginary Invalid. Toinette and Béralde do help the comedy’s young lovers. We find in Toinette and Béralde such ruse and determination, that Argan allows Angélique and Cléante to marry. However, Argan makes the marriage conditional on Cléante becoming a doctor. The young lovers may marry, which is the goal of comedy, but our heavy father succeeds in having a son-in-law who is a doctor. His needs are satisfied.
A post is a post, so I cannot discuss the Interludes. Yet, one performance should be noted. Cléante arrives at Argan’s house. Antoinette hesitates, but allows him to enter Orgon’s room. He and Angélique must speak before entering a life-long relationship. Marriage follows courtship. In order to speak to Angélique, Cléante makes Orgon believe that he is replacing Angélique’s singing teacher. Another performance is required. Once the singing lesson is over, Cléante is reassured that both lovers share the same feelings. The lovers in this play are therefore active and earn the support of Béralde and Toinette.
Doublings occur in Le Malade imaginaire, but spectacles follow spectacles, including the singing lesson. The ultimate among these performances is Argan feigning death, is théâtre dans le théâtre. He discovers his second wife isn’t what he thought she was. He feigns death a second time, and realizes he has a loving daughter. The ceremony during which Cléante will be transformed into a doctor is also theatrical.
Angélique tells her uncle:
Mais, mon oncle, il me semble que vous vous jouez un peu beaucoup de mon père.
Angélique à Béralde (III. xiv, p. 69)
Mais, ma nièce, ce n’est pas tant le jouer, que s’accommoder à ses fantaisies. Tout ceci n’est qu’entre nous. Nous y pouvons aussi prendre chacun un personnage, et nous donner ainsi la comédie les uns aux autres. Le carnaval autorise cela. Allons vite préparer toutes choses.
Angélique à Béralde (III. xiv, p. 69)
[But, uncle, it seems to me that you are making fun of my father.]
Angélique to Béralde (III. last scene)
[But, niece, it is not making too much fun of him to fall in with
his fancies. We may each of us take part in it ourselves, and thus
perform the comedy for each other’s amusement. Carnival time
authorises it. Let us go quickly and get everything ready.]
Béralde to Angélique (III. last scene)
Ruses (trickery) are perfectly acceptable in comedy, farce, in particular. However, The Imaginary Invalid is a series of spectacles. “Carnival time authorises it,” but recourse to so many ploys mocks reality to a barely acceptable degree. It seems too audacious a redemptive mechanism. All the world’s stage.
Yet, as Will More puts it, “[t]he plot of Le Malade Imaginaire is … little more than the various gullibilities of a hypochondriac.”
Will G. Moore, Molière a New Criticism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1949), p. 72.
Love to everyone 💕
© Micheline Walker
4 April 2019