The Learned Women

by Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (Moliere)

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HEN. It is about the marriage which my mother has set her heart upon that I wish, Sir, to speak privately to you; and I thought that, seeing how our home is disturbed by it, I should be able to make you listen to reason. You are aware that with me you will receive a considerable dowry; but money, which we see so many people esteem, has no charms worthy of a philosopher; and contempt for wealth and earthly grandeur should not show itself in your words only.

TRI. Therefore it is not that which charms me in you; but your dazzling beauty, your sweet and piercing eyes, your grace, your noble air—these are the wealth, the riches, which have won for you my vows and love; it is of those treasures only that I am enamoured.

HEN. I thank you for your generous love; I ought to feel grateful and to respond to it; I regret that I cannot; I esteem you as much as one can esteem another; but in me I find an obstacle to loving you. You know that a heart cannot be given to two people, and I feel that Clitandre has taken entire possession of mine. I know that he has much less merit than you, that I have not fit discrimination for the choice of a husband, and that with your many talents yon ought to please me. I see that I am wrong, but I cannot help it; and all the power that reason has over me is to make me angry with myself for such blindness.

TRI. The gift of your hand, to which I am allowed to aspire, will give me the heart possessed by Clitandre; for by a thousand tender cares I have reason to hope that I shall succeed in making myself loved.

HEN. No; my heart is bound to its first love, and cannot be touched by your cares and attention. I explain myself plainly with you, and my confession ought in no way to hurt your feelings. The love which springs up in the heart is not, as you know, the effect of merit, but is partly decided by caprice; and oftentimes, when some one pleases us, we can barely find the reason. If choice and wisdom guided love, all the tenderness of my heart would be for you; but love is not thus guided. Leave me, I pray, to my blindness; and do not profit by the violence which, for your sake, is imposed on my obedience. A man of honour will owe nothing to the power which parents have over us; he feels a repugnance to exact a self-sacrifice from her he loves, and will not obtain a heart by force. Do not encourage my mother to exercise, for your sake, the absolute power she has over me. Give up your love for me, and carry to another the homage of a heart so precious as yours.

TRI. For this heart to satisfy you, you must impose upon it laws it can obey. Could it cease to love you, Madam, unless you ceased to be loveable, and could cease to display those celestial charms….

HEN. Ah! Sir, leave aside all this trash; you are encumbered with so many Irises, Phyllises, Amaranthas, which everywhere in your verses you paint as charming, and to whom you swear such love, that….

TRI. It is the mind that speaks, and not the heart. With them it is only the poet that is in love; but it is in earnest that I love the adorable Henriette.

HEN. Ah, Sir, I beg of you….

TRI. If I offend you, my offence is not likely to cease. This love, ignored by you to this day, will be of eternal duration. Nothing can put a stop to its delightful transports; and although your beauty condemns my endeavours, I cannot refuse the help of a mother who wishes to crown such a precious flame. Provided I succeed in obtaining such great happiness, provided I obtain your hand, it matters little to me how it comes to pass.

HEN. But are you aware, Sir, that you risk more than you think by using violence; and to be plain with you, that it is not safe to marry a girl against her wish, for she might well have recourse to a certain revenge that a husband should fear.

TRI. Such a speech has nothing that can make me alter my purpose. A philosopher is prepared against every event. Cured by reason of all vulgar weaknesses, he rises above these things, and is far from minding what does not depend on him. [Footnote: Compare 'School for Wives,' act iv. scene vi.]

HEN. Truly, Sir, I am delighted to hear you; and I had no idea that philosophy was so capable of teaching men to bear such accidents with constancy. This wonderful strength of mind deserves to have a fit subject to illustrate it, and to find one who may take pleasure in giving it an occasion for its full display. As, however, to say the truth, I do not feel equal to the task, I will leave it to another; and, between ourselves, I assure you that I renounce altogether the happiness of seeing you my husband.

TRI. (going). We shall see by-and-by how the affair will end. In the next room, close at hand, is the notary waiting. SCENE II.—CHRYSALE, CLITANDRE, HENRIETTE.

CHRY. I am glad, my daughter, to see you; come here and fulfil your duty, by showing obedience to the will of your father. I will teach your mother how to behave, and, to defy her more fully, here is Martine, whom I have brought back to take her old place in the house again.

HEN. Your resolution deserves praise. I beg of you, father, never to change the disposition you are in. Be firm in what you have resolved, and do not suffer yourself to be the dupe of your own good-nature. Do not yield; and I pray you to act so as to hinder my mother from having her own way.

CHRY. How! Do you take me for a booby?

HEN. Heaven forbid!

CHRY. Am I a fool, pray?

HEN. I do not say that.

CHRY. Am I thought unfit to have the decision of a man of sense?

HEN. No, father.

CHRY. Ought I not at my age to know how to be master at home?

HEN. Of course.

CHRY. Do you think me weak enough to allow my wife to lead me by the nose?

HEN. Oh dear, no, father.

CHRY. Well, then, what do you mean? You are a nice girl to speak to me as you do!

HEN. If I have displeased you, father, I have done so unintentionally.

CHRY. My will is law in this place.

HEN. Certainly, father.

CHRY. No one but myself has in this house a right to command.

HEN. Yes, you are right, father.

CHRY. It is I who hold the place of chief of the family.

HEN. Agreed.

CHRY. It is I who ought to dispose of my daughter's hand.

HEN. Yes, indeed, father.

CHRY. Heaven has given me full power over you.

HEN. No one, father, says anything to the contrary.

CHRY. And as to choosing a husband, I will show you that it is your father, and not your mother, whom you have to obey.

HEN. Alas! in that you respond to my dearest wish. Exact obedience to you is my earnest wish.

CHRY. We shall see if my wife will prove rebellious to my will.

CLI. Here she is, and she brings the notary with her.

CHRY. Back me up, all of you.

MAR. Leave that to me; I will take care to encourage you, if need be.


PHI. (to the NOTARY). Can you not alter your barbarous style, and give us a contract couched in noble language?

NOT. Our style is very good, and I should be a blockhead, Madam, to try and change a single word.

BEL. Ah! what barbarism in the very midst of France! But yet, Sir, for learning's sake, allow us, instead of crowns, livres, and francs, to have the dowry expressed in minae and talents, and to express the date in Ides and Kalends.

NOT. I, Madam? If I were to do such a thing, all my colleagues would hiss me.

PHI. It is useless to complain of all this barbarism. Come, Sir, sit down and write. (Seeing MARTINE) Ah! this impudent hussy dares to show herself here again! Why was she brought back, I should like to know?

CHRY. We will tell you by-and-by; we have now something else to do.

NOT. Let us proceed with the contract. Where is the future bride?

PHI. It is the younger daughter I give in marriage.

NOT. Good.

CHRY. (showing HENRIETTE). Yes, Sir, here she is; her name is Henriette. NOT. Very well; and the future bridegroom?

PHI. (showing TRISSOTIN). This gentleman is the husband I give her.

CHRY. (showing CLITANDRE). And the husband I wish her to marry is this gentleman.

NOT. Two husbands! Custom does not allow of more than one.

PHI. (to the NOTARY). What is it that is stopping you? Put down Mr. Trissotin as my son-in-law. CHRY. For my son-in-law put down Mr. Clitandre.

NOT. Try and agree together, and come to a quiet decision as to who is to be the future husband.

PHI. Abide, Sir, abide by my own choice.

CHRY. Do, Sir, do according to my will.

NOT. Tell me which of the two I must obey.

PHI. (to CHRYSALE). What! you will go against my wishes.

CHRY. I cannot allow my daughter to be sought after only because of the wealth which is in my family.

PHI. Really! as if anyone here thought of your wealth, and as if it were a subject worthy the anxiety of a wise man.

CHRY. In short, I have fixed on Clitandre.

PHI. (showing TRISSOTIN). And I am decided that for a husband she shall have this gentleman. My choice shall be followed; the thing is settled.

CHRY. Heyday! you assume here a very high tone.

MAR. 'Tisn't for the wife to lay down the law, and I be one to give up the lead to the men in everything.

CHRY. That is well said.

MAR. If my discharge was as sure as a gun, what I says is, that the hen hadn't ought to be heard when the cock's there.

CHRY. Just so.

MAR. And we all know that a man is always chaffed, when at home his wife wears the breeches.

CHRY. It is perfectly true.

MAR. I says that, if I had a husband, I would have him be the master of the house. I should not care a bit for him if he played the henpecked husband; and if I resisted him out of caprice, or if I spoke too loud, I should think it quite right if, with a couple of boxes on the ear, he made me pitch it lower.

CHRY. You speak as you ought.

MAR. Master is quite right to want a proper husband for his daughter.

CHRY. Certainly.

MAR. Why should he refuse her Clitandre, who is young and handsome, in order to give her a scholar, who is always splitting hairs about something? She wants a husband and not a pedagogue, and as she cares neither for Greek nor Latin, she has no need of Mr. Trissotin.

CHRY. Excellent.

PHI. We must suffer her to chatter on at her ease.

MAR. Learned people are only good to preach in a pulpit, and I have said a thousand times that I wouldn't have a learned man for my husband. Learning is not at all what is wanted in a household. Books agree badly with marriage, and if ever I consent to engage myself to anybody, it will be to a husband who has no other book but me, who doesn't know a from b—no offence to you, Madam—and, in short, who would be clever only for his wife. [Footnote: In this scene, as in act ii. scenes v. and vi., Martine speaks very correctly at times.]

PHI. (to CHRYSALE). Is it finished? and have I listened patiently enough to your worthy interpreter?

CHRY. She has only said the truth.

PHI. And I, to put an end to this dispute, will have my wish obeyed. (Showing TRISSOTIN) Henriette and this gentleman shall be united at once. I have said it, and I will have it so. Make no reply; and if you have given your word to Clitandre, offer him her elder sister.

CHRY. Ah! this is a way out of the difficulty. (To HENRIETTE and CLITANDRE) Come, do you consent?

HEN. How! father…!

CLI. (to CHRYSALE). What! Sir…!

BEL. Propositions more to his taste might be made. But we are establishing a kind of love which must be as pure as the morning-star; the thinking substance is admitted, but not the material substance.


ARI. I am sorry to have to trouble this happy ceremony by the sad tidings of which I am obliged to be bearer. These two letters make me bring news which have made me feel grievously for you. (To PHILAMINTE) One letter is for you, and comes from your attorney. (To CHRYSALE) The other comes from Lyons.

PHI. What misfortune can be sent us worthy of troubling us?

ARI. You can read it in this letter.

PHI. "Madam, I have asked your brother to give you this letter; it will tell you news which I did not dare to come and tell you myself. The great negligence you have shown in your affairs has been the cause that the clerk of your attorney has not forewarned me, and you have altogether lost the lawsuit which you ought to have gained."

CHRY. (to PHILAMINTE). Your lawsuit lost!

PHI. (to CHRYSALE). You seem very much upset; my heart is in no way troubled by such a blow. Show, show like me, a less vulgar mind wherewith to brave the ills of fortune. "Your want of care will cost you forty thousand crowns, and you are condemned to pay this sum with all costs." Condemned? Ah! this is a shocking word, and only fit for criminals.

ARI. It is the wrong word, no doubt, and you, with reason, protest against it. It should have been, "You are desired by an order of the court to pay immediately forty thousand crowns and costs."

PHI. Let us see the other.

CHRY. "Sir, the friendship which binds me to your brother prompts me to take a lively interest in all that concerns you. I know that you had placed your fortune entirely in the hands of Argante and Damon, and I acquaint you with the news that they have both failed." O Heaven! to lose everything thus in a moment!

PHI. (to CHRYSALE.) Ah! what a shameful outburst Fie! For the truly wise there is no fatal change of fortune, and, losing all, he still remains himself. Let us finish the business we have in hand; and please cast aside your sorrow. (Showing TRISSOTIN) His wealth will be sufficient for us and for him.

TRI. No, Madam; cease, I pray you, from pressing this affair further. I see that everybody is opposed to this marriage, and I have no intention of forcing the wills of others.

PHI. This reflection, Sir, comes very quickly after our reverse of fortune.

TRI. I am tired at last of so much resistance, and prefer to relinquish all attempts at removing these obstacles. I do not wish for a heart that will not surrender itself.

PHI. I see in you, and that not to your honour, what I have hitherto refused to believe.

TRI. You may see whatever you please, and it matters little to me how you take what you see. I am not a man to put up with the disgrace of the refusals with which I have been insulted here. I am well worthy of more consideration, and whoever thinks otherwise, I am her humble servant. (Exit.)


PHI. How plainly he has disclosed his mercenary soul, and how little like a philosopher he has acted.

CLI. I have no pretension to being one; but, Madam, I will link my destiny to yours, and I offer you, with myself, all that I possess.

PHI. Yon delight me, Sir, by this generous action, and I will reward your love. Yes, I grant Henriette to the eager affection….

HEN. No, mother. I have altered my mind; forgive me if now I resist your will.

CLI. What! do you refuse me happiness, and now that I see everybody for me….

HEN. I know how little you possess, Clitandre; and I always desired you for a husband when, by satisfying my most ardent wishes, I saw that our marriage would improve your fortune. But in the face of such reverses, I love you enough not to burden you with our adversity.

CLI. With you any destiny would be happiness, without you misery.

HEN. Love in its ardour generally speaks thus. Let us avoid the torture of vexatious recriminations. Nothing irritates such a tie more than the wretched wants of life. After a time we accuse each other of all the sorrows that follow such an engagement.

ARI. (to HENRIETTE). Is what you have just said the only reason which makes you refuse to marry Clitandre?

HEN. Yes; otherwise you would see me ready to fly to this union with all my heart.

ARI. Suffer yourself, then, to be bound by such gentle ties. The news I brought you was false. It was a stratagem, a happy thought I had to serve your love by deceiving my sister, and by showing her what her philosopher would prove when put to the test.

CHRY. Heaven be praised!

PHI. I am delighted at heart for the vexation which this cowardly deserter will feel. The punishment of his sordid avarice will be to see in what a splendid manner this match will be concluded.

CHRY. (to CLITANDRE). I told you that you would marry her.

ARM. (to PHILAMINTE). So, then, you sacrifice me to their love?

PHI. It will not be to sacrifice you; you have the support of your philosophy, and you can with a contented mind see their love crowned.

BEL. Let him take care, for I still retain my place in his heart. Despair often leads people to conclude a hasty marriage, of which they repent ever after.

CHRY. (to the NOTARY). Now, Sir, execute my orders, and draw up the contract in accordance with what I said.


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