Molière had developed numerous enemies among devout conservatives and jealous rivals by the time The Imaginary Invalid appeared. Tartuffe was banned for a period of five years because of its commentary on religion, before Louis XIV’s pious and conservative mother died and the king interceded to allow the play to be performed. But the personal, aesthetic, and moral criticism that peaked in the mid- 1660s had leveled off well before the performance of Molière’s final play. His main concern at this point was not the view of the critical majority or his bourgeois audience; it was the favor of his long-standing and most important patron, Louis XIV, because the king had recently transferred his favor to Molière’s longtime collaborator, Jean- Baptiste Lully.
One of the dramatist’s main concerns in The Imaginary Invalid, therefore, was to please the king, and the play was received very well during its first performances, until all of the reactions to it were dominated by Molière’s death. Since then, critics have frequently dwelled on the irony of this death due to a lung condition; Molière performed as the imaginary invalid Argan, and lung trouble is the condition that Toinette ascribes to all of Argan’s problems while she is disguised as a doctor. In his essay ‘‘The Doctor’s Curse,’’ J. D. Hubert writes, ‘‘Contemporaries of the author dwelled at length on this morbid paradox,’’ and he cites one of the...
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