The Learned Women

by Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (Moliere)

Previous Chapter Next Chapter


SCENE I.—ARISTE (leaving CLITANDRE, and still speaking to him).

Yes; I will bring you an answer as soon as I can. I will press, insist, do all that should be done. How many things a lover has to say when one would suffice; and how impatient he is for all that he desires! Never….


ARI. Good day to you, brother.

CHRY. And to you also, brother.

ARI. Do you know what brings me here?

CHRY. No, I do not; but I am ready to hear it, if it pleases you to tell me.

ARI. You have known Clitandre for some time now?

CHRY. Certainly; and he often comes to our house.

ARI. And what do you think of him?

CHRY. I think him to be a man of honour, wit, courage, and uprightness, and I know very few people who have more merit.

ARI. A certain wish of his has brought me here; and I am glad to see the esteem you have for him.

CHRY. I became acquainted with his late father when I was in Rome.

ARI. Ah!

CHRY. He was a perfect gentleman.

ARI. So it is said.

CHRY. We were only about twenty-eight years of age, and, upon my word, we were, both of us, very gay young fellows.

ARI. I believe it.

CHRY. We greatly affected the Roman ladies, and everybody there spoke of our pranks. We made many people jealous, I can tell you.

ARI. Excellent; but let us come to what brings me here.

SCENE III.—BÉLISE (entering softly and listening), CHRYSALE, ARISTE.

ARI. Clitandre has chosen me to be his interpreter to you; he has fallen in love with Henriette.

CHRY. What! with my daughter?

ARI. Yes. Clitandre is delighted with her, and you never saw a lover so smitten!

BEL. (to ARISTE). No, no; you are mistaken. You do not know the story, and the thing is not as you imagine.

ARI. How so, sister?

BEL. Clitandre deceives you; it is with another that he is in love.

ARI. It is not with Henriette that he is in love? You are joking.

BEL. No; I am telling the perfect truth.

ARI. He told me so himself.

BEL. Doubtless.

ARI. You see me here, sister, commissioned by him to ask her of her father.

BEL. Yes, I know.

ARI. And he besought me, in the name of his love, to hasten the time of an alliance so desired by him.

BEL. Better and better. No more gallant subterfuge could have been employed. But let me tell you that Henriette is an excuse, an ingenious veil, a pretext, brother, to cover another flame, the mystery of which I know; and most willingly will I enlighten you both.

ARI. Since you know so much, sister, pray tell us whom he loves.

BEL. You wish to know?

ARI. Yes; who is it? BEL. Me!

ARI. You!

BEL. Myself.

ARI. Come, I say! sister!

BEL. What do you mean by this "Come, I say"? And what is there so wonderful in what I tell you? I am handsome enough, I should think, to have more than one heart in subjection to my empire; and Dorante, Damis, Cléonte, and Lycidas show well enough the power of my charms.

ARI. Do those men love you?

BEL. Yes; with all their might.

ARI. They have told you so?

BEL. No one would take such a liberty; they have, up to the present time, respected me so much that they have never spoken to me of their love. But the dumb interpreters have done their office in offering their hearts and lives to me.

ARI. I hardly ever see Damis here.

BEL. It is to show me a more respectful submission.

ARI. Dorante, with sharp words, abuses you everywhere.

BEL. It is the transport of a jealous passion.

ARI. Cléonte and Lycidas are both married.

BEL. It was the despair to which I had reduced their love.

ARI. Upon my word, sister, these are mere visions.

CHRY. (to BÉLISE). You had better get rid of these idle fancies.

BEL. Ah! idle fancies! They are idle fancies, you think. I have idle fancies! Really, "idle fancies" is excellent. I greatly rejoice at those idle fancies, brothers, and I did not know that I was addicted to idle fancies.


CHRY. Our sister is decidedly crazy.

ARI. It grows upon her every day. But let us resume the subject that brings me here. Clitandre asks you to give him Henriette in marriage. Tell me what answer we can make to his love.

CHRY. Do you ask it? I consent to it with all my heart; and I consider his alliance a great honour.

ARI. You know that he is not wealthy, that….

CHRY. That is a thing of no consequence. He is rich in virtue, and that is better than wealth. Moreover, his father and I were but one mind in two bodies.

ARI. Let us speak to your wife, and try to render her favourable to….

CHRY. It is enough. I accept him for my son-in-law.

ARI. Yes; but to support your consent, it will not be amiss to have her agree to it also. Let us go….

CHRY. You are joking? There is no need of this. I answer for my wife, and take the business upon myself.

ARI. But….

CHRY. Leave it to me, I say, and fear nothing. I will go, and prepare her this moment.

ARI. Let it be so. I will go and see Henriette on the subject, and will return to know….

CHRY. It is a settled thing, and I will go without delay and talk to my wife about it.


MAR. Just like my luck! Alas! they be true sayings, they be—"Give a dog a bad name and hang him," and—"One doesn't get fat in other folk's service." [Footnote: Or, more literally, "Service is no inheritance;" but this does not sound familiar enough in English.]

CHRY. What is it? What is the matter with you, Martine?

MAR. What is the matter?

CHRY. Yes.

MAR. The matter is that I am sent away, Sir.

CHRY. Sent away?

MAR. Yes; mistress has turned me out.

CHRY. I don't understand; why has she?

MAR. I am threatened with a sound beating if I don't go.

CHRY. No; you will stop here. I am quite satisfied with you. My wife is a little hasty at times, and I will not, no….


PHI. (seeing MARTINE). What! I see you here, you hussy! Quick, leave this place, and never let me set my eyes upon you again.

CHRY. Gently.

PHI. No; I will have it so.

CHRY. What?

PHI. I insist upon her going.

CHRY. But what has she done wrong, that you wish her in this way to…?

PHI. What! you take her part?

CHRY. Certainly not.

PHI. You side with her against me?

CHRY. Oh! dear me, no; I only ask what she is guilty of.

PHI. Am I one to send her away without just cause?

CHRY. I do not say that; but we must, with servants….

PHI. No; she must leave this place, I tell you.

CHRY. Let it be so; who says anything to the contrary?

PHI. I will have no opposition to my will.

CHRY. Agreed.

PHI. And like a reasonable husband, you should take my part against her, and share my anger.

CHRY. So I do. (Turning towards MARTINE.) Yes; my wife is right in sending you away, baggage that you are; your crime cannot be forgiven.

MAR. What is it I have done, then?

CHRY. (aside). Upon my word, I don't know.

PHI. She is capable even now of looking upon it as nothing.

CHRY. Has she caused your anger by breaking some looking-glass or some china?

PHI. Do you think that I would send her away for that? And do you fancy that I should get angry for so little?

CHRY. (to MARTINE). What is the meaning of this? (To PHILAMINTE) The thing is of great importance, then? PHI. Certainly; did you ever find me unreasonable?

CHRY. Has she, through carelessness, allowed some ewer or silver dish to be stolen from us?

PHI. That would be of little moment.

CHRY. (to MARTINE). Oh! oh! I say, Miss! (To PHILAMINTE) What! has she shown herself dishonest? PHI. It is worse than that.

CHRY. Worse than that?

PHI. Worse.

CHRY. (to MARTINE). How the deuce! you jade. (To PHILAMINTE) What! has she…? PHI. She has with unparalleled impudence, after thirty lessons, insulted my ear by the improper use of a low and vulgar word condemned in express terms by Vaugelas. [Footnote: The French grammarian, born about 1585; died 1650.]

CHRY. Is that…?

PHI. What! In spite of our remonstrances to be always sapping the foundation of all knowledge—of grammar which rules even kings, and makes them, with a high hand, obey her laws.

CHRY. I thought her guilty of the greatest crime.

PHI. What! You do not think the crime unpardonable?

CHRY. Yes, yes.

PHI. I should like to see you excuse her.

CHRY. Heaven forbid!

BEL. It is really pitiful. All constructions are destroyed by her; yet she has a hundred times been told the laws of the language.

MAR. All that you preach there is no doubt very fine, but I don't understand your jargon, not I.

PHI. Did you ever see such impudence? To call a language founded on reason and polite custom a jargon!

MAR. Provided one is understood, one speaks well enough, and all your fine speeches don't do me no good.

PHI. You see! Is not that her way of speaking, don't do me no good!

BEL. O intractable brains! How is it that, in spite of the trouble we daily take, we cannot teach you to speak with congruity? In putting not with no, you have spoken redundantly, and it is, as you have been told, a negative too many.

MAR. Oh my! I ain't no scholar like you, and I speak straight out as they speaks in our place.

PHI. Ah! who can bear it?

BEL. What a horrible solecism!

PHI. It is enough to destroy a delicate ear.

BEL. You are, I must acknowledge, very dull of understanding; they is in the plural number, and speaks is in the singular. Will you thus all your life offend grammar? [Footnote: Grammaire in Molière's time was pronounced as grand'mère is now. Gammer seems the nearest approach to this in English.]

MAR. Who speaks of offending either gammer or gaffer?

PHI. O heavens!

BEL. The word grammar is misunderstood by you, and I have told you a hundred times where the word comes from.

MAR. Faith, let it come from Chaillot, Auteuil, or Pontoise, [Footnote: In Molière's time villages close to Paris.] I care precious little.

BEL. What a boorish mind! Grammar teaches us the laws of the verb and nominative case, as well as of the adjective and substantive.

MAR. Sure, let me tell you, Ma'am, that I don't know those people.

PHI. What martyrdom!

BEL. They are names of words, and you ought to notice how they agree with each other.

MAR. What does it matter whether they agree or fall out?

PHI. (to BÉLISE). Goodness gracious! put an end to such a discussion. (To CHRYSALE) And so you will not send her away?

CHRY. Oh! yes. (Aside) I must put up with her caprice, Go, don't provoke her, Martine.

PHI. How! you are afraid of offending the hussy! you speak to her in quite an obliging tone.

CHRY. I? Not at all. (In a rough tone) Go, leave this place. (In a softer tone) Go away, my poor girl.


CHRY. She is gone, and you are satisfied, but I do not approve of sending her away in this fashion. She answers very well for what she has to do, and you turn her out of my house for a trifle.

PHI. Do you wish me to keep her for ever in my service, for her to torture my ears incessantly, to infringe all the laws of custom and reason, by a barbarous accumulation of errors of speech, and of garbled expressions tacked together with proverbs dragged out of the gutters of all the market-places?

BEL. It is true that one sickens at hearing her talk; she pulls Vaugelas to pieces, and the least defects of her gross intellect are either pleonasm or cacophony.

CHRY. What does it matter if she fails to observe the laws of Vaugelas, provided she does not fail in her cooking? I had much rather that while picking her herbs, she should join wrongly the nouns to the verbs, and repeat a hundred times a coarse or vulgar word, than that she should burn my roast, or put too much salt in my broth. I live on good soup, and not on fine language. Vaugelas does not teach how to make broth; and Malherbe and Balzac, so clever in learned words, might, in cooking, have proved themselves but fools. [Footnote: Malherbe, 1555-1628; Balzac, 1594-1654.]

PHI. How shocking such a coarse speech sounds; and how unworthy of one who calls himself a man, to be always bent on material things, instead of rising towards those which are intellectual. Is that dross, the body, of importance enough to deserve even a passing thought? and ought we not to leave it far behind?

CHRY. Well, my body is myself, and I mean to take care of it; dross if you like, but my dross is dear to me.

BEL. The body and the mind, brother, exist together; but if you believe all the learned world, the mind ought to take precedence over the body, and our first care, our most earnest endeavour, must be to feed it with the juices of science.

CHRY. Upon my word, if you talk of feeding your mind, you make use of but poor diet, as everybody knows; and you have no care, no solicitude for….

PHI. Ah! Solicitude is unpleasant to my ear: it betrays strangely its antiquity. [Footnote: Many of the words condemned by the purists of the time have died out; solicitude still remains.]

BEL. It is true that it is dreadfully starched and out of fashion.

CHRY. I can bear this no longer. You will have me speak out, then? I will raise the mask, and discharge my spleen. Every one calls you mad, and I am greatly troubled at….

PHI. Ah! what is the meaning of this?

CHRY. (to BÉLISE). I am speaking to you, sister. The least solecism one makes in speaking irritates you; but you make strange ones in conduct. Your everlasting books do not satisfy me, and, except a big Plutarch to put my bands in [Footnote: To keep them flat.], you should burn all this useless lumber, and leave learning to the doctors of the town. Take away from the garret that long telescope, which is enough to frighten people, and a hundred other baubles which are offensive to the sight. Do not try to discover what is passing in the moon, and think a little more of what is happening at home, where we see everything going topsy-turvy. It is not right, and that too for many reasons, that a woman should study and know so much. To form the minds of her children to good manners, to make her household go well, to look after the servants, and regulate all expenses with economy, ought to be her principal study, and all her philosophy. Our fathers were much more sensible on this point: with them, a wife always knew enough when the extent of her genius enabled her to distinguish a doublet from a pair of breeches. She did not read, but she lived honestly; her family was the subject of all her learned conversation, and for hooks she had needles, thread, and a thimble, with which she worked at her daughter's trousseau. Women, in our days, are far from behaving thus: they must write and become authors. No science is too deep for them. It is worse in my house than anywhere else; the deepest secrets are understood, and everything is known except what should be known. Everyone knows how go the moon and the polar star, Venus, Saturn, and Mars, with which I have nothing to do. And in this vain knowledge, which they go so far to fetch, they know nothing of the soup of which I stand in need. My servants all wish to be learned, in order to please you; and all alike occupy themselves with anything but the work they have to do. Reasoning is the occupation of the whole house, and reasoning banishes all reason. One burns my roast while reading some story; another dreams of verses when I call for drink. In short, they all follow your example, and although I have servants, I am not served. One poor girl alone was left me, untouched by this villainous fashion; and now, behold, she is sent away with a huge clatter because she fails to speak Vaugelas. I tell you, sister, all this offends me, for as I have already said, it is to you I am speaking. I dislike to see all those Latin-mongers in my house, and particularly Mr. Trissotin. It is he who has turned your heads with his verses. All his talk is mere rubbish, and one is for ever trying to find out what he has said after he has done speaking. For my part I believe that he is rather cracked.

PHI. What coarseness, O heavens! both in thought and language.

BEL. Can there be a more gross assemblage of corpuscles, [Footnote: A reference to the corpuscular philosophy] a mind composed of more vulgar atoms? Is it possible that I can come from the same blood? I hate myself for being of your race, and out of pure shame I abandon the spot.


PHI. Have you any other shaft ready?

CHRY. I? No. Don't let us dispute any longer. I've done. Let's speak of something else. Your eldest daughter shows a dislike to marriage; in short, she is a philosopher, and I've nothing to say. She is under good management, and you do well by her. But her younger sister is of a different disposition, and I think it would be right to give Henriette a proper husband, who….

PHI. It is what I have been thinking about, and I wish to speak to you of what I intend to do. This Mr. Trissotin on whose account we are blamed, and who has not the honour of being esteemed by you; is the man whom I have chosen to be her husband; and I can judge of his merit better than you can. All discussion is superfluous here, for I have duly resolved that it should be so. I will ask you also not to say a word of it to your daughter before I have spoken to her on the subject. I can justify my conduct, and I shall be sure to know if you have spoken to her.


ARI. Well! your wife has just left, and I see that you must have had a talk together.

CHRY. Yes.

ARI. And how did you succeed? Shall we have Henriette? Has she given her consent? Is the affair settled?

CHRY. Not quite as yet.

ARI. Does she refuse?


ARI. Then she hesitates?

CHRY. Not in the least.

ARI. What then?

CHRY. Well! she offers me another man for a son-in-law.

ARI. Another man for a son-in-law?

CHRY. Yes.

ARI. What is his name?

CHRY. Mr. Trissotin.

ARI. What! that Mr. Trissotin….

CHRY. Yes, he who always speaks of verse and Latin.

ARI. And you have accepted him?

CHRY. I? Heaven forbid!

ARI. What did you say to it?

CHRY. Nothing. I am glad that I did not speak, and commit myself.

ARI. Your reason is excellent, and it is a great step towards the end we have in view. Did you not propose Clitandre to her?

CHRY. No; for as she talked of another son-in-law, I thought it was better for me to say nothing.

ARI. Your prudence is to the last degree wonderful! Are you not ashamed of your weakness? How can a man be so poor-spirited as to let his wife have absolute power over him, and never dare to oppose anything she has resolved upon?

CHRY. Ah! it is easy, brother, for you to speak; you don't know what a dislike I have to a row, and how I love rest and peace. My wife has a terrible disposition. She makes a great show of the name of philosopher, but she is not the less passionate on that account; and her philosophy, which makes her despise all riches, has no power over the bitterness of her anger. However little I oppose what she has taken into her head, I raise a terrible storm which lasts at least a week. She makes me tremble when she begins her outcries; I don't know where to hide myself. She is a perfect virago; and yet, in spite of her diabolical temper, I must call her my darling and my love.

ARI. You are talking nonsense. Between ourselves, your wife has absolute power over you only because of your own cowardice. Her authority is founded upon your own weakness; it is from you she takes the name of mistress. You give way to her haughty manners, and suffer yourself to be led by the nose like a fool. What! you call yourself a man, and cannot for once make your wife obey you, and have courage enough to say, "I will have it so?" You will, without shame, see your daughter sacrificed to the mad visions with which the family is possessed? You will confer your wealth on a man because of half-a-dozen Latin words with which the ass talks big before them—a pedant whom your wife compliments at every turn with the names of wit and great philosopher whose verses were never equalled, whereas everybody knows that he is anything but all that. Once more I tell you, it is a shame, and you deserve that people should laugh at your cowardice.

CHRY. Yes, you are right, and I see that I am wrong. I must pluck up a little more courage, brother.

ARI. That's right.

CHRY. It is shameful to be so submissive under the tyranny of a woman.

ARI. Good.

CHRY. She has abused my gentleness.

ARI. It is true.

CHRY. My easy-going ways have lasted too long.

ARI. Certainly.

CHRY. And to-day I will let her know that my daughter is my daughter, and that I am the master, to choose a husband for her according to my mind.

ARI. You are reasonable now, and as you should be.

CHRY. You are for Clitandre, and you know where he lives; send him to me directly, brother.

ARI. I will go at once.

CHRY. I have borne it too long. I will be a man, and set everybody at defiance.


Return to the The Learned Women Summary Return to the Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (Moliere) Library

© 2022