The School for Husbands Essay - Critical Essays


Critical Evaluation

When Molière’s theatrical troupe first performed his three-act comedy The School for Husbands in 1661, the author himself played the role of Sganarelle. At first glance, it may seem odd that Molière chose to play the role of an unsympathetic and egomaniacal character, but Sganarelle is a wonderful comic role. In all except one scene in this verse comedy Sganarelle dominates the stage, although his ability to dominate other characters proves to be illusory. Sganarelle is such a thoroughly unpleasant person that the audience wants to see him fail.

From the very beginning of this comedy, Molière contrasts Sganarelle’s irrational attempts to limit Isabelle’s actions with the more enlightened and tolerant attitude of his older brother, Ariste, toward his fiancé, Léonor. The School for Husbands begins with a dialogue between Sganarelle and Ariste. Sganarelle affirms that he has no interest in learning what others may think of his strange and inflexible behavior, but he grants to himself the right to criticize others. This hypocrisy immediately creates an unfavorable opinion of Sganarelle in the minds of Molière’s viewers.

The play also features a marvelously ironic use of role reversal between these two brothers. Although Ariste is twenty years older than his brother, it is he and not Sganarelle who wears fashionable clothing and appreciates modern attitudes toward tolerance. Ariste does not object that Léonor spends money buying clothing for herself because this brings her pleasure, and Ariste is so well-to-do that he need not worry about such expenditures. He has no desire to “tyrannize” Léonor, and he is mature enough to realize that it would be better for him if she were to marry someone else rather than marry Ariste against her will. Ariste has no desire to be miserable in his marriage. Unless Léonor freely agrees to marry him, Ariste prefers to remain a bachelor. Ariste’s ideas on marriage are eminently sensible; he realizes that a marriage that is not based on equality and respect is doomed to unhappiness. Sganarelle, however, mocks Ariste’s belief that a husband will be loved by his wife only if he respects her freedom and dignity. This comedy illustrates...

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