There Isn’t a Spanking Scene in … The School for Wives

Moliere has served us so well that the anticipation of yet another spanking scene in yet another of his plays might make us feel greedy. But he didn’t write such a scene into his 1662 comedy, L’École des Femmes (The School for Wives); as with the 2005 Italian production of Les Femmes Savantes, it’s something that was added later by a generous director.

The plot of the play is, in essence, that old Arnolphe has been training his young fiancée Agnes to ensure that she will be a dutiful wife. What he succeeds in doing is persuading her that marriage will be dull, so she attempts to elope with a younger, more attractive suitor. Arnolphe tricks them and confronts Agnes towards the end of the play, and in the course of the argument he threatens her with what we’ll call manual violence.

That slightly awkward phrase keeps open the various possible interpretations of Moliere’s script: he could be threatening to punch her, smack her or spank her. The scene is often played with him raising his hand to her, but it could even be done with him putting her across his knee. I’ve never seen it done that way, and in practice it’s a doubtful performance choice, because Arnolphe ends up as the loser: Agnes stands up to the threat of violence by acquiescing to it, Arnolphe doesn’t go through with it and in the end he loses the girl.

No, it’s a scene much earlier in the play that has had a spanking interpolated into it. Alain and Georgette, Arnolphe’s servants, make their first appearance having a disagreement about which of them will answer the door. This can been done in all sorts of ways – there has even been a production when they are, shall we say, engaged in intimacy – but at Cannes in 2011, the Nice-based company Theatre du Bocal escalated the disagreement above the purely verbal:

Still photo at 20s, video at 35s!

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