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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, 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.

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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.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1223

Léonor and Isabelle, orphaned on the death of their father, are committed by his deathbed wish to the guardianship of his friends Sganarelle and Ariste, with the additional charge that if Sganarelle and Ariste do not marry the young women, then the guardians are to provide suitable husbands for their wards. The two brothers have different ideas about the upbringing of the orphans. The elder, Ariste, chooses to conform to the fashions of the day but without going to extremes. He gives his ward, Léonor, the opportunity to attend balls and dances and meet the gallants of the city. Although he himself wishes to marry her, he loves Léonor sufficiently to leave the choice to her.

Sganarelle, in contrast, thinks that all this is foolish. Where Ariste hopes to govern only by affection, Sganarelle believes in the effectiveness of severity. He confines Isabelle strictly to her quarters and to household duties, thus keeping her from meeting any eligible young men. Determined to marry her himself, he hopes to discipline her to that end. When Sganarelle scoffs at his brother’s leniency and predicts that he will in the end be tricked by so young a wife, Léonor declares that if she marries her guardian she will be faithful to him, but if she were to be Sganarelle’s wife she would not be answerable for any of her actions.

Meanwhile, Valère, Sganarelle’s new neighbor, has fallen in love with Isabelle, whom he has seen at a distance, and Isabelle reciprocates his love; however, with no means of communication neither knows the true feelings of the other. Isabelle finally works out a plan to test Valère. She tells Sganarelle about Valère’s attentions and, knowing her guardian will then angrily accost Valère, declares that they are distasteful to her. Sganarelle asks Valère to cease molesting his ward and tells him that, even though Isabelle knows of Valère’s hopes, his is an unrequited passion—her only wish is to find happiness in marrying her guardian. Valère senses in this message something more that Isabelle hopes to convey to him.

Sganarelle tells Isabelle that Valère has been crushed by her harsh message. Isabelle, under the pretense of returning a letter that, according to her story, an accomplice of Valère’s had thrown into her chamber, persuades her guardian to deliver the note. Actually, it is a love letter that she has written to Valère. Sganarelle, taking her request as a touching example of model womanly behavior, delivers the letter, which tells of Isabelle’s resolve to break free of her prison at any cost during the six days remaining before her enforced marriage to her guardian. Valère, making use of Sganarelle to take back to Isabelle words showing the sincerity of his attachment, declares that his only hope had been to make her his wife and that, although he now realizes the hopelessness of his suit, he will always love her. First he flatters Sganarelle as an opponent no one could possibly displace, and then he shows himself so completely crestfallen and hopeless in surrendering all thought of winning his fair prize that Sganarelle even comes to feel a little sorry for his rival.

Isabelle, trying to trick her guardian into appearing despicable in the eyes of her lover, pretends to fear an attempt by Valère to force her from her chamber and carry her off before her marriage to Sganarelle. Bursting with pride at what he considers the womanly discretion of his ward, discretion obviously reflecting his own wisdom in her upbringing, Sganarelle offers to return to Valère and berate him for his bold and mischievous scheme. All turns out as Isabelle has hoped. In reply, Valère declares that if what Sganarelle reports is possibly true, then his passion is indeed hopeless. Sganarelle, to make matters perfectly clear, takes Valère directly to Isabelle to hear the cruel decision from her own lips. Using words that could be understood two ways, Isabelle and Valère declare their love for each other under the nose of their dupe. Then on Isabelle’s order Valère departs, promising that in three days he will find a way to free her from her jailer. Sganarelle, however, cannot wait three days. Overjoyed at the exhibition of what he takes to be his ward’s fond regard for him, he is eager to consummate the marriage. He tells Isabelle that the ceremony will be performed the next day.

Isabelle realizes that her last recourse is to commit herself unreservedly to her lover at once, but as she prepares for flight Sganarelle sees her and informs her that all preparations have been made for their union. Isabelle trumps up a story that she is about to leave the house to spend the night with a worthy friend, Lucrece, because Léonor, in desperation, has asked for the use of Isabelle’s room that night. Against her better judgment, she declares, she has consented and has just locked her sister in. Isabelle pretends that Valère has really been Léonor’s lover for more than a year but has abandoned her because he has become infatuated with Isabelle. She says that Léonor, hoping to win back Valère’s love, plans to meet him in the lane near the house. Sganarelle, declaring this plan immodest, wants to drive Léonor out of the house at once. Isabelle restrains him, however, and persuades him to let her take the message to Léonor, after insisting that Sganarelle must hide himself and promise to let her sister leave without his speaking to her. Sganarelle agrees, secretly pleased at the thought of his brother’s discomfiture over the wanton doings of his ward.

Isabelle, pretending to be Léonor, leaves the house. Curious, Sganarelle follows. He sees Valère and Isabelle meet and, after declaring their love, enter Valère’s house. Thinking that Léonor is with Valère, and wishing to keep scandal from touching Isabelle through her sister, he hurriedly calls a magistrate and urges him to marry the pair. The magistrate is to wait, however, until Sganarelle can return with the bride’s guardian to witness the ceremony.

Ariste cannot believe his ears when Sganarelle gloatingly insists that Léonor is with Valère, but he is induced nevertheless to accompany his brother. Valère, who has hidden Isabelle in a separate room, has the magistrate prepare a formal contract, to be signed by all parties present, indicating their consent to the marriage. Still under the delusion that the bride-to-be is his brother’s ward, Léonor, Sganarelle agrees to the wedding; Ariste, placing the desires of his supposed ward above his own dreams, assents also.

Meanwhile, Léonor returns early from the ball she has attended. Ariste gently chides her for not confiding in him her love for Valère, but Léonor, amazed, protests that she loves only Ariste, her beloved guardian, whom she is ready to marry immediately. Angered, Sganarelle realizes too late the trick that Isabelle has played on him. All women, he declares, are to be disbelieved and shunned. In the schooling of husbands it is he and not his brother who has failed.

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