The School for Wives
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The School for Wives (French: L'école des femmes; pronounced: [lekɔl de fam]) is a theatrical comedy written by the seventeenth century French playwright Molière and considered by some critics to be one of his finest achievements. It was first staged at the Palais Royal theatre on 26 December 1662 for the brother of the King. The play depicts a character who is so intimidated by femininity that he resolves to marry his young, naïve ward and proceeds to make clumsy advances to this purpose. It raised some outcry from the public, which seems to have recognized Molière as a bold playwright who would not be afraid to write about controversial issues. In June 1663, the playwright cunningly responded to the uproar against this play with another piece entitled La Critique de L'École des femmes, in which he provided some explanation for his unique style of comedy. A musical adaptation entitled The Amorous Flea was staged off-Broadway in 1964.
Characters and scene
Its characters include:
- Arnolphe: also known as Monsieur de la Souche
- Agnès: an innocent young girl, Arnolphe's ward
- Horace: Agnès's lover, Oronte's son
- Alain: a peasant, Arnolphe's manservant
- Georgette: a peasant woman, servant to Arnolphe
- Chrysalde: a friend of Arnolphe's
- Enrique: Chrysalde's brother-in-law, Agnès's father
- Oronte: Horace's father and Arnolphe's old friend
- A notary
The scene is a square in a provincial town.
Arnolphe, the main protagonist, is a man of 42 years who has groomed the young Agnès since the age of 4. Arnolphe supports Agnès living in a nunnery until the age of 17, when he moves her to one of his abodes, which he keeps under the name of Monsieur de la Souche. Arnolphe's intention is to bring up Agnès in such a manner that she will be too ignorant to be unfaithful to him and he becomes obsessed with avoiding this fate. To this end, he forbids the nuns who are instructing her from teaching her anything that might lead her astray. Right from the very first scene, Chrysalde warns Arnolphe of his downfall, but Arnolphe takes no heed.
After Agnès moves into Arnolphe's house, Horace arrives on the scene ahead of his father, Arnolphe's friend, Oronte. Horace immediately falls in love with Agnès and she with him. Not realizing that Arnolphe and Monsieur de la Souche are the same person, Horace unwittingly confides all his activities with Agnès to Arnolphe. Arnolphe then schemes to outmaneuver Horace and ensure that Agnès will marry him.
Arnolphe becomes more and more frustrated as the play goes on. Agnès continues to meet with Horace despite Arnolphe's displeasure until, finally, a misunderstanding leads Arnolphe to believe that Agnès has agreed to marry him and Agnès to believe that Arnolphe has given her permission to marry Horace. When they realize the actual situation, Arnolphe forbids Agnes from seeing Horace. Horace, in his distress, comes to Arnolphe, asking for his help in rescuing Agnès from "Monsieur de la Souche".
The final act introduces a powerful irony as Oronte and Enrique arrive on the scene and announce that Horace is to marry Enrique's daughter. The daughter turns out to be Agnès, rendering all of Arnolphe's scheming useless.
- The first known Broadway production was performed at the ANTA Playhouse 18 March – 3 April 1951.
- In 1971, a production was performed at the Lyceum Theatre in New York City 16 February – 29 May 1971 using the Richard Wilbur translation and directed by Stephen Porter. The cast included Brian Bedford as Arnolphe, Joan Van Ark as Agnes and David Dukes as Horace.
- The School for Wives was first performed at the Stratford Festival in 1994.
- In 2012, The School for Wives was performed by The Bell Shakespeare Company, translated from original French by Justin Fleming with uniquely varied rhyming forms, for national tour of Australia, culminating in The Sydney Opera House.
- In 1971, Caedmon Records recorded and released on LP (TRS 344) a production originally performed at the Lyceum Theatre in New York City using the Richard Wilbur translation and directed by Stephen Porter. The cast included Brian Bedford as Arnolphe, Joan Van Ark as Agnes and David Dukes as Horace. This recording has not to date been re-released on CD.
- In 2009, L.A. Theatre Works recorded a production using the Richard Wilbur translation (ISBN 1-58081-384-4) featuring William Brown as Arnolphe and Judy Greer as Agnes.