A Doctor in Spite of Himself


Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Annotated by:
Willms, Janice
  • Date of entry: May-30-2000
  • Last revised: Aug-17-2006


This is another Molière fabliau on the practice of medicine in his 17th Century culture. Sganarelle, the woodcutter turned doctor in spite of himself, is the object of a joke orchestrated by his wife Martine. She determines to punish him for his bad behavior toward her by setting him up as a learned, albeit somewhat eccentric, physician.

Falling for her bait, the stewards of the rich landowner, Geronte, implore Sganarelle to come to the rescue of their master’s daughter, who has become unable to speak. The woodcutter-turned-doctor begins to play the game, and through a series of happenstances and ruses, solves the enigma of the girl’s disability, comes upon a solution, and, in the process, determines that perhaps doctoring is more salutary than cutting faggots.


This subtly effective comedy about the gullibility of mankind and the weaknesses of the profession of medicine, although dated and in many ways pure farce, does set the reader to thinking about the power of the title "physician" even in a time when the reality of this power was limited. For the medically oriented reader, the latinate jargon and the absurdity of the diagnoses and treatments offered is worthy of good laughs. For those who enjoy comedy at its most raucous, there is nothing like a good Molière treatment of human fallibility.


Translated, with introduction, by John Wood. First performed circa 1666-1670.

Primary Source

The Misanthrope and Other Plays


Viking Penguin

Place Published

New York



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