translated by Martin Sorrell
The Hypochondriac is a comédie-ballet, a genre of French drama mixing spoken scenes with interludes of music and dance. It would turn out to be Molière’s last play. Ironically, he collapsed onstage during his fourth performance in the lead role. He insisted on completing the play and died later that evening at home from tuberculosis.
Argan is an ‘imaginary invalid.’ A man so obsessed with his health that he fails to notice what is happening around him in his own family. After the loss of his first wife, he has been left to bring up two daughters. The elder, Angélique has fallen in love with Cléante but Argan has promised her hand to Thomas Diaforious, the son of a noted doctor. Meanwhile, Argan’s second wife Béline is scheming against her husband’s daughters for the lion’s share of his inheritance. In order to reveal to him the way things truly stand, Argan’s brother Beralde persuades him to feign death with the aid of the maid Toinette who breaks the news to Béline. Only now does he see Béline’s true colours and abandons her. He finally agrees to the union between his daughter and Cléante. The rousing finale features a ceremonial song-and-dance number that confers the status of doctor upon Argan.
The Hypochondriac was first performed at the Palais-Royal in Paris in 1673.