The School for Husbands

by Moliere

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 371

The themes of Molière's School for Husbands (L'École de Maris) include marriage and feminine freedoms. Molière himself played the part of one of the main characters, Sganarelle. The characters include Ariste and Sganarelle, two brothers, separated by twenty years in age, who are in charge of wards, Léonor and Isabella, respectively. The guardians plan to marry their respective wards, whom they permit varying degrees of freedom. Léonor is treated kindly and affectionately by Ariste, while Isabella is forbidden from leaving the house by her betrothed, Sganarelle.

The theme of marriage is obvious; both Ariste and Sganarelle plan to marry their wards; however, Ariste compels Léonor's affections by means of treating her well and prevailing upon her mind, while Sganarelle (as was common in Molière's day) relies on ruling Isabella by means of brute force. It is taken for granted that the women have no say in the marriages. The imminent marriage of Isabella and Sganarelle compels Isabella to invent an elaborate distraction in order to escape a permanent bond to Sganarelle. Specifically, she tells Sganarelle that their neighbor, Valère, has delivered her a letter professing his love for her. In doing so, she brings reprisals to Valère at the hands of Sganarelle. This gives Isabella a pretext for sending a letter to Valère in which she secretly confesses her love. Isabella so wishes to avoid a marriage to Sganarelle that she brought public shame to Valère in order to communicate with him (from which he would have been forbidden by her domineering husband).

Ultimately, Sganarelle himself compels Valère to marry Isabelle, whom he thinks is Léonor having an affair with the man. A magistrate performs the marriage before Sganarelle realizes his mistake.

Overall, the triviality of marriage is suggested in Molière's play, while marriage's enduring social power is demonstrated (especially in Sganarelle's pursuit of Valère).

The play also comments on feminine freedoms by suggesting that women who are permitted to to conduct their own affairs (such as Léonor) are happier—and, Molière suggests, behave better for their husbands—than women who are kept under lock and key (like the cunning and ultimately successful Isabella).

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