Thursday, 7 January 1999

Molière: A Doctor In Spite of Himself (1666)

Translation: John Wood, 1959
Edition: Penguin, 1969
Review number: 182

A Doctor in Spite of Himself is a short, farcical attack on the medical profession, on the ignorant doctors of Molière's time who tricked the unwary with long words and bogus science (they are one of Molière's favourite targets). He uses his standard plot of the man (Géronte) who will not allow his daughter to marry, but the centre of this play is not Géronte's family but the false doctor Sganarelle. Géronte's daughter Lucinde appears to be ill, refusing to speak to anyone, and so Géronte sends out two of his servants to find a doctor. They encounter Sganarelle's wife, who tells them that her good-for-nothing husband is in fact a great doctor; she recounts some (imaginary) amazing cures he has accomplished. She tells them that he is also incredibly modest, and won't allow anyone to call him a doctor; at the moment, because of his love of humble occupations, he is in the forest collecting firewood (this is, of course, so they won't be surprised when he shows no knowledge of being a doctor). The two servants go off and find him, and end up beating him up until he agrees that he is a doctor and that he will treat Lucinde.

As in L'amour Médecin, her cure is to be united with her lover, but not before much fun is had making the medical profession ridiculous, and not before Sganarelle realises that medicine is the career for him: you make your money regardless of the quality of your work, whether the patient lives or dies.

A Doctor in Spite of Himself is one of the funniest of Molière's shorter plays, much more polished and finished than the others I've read.

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