Moliere and Ibsen’s Gender Satire

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K. Powell Moliere and Ibsen’s Gender Satire The plays The School for Wives and The Learned Ladies by Moliere and Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and The Dollhouse seem to have very little in common on the surface. Moliere’s plays are jaunty and farcical while Ibsen’s plays present a dark realism. However, all four plays have at least one thing in common and that is the satirical portrayal of gender roles. The satire in these two plays by Moliere is very obvious while it takes a little more searching for the satire in Ibsen’s plays. This might be because Ibsen’s plays could be a page out of real life at the time he wrote them. They both satirize gender roles and the consequences of “breaking the rules” of these roles. The role of women during this time was almost strictly to be a wife and a mother. She was to be dependent on her husband and she should be happy to be reliant on his superior capabilities as a man. Men had the role of the provider, the head of the house, they were supposed to be independent and were thought of as superior to women both physically and mentally. Moliere and Ibsen both reinforce these roles while tearing them down. There are symbols throughout Ibsen’s plays that help us identify a little clearer which characters are embracing their “appropriate” gender roles and which characters are bucking the system. In The School for Wives, Arnolphe believes that a stupid wife would never be unfaithful. He assumes that an educated woman will always cheat on her husband. He, as a man, believes that he is very intelligent and practically pats himself on the back for his plan. When Agnes was four she became his ward and he sent her to the convent and instructed the nuns to not educate her so she would be simple-minded (Moliere 18-19). The problem with this plan is that Arnolphe has failed to understand two things. People don’t cheat because they are
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