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A Doctor in Spite of Himself by Molière
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A Doctor in Spite of Himself (1666)

by Molière

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English (4)  French (3)  All languages (7)
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I bought my copy a half-century ago on the banks of the Seine, 5 Quai Montebello, late July, last three volumes for dix francs, maybe $2 at the time. (Remember, US quarters had real silver at the time.) We saw one Molière play at Comedie Francaise, and I read it in this edition—perhaps L’ecole des Femmes.

We in the US are now accustomed to intervention in abusive relations, so the first two scenes may surprise us. The play opens with Sganarelle, a wood-cutter, and his wife Martine arguing over who should be grateful the other married him/er. She says he does nothing all day but gamble and drink, while she has to care for four small children who beg for food. Her hubby says, “Well, whip them.” The couple insult each other, and he threatens her with a baton, a stick he’s got in his work. He’s as good as his word, and she calls him a drunk, Sac à vin. Handy to be a drinker when he’s received as a physician; he prescribes cordials with dust mixed in, gold being the most expensive, and seen as a great cure. He continues to test his alcohol cordials. This brings to mind our most common TV ads, for Big Pharma. (Much easier to sell in alcohol infusions, in the 17C.)
As the couple are fighting, enter their neighbor, M. Robert, who chastises the husband for beating his wife. Unexpectedly, Martine claims “I want him to hit me” and, “Is it any of your business?” She calls him impertinent, to hinder the right of husbands to beat their wives. M. Robert asks pardon for his intrusion, and leaves.
Of course, Martine really resents the beatings, and plans revenge. Overhearing that the great family needs a physician, she volunteers her husband as one, explaining he’s in the woods as a collector of herbal remedies or “simples” (168). (Compare John Muir collecting plants in the South after the Civil War, spared by some Confederate troops still fighting like the Japanese years after WWII ended). Martine says he’s a mad genius, will not admit he’s a physician unless they beat him—and he likes to wear the green and yellow clothes associated with commedia dell’arte comedy. Also, he is funny, which helps in healing. He’s healed people on their deathbed, with a little dram of something.
After he admits he’s a doctor, to end the beating, he shows his advanced knowledge with his schoolboy Latin and invented Latin words, but also with his up-to-date medicine, particularly pulse. Avicenna wrote a book on pulse, which I read in Latin at the Brown Library, though Ibn Sina wrote in Arabic. He linked it to the lungs; we know it arises from the heart, which Gabriel Harvey discovered in the late 16th C, just decades before
Sganarelle diagnoses a perfectly healthy young man, Voila un pouls qui est fort mauvais (190). Earlier he had said the ill, mute daughter resulted from her father’s poor pulse (185).
The gentleman Geronte objects to only one thing in the fake doctor’s analysis of his bodily health, with the humors or “vapeurs” arising from the liver to the brain. Geronte thinks “ the heart is on the left side, the liver on the right”(188). Sganarelle, “Yes, that’s what they used to think, but we have discovered something totally new.”
In Act III, Sganarelle admits to Leandre that he’s not really a doctor, but he confides, “It’s a good profession.” Everybody wanted him to be a physician, so he finally said he was one: to Leandre, he says, “You wouldn’t believe how widespread the error was,” though under the US prez, we do believe error, and the belief in lies, widespread.
One great advantage of being a physician, No Complaints!—at least, none from those you kill, “jamais on n’en voit se plaindre du médecin qui l’a tuè”(193).
Leandre and Lucinde had planned to run away and marry, as advised by the fake doctor, but there’s a change in plans. No spoiler alert.
Much amusement in this play, including quite bit of dialect, several dialect names for God, “par ma figué,” and for common words like bère for “father,” often the Nurse or Nanny’s accent.
Great operetta version by Gounod a,d later Satie; recent performance in Boston, Huntington Theter, on the centennial of Gounod's birth. ( )
1 vote AlanWPowers | Nov 16, 2018 |
A brief, charming comedy. A man is set up to be portrayed as a doctor. Confusion ensues in a comical manner. A lighthearted narrative to amuse the soul. ( )
  godmotherx5 | Apr 5, 2018 |
2
  kutheatre | Jun 7, 2015 |
There are a number of funny things going on here. The wife is getting revenge but on her own terms (she doesn't want anyone else butting their noses into her business). There are foolish men who can be convinced of a person's abilities - never mind a test of actual skill. And then there is the typical trickery of lovers who scheme to be together. The play maintains its comic quality by virtue of the Deus ex Machina at the end. No one dies (though it is threatened). ( )
  tjsjohanna | Sep 26, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (71 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Molièreprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bishop, MorrisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Van Laun, HenriTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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