First published: 1663 as L’École des femmes (English translation, 1732)
First produced: 1662
Type of work: Drama
Type of plot: Comedy of manners
Time of work: Seventeenth century
Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
Places Discussed*Parisian public square
*Parisian School for Wives, Thepublic square. The play’s setting–an open square in a city full of coquettes and seducers–is integral to the comedy, as well as essential to adherence to the Aristotelian unity of place, which was essential in seventeenth century French drama. Arnolphe’s silly vanity induces him to change his name to “Monsieur de la Souche,” which allows the newly arrived young Horace to believe that Agnes is the ward of a different man and makes it necessary for Molière to stage his frequent encounters with Arnolphe outdoors. The information obtained from Horace by the increasingly horrified Arnolphe motivates the middle-aged man to decide to marry his ward immediately, thus enabling Molière to adhere to another Aristotelian unity–that of time. Most of the laughter the play evokes is a function of Horace’s and Arnolphe’s talking at cross purposes. Horace is a newcomer, a friendly, trusting young man who does not realize he is confiding in the Monsieur de la Souche, who is the strict and jealous guardian of the sweet, innocent, and desirable Agnes, a seventeen-year-old ingénue fresh from the convent.
BibliographyCalder, Andrew. Molière: The Theory and Practice of Comedy. London: Athlone Press, 1993. Examines connections between dramatic theory and theatrical performances of Molière’s comedies. Discusses conflicts between ridiculous and sympathetic characters and the role of moral judgment in The School for Wives.Guicharnaud, Jacques, ed. Molière: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1964. Contains numerous essays originally written by major critics in English or translated from French into English for this volume on Molière’s comedies. Explores satire, parody, comedy of manners, and wit in Molière’s comedies.Hall, H. Gaston. Comedy in Context: Essays on Molière. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1984. Contains twelve essays by an eminent Molière specialist. Examines comic images, social satire, and parody in The School for Wives.Palmer, John. Molière: His Life and Works. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1930. A well-documented biography of Molière’s career as a playwright, actor, and director of a theatrical troupe. Discusses the perverse nature of Arnolphe’s failed attempt to dominate Agnès and his specious reasoning in The School for Wives.Walker, Hallam. Molière. Updated ed. Boston: Twayne, 1990. Contains an excellent general introduction to Molière’s comedies and an annotated bibliography of important critical studies on Molière. Examines images of marriage and the exploitation of women in The School for Wives.