Guide Compiled by Michael J. Cummings..©
of Work and First Performance
Imaginary Invalid (in French, Le malade
imaginaire) is a three-act
stage play. It begins with an introduction, an
eclogue with music and ballet
dancing, and a prologue added a year after the play
debuted. The acts of
the play follow, interrupted by interludes of music
and dancing. The play
is generally classified as a comedy of manners.
Throughout the play, the
author brilliantly blends satire and farce in a
fast-moving plot that lampoons
doctors. Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1634-1704)
composed the music, and Pierre
Beauchamp (1636-1705) choreographed the dancing.
play was first performed on February 10,1673, at the
du Palais-Royal in Paris, with Molière in the
lead role as Argan,
a hypochondriac. During the fourth performance on
February 17, Molière
began coughing up blood on the stage and died hours
later at his home.
one-paragraph introduction praises Louis XIV, king
of France, for military
exploits. Although the introduction does not provide
specifics, it is clear
that it refers to his campaigns in the Spanish
Netherlands, beginning in
1668, to strengthen French borders and to expel
Spanish from strategic
the introduction is an eclogue, a poem with a rural
that further praises King Louis. It begins when an
actress portraying Flora,
the goddess of flowers, rounds up shepherds and
them the king has won glorious victories. Dancing
and music follow to celebrate
the eclogue is a prologue that was added in a 1674
the play. It presents an actress portraying a
shepherdess in a forest who
is pining for her beloved and complains that
(ignorant doctors) cannot heal the pain she feels.
action in the three acts of the play takes place in
the second half of
the seventeenth century at the Paris home of a
hypochondriac. It was a
time when many physicians still relied heavily on
enemas and bleeding to
purge the body of illness, methods that often
worsened the condition of
the patient. Apothecaries and physicians often
prescribed concoctions prepared
from plants, minerals, and various chemicals with
who regularly takes various concoctions prescribed
by a physician and prepared
by an apothecary. He plans to marry his older
daughter to a physician so
that he will have constant access to medical
second wife and stepmother of his two children.
Argan's older daughter. She is in love with a young
man named Cléante,
but her father wants her to marry a young doctor,
Thomas Diafoirus. She
loves her father but is frustrated
his plans to match her with Diafoirus.
man who loves Angélique.
younger daughter. Her father forces her to tell him
about a conversation
she heard between Angélique and Cléante.
sassy maid who schemes to overcome Argan's
opposition to Angélique's
wish to marry Cléante.
Physician of Argan's acquaintance. Argan and he
strike an agreement for
Angélique to marry the son of Diafoirus.
Son of Monsieur Diafoirus. He has just completed
studies to become a physician.
Notary who advises Argan on how to bequeath assets
name for a stock character frequently appearing in
commedia dell'arte productions,
in which he may also be referred to as Punchinello,
Pulcinella, and Punch.
In The Imaginary Invalid, Polichinelle is an
old usurer acquainted
with Toinette. At her request, he contacts
Cléante to inform him
of developments concerning Angélique.
(Commedia dell'arte is a type
of Italian theater in which actors improvise their
lines in a loosely outlined
Performers in the eclogue, prologue, and interludes
in the play.
Prose and Verse
some of his plays entirely in verse and some
entirely in prose. In
Imaginary Invalid, the introduction and the
three acts are in prose;
the eclogue and prologue are in verse; and the
interludes are mainly in
verse, with some prose.
dialogue in prose enabled Molière to break
free of the rigid rules
of Alexandrine verse, the standard format for plays
France. (Examples of his plays in Alexandrine verse
and The Misanthrope.)
Hobart C. Chatfield-Taylor
(1865-1945) has written that Molière's prose
dialogue is unsurpassed
in its brilliance: "Molière's . . . genius
lay, above all else in
telling the truth about mankind,—and prose was its
normal vehicle. As a
poet, he has been surpassed, but never as a writer
of concise, vigorous,
and truthful prose dialogue,—a dialogue so
expressive of human thoughts
and human emotions that his characters are still as
lifelike as on the
day they were drawn" (335).
C. Molière: a Biography. New York:
Duffield and Company,
Michael J. Cummings...©
Based on the
version of the play and on the Charles Heron Wall
English translation of
the play at Project
All the scenes take place in the Paris home of a
hypochondriac named Argan.
is a hypochondriac. He regularly takes concoctions
provided by his physician,
Purgon, and an apothecary named Fleurant. So worried
is he about his health
that he has betrothed his older daughter,
Angélique, to a young
doctor so that he will have ready access to medical
is already in love with another young man,
Cléante. When Argan tells
her that someone has asked for her hand in marriage,
she concludes that
the petitioner was Cléante. She says, “I
ought to obey you in everything,
Father.” However, a moment later, he informs her to
her dismay that she
is to marry Purgon's nephew, Thomas Diafoirus, who
will complete his medical
studies in three days.
outspoken servant, Toinette—aware that
Angélique loves Cléante—tells
her master that Angélique ought to be allowed
to marry a man of
her choosing. When Argan orders her to mind her own
refuses to back down. Argan then tells her that a
daughter should be willing
to help her father. Besides, Thomas Diafoirus is the
sole heir of his father's
estate. Moreover, his uncle, Purgon—who has no wife
or child—approves the
marriage, and he has an income of eight thousand
francs a year. Toinette
tells him his plan is nonsense and that
Angélique will not consent
to it. Argan then says that if Angélique
refuses to cooperate he
will place her in a convent. Argan and Toinette
argue further, and Argan
chases and threatens her.
Argan to stop running, for he will make himself ill.
plops into a chair; Angélique and Toinette
second wife, Béline, comes in and fusses over
him while he tells
her what happened. When Toinette returns,
Béline warns her never
again to upset Argan or she will fire her. After
Béline and Argan
are alone again, Béline further pampers
Argan, and he tells her
that she is his only support and comfort. In fact,
he says, he is just
now making a will to reward her for the love she has
shown him. Béline
tells him “that the very word 'will' makes me die of
grief." Then he reminds
her that he had asked her to speak with their
notary, and she says she
already has him standing by outside the room.
the notary—Monsieur de Bonnefoi—enters, he informs
Argan that in Paris
he cannot will assets to his wife. However, he can
circumvent the law by
willing his estate to a friend of his wife, who in
turn could give it to
Béline upon his demise. Another option is to
prepare bonds that
will eventually end up in her hands. Finally, he can
simply give her money.
Argan decides first to make a will according to the
outlined options, then
to make her outright gifts of twenty thousand francs
hidden in wainscoting
and two bills, one worth four thousand francs and
the other worth six thousand
outside the room, Toinette warns Angélique
that the notary is part
of a scheme Béline is using to gain control
of her father's money.
Nothing will be left for Angélique. When
Angélique says her
only concern is her love for Cléante,
Toinette says she will do
all she can to thwart Argan's plan to marry her to
Thomas Diafoirus. She
begins by having an old usurer she knows—Punchinello
is his name—inform
Cléante of what is happening.
hearing from Punchinello, Cléante goes to
Argan's house and tells
Toinette he plans to pose as a music teacher to gain
access to Angélique.
She then takes him to Argan's room. There,
Cléante tells Argan that
Angélique's regular music teacher was
required elsewhere and, as
a friend of the teacher, he is taking his place.
in a short while later, and Argan introduces him as
a substitute music
teacher. Though surprised to see her beloved,
Angélique does nothing
to give him away and simply plays along.
announces the arrival of Thomas Diafoirus and his
father, who is also a
physician. Thomas introduces himself to Argan with a
prepared speech, after
which he says to the elder Diafoirus, “Has this been
prepared to your satisfaction,
Father?” Mr. Diafoirus says, “Optime.”
is obvious to the audience that Thomas is a klutz.
His father acknowledges
that his son lacks wit and even says he was so slow
as a child that he
did not learn the alphabet until he was nine.
However, he says that “trees
of slow growth bear the best fruit.” Furthermore, he
says, Thomas is a
hard worker and has good judgment. Best of all, he
rejects the foolish
views of modern physicians—who claim, for example,
that blood circulates
through the body—in favor of the views of ancient
physicians. When Argan
asks Thomas whether he plans to seek a position at
the king's court, Thomas
says he would prefer to practice among ordinary
is vexatious among people of rank is that, when they
are ill, they positively
expect their doctor to cure them,” he says.
says, “How very absurd! How impertinent of them to
ask of you doctors to
cure them! You are not placed near them for that,
but only to receive your
fees and to prescribe remedies.”
Argan requests a song for their guests,
Cléante says he and Angélique
will perform a passage from an opera about a
shepherd, Tircis, and a shepherdess,
Phyllis, whose father is attempting to force her to
marry another man.
Cléante then gives Angélique a piece
of sheet music with
no words, and they improvise lines that obliquely
express their feelings
for each other and their fears about the arranged
marriage. Argan says
the opera is in bad taste and dismisses
Argan has Diafoirus and his son examine him. After
checking his pulse,
they conclude he has a problem in the spleen.
However, when Argan tells
them Purgon found that it is the liver that acts up,
the elder Diafoirus
says the two diagnoses are the same because the
spleen is in sympathy with
the liver by means of the “vas breve of the pylorous
and often of the meatus
choledici.” What it all means is that the doctors
are incompetent, although
Argan accepts their explanations.
they leave, Béline tells Argan that she saw
with a young man. He ran off as soon as he spotted
Argan's younger daughter, Louison, heard everything,
When Argan forces Louison to give a report, she says
the young man told
Angélique he loved her and kissed her
brother, Béralde, comes in to propose a match
He has Cléante in mind. Argan tells him not
to “speak to me of that
wicked, good-for-nothing, insolent, brazen-faced
girl. I will put her in
a convent before two days.” Béralde then says
he has brought some
gypsies dressed as Moors to entertain him.
Afterward, he and Argan can
have a talk, he says.
the gypsies dance and sing, Argan goes for a walk.
persuades Béralde to go along with a scheme
she has concocted: to
pretend that she is a doctor.
returns. When Béralde asks him why he wants
marry a doctor, Argan explains that he wants a
physician nearby to treat
his ailments. Béralde then tells him that it
wishes that count and that there is a more suitable
match for her. Besides,
he says, there is nothing wrong with Argan. Even if
there were, doctors'
potions would be useless against the illness.
enters just then with one of his concoctions. When
Argan not to take it, Fleurant is insulted and
leaves. Béralde and
Argan continue their conversation about doctors and
diseases. In a short
while, Purgon arrives and denounces Argan for
refusing medicine that he
himself prescribed. He then says he is dropping
Argan as a patient and
withdrawing his approval of a marriage between
Thomas Diafoirus and Angélique.
Argan blames Béralde for doing “all the
mischief,” but Purgon does
not listen. Before leaving, he tells Argan that his
condition will develop
into bradypepsia, then progress to dyspepsia,
apepsy, lientery, dysentery,
and dropsy. Then he will die. Argan immediately
thinks his condition is
enters disguised as a male doctor who travels from
town to town seeking
patients with challenging afflictions. She tells
Argan that he has a reputation
as the most celebrated patient in the world. Out of
curiosity, she could
not help but come to administer to so illustrious a
person. Of course,
she herself is one of the world's greatest doctors,
she says. To prove
her claim, she asks Argan how old she looks. He says
twenty-six or twenty-seven.
But she tells him she is ninety.
is what the secrets of my art have done for me to
preserve me fresh and
vigorous as you see,” she says.
believes her and submits to her examination. When
she feels his pulse,
she pretends to detect an irregularity and asks who
has been treating him
and for what. He says he has been treated by Purgon
and other doctors for
liver and spleen problems. Toinette then says they
are “ignorant blockheads,”
for it is his lungs that are the problem. She also
criticizes the diet
Purgon prescribes for him. After her exam, she
recommends amputation of
an arm that she says is attracting all the
nourishment he takes in. He
should also pluck out an eye that interferes with
the proper function of
the other eye. Before the “doctor” leaves, she tells
Argan that she will
send a colleague of hers to look in on Argan.
resumes his pleas on behalf of Angélique, but
Argan says he
has made up his mind that she will become a nun.
that it is Béline who is guiding his wishes
as part of a nefarious
plot. Béline, he says, wants Angélique
out of the way and
does not care a whit about Argan. When Argan refuses
to think ill of Béline,
Toinette (now dressed as herself) pretends to side
with Argan and suggests
that they conduct a test to show Béralde how
loves Argan. Here is how it will work: Argan will
simply lie down and play
will see what grief she is in when I tell her the
news,” Toinette says.
agrees to the plan but says, “Don't leave her too
long in despair, for
she might die of it.” After Béralde hides in
a corner, Béline
enters. Toinette is weeping.
just breathed his last here in my arms,” she says.
“Heaven be praised. I am delivered from a most
grievous burden. How
silly of you, Toinette, to be so afflicted at his
death. . . . [He was
a] wretch, unpleasant to
dirty habits; always a clyster or a dose of physic
in his body. Always
snivelling, coughing, spitting; a stupid, tedious,
who was forever fatiguing people and scolding night
and day at his maids
then asks Toinette to help her locate Argan's money
and important documents.
Argan rises and says, “I am very glad to see how you
love me, and to have
heard the noble panegyric you made upon me.“
as a greedy fraud, Béline leaves.
and Argan repeat their performance in front of
Angélique. But she
deeply laments the “death” of her father. When
Cléante comes in,
Angélique tells him they cannot go through
with their plans to marry.
Her father opposed the marriage, and she must
respect his wishes.
Argan comes back to life a second time, he tells
Angélique and Cléante
that they may marry if Cléante becomes a
agrees to do so. However, Béralde says it is
Argan who should become
the doctor so that he will never have to worry about
having access to expert
care. All he has to do is wear a cap and gown during
a special ceremony
that will infuse in him the knowledge he needs and
confer on him the degree
of doctor of medicine. Argan leaves to don the
then summons a group of performers he has hired.
After Argan returns, the
performers act the parts of physicians and
apothecaries, dancing and chanting
in a mixture of Latin and French, as well as coined
words in both languages,
while inducting Argan into the medical profession.
opposition to new ideas and human progress in all
its forms. In The
Imaginary Invalid, Monsieur Diafoirus and his
son, Thomas (who represent
incompetent physicians), reject seventeenth-century
medical advances in
favor of adherence to ancient methods of treating
patients. They even reject
English physician William Harvey's discovery of the
circulation of blood
in one direction throughout the body, as described
in Harvey's 1628 book,
Anatomical Exercise Concerning the Motion of the
Heart and Blood in Animals.
The following passage, spoken by the elder Diafoirus
when describing his
son, expresses obscurant thinking while alluding to
what pleases me in him, and what I am glad to see
example in, is
that he is blindly attached to the opinions of the
and that he would
never understand nor listen to the reasons
experiences of the
pretended discoveries of our century concerning
circulation of the blood
and other opinions of the same stamp. (2.7)
and Fleurant regularly charge Argan for dozens of
so-called healing agents
containing such ingredients as rhubarb, sugar, whey,
and pomegranate syrup.
Although it is obvious that Argan's afflictions are
imaginary, his money
is real; and Purgon and Fleurant are only too
willing to relieve him of
it. Greed also infects Argan's wife, Béline.
She pretends to love
him, but she loves only his money and spends her
time scheming to get it.
in the medical profession is an obvious target of
Molière in The
Imaginary Invalid. Béralde dismisses
the effectiveness of physicians'
treatments when he tells Argan, "All the excellency
of their art consists
in pompous gibberish, in a specious babbling, which
gives you words instead
of reasons, and promises instead Of results" (3.3).
Argan suffers from any condition, it is gullibility.
He accepts without
question the quack cures of Purgon and Fleurant. He
believes that his wife
is beyond reproach. When Toinette presents herself
in the guise of a male
physician, he believes her description of herself as
an accomplished practitioner.
In the real world of seventeenth-century France,
duped gullible patients like Argan into paying large
fees for needless
or ineffective treatments.
and Fleurant deceive Argan into believing that their
concoctions are efficacious
and necessary. Béline deceives him into
believing that she loves
him. The machinations of these characters reflect
those of people in the
real world who regularly use deceit to get their
a day when arranged marriages were commonplace,
Angélique and Cléante
must resort to trickery to see each other and to
Toinette's clever scheming
to thwart Argan's plan to match Angélique
with Thomas Diafoirus.
In the end, love triumphs.
selfish reasons, Argan opposes Angélique's
marriage to Cléante.
He tells Toinette, "It is for my sake that I give
her this doctor [Thomas
Diafoirus], and a good daughter ought to be
delighted to marry for the
sake of her father's health."
only a lowly servant girl, Toinette is perceptive,
witty, and bold—an astute
judge of character who is not afraid to speak her
mind. In many ways, this
maid of steel is the most admirable character in the
that one does not have to be highborn to be
high-minded. Her opposition
to female subservience in a male-dominated society
is centuries ahead of
climax occurs when Argan's scheming wife denounces
him while he is playing
dead. This development is the turning point that
leads to the resolution
of the conflict between Argan and his daughter.
verbal irony (in which a speaker means the opposite
of what he or
she expresses) in The Imaginary Invalid to
satirize quackery, greed,
and inanity. Note, for example, Toinette's ironic
replies in the following
DIAFOIRUS. What is vexatious among people of
when they are ill, they positively expect their
doctor to cure them.
How very absurd! How impertinent of them to ask
to cure them! You are not placed near them for
that, but only
receive your fees and to prescribe remedies. It
is their own look-out
get well if they can. (2.2)
DIAFOIRUS [To Angélique].
With the permission of this
I invite you
to come one of these days to amuse yourself
assisting at the dissection
of a woman upon whose body I am to
The treat will
be most welcome. There are some who give the
of seeing a play
to their lady-love; but a dissection is much
uses dramatic irony (in which a character is
ignorant of information
known to the audience). This figure of speech occurs
underscore Argan's inability to realize that he is a
also occurs when Béline is unaware that Argan
is playing dead, causing
her to reveal her true feelings toward him. Other
instances of dramatic
irony occur when (1) Argan thinks Cléante is
music teacher; (2) Thomas Diafoirus fails to
recognize his inanity, most
notably when he invites Angélique to take
part in the dissection
of a woman's corpse; (3) Argan believes Toinette is
an accomplished doctor,
and (4) Angélique is unaware that Argan is
performances of The Imaginary Invalid,
audience laughter results
not only from what the characters say but also from
what they do. An example
of physical humor (burlesque, slapstick) is the
following scene in which
Argan chases Toinette.
after TOINETTE). Ah, impudent girl, I will kill
and putting [a] chair between her and
him). It is
my duty to oppose
what would be a dishonour to you.
(running after TOINETTE
with his cane in his hand).
come here, let
me teach you how to speak.
(running to the
opposite side of the chair). I interest
your affairs as
I ought to do, and I don't wish to see you
(as before). No,
I will never consent to this marriage.
(as before). I
won't have her marry your Thomas Diafoirus.
(as before). She
will obey me sooner than you. (1.5)
Agent that relieves pain, analgesic.
Agent that contracts body tissue and halts bleeding
Preparation that helps a patient expel gas.
Bark of a Southeast Asian tree that yields a variety
Allusion to the discovery of the circulation of the
blood by William Harvey
(1578-1657), as described in his 1628 book, An
Anatomical Exercise Concerning
the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals.
For further information,
see Obscurantism, above.
héliotrope): Plant whose flowers face the
In the name of Hippocrates (460?-377? BC).
Hippocrates was an ancient Greek
physician known today as the father of
king. Thomas Diafoirus mentions a gigantic statue
erected at Thebes, Egypt,
in honor of the king, saying to Angélique,
"Madam, as the statue
of Memnon gave forth a harmonious sound when it was
struck by the first
rays of the sun, in like manner do I experience a
sweet rapture at the
apparition of this sun of your beauty" (2.5). After
an earthquake destroyed
part of the statue in 27 BC, it emitted a musical
sound every morning at
sunrise. It is believed that the phenomenon resulted
from an increase in
air temperature when the sun rose.
yellow flowers; laxative prepared from the dried
leaves of this plant.
and Courtship Conflict: Common Literary Motif
the centuries, writers have centered many tragic and
comedic works—or parts
of them—on spouses and wooers in conflict. Among
these works is The
Imaginary Invalid. Others analyzed by Cummings
Misanthrope, The Miser, and
Nothing,The Taming of
Prejudice, Euripides' Medea,
Heights, Henrik Ibsen's A
Doll's House, Henrik Ibsen's Hedda
Gabler, and Gustave Flaubert's
Questions and Essay
Molière Plays Analyzed by Cummings Study
character in The Imaginary Invalid do
you most admire? Explain your
character (or characters)
do you least admire? Explain your answer.
ways does the play resemble
a modern situation comedy?
exposes backward thinking and greed through
comedy and satire. Others condemn
these faults through serious modes of
expression, such as sermons or didactic
essays. Which approach do believe is more
effective? Write an essay that
presents your opinion. Support your opinion with
quotations from the play
and from research sources.
essay arguing that
quack cures continue to be a problem today.
Support your thesis with expert
opinions and examples of quack cures.