This is accounted the first great comedy by Molière. Its subtlety derives from the ambiguous nature of Arnolphe. Like all Molière's comic figures he is obsessed with one idea, in this case the need to keep his future wife in a state of ignorance. On the other hand, Arnolphe's desire for a virtuous wife, contrasted with the decadent behaviour of many contemporary women, is understandable. As a suitor over twice the age of his prospective bride, he appears inevitably comic – an act of supreme self-irony by Molière, who at the age of 40 had just married the 19-year-old Armande Béjart. Moreover, as a jealous lover who can keep his beloved only by virtual enslavement, Arnolphe shows himself to be despicable. Thus, while Arnolphe's cynicism about contemporary society, like that of Alceste in The Misanthrope, may win him some sympathy, the audience nevertheless delights in his failed enterprise. Modern audiences can take particular pleasure in the way that a young woman rises above her cruel treatment to display considerable emotional maturity.
Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).
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Molière (1622—1673) French dramatist