In Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts and Moliere’s The School for Wives, the playwrights portray the concept of male domination with the help of the relationships between the characters. Ibsen depicts male dominance in the late 1800 Norwegian society mainly through the characters of Mr. Manders and Mrs. Alving. On the other hand, Moliere portrays male dominance in French Renaissance society using the characters of Arnolphe and Agnes. The playwrights portray their societies through miniature household with stereotypical characters. Male domination in both the plays is depicted by the careful use of speech, actions and social beliefs. This similarity reflects upon the two 17th century European societies, the Norwegian and the French Renaissance. The writers establish differences in perception using characterization. The use of rhetoric speeches of Mr. Manders in Ghosts shows that domination in Norwegian society is elusive. At the same time, the use of simple language in The School for Wives illustrates male domination that is prominent in the French Renaissance society. Important aspects of culture and society have also been incorporated in the two plays.
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In Ghosts, and School for Wives the playwrights convey male dominance through dialogue and action. However, the difference lies in the manner of portrayal. Ibsen employs ideas and social norms in his speech to bring out the oppressive character of Mr. Manders and to influence Mrs. Alving. The insurance of the orphanage is an example of indirect influence being employed as a tool to dominate. After Mrs. Alving decides to insure the orphanage, Mr. Manders asks, “But what about the opinion of the people hereabouts?”  The ultimate aim of Mr. Manders is to avoid judgment by public. The character of Mr. Manders allows Ibsen to present the thoughts of common people in the Norwegian society who do not have the courage to deter from the norms of society. The issues in a domestic household such as the conflict between Mr. and Mrs. Alving act as a microscopic portrayal of Norwegian society. It is evident that this portrayal of male dominance in Ghosts was not approved by the Norwegian norm as it was banned from being staged in a number of theatres in Scandinavia.
Similarly, Moliere depicts complete male dominance through words and actions. The character of Arnolphe is used to bring out the theme of oppression of women. Arnolphe’s dialogue and soliloquys are used for this purpose. For example, he controls the upbringing of Agnes and restricts her right to modern education. Arnolphe says, “A wife who writes knows more than can be good for her.”  This excerpt of Arnophe’s speech shows that the society presented in the play saw educated women as unsuitable wives. Arnolphe acts as a “director” when he says, “A trusty soldier knows his place, however hard, and shows obedience to the captain of the guard; a valet serves his master, and a child obeys his father, and a priest does what the bishop says”  . In this speech, Moliere metaphorically compares the inferior ranks of professions to women and the superior to men in French household. This quote also shows that hierarchy and domination exist in all parts of the French society as presented in the play. The God-like figure of Arnolphe is often portrayed throughout the play as he says “She never should presume to look him in the face- Except if he looks kind, and smiles at her with grace.”  It also suggests that the admiration that men receive from women and society is like a myth or action that is supposed to be done disregards to the individual person. The Maxims of Marriage mentioned in Act III Scene II of the play is the portrayal of male domination in French Renaissance society. Each maxim topic depicts the traits expected by the husband in an ideal wife. For instance, the maxim states that a good wife must not “dress to tease” or “must never play cards  “. The wives must obey the maxim as a bible whether they want to or not. Through this, Moliere portrays a French domestic household and complete male dominance in a marriage.
Another technique of the playwrights in portraying male domination is through characterization and the different traits between the male and female characters. In Ghosts, Mrs. Alving and Mr. Manders are the two extreme opposite characters. Ibsen makes Mr. Manders a dutiful priest who represents conservative society while he makes Mrs. Alving a widow who represents modern beliefs and radical thoughts. This characterization technique is a tool enabling the male characters to influence the female characters. By doing this, Ibsen portrays various conflicting beliefs and ideas that exist in the Norwegian society: conservative and unorthodox.
Similarly, in the play The School for Wives, Moliere uses characterization to portray male dominance. Arnolphe is a man of society who has wealth and property to his name. On the other hand, Agnes is portrayed at the beginning of the play to be an orphan with no wealth or status. She is uneducated and very young compared to Arnolphe. The relationship between Arnolphe and Agnes acts as a mirror image to the French Society. The age difference and the lack of education of women make it possible for men to control women’s life in all aspects as Arnolphe says “Whichever way I choose, I’ll shape her very life- I’ll mould her in my hands, just like a lump of wax, and then I’ll sculpt her, in whatever form she lacks.”  An image of a toy or a figure being created out of clay is portrayed. This speech of Arnolphe, represent men in society, means that men do not want to marry a specific woman but they want to marry anyone who is, according to them, an ideal wife. In Act III, scene IV, this lengthy passage illustrates that he wanted to marry a woman who fitted in his vision of idealism in a marriage. Arnorphe’s soliloquy is an insight to the insecurities of French men in the 17th century. Moliere devoted a scene for this lengthy speech of Arnolphe to tell the audience about the selfish thoughts of men. The structure of this passage also shows Moliere’s use of punctuations to increase the pace of the monologue. It also makes the audience feel like Arnolphe is reciting a lyrical poem; hence the audience is kept interested until the end of the scene. The importance given to this scene by Moliere suggests that male dominance is a main theme which he wants to bring out in this play.
The playwrights use some of the elements of the society as a tool to portray male dominance. In Ghosts, Ibsen depicts male dominance through concepts of duties, public opinions and individual beliefs as themes. For instance, Mr. Manders says “What right have we to happiness? No! we must do our duty, Mrs. Alving.”  This emphasizes the idea of conservatism in the Norwegian society. General responsibility regardless to the personal situation or feeling applies to everyone in the society.
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Similarly, Moliere depicts male dominance using tools such as education, naivety and religion in the play The School for wives. The restriction of basic rights of Agnes is can be viewed as immoral, but at that point of time, men considered it to be a venture as Arnolphe says “Then you’ll see the result of my experiment,”  Religion is used to portray men as God-like figure in society. “And the profound respect she must show, in a word, to him, for he’s her husband, ruler, chief and lord,”  This part of Arnolphe’s speech illustrates the overall image of relationship between husbands and wives in the French renaissance society. Men are not only husbands but also the owners of the wives. Naivety plays an important role in allowing men to dominate women’s thoughts. “I want her ignorant, since all she needs to know is how to love me, pray to God, and spin and sew.”  This quote again emphasizes the point that stereotypical husbands do not want educated wives because they are considered too intelligent to be a good wife. The only qualities needed in a perfect wife are adeptness at chores and respect their husbands. Moliere employs Arnolphe’s speech to bring out the image of who was believed to be an ideal wife in renaissance society.
In conclusion, Ibsen and Moliere represent their views on male dominance in Norwegian and French Renaissance societies respectively through Ghosts and The School for Wives. Using light hearted farce and comical elements, Moliere depicts human folly and elaborates the hidden motives such as fear of power of women.  Similarly, Ibsen attacks the sanctity of marriage and identity of women.  He accomplishes the aim of portraying taboos and making an impact on the Norwegian society. By analyzing these two plays, we understand the nature and culture of Norwegian and French societies. Male dominance exists in all societies but it is portrayed in a various ways depending on the nature of the society.
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