By Patricia Boccadoro
PARIS, 7 JULY 2013 How to avoid your wife being unfaithful to
you? Why, buy her early on at the age of 4, make her your ward, and then
marry her after having sequestered her in a convent for thirteen years
with explicit instructions to ensure she remains "as idiotic and simple"
as possible. Such is the plan devised by Arnolphe, a gentleman of
advancing years who is petrified at the thought of possessing an
unfaithful wife. But in Molières popular play, written in 1662, and a
plot that remains news today (with victims including the young Viennese
Amanda Kampuch), it doesnt quite work out like that.
Taken from the convent, the seventeen year old Agnès is kept isolated
in Arnolphes house on an island, with only two scatter-brained servants
as company, while he plans the wedding. But he makes the mistake of
leaving on business and while the cats away, the mice will play. We soon
discover that the pure and innocent Agnès isnt quite the simpleton she is
made out to be. She, plays, flirts with and is soon in love with a passing
stranger, the young Horace, who falls for her hook, line and sinker.
But upon learning her story, the unfortunate young man makes the
monumental error of confiding in
Arnolphe, who, to add to his
sins, has given himself aristocratic airs by demanding to be
addressed as Monsieur de La Souche. And imagine Arnolphes reaction upon
hearing Horaces tale of woe, of courting a lady who is imprisoned by a
vile and grotesque old man, non-other than himself!
Thierry Hancisse (Arnolphe) and Jérémy Lopez
in Molières L'Ecole des
at the Comédie-Française in Paris
Photo: Cosimo Mirco
As the play opens in the current production at the Comédie-Française,
Thierry Hancisse, magnificent in the role of Arnolphe, is pouring out his
heart and his anguish to his old friend, Chrysaide, telling him of his
plan to marry his ward whom he has loved from the moment he saw her. Far
from being the vile, grotesque, and ridiculous character he is often
portrayed as being, Arnolphe is lamentable, pathetic and pitiful as he
tries every trick possible to forward the marriage, for he is truly in
love with the girl, with a passion which finally breaks his heart in two.
Hancisse brings a Shakespearian dimension to Arnolphe, turning him into a
figure of tragedy despite his evident stupidity.
Adeline dHermy, luminous, is a true fairy-tale princess. Reading the
list of the ten rules of conduct for young brides she touched the heart
and won the admiration of all as she grew from an ill-informed, ignorant
adolescent to a woman with a mind of her own. Likewise, Jérémy Lopez was
excellent in the difficult role of the well-meaning, ingenuous Horace
whose only misfortune was to blurt out his troubles to his lovers
unwelcome and discomfited suitor.
The staging by Jacques Lassalle, general administrator of the
Comédie-Française from 1990 to 1993, was brilliant, beginning with the
idea of setting the play on an island to ensure Agnès continued isolation
from the world outside. One could only gain access by a raft and pulley,
while Horace, for his secret visits, rowed up to it in a boat. A
transparent tulle backcloth which covered the forefront of the stage and
appeared opaque or faded from sight depending on the lighting, gave the
illusion of an inside/outside, while further ingenious lights on the house
and a tree indicated the changing times of day, the atmosphere being
enhanced by evocative musical choices.
LEcole des Femmes, is not simply a farce, a slapstick comedy
for Molière poses the very serious question of womens access to knowledge
and of their position in society. A success at the time it was written and
performed in the very same theatre, it brings as much enjoyment to see it
today, just 350 years later.
Based in Paris, Patricia Boccadoro is a senior
editor and member of the editorial board of Culturekiosque.
Related Culturekiosque Archives
Louis XIV: The
Man and the King