The School for Husbands

by Moliere

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 435

French playwright Molière's School for Husbands (French: L'École de maris) is a story about two sisters betrothed to their guardians. The play is Molière's first full length play, and was performed at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal in 1661. The play was widely regarded as a success, and led to Molière's acclaim as a playwright.

The play involves two sisters, Léonore and Isabelle, who are the orphaned wards of two brothers, Ariste and Sganarelle (and Molière himself played the part of Sganarelle). These two men treat their wards, whom they intend to marry, in very different ways. As the play's title suggests, Molière sought for his play to impart a moral lesson to his audience.

The play opens with Ariste and Sgnaraelle discussing their diverse habits. Sganarelle is younger and more extravagant than Ariste. Ariste promotes dressing and acting moderately so as to not attract undue attention to oneself. Sganarelle is, by contrast, a bit of a dandy. Sganarelle keeps his ward, Isabelle, confined to the home, while Ariste allows his ward Léonore, a degree of freedom and treats her with tenderness. Sganarelle mocks his older brother's trust and proposes that the Léonore is deceiving Ariste in her affections.

One Valère becomes Sganarelle's neighbor. Isabella (as a ruse) tells Sganarelle that she has seen Valère following and admiring her (though he herself secretly reciprocates). She does this order that Sganarelle allow her to send Valère a letter in return without Sganarelle suspecting. In this way, Isabelle communicates her affections secretly to Valère.

As Sganarelle seeks to hasten his marriage from one week to one day. Isabelle realizes that she must do something to escape. She tells Sganarelle that Léonore is having an affair with Valère, and so Isabelle must allow her sister to stay in Isabelle's room so that the former may escape Ariste. Sganarelle follows Isabelle, whom he thinks is Léonore, en route to see Valère. Sganarelle, seeking to avoid disgrace brought to Isabella because of what he thinks are Lénore's indiscretions, arranges for Valère and Léonore to be married, for which purpose he calls a magistrate.

Ariste, at first disappointed, tells Léonore that she should have told him of her love for Valère. When she replies that she does not, Sganarelle realizes he has been deceived. Isabelle apologizes to her sister for the falsehood in which she was implicated, but explains the urgency of avoiding marriage to Sganarelle. Valère admits the pleasure he took in receiving Isabella at Sganarelle's own hands.

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