Plays by Molière

Don Juan

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Molière’s classic play retells the myth of Don Juan, the infamous womaniser with few morals and a scorn for religion.

Casanova Don Juan exasperates his sensible servant, Sganarelle, with his compromising behaviour. His recent escapade involves the beautiful Elvire, who he has abducted from a convent under the false pretence that they will be married. However, a new woman quickly turns his head and he sets sail in order to woo her with Sganarelle in tow. When their ship capsizes, a peasant rescues them and Don Juan quickly grabs the opportunity to seduce two peasant girls. It is here that Don Juan learns that Elvire’s brothers plans to kill him over his treatment of their sister. So he and Sganarelle decide to disguise themselves as they head back into the city. On the way our anti-hero unwittingly saves the life of one of Elvire’s brothers, Don Carlos, from a crew of bandits. When he and his servant come across the tomb of a Governor that Don Juan previously killed, a statue comes to life. Sganarelle believes that this is Heaven’s way of signalling its wrath with Don Juan, but he remains unconcerned and even feigns spirituality. But this is one step too far for Heaven, who promptly swallows Don Juan up into the pit of Hell leaving Sganarelle alone and penniless.

Riding high from the success of Tartuffe a year before, Molière wrote Don Juan in a matter of weeks in order to fill a gap in his schedule. The play premiered at the Palais-Royal in Paris in 1665 with Molière playing the part of Sganarelle.

The Hypochondriac

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

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.

The Learned Ladies

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

The Learned Ladies is one of Molière’s most popular comedies. Written in five acts the play is a satire on academic pretention and female education.

Henriette and Clitandre are in love and planning to marry. Henriette’s beloved father, Chrysale, and his brother, Ariste are in favour of the marriage but it’s her female relatives that are proving harder to convince. Her bossy mother, Philaminte would prefer her to marry the scholar Trissotin, a lofty yet mediocre poet with pretentions to literary greatness. Philaminte, along with Henriette’s sister, Armanda and Chrysale’s sister, Bélise, are in thrall to Trissotin. They are the ‘learned ladies’ of the title and display a rampant snobbery towards anyone they deem uneducated. Flattered by the sycophantic Trissotin they fawn over him, but Ariste has a plan to show the whole family his true colours.

Written in rhyming couplets, The Learned Ladies was Molière’s penultimate play premiering at the Palais-Royal in Paris in 1672.

The Misanthrope (trans. Mulrine)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Arguably one of Molière’s best-known and most loved plays, The Misanthrope is a classic comedy that satirises the hypocrisies of French aristocratic society.

Alceste, the misanthrope, hates all mankind and despairs of its falseness. He believes that the world could be perfected if only people were more honest with one another. But his candidness soon starts to make him enemies and he becomes the target of malicious rumours. He alienates his love, Célimène, by reproaching her coquettish behaviour and is summoned before the court of marshals to defend his negative opinion on some poetry composed by a powerful noble. Alceste begins to realise that the only way to be left alone is to disengage from society itself – but he struggles to persuade Célimène to go with him and is ultimately left alone.

Molière is responsible for elevating comedy to the status of the great tragedies written by his contemporaries Racine and Corneille. Though The Misanthrope is widely considered to be his comedic masterpiece, it was actually a commercial failure when it first appeared in 1666 at the Palais-Royal in Paris. Perhaps its uneasy mix of comedy and tragedy caused consternation among those original Parisian theatregoers since it represented a significant break from Molière’s usual farcical fare. However, its stature has only increased since then and the play is now an established part of the theatrical canon.

The Miser

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

The Miser is a five-act comedy written in prose, which makes it a fairly unusual addition to Molière’s oeuvre. The play premiered at the Palais-Royal in Paris in 1668 and was not an instant success, perhaps in part due to the decision not to write in verse. However, records show that its fortunes improved and by 1900 and the founding of the Comédie Française, The Miser had become the most performed 17th century play with over 1500 performances.

Harpagon is an unashamed miser. Yet he lives in relative wealth that he takes great pains to protect. Now a widow and over seventy years of age, he plans on marrying Mariane – a wholly inappropriate choice given her young age and her existing romantic attachment to his son, Cléante. As part of an impoverished family, Cléante helps secure Mariane a loan much to his father’s ire. Meanwhile, Harpagon’s daughter Élise is in love with Valère but her father plans to sell her off to a much higher bidder, preferably the wealthy Anselme. When Harpagon’s hoard is stolen, he begins pointing the finger at anyone and everyone, even the theatregoers themselves. Things are rapidly resolved in the fifth act in a finale full of comedic coincidences: Anselme is revealed to be the father of both Valère and Mariane and agrees to pay for both marriages whilst Harpagon is reunited with his beloved hoard.

The Miser has been translated into many different languages and performed all over the world. Its story has formed the basis of a Bollywood musical, a Russian opera and numerous film and TV adaptations.


Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Molière’s three-act farce was first staged at the Palais-Royal in Paris in 1671. Scapino, or the Trickster, is an archetypal figure used in commedia dell’arte, a theatre practice originating in Italy whose name can be roughly translated as ‘the comedy of craft.’

Friends Octave and Léandre have each found the love of their life. Octave has secretly wed Hyacinthe and Léandre has fallen in love with Zerbinetta. Unfortunately, their fathers have other ideas. When Octave’s father, Argante, returns home with marriage plans for his son, the men desperately turn to Scapino for help. However, Argante’s obstinacy drives Scapino to ever more ludicrous schemes to ensure that love wins the day.

The plot of Scapino is more uncomplicated than previous works by Molière. It seems to lack the social criticism evident in such plays as The School for Wives or The Misanthrope. Nevertheless, the stock formula at play in Scapino has far-reaching roots in the comedies of such Ancient Roman playwrights as Plautus and Terence. While it initially only ran for eighteen performances, the play grew to be very popular after Molière’s death becoming one of his best-known works and is a master class in comic construction.

Molière (1622-73) was born Jean Poquelin, the son of a prosperous upholsterer of Paris. His father was attached to the service of the King and Molière was intended to succeed him. However, in 1643 he changed his surname and joined a family of actors, the Béjarts. Encouraged by their touring success the group returned to Paris and performed in front of Louis XIV and his Court. The success of Molière's farce Le Docteur Amoureux gave the group the opportunity to share a theatre at the Petit- Bourbon with an Italian company, and here Molière's reputation was established. His other plays include L'Ecole des Femmes (1662), Don Juan (1665), Tartuffe (written 1664, produced 1667), Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (1671), Les Femmes Savantes (1673) and Le Malade Imaginaire (1673).