The Doctor in Spite of Himself

by Moliere

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Last Updated May 16, 2024.

Introduction

Molière, whose real name was Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, was born in 1622. He was a French playwright, actor, and poet from a wealthy family and had the king's brother as one of his patrons. Despite his privileged background, Molière faced challenges in maintaining a theater company in Paris and spent years touring France before achieving success. He was renowned for his comedic talent but had to contend with opposition from the church, which tried to prevent his performances.

Among the more than 30 plays that Molière wrote, The Doctor in Spite of Himself, or Le Médecin malgré lui, stands out as a farcical comedy about a woodcutter named Sganarelle who is forced to pretend to be a doctor.

Summary

In Act One, an argument ensues between Sganarelle and his wife, Martine. Sganarelle boasts about being a well-educated man, while Martine complains that he sells all their belongings to fund his drinking. As the argument escalates, Sganarelle becomes increasingly angry and ends up beating her.

The couple's neighbor, Robert, arrives and tries to stop Sganarelle. However, Martine says that she wants to be beaten and slaps Robert. Sganarelle, insisting that such violence is his right, hits him and chases him away. Martine tells Sganarelle she forgives him, but after he leaves, she swears vengeance. 

Martine encounters two servants, Valere and Lucas, who inform her that their master's daughter, Lucinde, is ill and unable to speak. Despite consulting with several doctors, her condition has not improved. Martine sees this as a chance for revenge and suggests a cunning doctor named Sganarelle, who pretends to be unintelligent and denies being a doctor unless he is physically beaten.

Valere and Lucas find Sganarelle drinking and cutting wood. As they expected from what Martine said, Sganarelle speaks of nothing but the price of wood. They beat him with sticks until, at their insistence, he says he is a doctor.

Valere and Lucas disguise Sganarelle as a doctor and take him to their master, Geronte. They convince Geronte that Sganarelle, despite his eccentricities, is the greatest doctor in the world and can cure Lucinde. Jacqueline, Lucas's wife, believes it is a waste of time and money and that marrying Lucinde to Léandre, the man she loves, would solve everything. However, the others dismiss this idea.

When Lucinde enters, Sganarelle pretends to examine her, impressing everyone with a mixture of Aristotle, Latin, and nonsensical medical explanations. Geronte briefly objects that Sganarelle's words misplace the liver and heart, but Sganarelle dismisses that as old medicine before prescribing large doses of bread dipped in wine. Sganarelle accepts money from Geronte and leaves.

Sganarelle considers himself fortunate when Léandre approaches him and asks for help. Léandre confesses his love for Lucinde and reveals that she is faking an illness to avoid an arranged marriage set up by her father. They disguise Léandre as an apothecary, and Sganarelle confesses that he is not a real doctor but only pretending to be one.

Sganarelle presents the disguised Léandre to Geronte and then distracts him so Léandre and Lucinde can talk. Lucinde announces that she will marry no one but Léandre, and Geronte is amazed that Sganarelle has restored her speech but begs him to cure her of this new "disease of the mind." Sganarelle instructs Léandre to take the patient out and prescribes "matrimonium," or marriage.

While Sganarelle and Geronte speak, Lucas arrives to announce that the apothecary Sganarelle brought them was really Léandre and that he and Lucinde have run away. Geronte and Lucas tell Sganarelle that he will be hung. Martine arrives and is pleased to hear the news,...

(This entire section contains 702 words.)

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saying she will stay to see the hanging. 

Léandre and Lucinde return and tell Geronte they have decided not to elope. Léandre says he has just received a large inheritance from his uncle and asks Geronte for his daughter's hand. Hearing of Léandre's new wealth, Geronte gladly agrees to the marriage. 

Martine insists Sganarelle should not be hung. Sganarelle tells Martine that he forgives her trick because she made him a doctor, but he warns her that a doctor's anger is worse than a woodcutter.

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