Argan is the worst sort of hypochondriac. Each day sees him trying some sort of new drug, and as a result the doctor and the apothecary can exist almost exclusively on their profits from Argan. Toinette, his maidservant, is certain that there is absolutely nothing the matter with her master, but she tries in vain to persuade him not to worry about his health. He refuses to listen to her, determined to be an invalid.
He is encouraged in his supposed illness by his doctor and by Béline, his second wife, who uses his weakness to further her schemes to get his money. Because the law says that a second wife cannot inherit, it is essential to Béline that Argan make a settlement on her while he still lives. To that end also she tries to get him to place his two daughters in a convent, so that they cannot interfere or claim money for themselves.
Argan has plans for his older daughter, Angélique. He intends to force her betrothal to his doctor’s son in order to have a doctor in the family. He tells the girl that a dutiful daughter will take a husband useful to her father, but Angélique, who loves a young man named Cléante, begs her father not to force her to marry Thomas Diafoirus, the doctor’s son. Argan is firm, however, because the young man will also inherit a large sum of money from his father and another from his uncle, the apothecary. If Angélique will not obey his wishes, he threatens to place her in a convent, as her stepmother wishes him to do. Toinette scolds him severely for trying to force his daughter to marry against her wishes, but he will not be moved. Toinette, wishing to help Angélique, gets word to Cléante that his beloved is to be married off to someone else.
Cléante disguises himself as the friend of Angélique’s singing master and tells Argan that he was sent to give her a lesson. Toinette pretends to change her mind and sympathizes with Argan’s position regarding the marriage. In that way she can offer to guard Angélique, while in reality giving the young lovers an opportunity to be alone together.
While pretending to be the teacher, Cléante witnesses the meeting between Thomas and Angélique. Thomas is a great boob of a boy who quotes memorized speeches to Argan, Angélique, and Béline. His father, the doctor, is quite proud that Thomas, always a little slow in learning, follows blindly the opinions of the ancients, not accepting such new medical discoveries, for example, as the thesis that blood circulates through the system.
Poor Angélique knows that she could never marry such a stupid oaf. She begs her father at least to give her time to become acquainted with Thomas, but the most he will give her is four days. At the end of that period, she must either marry Thomas or go into a convent. In order to be assured of Argan’s money, Béline continues to plead with him to choose the convent for his daughter.
Argan’s brother, Béralde, calls on him and also pleads Angélique’s cause. He thinks it wicked to force her to marry against her wishes, and he knows that Argan is not really ill and does not need a doctor in the family. In fact, he knows that the doctor will soon cause his brother’s death by the constant “drenching” of his abdomen. Béralde sends the medicines away, whereupon the doctor renounces his patient and predicts his death within four days. The apothecary cancels his contract to give his nephew a marriage settlement, and neither of the professionals will be soothed by Argan’s protestations that it is his brother and not he who denounces them and their treatments. Argan believes that he will surely die without their attention.
Toinette and Béralde decide to trick the hypochondriac. Toinette disguises herself as a physician and tells Argan that his former doctor was entirely mistaken in his diagnosis of Argan’s illness. His liver and bowels are not ailing, but his lungs are; he must cut...
(The entire section is 1,094 words.)