Places: The Imaginary Invalid

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1674 as Le Malade imaginaire (English translation, 1732)

First produced: 1673

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Comedy

Time of work: Seventeenth century

Places DiscussedArgan’s bedchamber

Argan’s Imaginary Invalid, Thebedchamber (ahr-GAH[N]Z). Bedroom of the hypochondriac of the play’s title. This play is an excellent example of how place can have critical importance in the creative process. The dramatic conventions of Molière’s time required adherence to the Aristotelian unity of place. His creative solution to the problem of confining the action to a single location was to invent a character gullible and rich enough to employ a doctor and an apothecary on a full-time basis to treat his nonexistent maladies. Once Molière imagined this neurotic character, it was obvious that the complex plot could easily revolve around a single place, the imaginary invalid’s bedchamber. The doctor and apothecary are attracted there by the lucrative fees. Dr. Diafoirus brings his son there in hopes of marrying him to the rich Argan’s daughter. The intrusions of the unsympathetic and outspoken maidservant into Argan’s bedchamber are logical because Argan demands constant attendance. The intrusions of his mendacious and avaricious wife are also logical because she wants to turn her husband against her two stepdaughters as well as to see how much closer he may have come to dying.

In addition to being rich, neurotic, and gullible, the hypochondriac had to be made parsimonious, as demonstrated in the opening scene where he is going over his apothecary’s bills and deciding how much he can chisel on each item. Argan’s imaginary ailments led to the creation of the most important plot element, his desire to obtain free medical advice for life by forcing his daughter to marry a doctor’s son against her wishes. Moliere’s invention of Argan was a case of necessity being the mother of invention.

BibliographyHubert, Judd D. Molière and the Comedy of Intellect. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962. In the penultimate chapter, Hubert explores comic uses of language in The Imaginary Invalid and discusses the irony that Molière, who was then dying, played the role of an imaginary invalid in the first performances of his last comedy.Johnson, Roger, Jr., Editha S. Neumann, and Guy T. Trail, eds. Molière and the Commonwealth of Letters: Patrimony and Posterity. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1975. Contains many essays on the critical reception of Molière’s comedies after his death in 1673, as well as an excellent bibliography and a survey of criticism on Molière.Knutson, Harold C. The Triumph of Wit: Molière and Restoration Comedy. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1988. Discusses such important English Restoration playwrights as John Dryden and William Wycherley, who imitated plays by Molière. Interprets engravings by Molière’s contemporaries to show that Argan differed both in style of clothing and in behavior from more sympathetic characters.Moore, Will G. Molière: A New Criticism. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1949. An excellent introduction to Molière’s comedies. Stresses that Molière was not just a playwright but also an actor and the head of a theatrical troupe. Examines the role of mime and nonverbal gestures in Molière’s plays.Walker, Hallam. Molière. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1990. Contains an annotated bibliography of critical studies on Molière and discusses the importance of music and dance in The Imaginary Invalid, which was created by Molière in collaboration with the composer Charpentier and the choreographer Beauchamp.
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