The School for Wives (French: L'école des femmes; pronounced [lek?l de fam]) is a theatrical comedy written by the seventeenth century French playwright Molière and considered by some critics to be one of his finest achievements. It was first staged at the Palais Royal theatre on 26 December 1662 for the brother of the King. The play depicts a character who is so intimidated by femininity that he resolves to marry his young, naïve ward and proceeds to make clumsy advances to this purpose. It raised some outcry from the public, which seems to have recognized Molière as a bold playwright who would not be afraid to write about controversial issues. In June 1663, the playwright cunningly responded to the uproar against this play with another piece entitled La Critique de L'École des femmes, in which he provided some explanation for his unique style of comedy.
Its characters include:
The scene is a square in a provincial town.
Arnolphe, the main protagonist, is a mature man who has groomed the young Agnès since she was 4 years old. Arnolphe supports Agnès living in a nunnery until the age of 17, when he moves her to one of his abodes, which he keeps under the name of Monsieur de la Souche. Arnolphe's intention is to bring up Agnès in such a manner that she will be too ignorant to be unfaithful to him and he becomes obsessed with avoiding this fate. To this end, he forbids the nuns who are instructing her from teaching her anything that might lead her astray. Right from the very first scene, a friend of his, Chrysalde, warns Arnolphe of his downfall, but Arnolphe takes no heed.
After Agnès moves into Arnolphe's house, Arnolphe meets by chance Horace, the young son of Arnolphe's friend Oronte, whom Arnolphe had not seen in years. Not realizing that Arnolphe and Monsieur de la Souche are the same person, Horace unwittingly confides to Arnolphe he had been visiting Agnès for the past week while the master of the house, one Monsieur de la Souche, was away.
Arnolphe then schemes to outmaneuver Horace and to ensure that Agnès will marry him.
Arnolphe becomes more and more frustrated as the play goes on. Agnès continues to meet with Horace despite Arnolphe's displeasure until, finally, a misunderstanding leads Arnolphe to believe that Agnès has agreed to marry him and Agnès to believe that Arnolphe has given her permission to marry Horace. When they realize the actual situation, Arnolphe forbids Agnès from seeing Horace. Horace, in his distress, comes to Arnolphe, asking for his help in rescuing Agnès from "Monsieur de la Souche".
The final act introduces a powerful irony as Oronte and Enrique arrive on the scene and announce that Horace is to marry Enrique's daughter. The daughter turns out to be Agnès, rendering all of Arnolphe's scheming useless.