Le Médecin Malgré Lui (The Physician in Spite of Himself) is written by the French playwright Molière (1622-1673). In the play, Martine, recently beaten by her husband, seeks revenge by convincing two servants (who are seeking a doctor for their master’s daughter) that her husband Sganarelle is a great physician—with one catch. Even though he has brought back the dead, he obstinately denies being a doctor, admitting it only if you beat him until he confesses. After a thorough beating, Martine’s husband—in reality a lowly woodcutter—admits that he is indeed the physician they are looking for.
Wearing the cocked hat typical of doctors at the time, the pretending doctor first tells the girl’s father that Hippocrates, in his chapter on hats, requires both of them to wear hats. Then orating in pretend Latin—cambricias arci thuram, catalamus, singulariter, nominativum—he feels the girl’s pulse to make a brilliant diagnosis: she cannot speak because of an obstruction of the tongue—caused by pecant humors. The “doctor” then proceeds to confuse the location of the internal organs, as he describes the state of the girl’s humors to the incredulous father.
As it turns out, the girl is pretending to have lost her power of speech because she wants to marry the boy she loves rather than her father’s choice. The doctor “cures” her by arranging an elopement with her lover. The girl regains her speech, ensuring her doctor’s notoriety.
Despite numerous misadventures on the path to the cure, Sganarelle becomes famous, discovering that being a physician is certainly worth being beaten for. You get paid whether you do well or do badly—and a dead man never complains about the doctor who killed him!
George Dunea, MD, Editor-in-Chief