Literature Annotations


Molière,
The Imaginary Invalid


Genre Play (78 pp.)
KeywordsArt of Medicine, Disability, Disease and Health, Doctor-Patient Relationship, Family Relationships, Father-Daughter Relationship, History of Medicine, Humor and Illness/Disability, Law and Medicine, Love, Medical Education, Patient Experience, Professionalism
Summary

Argan, a fearful but miserly hypochondriac, divides his time between summoning the doctor to care for his ills and trying not to settle the resultant bills. He resolves to marry his daughter, Angélique, to a medical student, hoping to acquire unlimited access to gratis consultation. The chosen fiancé is an unattractive dolt, who would never interest Angélique, even if she were not already in love with clever, handsome Cléante, who poses as her music instructor.

Argan's wife, however, plans to send Angélique to a convent, removing her from the line inheritance. At the urging of the sensible servant Toinette, he feigns death to test his wife's affection only to discover her contempt. Again with the help of Toinette, the young lovers convince Argan to liberate himself from the twin tyrannies of his ailing body and his grasping physicians by becoming his own doctor. The play closes with the physicians' lively examination of Argan and his entry into the profession, full of musical pomp and pidgin Latin.

Commentary

First performed in 1673, when Molière was already well known for his comedic attacks on the professional antics of doctors and other privileged snobs, this farce manages to poke fun both at the medical profession and at its gullible clientele. Argan's ailments are the product of his imagination and the drastic remedies he so willingly consumes to avoid them. The deceptive doctors are ignorant, ineffective, and arrogant.

The most intelligent, autonomous, and sympathetic character is the servant-nurse, Toinette, who easily perceives and manipulates the weaknesses of her master and mistress and their entourage. Her deception is not entirely capricious: in becoming a doctor, able to name his own woes, Argan seems to be cured.

The examination scene may bear traces of Molière's own unwilling entry into the legal profession, which is said to have taken place many years earlier with a night of drinking and a substantial bribe. On 17 February 1673, Molière played the role of Argan, but he fell into a fit of coughing during the final scene and died.

SourceThe Misanthrope and Other Plays
PublisherPenguin
Edition1959
EditorsJohn Wood
Place PublishedHarmondsworth, UK
MiscellaneousTranslated by John Wood. The Penguin edition includes an editorial with alternative prologue. Molière's given name was Jean-Baptiste Poquelin.
Annotated by Duffin, Jacalyn
Date of Entry 01/25/99
Last Revised 10/21/03