Moliere's "The Imaginary Invalid"




Moliere's "The Imaginary Invalid"


Moliere's "The Imaginary Invalid" is a farcical play about a
hypochondriac who is so obsessed with his health and money that he ends up
neglecting his family. The story involves several different themes and plots
within one family. A new interpretation of this 17th century play is now being
performed at the Arts Club Theater; it incorporates some new changes and
modernizations in addition to the traditional improvisation. Morris Panych has
definitely succeeded in delivering a new, more comical version of Moliere's
final play.
Moreover, the dominant theme of this play is body versus mind. The play
is about a wealthy, but stingy man who believes that he is constantly sick
(Argan). However, there is an obvious doubt to whether he is really sick or if
he is just imagining his illness. Therefore, the primary theme is Argan's
internal struggle of body vs. mind. This theme is developed throughout the play
into smaller themes such as masculinity versus femininity, greed versus love,
and death versus life.
Two of the major changes from the text to the play are Argan's degree of
illness and his death. In the text, there are very few elaborate descriptions of
Dr. Purgon's treatment. However in the play by Panych, there is no shortage of
enemas and other "bathroom" related scenes. I originally thought this change was
for comical purposes, but after some additional thought I questioned whether
Argan was imagining his illness or if he really was ill. In the text, by not
having too many bathroom scenes, Argan seems to be imagining his illness (thus,
he is the imaginary invalid). In Panych's stage version, Argan shows several
symptoms of being ill; this definitely confuses the original play by Moliere.
One of the original purposes of the play was to criticize, among other things,
the medical profession in Moliere's time. Now, if Argan really was sick, does
that mean that the doctors were correct in their analysis? No, it doesn't. I
believe that Panych intended to show that it was the doctors' treatments that
made Argan ill and eventually killed him.
Another major change from Moliere's version is Beralde's gender and role
in the play and in the family. Beralde is transformed into Argan's sister,
instead of his brother. Panych saw male versus female as a major theme. If you
look at the structure of the original play, all the people who truly love Argan
and mean him well are female, except for Beralde. In fact out of all the
different characters who take advantage of Argan, only one of them is female-
Beline (yet, even she has more traditional male characteristics than some of the
male characters in the play). Therefore it makes more sense for Beralde to be a
female in the play. Panych also changed Beralde's role in the play. In the
original version Beralde is the "man of passionate eloquence, resourceful valet,
good father, master of revels, he is a foil for all the evils [in the play]:
delusion, credulity, tyranny, and fear"(p110). However, in Panych's version,
Toinette is the character who is responsible for putting an end to all the evils.
She is the one who is responsible for exposing Beline as evil and she is the one
who helps convince Argan that not all doctors are trustworthy by disguising
herself as one of them. Therefore, Beralde's role in the play is almost strictly
comedic- she acts as a narrator. She is the first character the audience sees
and hears; and, instead of being the stable brother, she comes out claiming that
she is the crazy sister.
Finally, the last major change is the exclusion of Punchinello
(Toinette's Lover) from the stage version. One of the major themes in this play
is love. Everyone in the play, has someone to love; however, in Panych's
production the Toinette's lover is excluded. There are two possible reasons for
this. First, Panych might have decided that there were already too many plots
and not enough time. Second, the maid is the heroine in the play- in the end she
cures Argan of his selfishness, exposes Beline's greed, and makes it possible
for Angelique to marry the man she loves- and therefore instead of having a love,
her purpose in life is to maintain order in Argan's life. I believe that the
second reason is the more probable one, out of the two. Also, from seeing the
stage version, it could be quite possible that Panych wanted Toinette to be in
love with Argan. This theory may be justified by just looking