Today in Theatre History: FRENCH HUSBANDS LEARN THEIR LESSON–June 24, 1661

Catherine of Braganza, whose new husband, Charles II of England, may or may not have learned his lesson of husbandly behavior from Molière.

Catherine of Braganza, one suspects, may well have wished her intended, Charles II of England, had been present that evening to learn his lesson of husbandly behavior from Molière and Co.

On this day in 1661 Molière produced his first full-length play, The School for Husbands, at the Palais-Royal in the Paris.  Designed to teach his audience the importance of a husband’s trust and respect in marriage and the folly of harsh treatment and physical restraint, it was an instant hit.  Less than a month later the play was being performed before King Louis XIV and his guest, Catherine of Braganza, who would soon become the next Queen of England.  Theatre historians have suspected that the playwright modeled the sympathetic main character of Ariste on himself, since eight months after the play’s opening Molière married Armande Béjart, who was half his age.  The work may have been intended as a deliberate declaration of his matrimonial intensions, or at the very least a signal to his young fiancé that despite the fact that he was old enough to be her father (some have speculated he actually was her father…), he was more progressive in his marital beliefs than was commonly practiced by his relatively elderly peers at the time.  It was certainly the start of a comedic genre that would become enormously popular both in France and England over the next century:  The instructional social satire.

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