Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Arnolphe, the protagonist of the play, is a forty-two-year-old bachelor who has convinced himself that intelligent women cannot be trusted. He is certain that if he marries, his wife will humiliate him by cheating on him. To circumvent this inevitability, he decides to "train" the perfect wife.
He sends his four-year-old ward, Agnes, to a secluded convent, requesting that her education be limited. Arnolphe believes that if women are taught to do just three things (pray, sew, and love their husbands), then they will remain faithful after marriage. Arnolphe's old friend Chrysalde tries to dissuade him from his plan by speaking of the virtues of intelligent women, but Arnolphe does not listen.
When Agnes is grown, Arnolphe moves her into one of his manors without telling her about his diabolical plan to marry her. A young man named Horace, who is also unaware of Arnolphe's plan, shows up at the manor, sees Agnes, and immediately falls in love. Agnes falls in love with Horace as well.
Arnolphe is furious and jealous. He chastises Agnes for allowing Horace to kiss her hands and insists that such wanton behavior is inappropriate outside of marriage. She immediately requests to be married. Arnolphe misunderstands the situation and believes that Agnes wants to marry him, when in reality, she has just asked to be married to Horace.
When Horace returns to the manor, Agnes professes her love to him. Horace, not realizing that Agnes is Arnolphe's ward, asks Arnolphe to help him rescue Agnes from her terrible guardian. Arnolphe lies to Horace and says he will help but then orders the servants to beat him.
Arnolphe continues to scheme and even threatens to send Agnes back to the convent when she refuses to marry him. The situation is resolved when Agnes's real father shows up and states that he has spoken to Horace's father and arranged for Agnes and Horace to marry. Arnolphe ends up betrayed and humiliated despite all of his efforts to train the perfect wife.