A playwright and an actor, Molière is renowned mainly for his plays. In 17th century France, French theatre was more famous for its tragedies than its comedies, Pierre Corneille and Jean Racine mastering the genre. Comedies were not common in French literature and theatre. Rabelais figures as one of the pioneers of the genre in 15th century literature. As for theatre, there were very few comedies before Molière’s, the most famous being ‘La Farce de Maître Pathelin’ (in English ‘The Farce of Master Pathelin’) written around 1460.
As a matter of fact, Molière lent prestige to French comedy, and he strongly influenced the genre in the long term in France and even overseas.
Molière’s comedies provided to the audience refined humour and a sharp criticism of French society. He often depicted his plays as a comical mirror of the absurdities of his time. The play that we have chosen to study is a perfect illustration. It deals with a universal topic, that of medecine, and criticises the faults of doctors and patients. Still today, his plays are entertaining and travel through cultures. In many countries, adaptations of ‘Le malade imaginaire’ (in English ‘The Imaginary Invalid’ or ‘The Hypochondriac’) are made regularly and throughout the world. The play still serves as a reference regarding the comedy genre and criticism of society in the theatre.
Molière’s free spirit and artistic talent make him the most popular playwright at the Académie-Française still today. His works are inextricably linked to French culture to the point that French language is referred to as ‘Langue de Molière’ (in English, ‘Moliere’s language’).
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, later Molière, was born in Paris in 1622. He lived with his parents who were traders, in the busy marketplace of Les Halles, the windows of his house overlooking the daily scenes of the buzzing Parisian working class. In 1643, Molière started his professional career in the theatre as an actor and founded a troupe with his friends called ‘l’Illustre Théâtre’. After years of touring all over France, one of his first plays ‘L’Étourdi ou les Contretemps’ (in English ‘The Blunderer, or, the Counterplots’) brought him fame around 1655.
Becoming more and more successful during the years that followed, he obtained the patronage of the brother of the King, Philippe I, Duke of Orleans in 1658. Thenceforth, Molière’s art could thrive fully, his plays being ever more successful. The most famous ones he wrote at that time were ‘Les précieuses ridicules’ (1659) (in English ‘The Affected Young Ladies’), ‘L’École des femmes’ (1662) (in English ‘The School for Wives’), or his famous ‘Tartuffe’ (1665) (in English ‘Tartuffe’, or ‘The Impostor’). While the play sparked conflict among the Church who censored it, it also granted Molière full support of King Louis XIV who engaged the troupe at his court under the title ‘Troupe du Roi’ (‘The King’s Troupe’) in June that same year. Molière remained famous until his death. Thus, the plays that followed are also memorable: ‘Le Misanthrope’ (1666) (in English ‘The Misanthrope’), ‘L’Avare’ (1668) (in English ‘The Miser’) or ‘Le Bourgeois gentilhomme’(1670) (in English ‘The Bourgeois Gentleman’).
An author of more than thirty plays, Molière explored the various facets of comedy like farces, comedy d’intrigue, comedy of manners, comedy of character and Comédie-ballet of which ‘The Imaginary Invalid’ is an example. A master in comic devices, both visual and verbal, he never ceased to reinvent himself thoughout his career.
‘The Imaginary Invalid’ (1673) was Molière’s last work in which he himself played Argan. Suffering from illness for several years, Molière went on working and acting, driven by his unconditional love for theatre. On the evening of February 17th, 1673, a a few hours after suffering from chest pain upon performing, he passed away at the age of 51. His contemporaries grieved over the loss of a great artist and his name remains closely linked to French theatre.
The literary work : The Imaginary Invalid
The literary genre
Comedy is a secular genre of popular catharsis in which the author mocks his contemporaries’ weaknesses through comic entertainment. In the way of a people’s rational voice pointing out the flaws of the governing people and institutions, characters of low condition often criticize high society and their outrageous manners.
‘The Imaginary Invalid’is more specifically a comédie-ballet, a subcategory of the comedy genre which Molière – in collaboration with his composer, Jean-Baptiste Lully- initiated with ‘Les Fâcheux’(in English ‘The Bores’) (1661). Meant to expand the entertaining devices of comedy, the genre introduces singing and dancing interludes in the performance, at the beginning, between the acts and at the end.
The European dimension of the play (inspiration, literary movement, influence)
Molière’s works fall within the scope of Greek and Roman drama. He drew his creative inspiration from Greek author Aristophanes and Roman humouristic poet Plautus. Already as a child, Molière took great pleasure attending performances of a famous Commedia dell’arte playwright called Niccolò Barieri. Appearing in the 16th century and already internationally acclaimed, the genre influenced profoundly Molière. Later, as an adult and an actor, he met other Italian comedians who belonged to the movement, among whom Tiberio Fiorilli and his troupe with whom Molière and his actors shared a venue. At that time, Molière familiarises himself with the Italian troupe’s acting and directing. His first noteworthy comedy, ‘L’Étourdi ou les contretemps’ (In English ‘The Bungler’) (1655), is indeed greatly influenced by a play by Barbieri, ‘L’Inavvertito, overo Scappino disturbato e Mezzetino travagliato’ (1629). As a matter of fact, the theme of ‘The Imaginary Invalid’is prevailing in Commedia dell’arte. The doctor, ‘Il Dottore Balanzone’ in Italian, is a classic character of the genre. By way of persistent attempts at seducing the audience with approximative Latin expressions and other senseless scientific declarations, he hides his complete ignorance of his discipline.
Perpetuating French tradition, Molière drew his inspiration from farces, a popular genre dating from the Middle Ages.
Thereafter ‘The Imaginary Invalid’ influenced several authors such as Jules Romains and his famous play ‘Knock ou le Triomphe de la médecine’ (in English ‘Knock’) (1923). Molière’s plays were also adapted for the screen by Tonino Cervi. ‘Il malato immagiario’ (1979) starred Alberto Sordi and Bertrand Blier.
Countless adaptations have been made of the play worldwide. The play is also regularly performed in theatre schools, theatre workshops in primary schools and high schools. Reflecting Molière’s works, this play is widely considered as a major reference in French theatre and theater in general.
Reference to major issues of the time
By using the satire, Molière pointed out overtly moral rules implemented by the Church. His plays, most of which were engaged, dealt with topics that provoked debate like religious supremacy, greed, the tradition of wedding, the status of women. Many were the cause of much controversy to the point that some were censored like ‘The Tartuffe’ in 1669.
‘The Imaginary Invalid’is a great example of Molière’s satirical style. At his time, medecine was seen as inefficient and had a bad reputation. However, with science developing, the 17th century progressively freed itself from religious constraints and doctors gained recognition among the population. During that turning point in science, Molière challenged medical codes drawing upon their limits in a humorous way. Doctors were therefore depicted as ignorant and self-righteous, being more interested in the process than in the result, paying more attention to the details of illnesses and their symptoms than of healing. All throughout the play, they are particularly dishonest towards their patients by hiding their limited knowledge in a humorously clumsy way. Even when confronted to their own failures, they are constantly rationalising. The picture is darkened by the fact that the medical mockery hides their looking for financial gain. In his attempt to earn money by duping his contemporaries, the doctor is associated to a crook.
The play tackles other themes than the doctors’ greed. It also deals with Argan’s avarice and his rapacious wife who, like doctors, takes advantage of him, also trying to manipulate him. The characters’ relationship to money – a social issue brought up by the author – provides a great amount of ludicrous scenes in his works.
Through Argan’s absurd obliviousness, Molière denounces the power of patriarchy over the institution of marriage. The themes of the arranged marriage and women’s deprivation of liberty, that of Angélique in the play, are dealt with from another angle namely the Diafoirus and Béline’s greed and cold detachment.
The Imaginary Invalid
The gallery of characters:
- Argan, Béline’s husband and Angélique’s father
- Toinette, Argan’s maid
- Béline, Argan’s wife
- Angélique, Argan’s daughter
- Béralde, Argan’s brother
- Cléante, Angélique’s lover
- Mr Diafoirus, the brother of Argan’s doctor
- Thomas Diafoirus, Mr Diafoirus’s son and Angélique’s suitor
Like in every classical play, the plot is determined by a unity of place, here Argan’s house and mainly his bedroom.
Iconography in the e-book
The play was written in the Renaissance when the pictorial arts were booming. Therefore, the illustrations in the e-book are mainly from that time allowing the readers to immerse themselves into Molière’s time. There are, among others, Dutch painter Rembrandt, the French Valentin de Boulogne and the Italians Baldassarre Peruzzi and Bronzino. Some of these illustrations reveal a pictorial style comparable to comedy using satirical devices, as did Dutch painters Hieronymus Bosch, Cornelis Dusart, and Jacob Gol.
There are also several other illustrations from anonymous Renaissance authors in the e-book. A more modern hint was added to these illustrations with paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries by Alexandre-Marie Colin, Gustave Courbet and Isodoro Grünhut.
Some of the pictures are depictions of the play by 19th century French artists like Adolphe Lalauze, Jean-Michel Moreau, Gustave Brion and Honoré Daumier, but also artists from abroad like German artist Christian Wilhelm Allers, English painter Abraham Solomon. These illustrations show yet again the influence of Molière’s works in European culture.
PHASE 1: INTRODUCING THE E-BOOK: ENVIRONMENT, ATMOSPHERE AND HYPOTHESES
Activity 1: Theatre
Introductory activity in the environment of the e-book
- Pictures of props used in plays
- Pictures of items related to the theatre
- Blutack, drawing pins or magnets
Before the workshop:
- Prepare a selection of audios representative of a play: the pounding on the floor announcing the beginning of a play, expressive monologues, audience laughing and clapping.
You can find audios here: http://classes.bnf.fr/echo/index.php
- Select pictures in relation to the theatre depicting a variety of occupations. For instance:
- Stagehand: a smoke machine, pulley and ropes to shift curtains, an element of scenery or an actor.
- Lighting designer: spotlights, light filters.
- Set designer: tins of paint, a saw, a hammer, nails.
- Prop master: props that are more or less relevant to the play like banknotes/gold coins, a phial, a false needle, false blood…
- Costume designer: clothes and accessories like costumes of the 17th century, a wig, a fan, a doctor’s costume resembling that of the play, sewing material.
- Hairdresser/make-up artist: Make-up and hair material.
This list is deliberately exhaustive in order to be adjusted to the number of participants and their level. It can be used in its entirety or just partly. Difficult words or not so commonly used ones can be removed from the list.
- If possible, for a better immersion, use real accessories that be easily moved like make-up, masks or a prop relevant to the play.
- Collect information on the various types of shows occuring in the countries which the participants originate from.
During the workshop:
- Divide the participants into small groups/pairs.
- Play the audios representative of the theatre. Ask each group what it reminds them of.
- Hand out 2 or 3 pictures depicting theatre occupations to each group. Ask them to explain which occupation the pictures are related to. Let them think for a while and invite each group to name, mime or make a drawing of the occupation depicted on their pictures. Throughout the process, the teacher writes the name of the occupations on the board and gives the name of those unknown to the participants.
- Ask each group to stick their pictures on the board in accordance with the occupations (reading and repeating their names if necessary).
- Invite those who are relatively fluent to think about the various theatre occupations they have identified during the workshop, and their importance during a performance for instance.
- Start a discussion with the group about their experience of the theatre. Have they ever seen a theatre performance or performed themselves? Would they like to? Do they know something about theatre in their country? Do they know about popular plays inspired by stories, legends or myths in their country? Invite them to tell about the various performing arts existing in their country. The participants will tell in their own way depending on their level. You may invite them to use their smartphone in order to show pictures or videos.
- Tell them that the e-book they are going to read is a play.
- Suggest that they play a game. The pictures depicting theatre occupations are split among the groups of participants. Each group has to collect the pictures in relation with the allocated occupation. In order to do that, the different groups must interact.
PHASE 2: DELVING INTO THE E-BOOK
Activity 1: Patient looking for doctor
Global understanding activity
- A set of images depicting body parts, medical products and health occupations.
Before the workshop:
- Prepare ‘occupations’ pictures (A4 format, one copy). Choose the most popular practitioners as well as evocative clues to identify them: a stethoscope for a general practitioner, a dental plate for a dentist, a person examining a beauty spot with a magnifying glass for a dermatologist…
- Prepare ‘body parts’ pictures (the size of a playing card, one copy for two participants).
- Prepare useful ‘medical products’ images for the body parts of the ‘body parts’ image set (the size of a playing card, one copy for two participants). The purpose is to introduce words that are used in the play: pills, syrup, drops, ointment, band-aid.
- Caption the ‘body parts’ and ‘medical products’ pictures.
During the workshop:
This introductory activity must be carried out before reading.
- Ask the participants which practitioner they know of. You may guide them by showing ‘occupations’ pictures.
- Divide the group into small groups or pairs and hand them out one ‘body parts’ and one ‘medical products’ card game.
- Invite them to look at the ‘body parts’ and ‘medical products’ cards in order to make sure they understand. Depending on their level, refer either to the picture or the word. Ask them to associate a practitioner with an illness and then a medical product with a body part. For example: a syrup for the throat.
- Suggest that they invent dialogues in pairs by picking up cards from the game. For example, a participant plays the role of the patient and picks up a ‘body parts’ card. The other plays the role of the doctor giving him/her advice with the help of ‘medical products’ cards. The dialogue will be elaborate or last more or less depending on the level of fluency of the participants. For those who are fluent and with basic reading level, you may add new rules such as developing the prescription with a dosage to choose from a written list: ‘one pill a day’, ‘5 drops in the morning and in the evening’…
- Reveal the title of the play. Ask the participants how they understand it and what they think the story is about.
Activity 2 : Who’s who?
Global understanding activity
- A sheet depicting a character for each pair of participants.
- A set of labels with the name of the characters
- A set of sheets with smiley faces
- Slide 12 to be printed or projected.
Before the workshop:
- Prepare a concise list of character traits in the form of a sheet with smiley faces. Pick out one or two character traits for each character in the play. Choose them by taking account of the level of the group. For example: bad-tempered, clever or canny, sly, naive, brave.
During the workshop:
This activity is carried out after a first individual reading of act 1.
- Inform the participants they are going to read act 1 of the play. Explain the concept of an act and the structure of a play. This can be easily done by going through the e-book and counting the number of acts in the play.
- Before starting the reading, divide the group into smaller groups/pairs and let them know that they will have to answer the questions: Where does the story take place? How many characters are there? What are their names? How are they connected to each other? What is happening?
- Invite the participants to read the first act and ask them to answer the questions of global understanding mentioned above.
- Question them about the characters’ social status and guide them if necessary. Speak about the historical period the story spans. From this activity, suggest that they create a list of the characters which will be completed throughout the reading of the e-book.
- Hand out one sheet depicting a character to each group.
- Read the first act once again by lingering over the characters. For those who have a good level in writing, have them write on the board the names of the characters in order of appearance. For those with little or no written competence, suggest that they stick the label with the name of the character on the board.
- After having sorted the names in the table, hand out the sheets with smiley faces. Make sure they understand them. In small groups, invite them to associate one or two character traits with each character of the play by using the illustrations and the text or audio version of act 1. Each time, ask them why they have chosen such illustration(s) or word(s). They might not agree. Those who are fluent may look for other adjectives to depict the characters.
- For those with a good reading level, talk about stage directions and explain their function. How do we know Argan is bad-tempered? Which are the slides that highlight it? Linger on slide 12. Show the picture, then have them listen to the audio and finally identify stage directions.
Here is an example of a sheet depicting a character:
|TITLE: THE IMAGINARY INVALID|
|Number||Name of the character||Woman/Man||Description|
- In small groups, encourage them to look for characters only mentioned in the first act (Angélique and Thomas Diafoirus). Ask them why they are mentioned. The purpose is to pave the way for the second act and have the participants say that Argan wants to get her daughter married against her will because of her future husband being a doctor.
- Bring up a discussion over the title. Who is the imaginary invalid? Make them look for pictures to corroborate their point of view. Do not answer the question, let them find out later.
Activity 3: A medical comedy
Advanced understanding activity
- Character sheets used for the previous activity
- Slides 30-31-32 and 36-37-38
- Portraits of the characters present in act 1 and 2, several copies
During the workshop:
This activity is carried out after reading act 2.
- Invite the participants to read act 2 and identify new characters as well as their relationship with those studied before.
- Share the hypotheses collectively. Make sure that the character of Cléante is correctly identified. Is he a singing teacher or pretending to be? How do the participants know?
- Ask the same questions in connection with the Diafoirus. Who are they? Why do they visit Argan?
- Suggest that they read act 2 again to test their hypotheses. Cléante is Angélique’s lover. He pretends to be the substitute of the singing teacher in order to make Argan approve of his love for Angélique. Argan does not draw the parallel between the song and her daughter’s situation. Read the original scene to those who are fluent.
- Divide the participants into small groups and give each group a different task.
- Ask one or two groups (depending on how many participants there are), to identify the slides featuring doctors (slides 36-37-38). Then ask questions like: How many doctors are featured in this scene? In which way are they mocked? Encourage them to differentiate the doctors featured in the scene from Argan’s doctor who is just mentioned.
- Suggest that the other groups read again and reflect on slides 30, 31 and 32. Ask questions like: Are the Diafoirus doctors responsible? Why does Argan trust them?
- Share the hypotheses collectively.
- Suggest going back to the title of the play in order to develop Argan’s description. Make them look for other character traits to add to the portrait. Lead them to the belief that Argan is hypochondriac, self-interested and selfish.
- Hand out sheets of paper and markers as well as the portraits of the characters examined so far. Ask the participants to connect the characters with each other.
- From then on, as a group, take a look at the issues raised in the play and let the participants imagine how they will be solved. Tell them that the play is a comedy and that comedies often have an happy ending.
The purpose of this last activity is to understand, even in simple terms, the main steps of the narrative process in most stories: initial situation, complication, climax, falling action and resolution.
Activity 4 : What about love?
Advanced understanding activity
- Character sheets used in the previous activity
- Illustrations from the e-book and their corresponding lines (slides 40, 41 and 42)
During the workshop:
This activity is carried out after reading act 3.
- Inform the participants that they are going to resume their reading with act 3. Remind them that this is the last act which leads to the resolution.
- Invite the participants to read the third act and ask them to identify new characters and complete the ‘character’ sheet.
- Question them about Béralde: What is his relationship with Argan? Why does he visit Argan?
- With the whole group, read slides 40, 41 and 42 and ask what prevents Angélique and Cléante from marrying and what Toinette has in mind.
- Invite them to resume reading until slide 51 to test their hypotheses.
- Meanwhile, divide the table into two parts. One for the stratagem that consists in unmasking Béline and revealing Angélique’s pure heart. The other for the stratagem that consists in getting Argan to understand that doctors are not to be trusted unquestioningly.
- In small groups, ask the participants to stick the illustrations and/or lines (depending on the group) in the first column that describes the first stratagem. Ask them to explain their choice.
- Suggest that they repeat the action in relation to the second stratagem.
- Invite the participants to read through the play and start a discussion about the resolution of the story with the whole group. Compare with the hypotheses made by the different groups in the previous activity and see which ones bear the most similarities with Molière’s resolution.
- To go further in the understanding, question those who are fluent about Argan’s attitude in the last part of the play. Is he actually different at the end of the play?
To go further with linguistics:
- Get back to the table depicting the characters, study the role played by adjectives and use them to describe someone’s personality. Differentiate character traits from emotions and refer to the permanent condition of the first ones and the temporary condition of the second ones.
- As a group, examine the semantic field of love in the play: the words ‘lover’, ‘boyfriend’, the verb ‘to love’, affectionate terms of address like ‘my dear, my sweetheart’ or terms and expressions related to marriage such as ‘son-in-law’, ‘ask for someone’s hand in marriage’.
To go further with cross-culturality:
- Start a discussion on famous forbidden love stories that they know of. Invite those who are willing to to tell the stories they know.
- Talk about the comedy genre (not necessarily in the theatre) in their country. What role does it play in society? Is comedy a way to criticise society with humour? Is there a similar story to The Imaginary Invalid in their cultural tradition?
PHASE 3: THE CREATIVE STAGE
Activity 1: Action!
Activity to enhance the reading experience
During the workshop:
- As a group, look for accessories that identify the characters in the play. For example, a nightcap, a dressing gown, slippers, pyjamas, a thermometer etc. for Argan. An apron, a tray for Toinette. A rose buttonhole for Cléante. Simple and pale-coloured clothes for Angélique. A fan, jewellery, bright-coloured clothes for Béline. White coats, a stethoscope etc. for the doctors.
- Divide the group into pairs and invite them to choose a scene that they are going to perform. Make them choose short scenes that are not too complex, for example when Toinette makes Argan jump by shouting in his ears after speaking softly.
- Guide them while preparing the scene. Encourage them to use the space and give free rein to their imagination while staging. Rather than overloading the room with elements of scenery, encourage their creativity by customising the furniture already there.
- Remind them that they can use the audio of the e-book to learn their lines. Explain if necessary and allow time for the participants to absorb the text.
- Those who are fluent may carry on with more lines and acting.
- Those who are less fluent may simplify their lines and use gestures rather than repeating the text literally.
- In pairs, the participants create an additional scene to the play or imagine the developments of a scene left dangling. With the help of the teacher, suggest that they choose the characters they would like to work with and create a dialogue.