Short summary - The School for Wives - Molière - Jean-Baptiste Poquelin

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - The School for Wives
Molière - Jean-Baptiste Poquelin

The play is preceded by a dedication to Henrietta of England, wife of the king's brother, the troupe's official patron.
The author's foreword informs readers that the answers to those who condemned the play are contained in the Critique (meaning the comedy in one act Criticism of the School of Wives, 1663).
Two old friends - Chrysald and Arnolf - discuss the latter's intention to marry. Chrysald reminds that Arnolf always laughed at unlucky husbands, assuring that horns are the lot of every husband: "... no one, big or small, / I did not know salvation from your criticism." Therefore, any hint of loyalty to Arnolf's future wife will cause a hail of ridicule. Arnolf assures his friend that he "knows how the horns are planted by women" and therefore "I figured everything out in advance, my friend." Enjoying his own eloquence and insight, Arnolf makes a passionate speech, characterizing the unfitness for marriage of women who are too smart, stupid or immoderate dandy. To avoid the mistakes of other men, he not only chose a girl as his wife "so that neither in the nobility of the breed, nor in the estate / she could not take a preference over her husband", but also raised her from childhood in a monastery, taking the "burden" from a poor peasant woman ... The severity bore fruit, and his pupil is so innocent that one day she asked, "will children be born out of the ear?" Chrysald listened so attentively that he did not notice how he called his old acquaintance with a familiar name - Arnolph, although he was warned that he accepted the new - La Souche - on his estate (play on words - la Souche - stump, fool). After assuring Arnolph that he will not make a mistake in the future, Chrysald leaves. Each of the interlocutors is sure that the other is behaving undoubtedly strange, if not insane.
Arnolf got into his house with great difficulty, since the servants - Georgette and Alain - did not open it for a long time, succumbed only to threats and did not talk too respectfully with the master, very vaguely explaining the reason for their slowness. Agnes comes in with work in hand. Her sight touches Arnolf, since “to love me, to pray, to spin and to sew” is the ideal of a wife that he told a friend about. He promises Agnese to talk about important things in an hour and sends her home.
Left alone, he continues to admire his good choice and the superiority of innocence over all other female virtues. His thoughts are interrupted by a young man named Horace, the son of his longtime friend Orant. The young man informs that in the near future Enric will arrive from America, who, together with Horace's father, intends to carry out an important plan, which is still unknown. Horace decides to borrow money from an old friend of the family, as he is carried away by a girl who lives nearby, and would like to "bring the adventure to the end as soon as possible." At the same time, to the horror of Arnolf, he pointed to the house in which Agnes lives, protecting which from evil influences, the newly-minted La Souche settled separately. Horace openly told a family friend about his feelings, quite mutual, for the charming and modest beauty Agnese, who was in the care of a rich and narrow-minded man with an absurd name.
Arnolf hurries home, deciding to himself that he would never yield the girl to a young dandy and will be able to take advantage of the fact that Horas does not know his new name and therefore easily entrusts his heartfelt secret to a person whom he has not seen for a long time ... The behavior of the servants becomes clear to Arnolf, and he forces Alain and Georgette to tell the truth about what happened in the house in his absence. Arnolf, waiting for Agnes, tries to pull himself together and temper his anger, remembering the ancient sages. When Agnes appears, she does not immediately understand what her guardian wants to know, and describes in detail all her studies for the last ten days: "I have sewn six shirts and caps in full." Arnolf decides to ask directly - was there a man in the house without him and did the girl talk to him? The confession of the girl amazed Arnolf, but he consoled himself with the fact that Agnes's frankness testifies to her innocence. And the girl's story confirmed its simplicity. It turns out that while sewing on the balcony, the young beauty noticed the young gentleman who kindly bowed to her. She had to politely answer the courtesy, the young man bowed again and so, bowing to each other lower and lower, they passed the time until dark.
The next day, an old woman came to Agnes with the news that the young charming woman had done a terrible evil - she had inflicted a deep heart wound on the young man with whom she bowed yesterday. The girl had to accept the young gentleman, since she did not dare to leave him without help. Arnolf wants to know everything in more detail, and he asks the girl to continue the story, although inwardly he shudders from fear of hearing something terrible. Agnes confesses that the young man whispered declarations of love to her, kissed her hands tirelessly and even (here Arnolf almost went mad) took the ribbon from her. Agnes admitted that “something sweet tickles, touches, / I don't know what, but my heart is melting”. Arnolf convinces the naive girl that everything that happened is a terrible sin. There is only one way to fix the incident: "One marriage is removed guilt." Agnesa is happy as she believes that this is a wedding with Horace. Arnolph has in mind himself as a husband and therefore assures Agnes that the marriage will be concluded “on the same day”. The misunderstanding is nevertheless clarified, since Arnolf forbids Agnese to see Horace and orders not to let her into the house under any circumstances. Moreover, he reminds that he has the right to demand complete obedience from the girl. Further, he invites the poor woman to familiarize herself with the "Rules of Marriage, or the Duties of a Married Woman, Together with Her Everyday Exercises", since for "our happiness you will have to, my friend, / And the will to curb and curtail leisure." He forces the girl to read the rules aloud, but on the eleventh rule he himself cannot stand the monotony of petty prohibitions and sends Agnes to study them on her own.
Horace appears, and Arnolph decides to find out further details of the adventure that has just begun. The young man is saddened by the unexpected complications. It turns out, he informs Arnolf, that the guardian has returned, somehow mysteriously learning about the ardent love of his ward and Horace. The servants, who had previously helped in their love, suddenly behaved rudely and closed the door in front of the discouraged admirer's nose. The girl also behaved harshly, so the unfortunate young man realized that there was a guardian behind everything and was in charge of the actions of the servants and, most importantly, Agnes. Arnolf listened with pleasure to Horace, but it turned out that the innocent girl showed herself to be very inventive. She really threw a stone from the balcony at her admirer, but together with the stone and the letter, which the jealous Arnolf, watching the girl, simply did not notice. But he has to laugh forcibly with Horace. It was even worse for him when Horas begins to read Agnes's letter and it becomes clear that the girl is fully aware of her ignorance, endlessly believes her beloved and the separation will be terrible for her. Arnolf is shocked to the depths of his soul to learn that all his "works and kindness are forgotten."
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Still, he does not want to concede a lovely girl to a young rival and invites a notary. However, his upset feelings do not allow to really agree on the terms of the marriage contract. He prefers to speak with the servants once more to save himself from an unexpected visit from Horace. But Arnolf was out of luck again. A young man appears and tells that he again met with Agnes in her room, and how he had to hide in the closet, because her guardian (Arnolf) came to Agnes. Horas again could not see his opponent, but only heard his voice, so he continues to consider Arnolf his confidante. As soon as the young man has left, Chrysald appears and again tries to convince his friend of an unreasonable attitude towards marriage. After all, jealousy can prevent Arnolf from soberly assessing family relations - otherwise "the horns are almost put on / On those who earnestly swear not to know them."
Arnolph goes to his house and once again warns the servants to better guard Agnes and not allow Horace to see her. But the unexpected happens: the servants tried so hard to fulfill the order that they killed the young man and now he lies lifeless. Arnolf is horrified that he will have to explain to the boy's father and his close friend Orontes. But, consumed by bitter feelings, he unexpectedly notices Horace, who told him the following. He made an appointment with Agnes, but the servants pounced on him and, knocking him to the ground, began to beat him so that he fainted. The servants took him for a dead man and began to lament, and Agnes, hearing the screams, instantly rushed to her lover. Now Horace needs to leave the girl for a while in a safe place, and he asks Arnolf to take Agnes into his care, until he can persuade the boy's father to agree with the choice of his son. Delighted Arnolf hurries to take the girl to his house, and Horas unwittingly helps him, persuading his beautiful girlfriend to follow his family friend in order to avoid publicity.
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Left alone with Arnolf, Agnes recognizes her guardian, but holds on firmly, confessing not only her love for Horas, but also that “I have not been a child for a long time, and for me it is a shame / That I was known as a simpleton until then ". Arnolf tries in vain to convince Agnes of his right to her - the girl remains implacable, and, having threatened to send her to the monastery, the guardian leaves. He again meets with Horace, who shares with him the unpleasant news: Enric, returning from America with a large fortune, wants to marry his daughter to the son of his friend Orontes. Horace hopes that Arnolph will persuade his father to abandon the wedding and thereby help Horace connect with Agnese. They are joined by Chrysald, Enric and Orontes. To the surprise of Horace, Arnolph not only does not fulfill his request, but advises Orontes to marry his son as soon as possible, regardless of his wishes. Orant is glad that Arnolph supports his intentions, but Chrysald points out that Arnolph should be called La Souche. Only now Horas realizes that his rival was his "confidant". Arnolph orders the servants to bring Agnes. Things take an unexpected turn.
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Chrysald recognizes the girl as the daughter of his late sister Angelica from a secret marriage with Enrik. To hide the birth of the girl, she was sent to be raised in a village by a simple peasant woman. Enric, forced to seek his fortune in a foreign land, left. And the peasant woman, having lost help, gave the girl to Arnolf to be raised. The unhappy guardian, unable to utter a word, leaves.
Horace promises to explain to everyone the reason for his refusal to marry Enric's daughter, and, forgetting about Arnolf, old friends and young people enter the house and "there we will discuss everything in detail."