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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 333

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.

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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.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1122

As Arnolphe tells his friend Chrysalde, if a man is not to be made to look like a fool by his wife, he must choose a wife who is ignorant of the ways of the world and in no danger of being admired by other men. Arnolphe, famous for his bitter ridicule of other men who are put to shame by the unfaithfulness of their wives, is determined that he will not find himself in a like position. For that reason, he proposes to marry Agnès, his young ward, whom he has protected from society. He thinks her such an ignorant girl and such a fool that she will make a perfect wife.

Agnès was placed in Arnolphe’s care by her widowed foster mother. The girl had her early training in a convent to which Arnolphe sent her, and since then she has lived in a small cottage on his estate. Her life has been secluded in order that she might be kept safe from learning and from outside influences until she has reached an age for marriage. On a whim, Arnolphe has changed his name to Monsieur de la Souche, but Agnès is not aware of this fact, nor is she aware of Arnolphe’s plan to marry her.

Before Arnolphe can inform Agnès of his wishes, Horace, the son of Arnolphe’s friend Oronte, tells Arnolphe that he is in love with Agnès. Horace, knowing only that Agnès is the ward of one de la Souche, does not realize that Arnolphe and de la Souche are the same man. Horace asks Arnolphe not to tell anyone of the love affair because it must be kept a secret from both de la Souche and Horace’s father. Arnolphe can only smother his rage in silence as he listens to the tale of Agnès’s duplicity. Even though she is not aware that Arnolphe plans to make her his wife, he already feels that she has been faithless to him and has shamed him. He decides...

(The entire section contains 1455 words.)

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