Friday, May 20, 2011
Review: Les Femmes Savantes by Molière
Les Femmes savantes is a hilarious play that Molière wrote in the last years of his life. I really want to review it, but I am all Molièred out, so this will probably be a really short review. I loved this play, possibly even more than I loved Le Tartuffe. Henriette, the youngest of two girls, wants to marry Clitandre. Her older sister Armande, who claims to care only for learning and philosophy, basically shoots her down and says it's not going to happen because Clitandre still loves her. Clitandre does, in fact, want to marry Henriette, and he goes to her father to ask for permission. Chrysale immediately says yes, but everyone is concerned. They want him to speak to his wife, Philaminte. She wears the pants in the family and Chrysale is afraid to go against her. She wants Henriette to marry her friend Trissotin, who loves bragging about how smart he is. Throughout the play, the 2 sides are trying to marry off Henriette to the man of their choice before she can marry the other.
The title indicates that there are some smart ladies in the house. That is true, but it's more making fun of them than praising them. Philaminte, Armande, and Bélise (Armande's aunt and Chrysale's sister) are the "smart women". They are very intelligent, but they don't learn because they enjoy learning. They learn so that they can brag about how smart they are to everyone. There is a hilarious scene where the cook runs to Chrysale saying that Philaminte wants to fire her. When Chysale confronts his wife, her reason for wanting the cook gone is that she doesn't speak with proper grammar (and at that time, the French language was just beginning to be codified and grammar/pronunciation rules put into place, so to say that someone isn't using proper grammar is just funny since the "proper" French wasn't wide spread yet).
One of the morals of the story is that learning for the sake of learning is great, but learning just so you can flaunt your intelligence in front of everyone is stupid. And believe me, it is. When "les femmes savantes" think they are talking very intelligently, they sound hilarious.
I'm sure this play has taken a lot of flak over the years from people claiming it's anti-women because of it's subject matter and title, but I honestly don't think that Molière was "trying to put women back in their places". Just because the people in the wrong in this play are women doesn't mean that Molière doesn't want women learning and wants them to only stick to household chores and having babies. He was very close to the women in his life, and the co-founder of his theatre troupe was a woman. If you look at the bigger picture, you'll see that the underlying moral of the story can relate to both women and men.
Have you read or seen this play? If so, what are your opinions of it?
Title: Les Femmes savantes
Date of Publication: original in 1672, my copy is from the 1990s
Number of Pages: 185 (5 acts)
Genre: play, comedy
Source: Personal Copy