“The Imaginary Invalid” is a comedy-ballet by Jean Baptiste Moliere in three acts. The work has the characteristics of an opera and a play and it was very popular during the reign of Louise XVI., and it was often preformed in his castle. The performances were great spectacles in which the text would intertwine with dancing and fireworks.
This work is one of the best known comedies of French and world literature. Moliere worked on the universal moral and social questions that were current in those times and so are today which makes this work timeless. The work as a comedy isn’t only entertaining but also educational.
The problems of the society are shown on the example of a hypochondriac – a man that over exaggerates or imagines his illnesses. On one side we have a man that turns all of his problems into illnesses. If something is bothering him, he would turn it into an illness and avoid the real problem because it was easier for him to deal with life in that way. On the other side we have doctors that act like usurers that encourage such illnesses to make themselves rich. They use the fear of the rich man and his psychological instability to ensure their own existence. This problem can also be perceived as a problem of our time.
The imaginary invalid, the rich Argan, surrounded himself with people that only want good for him. They accept the old man as he is and all they want to do is cure him from his mental illness. They try to show him that his illnesses were coming from his head and unmask the doctors trying to make money off of him.
Even though the old man almost chased everyone away from him, the comedy has a happy ending. Moliere sent an important message with his work and also showed his artistic skills. The work is also entertaining, easy to understand, filled with humorous lines and witty.
Genre: comedy- ballet
Time: 17th century
Theme: healing of a man who imagines he’s ill
Idea of the work: the one who want good for us will always remain by our side
The story starts with Argan dealing with the monthly expenses that occurred during his treatment. His maid Toinette looks at him and his hypochondria irony.
Argan has a wife and two daughters from his previous marriage. Argan’s daughter Angelique and Toinette talk and from their conversation we find out that Angelique is in love but isn’t sure whether the feeling is mutual. Argan told his daughter that he’ll marry her for a nice man from a good family. He thinks he’s very ill so he wants to marry him for a doctor’s son that studies medicine so that he could have a doctor who would constantly take care of him.
Angelique thought the man was Cleante but in the end she found out it was Thomas Diafoirus. Thomas was the nephew of Argan’s doctor Purgon and he was about to became a doctor as well.
His second wife Beline wants to put their daughters into a convent. Toinette was on Angelique’s side and wanted to help her in her intentions to avoid marriage with Thomas. In the same time Beline faked interest in her husband’s health and pretended like she didn’t care about the inheritance and the will. She still asked about the amount of money she’ll receive and even called a lawyer to finish the will.
Toinette told Angelique that she’ll help her but only if she pretended to be on Beline’s side so that they would reach their goals easier. The maid Toinette goes to tell Cleante (Anegelique’s big love) that Argan plans to marry her for another man. Cleante came to see what was happening and thinks it would be best if the two of them talked but he didn’t want to represent himself as her future husband so he says that he’s her substitute music teacher.
Toinette lets him in and he has to give her lessons in front of her father. Argan told him that his future son-in-law was coming, accompanied by his father, and he also asked him to come to the weeding. Argan suspected nothing. They talk about Argan’s unusual illness and of the ways it could be cured.
Soon after the doctors arrived and Argan told CLeante and his daughter they could play something for them. Cleante decided to do an improvisation that would let everyone know the situation he found himself in with Angelique. Argan didn’t like it so he stopped the performance.
Argan doesn’t want to hear about Angelique after the scandal she made and the way she refused to marry the man her father intended for her. The maid came to remind Argan of his cane without which he can’t walk but that is also an imaginary illness. Beralde tries to convince his brother that he is not ill and that medicine is a science for the naïve.
Angelique begs her parents to give her more time to get to know Thomas while in reality she was just trying to postpone the weeding. Her stepmother and father agreed that Angelique should me married soon as possible, the stepmom threatens her with a convent and her father gives her an ultimatum – or she gets married or she goes to a convent.
Toinette and Berald come up with a plan on how to help his niece and stop the weeding. Also they come up with a plan to make Argan lose confidence in his doctors because they think it would be useful for his health.
Beralde goes to his brother Argan and tries to convince him not to marry his daughter for Thomas. The pharmacist Fleurant comes carrying an enema for Argan but Beralde tries to convince him not to do it because he’s a hypochondriac.
Argan really didn’t do it and the pharmacist goes home after getting nothing done. Purgon comes and isn’t satisfied with what Argan had done. Then he decides to stop being his doctor and whishes him to fall into a deep agony.
Argan gets out of control because of fear and Berald manages to calm him down a little. Then Toinette comes along and announces a doctor’s arrival. In the next scene Toinette herself appears as the doctor.
After the fake doctor left Beralde tries to explain to Argan that his wife is fake and that she was taking advantage of him. He also told him he has a daughter that loves him unconditionally in spite of which he wants to place her in a convent. Toinette came to help him and the two of them convinced Argan to fake death in order to check his wife’s intentions.
Argan doubts that, but agrees to make the test. Beralde his, Argan lied down on the bed pretended to be dead. Toinette says to Beline that her husband had passed away. Beline goes to the room to make sure of that and when she sees him on the bad she starts screaming that she needs to take all the money and bonds now that she finally got rid of her husband. Argan stands up, starts yelling at her and in the end she leaves.
Beline showed her real face when she thought her husband was dead and Beralde suggested to do the same with his daughter Angelique to see her reaction.
Argan finally sees the good nature of his daughter that, together with Cleante, grieves for him because she thought her father won’t be able to give her his blessings at her weeding day. She was inconsolable. Angelique even decided to throw Cleante Away and go to convent the way her father wanted.
Argan has mercy upon the two lovers and gives them his blessings. He also told Cleante that he needs to be a doctor in order to take care of him.
Beralde has a new suggestion. He told Argan to become a doctor himself. They make him a doctor the same night because Beralde had pulled some strings in the college comity.
When Argan went to put on his nice clothes for the ceremony Beralde told that actors are staging his ceremony based on what they’ve seen before. Beralde whished everyone a good time and then Argan came, not even knowing he was taking part in a parody of him becoming a doctor.
Jean-Baptiste Poqelin Moliere was born in 1622 and is one of the most famous French comedy writers, next to Corneille and Racine. He is the best writer of the golden era in French playwriting that reached it’s peak in the 17th century.
Except for being a writer Moliere was also a screenwriter and contributed to the development of the humoristic satire.
He was going to become a lawyer but he gave up on that and decided to dedicate his life to the theater where he worked as an actor, writer, director till the rest of his life.
He wrote 33 comedies. Some of them were in verse and some of them were in prose and they are believed to be the mirror of the French society in the 17th century. Moliere always tried to give a detailed description of the social layers and their characteristics. He was judgmental and laughed out everything that wasn’t in harmony with the nature that he believed was the symbol of intellect.
His most famous comedies are: “The School for Husbands”, “Tartuffe”, “The Misanthrope”, “Don Juan” …
He wanted to write tragedies but he became famous for his burlesques that were performed after the tragedies. Later on, he dedicated himself to writing musical comedies.
He suffered from tuberculosis and just a few hours after he coughed blood on stage he died on February 17th, 1673 in Paris.