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Theatre / The Imaginary Invalid

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The Imaginary Invalid (Le Malade imaginaire, also translated as The Hypochondriac) is a 1673 comedy play by Molière.

Argan, a rich man, is very sick, or at least he thinks he is. His doctors gives him expensive medicines and treatments. His wife awaits his death to inherit his wealth. Argan plans to marry his daughter Angélique to a young doctor, so that he will have the opportunity to consult his son-in-law.


Molière himself originally played the role of Argan, but, unlike his character, he was really sick. During the fourth performance of the play, he had a convulsion, but he managed to hide it by a laugh. He died a few hours later. Knowing that, many jokes that Molière makes about the doctors and himself in the play have a special flavour. In particular when Argan says:

If I were a physician, I would be revenged of [Molière's] impertinence, and when he falls ill, I would let him die without relief. In vain would he beg and pray. I would not prescribe for him the least little bleeding, the least little injection, and I would tell him, "Die, die, like a dog; it will teach you to laugh at us doctors."


The Imaginary Invalid provides examples of:

  • Aerith and Bob: On the one hand, Argan, Béralde and Cléante are fictional names created by Molière. On the other hand, Angélique, Louison, Thomas and Toinette are common first names or nicknames.
  • Abusive Parents: Argan wants to force his daughter Angélique to marry a doctor because he thinks he needs a doctor in his family. Since Angélique refuses, he theatens to send her to a convent. He also wants to whip his younger daughter Louison.
  • Amoral Attorney: The notary who informs Argan of several illegal ways to disinherit his daughters.
  • Arranged Marriage: Argan wants his daughter Angélique to marry Thomas Diafoirus, because he is a doctor. Angélique does not like him at all.
  • Author Tract: Molière really, really hated doctors. He let everyone know about it.
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  • Brick Joke: When Argan tells Angélique that she will have to marry Thomas Diafoirus, he says that Thomas's uncle, Mr Purgon, has no wife and no children. Later, Argan's brother says that actually Mr Purgon accidentally killed his wife and his children via Harmful Healing.
  • Canis Latinicus: In the final scene, the doctors speak and sing in a language that sounds like Latin.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Argan's brother asks him if he would like to see a Molière play. Argan angrily berates Molière for making fun of doctors.
  • Child Marriage Veto: Angélique refuses to marry Thomas Diafoirus, the guy her father Argan chose for her.
  • Delusions of Eloquence: Thomas Diafoirus makes speeches to flatter Argan, Béline and Angélique, but he just manages to look like an idiot. Toinette ironically congratulates him:
    Toinette: Ah! See what it is to study, and how one learns to say fine things!
  • Dirty Cop: In the first interlude, Punchinello meets archers who threaten to jail him or to beat him if he does not give them money to buy drinks.
  • The Ditz: Argan. Everybody manipulates him (even his younger daughter Louison) and he does not realize it.
  • Double Entendre: Today in French, the verb baiser almost exclusively means "to have sex", but it was not the case in the 17th century, where this verb could also mean "to kiss". When Thomas Diafoirus asks his father "Baiserai-je?", it could mean both "Should I kiss?" or "Should I fuck?" for the audience of the time.
  • Engineered Public Confession: Toinette convinces Argan to pretend to be dead to see the reaction of his wife. When his wife hears the news, she confesses that she was awaiting his death to inherit his wealth. Then Argan comes back to life in front of her.
  • Faking the Dead:
    • Louison pretends to be dead to prevent Argan from beating her.
    • Argan pretends to be dead to see the reaction of his wife and his daughter.
  • French Maid: Toinette is very insolent and snarky.
  • Gold Digger: Beline, Argan's second wife, is a two-faced woman: she flatters and pampers her husband, but schemes all the time, trying to figure out how to get all his money after his death, and she wants to deprive his two daughters of their share.
  • Happily Ever After: In the end, Argan agrees that Angélique gets married with Cléante.
  • Harmful Healing: Argan's brother asserts that the medicines Argan takes are harmful. He further tells that Argan must be a robust man, because he has survived so many medicines and treatments. Justified, given the advancement of medicine at the time of the play.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Argan thinks that his wife is a good person and he trusts her.
  • Hypochondria: The defining trait of Argan: he thinks that he is very sick, while he is not.
  • Incessant Music Madness: In the first interlude, Punchinello gets mad because the violins keep on playing and interrupting him.
  • It's All About Me: Argan do not care about the wishes of his daughter. When Toinette tells him that Angélique does not need to marry a doctor, he outright says that he wants her to marry a doctor for him.
  • Layman's Terms:
    Thomas Diafoirus: Which speaks of an intemperance in the splenetic parenchyma; that is to say, the spleen.
  • Meaningful Name: The crooked notary is called Bonnefoi ("good faith"). The apothecary specialized in enemas is called Fleurant ("smelling"). The name of a doctor, Purgon, sounds like the verb purger ("to purge").
  • Medium Awareness: In the first interlude, Punchinello notices that everybody is singing and he asks himself why everybody does.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Argan tells Angélique that someone proposed to marry her. Angélique thinks that her lover Cléante did, whereas Thomas Diafoirus actually did. Argan describes the suitor and Angélique confirms all the qualities that Argan names, until he says that the suitor studies medicine. Then Angélique suddenly realizes that her father promised her for marriage with someone else.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Toinette disguises herself as a doctor and Argan is fooled. Lampshaded by Argan himself who notices that this doctor looks like Toinette very much.
  • Police Brutality: In the first interlude, archers beat Punchinello. They give him flicks, then blows with a stick.
  • Potty Emergency: Argan has to go very quickly out of scene twice because he has diarrhoea. This is a side effect of the many enemas he takes.
  • Protagonist Title: The title refers to Argan, the protagonist.
  • Recycled Premise: The plot is basically the same as the one of Tartuffe: Argan is an expy of Orgon. Like Orgon, Argan is gullible, he wants to force his daughter to marry someone, he has an insolent servant, he was married twice, and he has a reasonable brother. The only difference is that Argan is a hypochondriac, whereas Orgon was a devout person.
  • Rapid-Fire Interrupting:
    • When Argan wants to quarrel with her, Toinette keeps on interrupting him with moans.
    • In the first interlude, Punchinello is continually interrupted by the violins.
  • Rescue Romance: Angélique fell in love with Cléante because he saved her when a brute was molesting her.
  • Secret Test: Argan pretends to be dead to see the reaction of his wife and his daughter. His wife only cares about getting his money, while his daughter is devastated, even though Argan wanted her to marry a man against her will.
  • Self-Deprecation: Argan's brother invites him to go see a Molière comedy, only for the main character to snap back that Molière "is a fine impertinent fellow with his comedies!"
  • Servile Snarker: Toinette, the maid, is very insolent and snarky.
  • Smart People Know Latin: Subverted. Argan admires the doctors because they can speak Latin and Greek. Thomas Diafoirus, for example, uses frequently Latin words, but he is stupid.
  • Shoutout: Louison offers to tell Argan Donkeyskin (which is about a man who wants to force his daughter to marry the one he chose for her) or The Fox and the Raven (a fable by Jean de La Fontaine about the danger of flattery).
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Angélique and Cléante. They are in love with each other, but Angélique's father decrees that she must either marry Thomas Diafoirus or take the veil.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Toinette dresses up as a male doctor to fool Argan. All the doctors at that time were male.
  • Taking the Veil: Argan threatens Angélique that if she does not marry Thomas Diafoirus, he will send her to a convent.
  • Techno Babble: The doctors use strange and made-up words to look more intelligent:
    Mr. Diafoirus: He who says parenchyma says both one and the other, because of the great sympathy which exists between them through the means of the vas breve, of the pylorus, and often of the meatus choledici.
  • Toilet Humour: The enemas that Argan has to take are a source of humour. For example, Argan asks Toinette to check the appearance of his feces. Toinette refuses and says that the apothecary should do it because he makes money of it.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: The protagonist, Argan, is a jerkass: he abuses his daughters and his servant. He is somewhat pitiable, because he is so stupid that everybody manipulates him.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Béline, Argan's second wife, schemes against Argan's daughters: she wants him to disinherit them and she tries to send them to a convent.
  • Zany Scheme: Toinette dresses up as a doctor to convince Argan that Mr. Purgon is not reliable and that the doctors in general are not good for his health.

Alternative Title(s): The Hypochondriac, Le Malade Imaginaire


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