The Imaginary Invalid

by Moliere
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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 927

The play begins with a prologue and an alternative prologue. The first prologue is titled ‘‘Eclogue,’’ which refers to a short poem that is usually ‘‘pastoral,’’ or reflecting idyllic, rural shepherd life. This eclogue involves a number of gods from classical mythology, including Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, and Pan, the Greek god of shepherds and fertility. After an introduction praising Louis XIV and stating that the comedy-ballet was ‘‘devised for his relaxation,’’ the prologue praises the king’s war efforts with a rustic song and dance, until Pan enters and says that the best way to serve Louis is to entertain and charm him. The much shorter alternative prologue is a monologue, or speech by a single character, in which a shepherdess laments that foolish doctors cannot heal the sorrows of her heart.

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Act 1
Act 1 opens with Argan adding up his many doctor’s bills and ringing for the maid, Toinette, who reveals her impatience with Argan and goes to fetch his daughter, Angélique. Argan, who is a hypochondriac, then goes off to the bathroom while Angélique asks Toinette for advice about Cléante, the young man with whom she recently fell in love, and who has promised to ask for her hand in marriage. When Argan returns, Angélique is delighted to hear him tell her of a marriage he has arranged for her, until she discovers that she is betrothed not to Cléante but to Thomas Diafoirus, who is about to graduate from medical school. Toinette argues with Argan, but he threatens to put his daughter in a convent unless she marries Thomas, and he chases Toinette with a stick.

Argan’s second wife, Béline, enters and consoles him, and Argan calls for a notary to discuss his will, since he would like to leave all of his money to his wife. Toinette warns Angélique that her stepmother is trying to undermine her interests, but Angélique is only concerned that her father does not arrange for her to marry a man she loves. Toinette promises to send word to Cléante about the arranged marriage by talking to Punchinello, an old moneylender. The scene then shifts to the ‘‘First Interlude,’’ in which Punchinello sings his lover a serenade, until he is interrupted by an old woman, a chorus of violins, and then a group of archers, who he bribes to avoid being arrested.

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Act 2
Cléante enters disguised as a friend of Angélique’s music master, and Toinette shows him in to meet Argan and Angélique. Monsieur Diafoirus then enters with his son Thomas, who makes a fool of himself during his elaborate introductions. Argan asks for some music, so Cléante describes a story of a shepherd pained by his lover’s father arranging her marriage with another man (clearly inspired by his own predicament), and he and Angélique improvise a pastoral love song. After Argan interrupts them and Béline enters, Angélique avoids promising her hand to Thomas, and Argan threatens to put her in a convent if she does not agree to the marriage within four days.

Thomas and his father leave after giving Argan ridiculous medical advice, and then Béline enters to inform her husband that she caught Cléante in Angélique’s room. Argan questions his younger daughter Louison about it, and she eventually admits that Cléante came in and kissed Angélique’s hands. Argan’s brother Béralde then arrives to tell Argan that he has an offer of marriage for Angélique. Béralde brings a company of gypsies with him who, in the ‘‘Second Interlude,’’ sing about young love and dance a ballet.

Act 3
After plotting with Toinette to prevent Angélique’s marriage to Thomas, Béralde argues to Argan that Argan is imagining his illnesses and that doctors are frauds. Monsieur Fleurant enters to give Argan an injection, and when Béralde objects, the doctor complains to his superior—Thomas’s uncle, Monsieur Purgon—who then enters and angrily tells Argan he will have nothing to do with him. Argan is very worried, until Toinette enters disguised as a doctor, pretending to be ninety years old, and claiming that Argan’s previous doctor is a fool.

Béralde then says that Béline is trying to trick her husband, and Toinette suggests that Argan pretend to be dead so that he can discover the truth about his wife. Argan agrees, and Béline responds to her husband’s death by praising heaven, complaining about him, and plotting to get his money. Argan shocks her by sitting up, and then he tries the same trick on Angélique, who laments his death sorrowfully and tells Cléante that she wants to renounce the world and her engagement. Pleased with his daughter, Argan agrees to Angélique and Cléante’s marriage provided that Cléante becomes a doctor, but Béralde suggests that Argan become a doctor instead, and Argan agrees to undergo the medical-school graduation ceremony.

The ‘‘Finale’’ of the play is a comical songand- dance graduation ceremony, written in a corrupt form of Latin that, in the original edition, contains enough French, Italian, and Spanish to make it comprehensible to Molière’s audience. Most English editions of the play have translated many of the words in the ballet into English, so readers who do not know any Latin can understand that Argan passes a short and absurd test and gains his degree, with the chorus celebrating.

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