Places: The School for Husbands

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1661 as L’École des maris (English translation, 1732)

First produced: 1661

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Comedy of manners

Time of work: 1660’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Paris

*Paris. School for Husbands, TheFrance’s capital and leading city whose liberating influence on the naïve, obedient, exploited Isabelle makes place essential to the play’s plot. Since using minimalistic props made it impossible to show where the play’s action takes place, the dialogue establishes the location. For example, Valère tells Sganarelle, “Paris really is unique; / Its pleasures elsewhere you may vainly seek.” Elaborate costumes worn by Ariste, Valère, and especially by Léonor, as well as the rich assortment of activities and amusements these characters describe, also establish Paris as the only possible location for this play.

Within the strict limitations of the Aristotelian unities of place, time, and action, Moliere creates the illusion of a whole exciting city exerting its intoxicating and liberating influence on a young newcomer who escapes an aging tyrant to find freedom, love, and happiness. Much of the laughter is evoked by showing the self-important gentleman Sganarelle used as a go-between by his ward, Isabelle, and her lover, Valère.


Houses. The exigencies of the Aristotelian unity of place required that the set represent two houses separated by an open space, all within the confines of approximately thirty feet. Valère lives in one, and Isabelle is imprisoned in the other. Sganarelle has good reason to fear the dangerous proximity of his sophisticated, fashionable young rival in this glamorous city and for wishing to marry his young ward and spirit her away to the country as quickly as possible. Only a small portion of Sganarelle’s own house and only a wall and window of Valère’s house could be shown in the seventeenth century productions. When Sganarelle confronts Valère, they happen to meet outdoors. Valère invites Sganarelle to come inside, but the older man replies, “There is no need.” Valère then calls his servant to bring the older gentleman a chair. Through such contrivances, most of the action takes place in the open area between the two dwellings, and unity of place is preserved.

BibliographyCiccone, Anthony A. The Comedy of Language: Four Farces by Molière. Potomac, Md.: J. Porrua Turanzas, 1980. Discusses comic uses of language and levels of irony in The School for Husbands. Examines the contrasts between the behavior of Ariste and Sganarelle.Gaines, James F. Social Structures in Molière’s Theater. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1984. Explores the differences between noble and middle-class values in Molière’s comedies. Contrasts Sganarelle’s obsessive desire to dominate his fiancée with the more enlightened views of his brother, Ariste.Howarth, W. D. Molière: A Playwright and His Audience. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1982. Discusses performances by Molière’s troupe and the critical reception of his comedies by Parisian theatergoers of his era. Explores Molière’s creative uses of theatrical conventions in order to create witty farces and comedies.Hubert, Judd D. Molière and the Comedy of Intellect. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962. Contains an excellent introduction to the evolution of Molière’s skill as a comic playwright. The chapter on The School for Husbands examines the antithetical attitudes of Sganarelle and Ariste and discusses the nature of Sganarelle’s self-imposed isolation from society.Wadsworth, Philip A. Molière and the Italian Theatrical Tradition. York, S.C.: French Literature Publications Company, 1977. Discusses Molière’s creative imitation of Italian theatrical tradition in his early farces. Contrasts Sganarelle’s inflexibility with the more reasonable behavior of Ariste.
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