Les Femmes Savantes  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

(Redirected from Les Femmes savantes)
Jump to: navigation, search

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Les Philosophes, women of letters

Les Femmes Savantes (The Learned Ladies) is a play by Molière in five acts, written in verse. A satire on academic pretention, female education, and préciosité (french for preciousness), it was one of his most popular comedies. It premiered at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal on March 11th 1672.


Short synopsis

Two young people, Henriette and Clitandre, are in love, but in order to marry, they must overcome an obstacle; the attitude of Henriette's family. Her sensible father and uncle are in favour of the marriage; but unfortunately her father is under the thumb of his wife, Philaminte, Henriette's mother. And Philaminte, supported by Henriette's aunt and sister, wishes her to marry Trissotin, a "scholar" and mediocre poet with big teeth, who has these three women completely in his thrall. For these three ladies are "learned"; their obsession in life is learning and culture of the most pretentious kind, and Trissotin is their special protégé and the fixture of their literary salon.

The principal characters

The "learned ladies" and their circle

  • Philaminte, the mother. She directs the little household "academy" and it is she who has discovered Trissotin. Because he flatters her intellectual pride in her own abilities, she considers him a great scholar, to the point that she thinks him a perfect match for her daughter Henriette. She is a formidable woman and intimidates her husband; but she allows the affairs of the household to fall into chaos, so obsessed is she with her cultural activities.
  • Bélise, the aunt. Sister of Chrysale, she is a rather elderly woman who has never married, and we are led to believe that it is partly out of resentment that she has become one of the "learned ladies". However, she is totally self-deluded and believes that she is irresistible to men; in particular, she imagines that Clitandre is in love with her and that Henriette is only a pretext.
  • Armande, the eldest daughter. Once she was courted by Clitandre; she rejected him and he then fell in love with her sister Henriette. She claims that this leaves her indifferent, but in fact, she is jealous of her sister and has only one goal; to prevent Henriette and Clitandre from marrying.
  • Trissotin. The protégé of the learned ladies. Although he presents himself as being deeply learned in literature and science, he is in fact a pretentious pedant who writes dreadful poetry that only Philaminte, Bélise and Armande appreciate. In need of money, he attaches himself to the "learned ladies" only so as to profit from Philaminte's largesse, and eventually to get his hands on Henriette's dowry.
  • Vadius. A scholar, learned in Greek, and an acquaintance of Trissotin, by turns his friend and his rival, who is invited to the ladies' salon. His quarrel with Trissotin over the quality of Trissotin's poetry reveals the latter's pettiness.

The other characters

  • Chrysale, the father. He claims to be the master of the house and affirms that women should occupy themselves in the management of the household and nothing else; however, he in fact gives way to his wife when making decisions. The role of Chrysale was played by Molière himself at the first performances.
  • Henriette, the younger daughter. She is the only woman in the family who is not one of the "learned ladies"; she prefers romantic love to their pedantries.
  • Clitandre, her fiancé.
  • Ariste, the uncle. Brother of Chrysale, he is angered by the way Chrysale allows himself to be intimidated by his wife, and gives his support to Clitandre and Henriette.
  • Martine, the family servant. At the beginning of the play, Philaminte sends her away because of a monstrous crime: her bad grammar. She returns at the end and speaks up for Clitandre and Henriette.

Detailed Synopsis

Act I

In Scene 1, Henriette tells her sister Armande of her intention to marry Clitandre. Armande, after scolding Henriette for rejecting the pursuit of learning for domesticity, says that she believes that Clitandre, once her own suitor, is still in love with her, despite the fact she refused him because of her devotion to scholarship. In Scene 2, Clitandre arrives and makes it clear that Armande is deluding herself; her coldness killed his love for her, and he is now truly in love with Henriette. In Scene 3, the embittered Armande leaves and Henriette advises Clitandre to gain the consent of her mother (Philaminte), for it is she who dominates the family. Clitandre knows he must flatter Philaminte to gain her consent, but finds her "studies" foolish and cannot hide this. He meets Henriette's aunt Belise in Scene 4 and attempts to speak with her about his wish to marry Henriette, but Belise imagines that this is merely a subtle way of declaring that he loves her (Belise) and ignores what he is actually trying to say.

Act II

Henriette's uncle Ariste addresses Clitandre in Scene 1 and assures him of his support. In Scene 2 Ariste begins to talk with Chrysale, her father; in Scene 3 he comes to the point and presents Clitandre's request for Chrysale's consent to marry Henriette. But Belise here interrupts, saying that he is wrong and in fact Clitandre loves her; Ariste responds by mocking her and pointing out she is always inventing suitors for herself. Belise leaves; in Scene 4, Chrysale consents to the marriage; when Ariste advises that he talk to his wife about it, Chrysale replies there is nothing to discuss and that he makes the decisions in this household. But the hollowness of this claim is revealed in Scene 5: Martine, the family servant, runs in, announcing she is being sent away by Philaminte. Philaminte and Belise enter in Scene 6 and reveal the motive for their anger at Martine: she has committed a terrible crime - bad grammar, which is worse, they say, than theft. In Scene 7, Chrysale reproaches his wife for neglecting common sense and ordinary household duties in her obsession with her studies and her patronage of Trissotin. But when Chrysale gingerly brings up the topic of Henriette's marriage in Scene 8, Philaminte interrupts before he can tell her the full story, and announces that she thinks it good that Henriette should marry, and that she has found the perfect husband for her: Trissotin. The weak Chrysale does not know how to reply; the ladies leave. When Ariste returns in Scene 9, Chrysale confesses his weakness to him, but resolves that he will no longer be ruled by his wife.


Scene 1 opens at the ladies' literary salon, where Trissotin is amusing and instructing them. Henriette wanders in in Scene 2, and Philaminte forces her to stay and listen to Trissotin's reading of his own poems. Scene 3 sees the arrival of another scholar, Vadius; the ladies swoon over him when they learn he knows classical Greek, and line up to kiss him, "pour l'amour du grec" ("for the love of Greek"). Trissotin and Vadius then pay each other extravagant compliments; however, they then quarrel violently when Vadius criticises an anonymous sonnet which was in fact by Trissotin. Philaminte explains in Scene 4 why she has forced Henriette to stay; she announces her intention that Henriette marry Trissotin. Armande congratulates Henriette in Scene 5, and reminds her of her duty to obey their mother. Then Chrysale arrives and orders that Henriette marry Clitandre. Henriette is delighted; the learned ladies, especially Armande, are not.

Act IV

In Scene 1, Armande is conducting a tirade against Clitandre. Clitandre appears in Scene 2 and asks why she hates him so. She replies that he betrayed her by falling in love with Henriette instead of continuing to love her (Armande) platonically. Philaminte concludes the conversation by repeating her intention that Henriette marry Trissotin. Trissotin appears in Scene 3 and has a verbal stoush with Clitandre concerning the value of scholarship. A letter arrives in Scene 4 from the bitter Vadius which informs Philaminte that Trissotin is only after her money. But she dismisses this and summons a notary to conduct the wedding immediately. Chrysale, informed of this in Scene 5, decides to thwart her plans and goes to look for his own notary.

Act V

Henriette meets Trissotin in private in Scene 1 and begs him not to marry her, but he claims he is deeply in love with her. In Scene 2, Chrysale arrives accompanied by Martine, reaffirms that he is master of the household and demands to be obeyed. Philaminte and the learned ladies then arrive with a notary in Scene 3; when the notary asks who the bridegroom is, Philaminte and Chrysale each nominate a different man, and Martine defends Chrysale's choice. Ariste runs in in Scene 4 with a shocking announcement; a decision has just been handed down in a long-running lawsuit that means the family is now ruined financially. Upon learning this, Trissotin tries to get out of the marriage, then confesses he was only interested in Henriette for her money, to Philaminte's fury. Ariste reveals that his story was untrue, a ruse to reveal Trissotin's true colours, and the play ends with the marriage of Clitandre and Henriette.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Les Femmes Savantes" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools