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The School for Husbands

Introductory Notice
The School for Husbands was the first play in the title of which the word "School" was
employed, to imply that, over and above the intention of amusing, the author designed to
convey a special lesson to his hearers. Perhaps Molière wished not only that the general
public should be prepared to find instructions and warnings for married men, but also that
they who were wont to regard the theatre as injurious, or at best trivial, should know that
he professed to educate, as well as to entertain. We must count the adoption of similar
titles by Sheridan and others amongst the tributes, by imitation, to Molière's genius.
This comedy was played for the first time at Paris, on the 24th of June, 1661, and met
with great success. On the 12th of July following it was acted at Vaux, the country seat of
Fouquet, before the whole court, Monsieur, the brother of the King, and the Queen of
England; and by them also was much approved. Some commentators say that Molière
was partly inspired by a comedy of Lope de Vega. La Discreta enamorada, The Cunning
Sweetheart; also by a remodelling of the same play by Moreto, No puede ser guardar una
muger, One cannot guard a woman; but this has lately been disproved. It appears,
however, that he borrowed the primary idea of his comedy from the Adelphi of Terence;
and from a tale, the third of the third day, in the Decameron of Boccaccio, where a young
woman uses her father-confessor as a go-between for herself and her lover. In the
Adelphi there are two old men of dissimilar character, who give a different education to
the children they bring up. One of them is a dotard, who, after having for sixty years been
sullen, grumpy and avaricious, becomes suddenly lively, polite, and prodigal; this
Molière had too much common sense to imitate.
The School for Husbands marks a distinct departure in the dramatist's literary progress.
As a critic has well observed, it substitutes for situations produced by the mechanism of
plot, characters which give rise to situations in accordance with the ordinary operations of
human nature. Molière's method--the simple and only true one, and, consequently, the
one which incontestably establishes the original talent of its employer--is this: At the
beginning of a play, he introduces his principal personages: sets them talking; suffers
them to betray their characters, as men and women do in every-day life,--expecting from
his hearers that same discernment which he has himself displayed in detecting their
peculiarities: imports the germ of a plot in some slight misunderstanding or equivocal act;
and leaves all the rest to be effected by the action and reaction of the characters which he
began by bringing out in bold relief. His plots are thus the plots of nature; and it is
impossible that they should not be both interesting and instructive. That his comedies,
thus composed, are besides amusing, results from the shrewdness with which he has
selected and combined his characters, and the art with which he arranges the situations
produced.
 
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