Study Guide

The Doctor in Spite of Himself

by Moliere

The Doctor in Spite of Himself Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Sganarelle, a faggot gatherer, was driven to extremes because Martine, his nagging wife, accused him of always being drunk instead of working, and finally he took a stick and beat her soundly. When their neighbor M. Robert sought to interfere, Martine boxed his ears and declared she liked to have her husband beat her. But as Sganarelle went off to the woods after promising to bring back a hundred faggots that day, Martine itched for wifely revenge.

Geronte’s daughter Lucinde had feigned illness and loss of speech in order to escape marriage to a wealthy suitor her father had chosen for her; she herself was in love with Leandre, who returned her love. Her father had summoned many physicians to treat her, but all had failed to find a cure. At last Geronte sent his attendants, Valere and Lucas, in search of a specialist.

When they encountered the offended Martine and confided in her the reason for their journey, she saw in their search an opportunity to get even with her husband. She told them that he was a marvelous curer of any illness, a doctor who pretended to be a woodcutter who dressed absurdly and pretended complete ignorance of his art, so that it might actually be necessary to thrash him violently to gain from him admission of his real talents. Her boasts of the wonderful cures he had performed so impressed her listeners that they set off in immediate search of this medical prodigy. They found Sganarelle in the wood, relaxing with his bottle, and, being rebuffed by him after their first ceremonious introduction, they thrashed him severely and finally forced him to say he was a doctor and to follow them to see Lucinde.

The attendants persuaded Geronte that Sganarelle, though he loved a joke and seemed to be off his head, was really the greatest doctor in the world. When Sganarelle was introduced to Geronte, he inquired, as he himself had been asked, if the other man were a doctor. Geronte replied that he was not, whereupon Sganarelle, following the pattern applied to him, gave him a sound thrashing. The attendants thereupon explained to the bewildered Geronte that this was merely an example of the great doctor’s eccentricity, a sure sign of his greatness.

When Geronte brought in his daughter, she replied to Sganarelle’s questions by signs, gestures, and grunts. From these noises Sganarelle diagnosed Lucinde as dumb, a malady caused by loss of speech because of an impediment in the action of her tongue, on which subject Aristotle said—thus and so. Using some learned-sounding Latin words which meant nothing at all, he prescribed that the patient be put to bed and given plenty of bread soaked in wine; his explanation was that in this manner parrots were induced to speak.

Geronte, overwhelmed by the brilliance of Sganarelle’s diagnosis and vast...

(The entire section is 1152 words.)