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The Hypochondriac -Jean Baptiste Molière

 
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Posted September 2, 2016 by

The Hypochondriac – Jean Baptiste Molière – 1673

Reviewed by: Lale

The Hypochondriac is my favourite Molière play. I recommend this play to anyone who is or has ever been ill (real or imaginary).

Argan loves to be sick and to be treated. Being sick is his main occupation. In the opening scene Argan is calculating what he owes to doctors and pharmacists. Upon finding the price of a potion too high, he laments: “If one is to be treated in this manner, one will no longer wish to be ill.”

 As in all Molière plays there are disguises (particularly in this play so much so that even the masks of Mission Impossible II start to seem reasonable), there are hidings and/or pretending to be dead, there is a maid wiser than the master, the villain wife who wishes her husband dead so that she can inherit his money, all the usual Molière elements.

 In The Hypochondriac, however, there are quite a few variations as well. For instance Molière himself is in the play. In Molière’s play, there is a Molière play. And even Molière is not immune to Molière’s mocking. The characters of the “real” play, watch a decidedly banal Molière play, in which Molière himself acts as well. At the end of the play-in-play, Argan and Molière have this exchange:

Argan:

Are you Monsieur Molière, the author?

Molière:

I am.

Argan:

You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

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The sad note is that in 1673, Molière was acting on stage in The Hypochondriac (not as Molière the author who was played by someone else, but as Argan) while he was a really sick man. During the fourth performance of the play at the Palais-Royal in Paris, Molière was seized by a fit of coughing and began to spit blood. If you read this play, you will see the irony of Argan (played by Molière) pretending to be dead, and the maid’s explanation of his faux-death by “something wrong with the lungs”. Molière carried on with the rest of the show, but died within an hour after the show ended.

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The Hypochondriac pokes a lot of fun at the science of medicine and the doctors. If you are an MD with a sense of humour, you will get a kick out of this play. If you are an MD without a sense of humour… Well, tough luck! As Jerry Seinfeld once said, “This is comedy, someone’s gonna get hurt!”

The Hypochondriac (Oberon Classics)
List Price: $14.95
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