Gorgibus wants his daughter, Celie, to marry a rich man, Valere, instead of Lelie, whom she loves. Celie, lamenting this turn of events while her beloved is away, faints. Her maid catches her and calls out for help. Sganarelle, who happens to be passing, runs over to hold Celie while her maid runs for aid. Sganarelle's wife, however, sees him holding Celie and suspects the worst. She finds a portrait of Lelie, dropped by Celie when she fainted, and admires his good looks. Sganarelle returns and sees his wife gazing at the portrait, and he too suspects an affair. They argue and run off just as Lelie arrives home, after hearing rumors of Celie's wedding plans. Sganarelle enters again, holding the portrait, and Lelie is shocked. He asks Sganarelle how he came to have the portrait, and Sganarelle replies that he took it from his wife. Sganarelle's wife comes back and finds Lelie now ready to faint, so she invites him into their home to rest. Sganarelle, of course, then sees Lelie with his wife, and his suspicions are confirmed. But Celie also sees Lelie leaving the house, and approaches Sganarelle, who tells her that Lelie has cuckolded him with his wife. Celie is stunned and decides that she will then marry the rich man. The two, now estranged lovers, then meet and are trading recriminations, when Sganarelle returns in full armor and carrying a sword, ready to kill Lelie, but lacking the courage. Sganarelle's wife then enters and upbraids Celie for stealing her husband away. None of the offended lovers are specific in their accusations, and confusion reigns until Celie's down to earth maid resolves everything by asking some direct questions and setting everyone straight. Things still look bleak for the young lovers, however, as Gorgibus still insists that Celie marry the rich man, but just then Valere's father arrives to announce that he has discovered that his son married secretly four months ago, freeing Celie and Lelie to marry after all.
A model Molière farce of misunderstanding and mistaken identity, that grows more tangled with every passing scene. The play takes so many twists it seems all of the knots will never be untied, and all the characters reconciled. Richard Wilbur has once again provided a sparkling new translation of the comic French master's work.