The School for Learned Husbands

by Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (Moliere)

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Yes, death seems to me a hundred times less dreadful than this fatal marriage into which I am forced; all that I am doing to escape its horrors should excuse me in the eyes of those who blame me. Time presses; it is night; now, then, let me fearlessly entrust my fate to a lover's fidelity.


SGAN. (Speaking to those inside the house). Here I am once more; to-morrow they are going, in my name…

ISA. O Heaven!

SGAN. Is it you, darling? Where are you going so late? You said when I left you that, being rather tired, you would shut yourself up in your room; you even begged that on my return I would let you be quiet till to-morrow morning….

ISA. It is true; but…

SGAN. But what?

ISA. You see I am confused; I do not know how to tell you the reason.

SGAN. Why, whatever can it be?

ISA. A wonderful secret! It is my sister who now compels me to go out, and who, for a purpose for which I have greatly blamed her, has borrowed my room, in which I have shut her up.

SGAN. What?

ISA. Could it be believed? She is in love with that suitor whom we have discarded.

SGAN. With Valère?

ISA. Desperately! Her passion is so great that I can compare it with nothing; you may judge of its violence by her coming here alone, at this hour, to confide to me her love, and to tell me positively that she will die if she does not obtain the object of her desire; that, for more than a year, a secret intercourse has kept up the ardour of their love; and that they had even pledged themselves to marry each other when their passion was new.

SGAN. Oh, the wretched girl!

ISA. That, being informed of the despair into which I had plunged the man whom she loves to see, she came to beg me to allow her to prevent a departure which would break her heart; to meet this lover to-night under my name, in the little street on which my room looks, where counterfeiting my voice, she may utter certain tender feelings, and thereby tempt him to stay; in short, cleverly to secure for herself the regard which it is known he has for me.

SGAN. And do you think this…

ISA. I? I am enraged at it. "What," said I, "sister, are you mad? Do you not blush to indulge in such a love for one of those people who change every day? To forget your sex, and betray the trust put in you by the man whom Heaven has destined you to marry?"

SGAN. He deserves it richly; I am delighted by it.

ISA. Finally my vexation employed a hundred arguments to reprove such baseness in her, and enable me to refuse her request for to-night; but she became so importunate, shed so many tears, heaved so many sighs, said so often that I was driving her to despair if I refused to gratify her passion, that my heart was brought to consent in spite of me; and, to justify this night's intrigue, to which affection for my own sister made me assent, I was about to bring Lucretia to sleep with me, whose virtues you extol to me daily; but you surprised me by your speedy return.

SGAN. No, no, I will not have all this mystery at my house. As for my brother, I might agree to it; but they may be seen by some one in the street, and she whom I am to honour with my body must not only be modest and well-born; she must not even be suspected. Let us send the miserable girl away, and let her passion…

ISA. Ah, you would overwhelm her with confusion, and she might justly complain of my want of discretion. Since I must not countenance her design, at least wait till I send her away.

SGAN. Well, do so.

ISA. But above all, conceal yourself, I beg of you, and be content to see her depart without speaking one word to her.

SGAN. Yes, for your sake I will restrain my anger; but as soon as she is gone, I will go and find my brother without delay. I shall be delighted to run and tell him of this business.

ISA. I entreat you, then, not to mention my name. Good night; for I shall shut myself in at the same time.

SGAN. Till to-morrow, dear… How impatient I am to see my brother, and tell him of his plight! The good man has been victimized, with all his bombast!

[Footnote: The original has phébus, which is often used for a swollen and pretentious style, because it is said that a work on the chase, written in the fourteenth century by Gaston, Count of Foix, in such a style, was called Miroir de Phébus. It is more probable that the word phébus, meaning showy language, is derived from the Greek phoibos, brilliant.]

I would not have this undone for twenty crowns!

ISA. (Within). Yes, sister, I am sorry to incur your displeasure; but what you wish me to do is impossible. My honour, which is dear to me, would run too great a risk. Farewell, go home before it is too late.

SGAN. There she goes, fretting finely, I warrant. Let me lock the door, for fear she should return.

ISA. (Going out disguised). Heaven! abandon me not in my resolve!

SGAN. Whither can she be going? Let me follow her.

ISA. (Aside). Night, at least, favours me in my distress.

SGAN. (Aside). To the gallant's house! What is her design?


VAL. (Coming out quickly). Yes, yes; I will this night make some effort to speak to… Who is there?

ISA. (To Valère). No noise, Valère; I have forestalled you; I am Isabella. SGAN. (Aside). You lie, minx; it is not she. She is too staunch to those laws of honour which you forsake; you are falsely assuming her name and voice.

ISA. (To Valère). But unless by the holy bonds of matrimony…

VAL. Yes; that is my only purpose; and here I make you a solemn promise that to-morrow I will go wherever you please to be married to you.

SGAN. (Aside). Poor deluded fool!

VAL. Enter with confidence. I now defy the power of your duped Argus; before he can tear you from my love, this arm shall stab him to the heart a thousand times.


Oh, I can assure you I do not want to take from you a shameless girl, so blinded by her passion. I am not jealous of your promise to her; if I am to be believed, you shall be her husband. Yes, let us surprise him with this bold creature. The memory of her father, who was justly respected, and the great interest I take in her sister, demand that an attempt, at least, should be made to restore her honour. Hulloa, there! (Knocks at the door of a magistrate).

[Footnote: See page 261, note 5.]


MAG. What is it?

SGAN. Your servant, your worship. Your presence in official garb is necessary here. Follow me, please, with your lantern-bearer.

MAG. We were going…

SGAN. This is a very pressing business.

MAG. What is it?

SGAN. To go into that house and surprise two persons who must be joined in lawful matrimony. It is a girl with whom I am connected, and whom, under promise of marriage, a certain Valère has seduced and got into his house. She comes of a noble and virtuous family, but…

MAG. If that is the business, it was well you met us, since we have a notary here.

SGAN. Sir?

NOT. Yes, a notary royal.

MAG. And what is more, an honourable man.

SGAN. No need to add that. Come to this doorway; make no noise, but see that no one escapes. You shall be fully satisfied for your trouble, but be sure and do not let yourself be bribed.

MAG. What! do you think that an officer of justice…

SGAN. What I said was not meant as a reflection on your position. I will bring my brother here at once; only let the lantern-bearer accompany me. (Aside). I am going to give this placable man a treat. Hulloa! (Knocks at Ariste's door).

* * * * *


AR. Who knocks? Why, what do you want, brother?

SGAN. Come, my fine teacher, my superannuated buck; I shall have something pretty to show you.

AR. How?

SGAN. I bring you good news.

AR. What is it?

SGAN. Where is your Léonor, pray?

AR. Why this question? She is, as I think, at a friend's house at a ball.

SGAN. Eh! Oh yes! Follow me; you shall see to what ball Missy is gone.

AR. What do you mean?

SGAN. You have brought her up very well indeed. It is not good to be always finding fault; the mind is captivated by much tenderness; and suspicious precautions, bolts, and bars, make neither wives nor maids virtuous; we cause them to do evil by so much austerity; their sex demands a little freedom. Of a verity she has taken her fill of it, the artful girl; and with her, virtue has grown very complaisant.

AR. What is the drift of such a speech?

SGAN. Bravo, my elder brother! it is what you richly deserve; I would not for twenty pistoles that you should have missed this fruit of your silly maxims. Look what our lessons have produced in these two sisters: the one avoids the gallants, the other runs after them.

AR. If you will not make your riddle clearer…

SGAN. The riddle is that her ball is at Valère's; that I saw her go to him under cover of night, and that she is at this moment in his arms.

AR. Who?

SGAN. Léonor.

AR. A truce to jokes, I beg of you.

SGAN. I joke… He is excellent with his joking! Poor fellow! I tell you, and tell you again, that Valère has your Léonor in his house, and that they had pledged each other before he dreamed of running after Isabella.

AR. This story is so very improbable…

SGAN. He will not believe it, even when he sees it. I am getting angry; upon my word, old age is not good for much when brains are wanting!

(Laying his finger on his forehead).

AR. What! brother, you mean to…

SGAN. I mean nothing, upon my soul! Only follow me. Your mind shall be satisfied directly. You shall see whether I am deceiving you, and whether they have not pledged their troth for more than a year past.

AR. Is it likely she could thus have agreed to this engagement without telling me?—me! who in everything, from her infancy, ever displayed towards her a complete readiness to please, and who a hundred times protested I would never force her inclinations.

SGAN. Well, your own eyes shall judge of the matter. I have already brought here a magistrate and a notary. We are concerned that the promised marriage shall at once restore to her the honour she has lost; for I do not suppose you are so mean-spirited as to wish to marry her with this stain upon her, unless you have still some arguments to raise you above all kinds of ridicule.

AR. For my part, I shall never be so weak as wish to possess a heart in spite of itself. But, after all, I cannot believe…

SGAN. What speeches you make! Come, this might go on for ever.


MAG. There is no need to use any compulsion here, gentlemen. If you wish to have them married, your anger may be appeased on the spot. Both are equally inclined to it; Valère has already given under his hand a statement that he considers her who is now with him as his wife.

AR. The girl…

MAG. Is within, and will not come out, unless you consent to gratify their desires.


VAL. (At the window of his house). No, gentlemen; no man shall enter here until your pleasure be known to me. You know who I am; I have done my duty in signing the statement, which they can show you. If you intend to approve of the marriage, you must also put your names to this agreement; if not, prepare to take my life before you shall rob me of the object of my love.

SGAN. No, we have no notion of separating you from her. (Aside). He has not yet been undeceived in the matter of Isabella. Let us make the most of his mistake.

AR. (To Valère). But is it Léonor?

SGAN. Hold your tongue!

AR. But…

SGAN. Be quiet!

AR. I want to know…

SGAN. Again! Will you hold your tongue, I say?

VAL. To be brief: whatever be the consequence, Isabella has my solemn promise; I also have hers; if you consider everything, I am not so bad a match that you should blame her.

AR. What he says is not…

SGAN. Be quiet! I have a reason for it. You shall know the mystery. (To Valére). Yes, without any more words, we both consent that you shall be the husband of her who is at present in your house.

MAG. The contract is drawn up in those very terms, and there is a blank for the name, as we have not seen her. Sign. The lady can set you all at ease by-and-by.

VAL. I agree to the arrangement.

SGAN. And so do I, with all my heart. (Aside). We will have a good laugh presently. (Aloud). There, brother, sign; yours the honour to sign first.

AR. But why all this mystery…

SGAN. The deuce! what hesitation. Sign, you simpleton.

AR. He talks of Isabella, and you of Léonor.

SGAN. Are you not agreed, brother, if it be she, to leave them to their mutual promises?

AR. Doubtless.

SGAN. Sign, then; I shall do the same.

AR. So be it. I understand nothing about it.

SGAN. You shall be enlightened.

MAG. We will soon return.

(Exeunt Magistrate and Notary into Valeère's house).

SGAN. (To Ariste). Now, then, I will give you a cue to this intrigue. (They retire to the back of the stage).


LEO. Ah, what a strange martyrdom! What bores all those young fools appear to me! I have stolen away from the ball, on account of them.

LIS. Each of them tried to make himself agreeable to you.

LEO. And I never endured anything more intolerable. I should prefer the simplest conversation to all the babblings of these say-nothings.

[Footnote: The original has contes bleus, literally "blue stories" because old tales, such as The Four Sons of Aymon, Fortunatus, Valentine and Orson were formerly sold, printed on coarse paper and with blue paper cover; a kind of popular, but not political, "blue-books."]

They fancy that everything must give way before their flaxen wigs, and think they have said the cleverest witticism when they come up, with their silly chaffing tone, and rally you stupidly about the love of an old man. For my part, I value more highly the affection of such an old man than all the giddy raptures of a youthful brain. But do I not see…

SGAN (To Ariste). Yes, so the matter stands. (Perceiving Léonor). Ah, there she is, and her maid with her. AR. Léonor, without being angry, I have reason to complain. You know whether I have ever sought to restrain you, and whether I have not stated a hundred times that I left you full liberty to gratify your own wishes; yet your heart, regardless of my approval, has pledged its faith, as well as its love, without my knowledge. I do not repent of my indulgence; but your conduct certainly annoys me; it is a way of acting which the tender friendship I have borne you does not merit.

LEO. I know not why you speak to me thus; but believe me, I am as I have ever been; nothing can alter my esteem for you; love for any other man would seem to me a crime; if you will satisfy my wishes, a holy bond shall unite us to-morrow.

AR. On what foundation, then, have you, brother…

SGAN. What! Did you not come out of Valère's house? Have you not been declaring your passion this very day? And have you not been for a year past in love with him?

LEO. Who has been painting such pretty pictures of me? Who has been at the trouble of inventing such falsehoods?


ISA. Sister, I ask you generously to pardon me, if, by the freedom I have taken, I have brought some scandal upon your name. The urgent pressure of a great necessity, suggested to me, some time ago, this disgraceful stratagem. Your example condemns such an escapade; but fortune treated us differently. (To Sganarelle). As for you, sir, I will not excuse myself to you. I serve you much more than I wrong you. Heaven did not design us for one another. As I found I was unworthy of your love, and undeserving of a heart like yours, I vastly preferred to see myself in another's hands.

VAL. (To Sganarelle). For me, I esteem it my greatest glory and happiness to receive her, sir, from your hands.

AR. Brother, you must take this matter quietly. Your own conduct is the cause of this. I can see it is your unhappy lot that no one will pity you, though they know you have been made a fool of.

LIS. Upon my word, I am glad of this. This reward of his mistrust is a striking retribution.

LEO. I do not know whether the trick ought to be commended; but I am quite sure that I, at least, cannot blame it.

ERG. His star condemns him to be a cuckold; it is lucky for him he is only a retrospective one.

SGAN. (Recovering from the stupor into which he had been plunged). No, I cannot get the better of my astonishment. This faithlessness perplexes my understanding. I think that Satan in person could be no worse than such a jade! I could have sworn it was not in her. Unhappy he who trusts a woman after this! The best of them are always full of mischief; they were made to damn the whole world. I renounce the treacherous sex for ever, and give them to the devil with all my heart!

ERG. Well said.

AR. Let us all go to my house. Come, M. Valère, tomorrow we will try to appease his wrath.

LIS. (To the audience). As for you, if you know any churlish husbands, by all means send them to school with us.

[Footnote: This is the last time Molière directly addressed the audience at the end of one of his plays; in Sganarelle he did it for the first time.]


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