I needed a few laughs and I got them with this witty, often caustic satire, complete with a bit of potty humor and one really smart-ass
maid. Molière, (Jean Baptiste Poquelin) French Master of Comedy wrote this play as scathing criticism of the incompetency of seventeenth-century
doctors and their lack of real medical knowledge, along with their puffed-up attitudes and superstitious beliefs, who did little but financially gouge their
patients and keep them ill. Its complete version also consists of music and dance, including an opening ballet in praise of Louis XIV,
Molière's patron and personal friend. I searched online to find a video of this in period costumes with the music and dance
included, but I was unable to find any performance worth sharing.
Incidentally, this review contains spoilers, so if you want to read this play yourself without knowing how it all turns out, stop before the end. However, I do suggest you read the last paragraph, because that contains a rather sad and important note.
Argan is the imaginary invalid, and his doctor, Mr. Purgon and the apothecary Mr. Fleurant are making quite a fortune on Argan's "ills." The treatments , along with useless pills include frequent. . .eh. . .bowel cleansers. Angelique is his daughter and Béline his second wife, but it is the maid, Toinette who steals the show with her acerbic one-liners, her nosiness and two-facedness that allows her to gain Béline's trust to the advantage of helping Angelique.
Angelique has found the man she wishes to marry, but her father has other ideas. He is determined to marry her to another doctor's son, mostly to have a doctor on hand for all his illnesses. The first act introduces most of the characters and sets the plot, but the real guffaws begin in Act II.
Cléante, Angelique's lover has arrived in the guise of a substitute music teacher, and witnesses the arrival of Mr. Diafoirus and his son Thomas, Angelique's betrothed. Thomas is a dull-witted dolt, who speaks to Angelique and her father as if he is reading a script and keeps asking his father what to do. His father, in a sort of backwards praise, relates how Thomas was slow at first, learning his alphabet at age nine, and struggling in school, but he still became a doctor and his father is proud. They both do an examination of Argan and talk a mix of Latin and gibberish, pronouncing that he's very ill indeed. Angelique openly announces that she does not feel any attraction to Thomas. Cléante has left and Angelique soon follows. Béline catches them together. She has been threatening to send Angelique off to a convent.
In the third act, Béralde, Argan's brother is trying to talk some sense into him at many levels. First, he points out that Argan is about as healthy and fit as anyone, then he trashes Argan's wife, who is only waiting for him to die so she can get his money. But mostly he has come to plead on behalf of his niece and her beloved, Cléante, to allow them to marry as they wish. Toinette is in on the plot, and arrives in the guise of a doctor after Mr. Purgon walks out because Béralde insists that Argan refuse his"treatment." Toinette, as the doctor, contradicts everything Mr. Purgon has told him. Nothing seems to be working, so Toinette has a last-chance plan. She know Béline is arriving home, and tells Argan to lie down and pretend he has died, and he will see what a conniving witch she really is. Béralde hides, and Toinette is there alone, bewailing the fact that her master has just passed away. Béline, thinking Toinette is on her side is thrilled, and suggests they hide the body until Béline is able to get his money into her hands. What a surprise when Argan rises! So now he knows the truth.
But Toinette is not done. She also knows that Angelique is soon to arrive home, and plays the same game with her. She, on the other hand, is filled with passionate grief and sorrow that her father, whom she loves, has passed. Now Argan knows yet another truth, and consents to allow Cléante to marry her, provided he becomes a doctor. He agrees, but then Béralde suggests that Argan himself become a doctor—it is so easy to do, and he can learn all the Latin and nonsense after he receives his cap and gown.
The very last interlude is a Burlesque arriving through Béralde's invitation, mocking the installation of a new physician. It consists of eight syringe-bearers, six apothecaries, twenty-two doctors, eight surgeons dancing and two singing, and the physician that is to be admitted. I was perplexed that the entire show was in untranslated Latin (my Latin is a bit rusty), until I realized that it is nonsense—as noted, a combination of "Latin, dog-Latin, Italian, French, and of words belonging to no language under the sun."
There is a real-life tragedy connected to this ironic farce: At the time it was
written, Molière himself was extremely ill from a respiratory infection. The lead role was played by himself, and on the fourth performance, during the
ending interlude, he collapsed, then died later that night. It was February 17, 1673.
Now that 's irony.
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