The School for Learned Husbands

by Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (Moliere)

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SGAN. That will do; I know the house, and the person, simply from the description you have given me.

ISA. (Aside). Heaven, be propitious, and favour to-day the artful contrivance of an innocent love!

SGAN. Do you say they have told you that his name is Valère?

ISA. Yes.

SGAN. That will do; do not make yourself uneasy about it. Go inside, and leave me to act. I am going at once to talk to this young madcap.

ISA. (As she goes in). For a girl, I am planning a pretty bold scheme. But the unreasonable severity with which I am treated will be my excuse to every right mind.


(Knocks at the door of Valère's house). Let us lose no time; here it is. Who's there? Why, I am dreaming! Hulloa, I say! hulloa somebody! hulloa! I do not wonder, after this information, that he came up to me just now so meekly. But I must make haste, and teach this foolish aspirant…


SGAN. (To Ergaste, who has come out hastily). A plague on the lubberly ox! Do you mean to knock me down—coming and sticking yourself in front of me like a post?

VAL. Sir, I regret…

SGAN. Ah! you are the man I want.

VAL. I, sir?

SGAN. You. Your name is Valère, is it not?

VAL. Yes.

SGAN. I am come to speak to you if you will allow me.

VAL. Can I have the happiness of rendering you any service?

SGAN. No; but I propose to do you a good turn. That is what brings me to your house.

VAL. To my house, sir!

SGAN. To your house. Need you be so much astonished?

VAL. I have good reason for it; I am delighted with the honour…

SGAN. Do not mention the honour, I beseech you.

VAL. Will you not come in?

SGAN. There is no need.

VAL. I pray you, enter.

SGAN. No, I will go no further.

VAL. As long as you stay there I cannot listen to you.

SGAN. I will not budge.

VAL. Well, I must yield. Quick, since this gentleman is resolved upon it, bring a chair.

SGAN. I am going to talk standing.

VAL. As if I could permit such a thing!

SGAN. What an intolerable delay!

VAL. Such incivility would be quite unpardonable.

SGAN. Nothing can be so rude as not to listen to people who wish to speak to us.

VAL. I obey you, then.

SGAN. You cannot do better. (They make many compliments about putting on their hats). So much ceremony is hardly necessary. Will you listen to me?

VAL. Undoubtedly, and most willingly.

SGAN. Tell me: do you know that I am guardian to a tolerably young and passably handsome girl who lives in this neighbourhood, and whose name is Isabella?

VAL. Yes.

SGAN. As you know it, I need not tell it to you. But do you know, likewise, that as I find her charming, I care for her otherwise than as a guardian, and that she is destined for the honour of being my wife?

VAL. No!

SGAN. I tell it you, then; and also that it is as well that your passion, if you please, should leave her in peace.

VAL. Who?—I, sir?

SGAN. Yes, you. Let us have no dissembling.

VAL. Who has told you that my heart is smitten by her?

SGAN. Those who are worthy of belief.

VAL. Be more explicit.

SGAN. She herself.

VAL. She!

SGAN. She. Is not that enough? Like a virtuous young girl, who has loved me from childhood, she told me all just now; moreover, she charged me to tell you, that, since she has everywhere been followed by you, her heart, which your pursuit greatly offends, has only too well understood the language of your eyes; that your secret desires are well known to her; and that to try more fully to explain a passion which is contrary to the affection she entertains for me, is to give yourself needless trouble.

VAL. She, you say, of her own accord, makes you…

SGAN. Yes, makes me come to you and give you this frank and plain message; also, that, having observed the violent love wherewith your soul is smitten, she would earlier have let you know what she thinks about you if, perplexed as she was, she could have found anyone to send this message by; but that at length she was painfully compelled to make use of me, in order to assure you, as I have told you, that her affection is denied to all save me; that you have been ogling her long enough; and that, if you have ever so little brains, you will carry your passion somewhere else. Farewell, till our next meeting. That is what I had to tell you.

VAL. (Aside). Ergaste, what say you to such an adventure?

SGAN. (Aside, retiring). See how he is taken aback!

ERG. (In a low tone to Valère). For my part, I think that there is nothing in it to displease you; that a rather subtle mystery is concealed under it; in short, that this message is not sent by one who desires to see the love end which she inspires in you.

SGAN. (Aside). He takes it as he ought.

VAL. (In a low tone to Ergaste). You think it a mystery…

ERG. Yes…. But he is looking at us; let us get out of his sight.


How his face showed his confusion! Doubtless he did not expect this message. Let me call Isabella; she is showing the fruits which education produces on the mind. Virtue is all she cares for; and her heart is so deeply steeped in it, that she is offended if a man merely looks at her.


ISA. (Aside, as she enters). I fear that my lover, full of his passion, has not understood my message rightly! Since I am so strictly guarded, I must risk one which shall make my meaning clearer.

SGAN. Here I am, returned again.

ISA. Well?

SGAN. Your words wrought their full purpose; I have done his business. He wanted to deny that his heart was touched; but when I told him I came from you, he stood immediately dumbfounded and confused; I do not believe he will come here any more.

ISA. Ah, what do you tell me? I much fear the contrary, and that he will still give us more trouble.

SGAN. And why do you fear this?

ISA. You had hardly left the house when, going to the window to take a breath of air, I saw a young man at yonder turning, who first came, most unexpectedly, to wish me good morning, on the part of this impertinent man, and then threw right into my chamber a box, enclosing a letter, sealed like a love-letter.

[Footnote: The original has un poulet, literally "a chicken," because love-letters were folded so as to represent a fowl, with two wings; this shape is now called cocotte, from coq, and, though no longer used to designate a billet-doux, is often employed in familiar phraseology, in speaking of a girl who does not lead a moral life.]

I meant at once to throw it after him; but he had already reached the end of the street. I feel very much annoyed at it.

SGAN. Just see his trickery and rascality!

ISA. It is my duty quickly to have this box and letter sent back to this detestable lover; for that purpose I need some one; for I dare not venture to ask yourself…

SGAN. On the contrary, darling, it shows me all the more your love and faithfulness; my heart joyfully accepts this task. You oblige me in this more than I can tell you.

ISA. Take it then.

SGAN. Well, let us see what he has dared to say to you.

ISA. Heavens! Take care not to open it!

SGAN. Why so?

ISA. Will you make him believe that it is I? A respectable girl ought always to refuse to read the letters a man sends her. The curiosity which she thus betrays shows a secret pleasure in listening to gallantries. I think it right that this letter should be peremptorily returned to Valère unopened, that he may the better learn this day the great contempt which my heart feels for him; so that his passion may from this time lose all hope, and never more attempt such a transgression.

SGAN. Of a truth she is right in this! Well, your virtue charms me, as well as your discretion. I see that my lessons have borne fruit in your mind; you show yourself worthy of being my wife.

ISA. Still I do not like to stand in the way of your wishes. The letter is in your hands, and you can open it.

SGAN. No, far from it. Your reasons are too good; I go to acquit myself of the task you impose upon me; I have likewise to say a few words quite near, and will then return hither to set you at rest.


How delighted I am to find her such a discreet girl! I have in my house a treasure of honour. To consider a loving look treason, to receive a love-letter as a supreme insult, and to have it carried back to the gallant by myself! I should like to know, seeing all this, if my brother's ward would have acted thus, on a similar occasion. Upon my word, girls are what you make them… Hulloa! (Knocks at Valère's door).


ERG. Who is there?

SGAN. Take this; and tell your master not to presume so far as to write letters again, and send them in gold boxes; say also that Isabella is mightily offended at it. See, it has not even been opened. He will perceive what regard she has for his passion, and what success he can expect in it.


VAL. What has that surly brute just given you?

ERG. This letter, sir, as well as this box, which he pretends that Isabella has received from you, and about which, he says, she is in a great rage. She returns it to you unopened. Read it quickly, and let us see if I am mistaken.

VAL. (Reads). "This letter will no doubt surprise you; both the resolution to write to you and the means of conveying it to your hands may be thought very bold in me; but I am in such a condition, that I can no longer restrain myself. Well-founded repugnance to a marriage with which I am threatened in six days, makes me risk everything; and in the determination to free myself from it by whatever means, I thought I had rather choose you than despair. Yet do not think that you owe all to my evil fate; it is not the constraint in which I find myself that has given rise to the sentiments I entertain for you; but it hastens the avowal of them, and makes me transgress the decorum which the proprieties of my sex require. It depends on you alone to make me shortly your own; I wait only until you have declared your intentions to me before acquainting you with the resolution I have taken; but, above all remember that time presses, and that two hearts, which love each other, ought to understand even the slightest hint."

ERG. Well, sir, is not this contrivance original? For a young girl she is not so very ignorant. Would one have thought her capable of these love stratagems?

VAL. Ah, I consider her altogether adorable. This evidence of her wit and tenderness doubles my love for her, and strengthens the feelings with which her beauty inspires me….

ERG. Here comes the dupe; think what you will say to him.


SGAN. (Thinking himself alone). Oh, thrice and four times blessed be the law which forbids extravagance in dress!

[Footnote: It is remarkable that Louis XIV., who was so extravagant himself in his buildings, dress, and general expenses published sixteen laws against luxury; the law Sganarelle speaks of was promulgated November 27th, 1660, against the use of guipures, cannetilles, paillettes, etc., on men's dresses.]

No longer will the troubles of husbands be so great! women will now be checked in their demands. Oh, how delighted I am with the King for this proclamation!

[Footnote: The original has décri a proclamation which forbade the manufacturing, sale or wearing, of certain fabrics.]

How I wish, for the peace of the same husbands, that he would forbid coquetry, as well as lace, and gold or silver embroidery. I have bought the law on purpose, so that Isabella may read it aloud; and, by and by, when she is at leisure, it shall be our entertainment after supper. (Perceiving Valère). Well, Mr. Sandy-hair, would you like to send again love-letters in boxes of gold? You doubtless thought you had found some young flirt, eager for an intrigue, and melting before pretty speeches. You see how your presents are received! Believe me, you waste your powder and shot. Isabella is a discreet girl, she loves me and your love insults her. Aim at some one else, and be off!

VAL. Yes, yes; your merits, to which everyone yields, are too great an obstacle, sir. Though my passion be sincere, it is folly to contend with you for the love of Isabella.

SGAN. It is really folly.

VAL. Be sure I should not have yielded to the fascination of her charms, could I have foreseen that this wretched heart would find a rival so formidable as yourself.

SGAN. I believe it.

VAL. Now I know better than to hope; I yield to you, sir, and that too without a murmur.

SGAN. You do well.

VAL. Reason will have it so; for you shine with so many virtues, that I should be wrong to regard with an angry eye the tender sentiments which Isabella entertains for you.

SGAN. Of course.

VAL. Yes, yes, I yield to you; but at least I pray you,—and it is the only favour, sir, begged by a wretched lover, of whose pangs this day you are the sole cause,—I pray you, I say, to assure Isabella that, if my heart has been burning with love for her these three months, that passion is spotless, and has never fostered a thought at which her honour could be offended.


VAL. That, relying solely on my heart's choice, my only design was to obtain her for my wife, if destiny had not opposed an obstacle to this pure flame in you, who captivated her heart.

SGAN. Very good.

VAL. That, whatever happens, she must not think that her charms can ever be forgotten; that to whatever decrees of Heaven I must submit, my fate is to love her to my last breath; and that, if anything checks my pursuit, it is the just respect I have for your merits.

[Footnote: We are of course to read between the lines: "If there is anything which could strengthen my resolution to save her, it is the natural detestation which I feel for you."]

SGAN. That is wisely spoken; I shall go at once to repeat these words, which will not be disagreeable to her. But, if you will listen to me, try to act so as to drive this passion from your mind. Farewell.

ERG. (To Valeère). The excellent dupe!


I feel a great pity for this poor wretch, so full of affection. But it is unfortunate for him to have taken it into his head to try to storm a fortress which I have captured.

(Sganarelle knocks at his door.)


SGAN. Never did lover display so much grief for a love-letter returned unopened! At last he loses all hope, and retires. But he earnestly entreated me to tell you, that, at least, in loving you, he never fostered a thought at which your honour could be offended, and that, relying solely on his heart's choice, his only desire was to obtain you for a wife, if destiny had not opposed an obstacle to his pure flame, through me, who captivated your heart; that, whatever happens, you must not think that your charms can ever be forgotten by him; that, to whatever decrees of Heaven he must submit, his fate is to love you to his last breath; and that if anything checks his pursuit, it is the just respect he has for my merits. These are his very words; and, far from blaming him, I think him a gentleman, and I pity him for loving you.

ISA. (Aside). His passion does not contradict my secret belief, and his looks have always assured me of its innocence.

SGAN. What do you say?

ISA. That it is hard that you should so greatly pity a man whom I hate like death; and that, if you loved me as much as you say, you would feel how he insults me by his addresses.

SGAN. But he did not know your inclinations; and, from the uprightness of his intentions, his love does not deserve…

ISA. Is it good intentions, I ask, to try and carry people off? Is it like a man of honour to form designs for marrying me by force, and taking me out of your hands? As if I were a girl to live after such a disgrace!

SGAN. How?

ISA. Yes, yes, I have been informed that this base lover speaks of carrying me off by force; for my part, I cannot tell by what secret means he has learned so early that you intend to marry me in eight days

[Footnote: In the letter which Isabella writes to Valère (see page 279), she speaks of a marriage with which she is threatened in six days. This is, I suppose, a pious fraud, to urge Valère to make haste, for here she mentions "eight days."]

at the latest, since it was only yesterday you told me so. But they say that he intends to be beforehand with you, and not let me unite my lot to yours.

SGAN. That is a bad case.

ISA. Oh, pardon me! He is eminently a gentleman, who only feels towards me…

SGAN. He is wrong; and this is past joking.

ISA. Yes, your good nature encourages his folly. If you had spoken sharply to him just now, he would have feared your rage and my resentment; for even since his letter was rejected, he mentioned this design which has shocked me. As I have been told, his love retains the belief that it is well received by me; that I dread to marry you, whatever people may think, and should be rejoiced to see myself away from you.

SGAN. He is mad!

ISA. Before you, he knows how to disguise; and his plan is to amuse you. Be sure the wretch makes sport of you by these fair speeches. I must confess that I am very unhappy. After all my pains to live honourably, and to repel the addresses of a vile seducer, I must be exposed to his vexatious and infamous designs against me!

SGAN. There, fear nothing.

ISA. For my part I tell you that if you do not strongly reprove such an impudent attempt, and do not find quickly means of ridding me of such bold persecutions, I will abandon all, and not suffer any longer the insults which I receive from him.

SGAN. Do not be so troubled, my little wife. There, I am going to find him, to give him a good blowing up.

ISA. Tell him at least plainly, so that it may be in vain for him to gainsay it, that I have been told of his intentions upon good authority; that, after this message, whatever he may undertake, I defy him to surprise me; and, lastly, that, without wasting any more sighs or time, he must know what are my feelings for you; that, if he wishes not to be the cause of some mischief, he should not require to have the same thing told twice over.

SGAN. I will tell him what is right.

ISA. But all this in such a way as to show him that I really speak seriously.

SGAN. There, I will forget nothing, I assure you.

ISA. I await your return impatiently. Pray, make as much haste as you can. I pine when I am a moment without seeing you.

SGAN. There, ducky, my heart's delight, I will return immediately.


Was there ever a girl more discreet and better behaved? Oh, how happy I am! and what a pleasure it is to find a woman just after my own heart! Yes, that is how our women ought to be, and not, like some I know, downright flirts, who allow themselves to be courted, and make their simple husbands to be pointed at all over Paris. (Knocks at Valère's door). Hulloa, my enterprising, fine gallant!


VAL. Sir, what brings you here again?

SGAN. Your follies.

VAL. How?

SGAN. You know well enough what I wish to speak to you about. To tell you plainly, I thought you had more sense. You have been making fun of me with your fine speeches, and secretly nourish silly expectations. Look you, I wished to treat you gently; but you will end by making me very angry. Are you not ashamed, considering who you are, to form, such designs as you do? to intend to carry off a respectable girl, and interrupt a marriage on which her whole happiness depends?

VAL. Who told you this strange piece of news, sir?

SGAN. Do not let us dissimulate; I have it from Isabella, who sends you word by me, for the last time, that she has plainly enough shown you what her choice is; that her heart, entirely mine, is insulted by such a plan; that she would rather die than suffer such an outrage; and that you will cause a terrible uproar, unless you put an end to all this confusion.

VAL. If she really said what I have just heard, I confess that my passion has nothing more to expect. These expressions are plain enough to let me see that all is ended; I must respect the judgment she has passed.

SGAN. If… You doubt it then, and fancy all the complaints that I have made to you on her behalf are mere pretences! Do you wish that she herself should tell you her feelings? To set you right, I willingly consent to it. Follow me; you shall hear if I have added anything, and if her young heart hesitates between us two. (Goes and knocks at his own door).


ISA. What! you bring Valère to me! What is your design? Are you taking his part against me? And do you wish, charmed by his rare merits, to compel me to love him, and endure his visits?

SGAN. No, my love; your affection is too dear to me for that; but he believes that my messages are untrue; he thinks that it is I who speak, and cunningly represent you as full of hatred for him, and of tenderness for me; I wish, therefore, from your own mouth, infallibly to cure him of a mistake which nourishes his love.

ISA. (To Valère). What! Is not my soul completely bared to your eyes, and can you still doubt whom I love?

VAL. Yes, all that this gentleman has told me on your behalf, Madam, might well surprise a man; I confess I doubted it. This final sentence, which decides the fate of my great love, moves my feelings so much that it can be no offence if I wish to have it repeated.

ISA. No. no, such a sentence should not surprise you. Sganarelle told you my very sentiments; I consider them to be sufficiently founded on justice, to make their full truth clear. Yes, I desire it to be known, and I ought to be believed, that fate here presents two objects to my eyes, who, inspiring me with different sentiments, agitate my heart. One by a just choice, in which my honour is involved, has all my esteem and love; and the other, in return for his affection, has all my anger and aversion. The presence of the one is pleasing and dear to me, and fills me with joy; but the sight of the other inspires me with secret emotions of hatred and horror. To see myself the wife of the one is all my desire; and rather than belong to the other, I would lose my life. But I have sufficiently declared my real sentiments; and languished too long under this severe torture. He whom I love must use diligence to make him whom I hate lose all hope, and deliver me by a happy marriage, from a suffering more terrible than death.

SGAN. Yes, darling, I intend to gratify your wish.

ISA. It is the only way to make me happy.

SGAN. You shall soon be so.

ISA. I know it is a shame for a young woman, so openly to declare her love.

SGAN. No, no.

ISA. But, seeing what my lot is, such liberty must be allowed me; I can, without blushing, make so tender a confession to him whom I already regard as a husband.

SGAN. Yes, my poor child, darling of my soul!

ISA. Let him think, then, how to prove his passion for me.

SGAN. Yes, here, kiss my hand.

ISA. Let him, without more sighing, hasten a marriage which is all I desire, and accept the assurance which I give him, never to listen to the vows of another. (She pretends to embrace Sganarelle, and gives her hand to Valère to kiss).

[Footnote: This stage play is imitated by Congreve in The Old Bachelor, (Act iv., Scene 22) when Mrs. Fondlewife goes and hangs upon her husband's neck and kisses him; whilst Bellmour kisses her hand behind Fondlewife's back.]

SGAN. Oh, oh, my little pretty face, my poor little darling, you shall not pine long, I promise you. (To Valère). There, say no more. You see I do not make her speak; it is me alone she loves.

VAL. Well, Madam, well, this is sufficient explanation. I learn by your words what you urge me to do; I shall soon know how to rid your presence of him who so greatly offends you.

ISA. You could not give me greater pleasure. For, to be brief, the sight of him is intolerable. It is odious to me, and I detest it so much…

SGAN. Eh! Eh!

ISA. Do I offend you by speaking thus? Do I…

SGAN. Heavens, by no means! I do not say that. But in truth, I pity his condition; you show your aversion too openly.

ISA. I cannot show it too much on such an occasion.

VAL. Yes, you shall be satisfied; in three days your eyes shall no longer see the object which is odious to you.

ISA. That is right. Farewell.

SGAN. (To Valère): I pity your misfortune, but…

VAL. No, you will hear no complaint from me. The lady assuredly does us both justice, and I shall endeavour to satisfy her wishes. Farewell.

SGAN. Poor fellow! his grief is excessive. Stay, embrace me: I am her second self. (Embraces Valère)


SGAN. I think he is greatly to be pitied.

ISA. Not at all.

SGAN. For the rest, your love touches me to the quick, little darling, and I mean it shall have its reward. Eight days are too long for your impatience; to-morrow I will marry you, and will not invite…

ISA. To-morrow!

SGAN. You modestly pretend to shrink from it; but I well know the joy these words afford you; you wish it were already over.

ISA. But…

SGAN. Let us get everything ready for this marriage.

ISA. (Aside), Heaven! Inspire me with a plan to put it off!

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