The School for Learned Husbands

by Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (Moliere)

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SGAN. Pray, brother, let us talk less, and let each of us live as he likes. Though you have the advantage of me in years, and are old enough to be wise, yet I tell you that I mean to receive none of your reproofs; that my fancy is the only counsellor I shall follow, and that I am quite satisfied with my way of living.

AR. But every one condemns it.

SGAN. Yes, fools like yourself, brother.

AR. Thank you very much. It is a pleasant compliment.

SGAN. I should like to know, since one ought to hear everything, what these fine critics blame in me.

AR. That surly and austere temper which shuns all the charms of society, gives a whimsical appearance to all your actions, and makes everything peculiar in you, even your dress.

SGAN. I ought then to make myself a slave in fashion, and not to put on clothes for my own sake? Would you not, my dear elder brother—for, Heaven be thanked, so you are, to tell you plainly, by a matter of twenty years; and that is not worth the trouble of mentioning—would you not, I say, by your precious nonsense, persuade me to adopt the fashions of those young sparks of yours?

[Footnote: The original has vos jeunes muguets, literally "your young lilies of the valley," because in former times, according to some annotators, the courtiers wore natural or artificial lilies of the valley in their buttonholes, and perfumed themselves with the essence of that flower. I think that muguet is connected with the old French word musguet, smelling of musk. In Molière's time muguet had become rather antiquated; hence it was rightly placed in the mouth of Sganarelle, who likes to use such words and phrases. Rabelais employs it in the eighth chapter of Gargantua, un tas de muguets, and it has been translated by Sir Thomas Urquhart as "some fond wooers and wench-courters." The fashion of calling dandies after the name of perfumes is not rare in France. Thus Regnier speaks of them as marjolets, from marjolaine, sweet marjoram; and Agrippa d'Aubigné calls them muscadins (a word also connected with the old French musguet), which name was renewed at the beginning of the first French revolution, and bestowed on elegants, because they always smelled of musk.]

Oblige me to wear those little hats which provide ventilation for their weak brains, and that flaxen hair, the vast curls whereof conceal the form of the human face;

[Footnote: The fashion was in Molière's time to wear the hair, or wigs, very long, and if possible of a fair colour, which gave to the young fashionables, hence called blondins, an effeminate air. Sganarelle addresses Valère (Act ii. Scene 9), likewise as Monsieur aux blonds cheveux. In The School for Wives (Act ii. Scene 6), Arnolphe also tells Agnès not to listen to the nonsense of these beaux blondins. According to Juvenal (Satire VI.) Messalina put a fair wig on to disguise herself. Louis XIV. did not begin to wear a wig until 1673.]

those little doublets but just below the arms, and those big collars falling down to the navel; those sleeves which one sees at table trying all the sauces, and those petticoats called breeches; those tiny shoes, covered with ribbons, which make you look like feather-legged pigeons; and those large rolls wherein the legs are put every morning, as it were into the stocks, and in which we see these gallants straddle about with their legs as wide apart, as if they were the beams of a mill?

[Footnote: The original has marcher écarquillés ainsi que des volants. Early commentators have generally stated that volants means here "the beams of a mill," but MM. Moland and E. Despois, the last annotators of Molière, maintain that it stands for "shuttlecock," because the large rolls (canons), tied at the knee and wide at the bottom, bore a great resemblance to shuttlecocks turned upside down. I cannot see how this can suit the words marcher écarquillés, for the motion of the canons of gallants, walking or straddling about, is very unlike that produced by shuttlecocks beaten by battledores; I still think "beams of a mill" right, because, though the canons did not look like beams of a mill, the legs did, when in motion.]

I should doubtless please you, bedizened in this way; I see that you wear the stupid gewgaws which it is the fashion to wear.

AR. We should always agree with the majority, and never cause ourselves to be stared at. Extremes shock, and a wise man should do with his clothes as with his speech; avoid too much affectation, and without being in too great a hurry, follow whatever change custom introduces. I do not think that we should act like those people who always exaggerate the fashion, and who are annoyed that another should go further than themselves in the extremes which they affect; but I maintain that it is wrong, for whatever reasons, obstinately to eschew what every one observes; that it would be better to be counted among the fools than to be the only wise person, in opposition to every one else.

SGAN. That smacks of the old man who, in order to impose upon the world, covers his grey hairs with a black wig.

AR. It is strange that you should be so careful always to fling my age in my face, and that I should continually find you blaming my dress as well as my cheerfulness. One would imagine that old age ought to think of nothing but death, since it is condemned to give up all enjoyment; and that it is not attended by enough ugliness of its own, but must needs be slovenly and crabbed.

SGAN. However that may be, I am resolved to stick to my way of dress. In spite of the fashion, I like my cap so that my head may be comfortably sheltered beneath it; a good long doublet buttoned close, as it should be,

[Footnote: The young dandies in the beginning of the reign of Louis XIV., wore slashed doublets, very tight and short.] which may keep the stomach warm, and promote a healthy digestion; a pair of breeches made exactly to fit my thighs; shoes, like those of our wise ancestors, in which my feet may not be tortured: and he who does not like the look of me may shut his eyes.

SCENE II.—LÉONOR, ISABELLA, LISETTE; ARISTE and SGANARELLE, conversing in an under-tone, unperceived.

LEO. (To Isabella). I take it all on myself, in case you are scolded.

LIS. (To Isabella). Always in one room, seeing no one?

ISA. Such is his humour.

LEO. I pity you, sister.

LIS. (To Léonor). It is well for you, madam, that his brother is of quite another disposition; fate was very kind in making you fall into the hands of a rational person.

ISA. It is a wonder that he did not lock me up to-day, or take me with him.

LIS. I declare I would send him to the devil, with his Spanish ruff, and…

[Footnote: The Spanish ruff (fraise) was in fashion at the end of Henri IV.'s reign; in the reign of Louis XIII., and in the beginning of Louis XIV.'s, flat-lying collars, adorned with lace were worn, so that those who still stuck to the Spanish ruff in 1661, were considered very old-fashioned people.]

SGAN. (Against whom Lisette stumbles). Where are you going, if I may ask?

LEO. We really do not know; I was urging my sister to talk a walk, and enjoy this pleasant and fine weather; but…

SGAN. (To Léonor). As for you, you may go wherever you please. (To Lisette). You can run off; there are two of you together. (To Isabella). But as for you, I forbid you—excuse me—to go out.

AR. Oh, brother! let them go and amuse themselves.

SGAN. I am your servant, brother.

AR. Youth will…

SGAN. Youth is foolish, and old age too, sometimes.

AR. Do you think there is any harm in her being with Léonor?

SGAN. Not so; but with me I think she is still better.

AR. But…

SGAN. But her conduct must be guided by me; in short, I know the interest I ought to take in it.

AR. Have I less in her sister's?

SGAN. By Heaven! each one argues and does as he likes. They are without relatives, and their father, our friend, entrusted them to us in his last hour, charging us both either to marry them, or, if we declined, to dispose of them hereafter. He gave us, in writing, the full authority of a father and a husband over them, from their infancy. You undertook to bring up that one; I charged myself with the care of this one. You govern yours at your pleasure. Leave me, I pray, to manage the other as I think best.

AR. It seems to me…

SGAN. It seems to me, and I say it openly, that is the right way to speak on such a subject. You let your ward go about gaily and stylishly; I am content. You let her have footmen and a maid; I agree. You let her gad about, love idleness, be freely courted by dandies; I am quite satisfied. But I intend that mine shall live according to my fancy, and not according to her own; that she shall be dressed in honest serge, and wear only black on holidays; that, shut up in the house, prudent in bearing, she shall apply herself entirely to domestic concerns, mend my linen in her leisure hours, or else knit stockings for amusement; that she shall close her ears to the talk of young sparks, and never go out without some one to watch her. In short, flesh is weak; I know what stories are going about. I have no mind to wear horns, if I can help it; and as her lot requires her to marry me, I mean to be as certain of her as I am of myself.

ISA. I believe you have no grounds for….

SGAN. Hold your tongue, I shall teach you to go out without us!

LEO. What, sir….

SGAN. Good Heavens, madam! without wasting any more words, I am not speaking to you, for you are too clever.

LEO. Do you regret to see Isabella with us?

SGAN. Yes, since I must speak plainly; you spoil her for me. Your visits here only displease me, and you will oblige me by honouring us no more.

LEO. Do you wish that I shall likewise speak my thoughts plainly to you? I know not how she regards all this; but I know what effect mistrust would have on me. Though we are of the same father and mother, she is not much of my sister if your daily conduct produces any love in her.

LIS. Indeed, all these precautions are disgraceful. Are we in Turkey, that women must be shut up? There, they say, they are kept like slaves; this is why the Turks are accursed by God. Our honour, sir, is very weak indeed, if it must be perpetually watched. Do you think, after all, that these precautions are any bar to our designs? that when we take anything into our heads, the cleverest man would not be but a donkey to us? All that vigilance of yours is but a fool's notion; the best way of all, I assure you, is to trust us. He who torments us puts himself in extreme peril, for our honour must ever be its own protector. To take so much trouble in preventing us is almost to give us a desire to sin. If I were suspected by my husband, I should have a very good mind to justify his fears.

SGAN. (to Ariste). This, my fine teacher, is your training. And you endure it without being troubled?

AR. Brother, her words should only make you smile. There is some reason in what she says. Their sex loves to enjoy a little freedom; they are but ill-checked by so much austerity. Suspicious precautions, bolts and bars, make neither wives nor maids virtuous. It is honour which must hold them to their duty, not the severity which we display towards them. To tell you candidly, a woman who is discreet by compulsion only is not often to be met with. We pretend in vain to govern all her actions; I find that it is the heart we must win. For my part, whatever care might be taken, I would scarcely trust my honour in the hands of one who, in the desires which might assail her, required nothing but an opportunity of falling.

SGAN. That is all nonsense.

AR. Have it so; but still I maintain that we should instruct youth pleasantly, chide their faults with great tenderness, and not make them afraid of the name of virtue. Léonor's education has been based on these maxims. I have not made crimes of the smallest acts of liberty, I have always assented to her youthful wishes, and, thank Heaven, I never repented of it. I have allowed her to see good company, to go to amusements, balls, plays. These are things which, for my part I think are calculated to form the minds of the young; the world is a school which, in my opinion, teaches them better how to live than any book. Does she like to spend money on clothes, linen, ribands—what then? I endeavour to gratify her wishes; these are pleasures which, when we are well-off, we may permit to the girls of our family. Her father's command requires her to marry me; but it is not my intention to tyrannize over her. I am quite aware that our years hardly suit, and I leave her complete liberty of choice.

[Footnote: The School for Husbands was played for the first time, on the 24th of June, 1661, and Molière married Armande Béjart (see Prefatory Memoir), on the 20th of February, 1662, when he was forty, and she about twenty years old. It is therefore not unreasonable to suppose that the words he places in the mouth of Ariste are an expression of his own feelings.]

If a safe income of four thousand crowns a-year, great affection and consideration for her, may, in her opinion, counterbalance in marriage the inequality of our age, she may take me for her husband; if not she may choose elsewhere. If she can be happier without me, I do not object; I prefer to see her with another husband rather than that her hand should be given to me against her will.

SGAN. Oh, how sweet he is! All sugar and honey!

AR. At all events, that is my disposition; and I thank Heaven for it. I would never lay down these strict rules which make children wish their parents dead.

SGAN. But the liberty acquired in youth is not so easily withdrawn later on; all those feelings will please you but little when you have to change her mode of life.

AR. And why change it?

SGAN. Why?

AR. Yes.

SGAN. I do not know.

AR. Is there anything in it that offends honour?

SGAN. Why, if you marry her, she may demand the same freedom which she enjoyed as a girl?

AR. Why not?

SGAN. And you so far agree with her as to let her have patches and ribbons?

AR. Doubtless.

SGAN. To let her gad about madly at every ball and public assembly?

AR. Yes, certainly.

SGAN. And the beaux will visit at your house?

AR. What then?

SGAN. Who will junket and give entertainments?

AR. With all my heart.

SGAN. And your wife is to listen to their fine speeches?

AR. Exactly.

SGAN. And you will look on at these gallant visitors with a show of indifference?

AR. Of course.

SGAN. Go on, you old idiot. (To Isabella). Get indoors, and hear no more of this shameful doctrine.


AR. I mean to trust to the faithfulness of my wife, and intend always to live as I have lived.

SGAN. How pleased I shall be to see him victimized!

AR. I cannot say what fate has in store for me; but as for you, I know that if you fail to be so, it is no fault of yours, for you are doing everything to bring it about.

SGAN. Laugh on, giggler! Oh, what a joke it is to see a railer of nearly sixty!

LEO. I promise to preserve him against the fate you speak of, if he is to receive my vows at the altar. He may rest secure; but I can tell you I would pass my word for nothing if I were your wife.

LIS. We have a conscience for those who rely on us; but it is delightful, really, to cheat such folks as you.

SGAN. Hush, you cursed ill-bred tongue!

AR. Brother, you drew these silly words on yourself. Good bye. Alter your temper, and be warned that to shut up a wife is a bad plan. Your servant.

SGAN. I am not yours.


Oh, they are all well suited to one another! What an admirable family. A foolish old man with a worn-out body who plays the fop; a girl-mistress and a thorough coquette; impudent servants;—no, wisdom itself could not succeed, but would exhaust sense and reason, trying to amend a household like this. By such associations, Isabella might lose those principles of honour which she learned amongst us; to prevent it, I shall presently send her back again to my cabbages and turkeys.


VAL. (Behind). Ergaste, that is he, the Argus whom I hate, the stern guardian of her whom I adore.

SGAN. (Thinking himself alone). In short, is there not something wonderful in the corruption of manners now-a-days?

VAL. I should like to address him, if I can get a chance, and try to strike up an acquaintance with him.

SGAN. (Thinking himself alone). Instead of seeing that severity prevail which so admirably formed virtue in other days, uncontrolled and imperious youth here-about assumes… (Valère bows to Sganarelle from a distance).

VAL. He does not see that we bow to him.

ERG. Perhaps his blind eye is on this side. Let us cross to the right.

SGAN. I must go away from this place. Life in town only produces in me…

VAL. (Gradually approaching). I must try to get an introduction.

SGAN. (Hearing a noise). Ha! I thought some one spoke… (Thinking himself alone). In the country, thank Heaven, the fashionable follies do not offend my eyes.

ERG. (To Valère). Speak to him.

SGAN. What is it?… my ears tingle… There, all the recreations of our girls are but… (He perceives Valère bowing to him). Do you bow to me?

ERG. (To Valère). Go up to him.

SGAN. (Not attending to Valère). Thither no coxcomb comes. (Valère again bows to him). What the deuce!… (He turns and sees Ergaste bowing on the other side). Another? What a great many bows!

VAL. Sir, my accosting you disturbs you, I fear?

SGAN. That may be.

VAL. But yet the honour of your acquaintance is so great a happiness, so exquisite a pleasure, that I had a great desire to pay my respects to you.

SGAN. Well.

VAL. And to come and assure you, without any deceit, that I am wholly at your service.

SGAN. I believe it.

VAL. I have the advantage of being one of your neighbours, for which I thank my lucky fate.

SGAN. That is all right.

VAL. But, sir. do you know the news going the round at Court, and thought to be reliable?

SGAN. What does it matter to me?

VAL. True; but we may sometimes be anxious to hear it? Shall you go and see the magnificent preparations for the birth of our Dauphin, sir?

[Footnote: The Dauphin, the son of Louis XIV. was born at Fontainebleau, on the 1st of November, 1661; The School for Husbands was first acted on the 24th of June of the same year; hence Molière ventures to prophesy about the Dauphin's birth.]

SGAN. If I feel inclined.

VAL. Confess that Paris affords us a hundred delightful pleasures which are not to be found elsewhere. The provinces are a desert in comparison. How do you pass your time?

SGAN. On my own business.

VAL. The mind demands relaxation, and occasionally gives way, by too close attention to serious occupations. What do you do in the evening before going to bed?

SGAN. What I please.

VAL. Doubtless no one could speak better. The answer is just, and it seems to be common sense to resolve never to do what does not please us. If I did not think you were too much occupied, I would drop in on you sometimes after supper.

SGAN. Your servant.


VAL. What do you think of that eccentric fool?

ERG. His answers are abrupt and his reception is churlish.

VAL. Ah! I am in a rage.

ERG. What for?

VAL. Why am I in a rage? To see her I love in the power of a savage, a watchful dragon, whose severity will not permit her to enjoy a single moment of liberty.

ERG. That is just what is in your favour. Your love ought to expect a great deal from these circumstances. Know, for your encouragement, that a woman watched is half-won, and that the gloomy ill-temper of husbands and fathers has always promoted the affairs of the gallant. I intrigue very little; for that is not one of my accomplishments. I do not pretend to be a gallant; but I have served a score of such sportsmen, who often used to tell me that it was their greatest delight to meet with churlish husbands, who never come home without scolding,—downright brutes, who, without rhyme or reason, criticise the conduct of their wives in everything, and, proudly assuming the authority of a husband, quarrel with them before the eyes of their admirers. "One knows," they would say, "how to take advantage of this. The lady's indignation at this kind of outrage, on the one hand, and the considerate compassion of the lover, on the other, afford an opportunity for pushing matters far enough." In a word, the surliness of Isabella's guardian is a circumstance sufficiently favourable for you.

VAL. But I could never find one moment to speak to her in the four months that I have ardently loved her.

ERG. Love quickens people's wits, though it has little effect on yours. If I had been… VAL. Why, what could you have done? For one never sees her without that brute; in the house there are neither maids nor men-servants whom I might influence to assist me by the alluring temptation of some reward.

ERG. Then she does not yet know that you love her?

VAL. It is a point on which I am not informed. Wherever the churl took this fair one, she always saw me like a shadow behind her; my looks daily tried to explain to her the violence of my love. My eyes have spoken much; but who can tell whether, after all, their language could be understood?

ERG. It is true that this language may sometimes prove obscure, if it have not writing or speech for its interpreter.

VAL. What am I to do to rid myself of this vast difficulty, and to learn whether the fair one has perceived that I love her? Tell me some means or other.

ERG. That is what we have to discover. Let us go in for a while—the better to think over it.


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