Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, Moliére
, considered the greatest French dramatist and the father of modern French comedy, was born on le 15 janvier 1622
The son of a prosperous upholsterer, Poquelin lost his mother when still a child. He entered the prestigious Jesuits' Collège de Clermont
, for his studies. Poquelin became a close friend of the abbé
, abbot, La Mothe Le Vayer, son of François de La Mothe-Le-Vayer, in the years in which the abbé was editing his father's works. It has been suggested that Poquelin may have been influenced by them. Among Poquelin's first works was a now lost translation of De Rerum Natura
by the Roman philosopher Lucretius. When Poquelin reached the age of 18, his father passed on to him the title of Tapissier du Roi
, and the associated office of valet de chambre
, which brought him into frequent contact with the king.
In June 1643, together with his lover Madeleine Béjart and a brother and sister of hers, he founded the theatre company or troupe of L'Illustre Théâtre
, which became bankrupt in 1645. At this time he assumed the pseudonym of Molière, possibly inspired by a small village of the same name in Southern France close to Le Vigan. The failure of the company caused him to spend some weeks in prison for debt. He was freed by the help of his father, and he left with Madeleine for a tour of villages as a travelling comedian. This life lasted for 14 years, during which he initially played with the companies of Charles Dufresne, and subsequently created a company of his own. In the course of his travels he met the prince of Conti, the governor of Languedoc, who became his patron, and he named his company after the prince. This friendship would end later, when Conti joined Molière's enemies in the Parti des Dévots
In Lyons, Mme Duparc, famous as la Marquise
, joined the company. La Marquise was courted, in vain, by playwright Pierre Corneille and later became the lover of another writer, Jean Racine. Racine offered Molière his tragedy Théagène et Chariclée
, one of the first works he wrote after he had left his theology studies, but Molière did not perform it, though he encouraged Racine to pursue his artistic career.
Molière reached Paris in 1658 and played at la Louvre
, part of which was at the time for rent as a theatre, in Corneille's tragedy Nicomède
and the farce Le docteur amoureux
, "Doctor in Love," with some success. He was awarded the title of Troupe de Monsieur
; the Monsieur was the brother of King Louis XIV. With the help of Monsieur, Moliére's company joined a locally famous Italian company that played Commedia dell'arte
. He became firmly established at their theatre Petit-Bourbon, where on le 18 novembre 1659
he gave the premier of Les Précieuses Ridicules
, "The Affected Young Ladies," one of his masterpieces. This was really the first of his many attempts to make fun of certain mannerisms and affectations then common in France. It was Molière who coined the phrase that satire castigat ridendo mores
, "criticises customs through humour."
A 1747 edition of the works of Moliére
Despite his own preference for tragedy, Molière became famous for his farces, which were generally in one act and performed after the tragedy. Some of these farces were only partly written, and were played in the style of Commedia dell'arte
with improvisation over a canovaccio
. He also wrote two comedies in verse, but these were less successful and are generally considered to be of less significance.
"Les Précieuses" won Molière the attention and the criticism of many, but it was not a popular success. He then asked his Italian partner Tiberio Fiorelli, famous for his play Scaramouche, to teach him the techniques of Commedia dell'arte. His 1660 play Sganarelle, ou le Cocu imaginaire
, "The Imaginary Cuckold," seems to be a tribute both to Commedia dell'arte and to his teacher. The theme of marital relationships was here enriched by the insertion of a view of Molière's about the amount of falseness in the human relationships, which he depicted with a degree of pessimism. This was evident in his later works also, and was a source of inspiration for many later authors.
In 1661, in order to please his patron, Monsieur, he wrote and played Dom Garcie de Navarre, ou le Prince jaloux
, "The Jealous Prince," a heroic comedy derived from a work of Cicognini's. Monsieur was Philippe, Duke of Orléans, who was so enthralled with entertainment and art that he was soon excluded by his brother, Louis XIV, from the state affairs. Two other comedies of the same year were the successful L'École des maris
, "The School for Husbands," and Les Fâcheux
, subtitled Comédie faite pour les divertissements du Roi
, "A Comedy for the King's Amusements," because it was performed during a series of parties that Nicolas Fouquet gave in honour of Louis XIV at Vaux-le-Vicomte
. These entertainments were among the excuses used by Louis XIV's nefarious Prime Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert to demand the arrest of Fouquet for waste of public money, and Fouquet's condemnation to life imprisonment.
In 1662 Molière moved to the Théâtre du Palais-Royal
, still with his Italian partners. That same year, at age 40 married 17 year-old Armande, whom he believed to be the sister of Madeleine, whom Molière had not married. The same year he played L'École des femmes
, "The School for Wives," another masterpiece. Both this work and his marriage attracted much criticism. On the artistic side he responded with two minor yet elegant and interesting works, La Critique de "l'École des femmes"
(in which he imagined the spectators of his previous work attending it) and L'Impromptu de Versailles
, about Molière's troupe preparing an improvisation. This was the so-called la guerre comique
, Comedy War, in which the opposite side was taken by writers like Donneau de Visé, Boursault, Montfleury.
But more serious and less artistic opposition was abrewing. The parti des Dévots
arose in French high society, protesting against Molière's excessive "realism" and his irreverence, which were causing some embarrassment; these people accused him also of having married his daughter; the Prince of Conti too, once his friend, joined them. Molière had other enemies, too, among them some traditional authors. However, the king expressed his solidarity with the author, granting him a pension and agreeing to be the godfather of Molière's first son. Boileau also supported him through statements that he included in his Art poétique
Molière's friendship with composer Jean Baptiste Lully influenced him towards writing his Le Mariage forcé
and La Princesse d'Élide
(subtitled as "Comédie galante mêlée de musique et d'entrées de ballet"), written for royal divertissements
Le Tartuffe, ou L'Imposteur
was performed at Versailles in 1664 and created the greatest scandal of Molière's artistic career. Its description of the general hypocrisy of the dominant classes was taken as an outrage and violently contested. Louis XIV allegedly suggested that he suspend the performances, and Molière rapidly wrote Dom Juan, ou le Festin de Pierre
to replace it. It was a strange work, derived from a work by Tirso de Molina and inspired by the life of Giovanni Tenorio, rendered in a prose that still seems modern today; it describes the story of an atheist who becomes a religious hypocrite and for this is punished by God. This work too was quickly suspended. The king, demonstrating his protection once again, became the new official sponsor of Molière's troupe.
With great music by Lully, Molière presented L'Amour médecin
, "Love Doctor;" subtitles on this occasion reported that the work was given "par ordre du Roi", by order of the king, and this work received a much warmer reception than its predecessors.
In 1666, Le Misanthrope
was produced. It is now widely regarded as Molière's most refined masterpiece, the one with the highest moral content, but it was little appreciated at its time. It caused the "conversion" of Donneau de Vasé, who became fond of his theatre. But it was a commercial failure, forcing Molière to immediately write the Le Médecin malgré lui
, "A Doctor Despite Himself," a satire against the official sciences; this was a success despite a moral treatise by the Prince of Conti, criticizing the theatre in general and Molière's in particular. In several of his plays, Molière depicted the physicians of his day as pompous individuals who speak (poor) latin in order to impress others with false erudition, and know only clysters and bleedings as (ineffective) remedies.
After the Mélicerte
and the Pastorale comique
, he tried again to perform Tartuffe
in 1667, this time with the name of Panulphe, L'imposteur
. But as soon as the king left Paris for a tour, Lamoignon and the archibishop banned the play (the king finally imposed respect for this work a few years later, when he had gained more absolute power over the clergy).
Molière now ill, reduced his output. Le Sicilien, ou l'Amour peintre
was written for festivities at the castle of Saint-Germain, and was followed in 1668 by a very elegant Amphitryon
, obviously inspired by Plautus's version but with evident allusions to the king's love affairs. George Dandin, ou le Mari confondu
, "The Confounded Husband," was little appreciated, but success returned with L'Avare
,"The Miser," now very well known.
With Lully he again used music for Monsieur de Pourceaugnac
, for Les Amants magnifiques
, and finally for Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme
, "The Would-Be Gentleman," another of his masterpieces. It is claimed to be particularly directed against Colbert, the minister who had condemned his old patron Fouquet. The collaboration with Lully ended with a tragic ballet, Psyché, written with the help of Thomas Corneille (brother of Pierre).
In 1671 Molière gave a successful farce and comedy, Les Fourberies de Scapin
, "Scapin's Schemings."
Les Femmes savantes
, "Learned Ladies," of 1672, was a masterpiece born of the end of possible use of music in theatre, since Lully had somehow patented the opera in France, so Molière had to go back to his traditional genre. Les Femmes savantes
was a real success.
One of the most famous moments in Molière's life is the last, which became proverbial: he died of a hemorrhage on stage on le 17 fevriér 1673
, while performing Le Malade imaginaire
, "The Imaginary Illness," or "The Hypochondriac." He died without sacraments because two priests refused to visit him because he was an actor, a third priest who consented to come, arrived too late. It is said that he was wearing yellow, and because of that, there is a superstition that yellow brings bad luck to actors.
As an actor, he was not allowed by the laws of the time to be buried in an ordinary cemetery, in sacred ground. It was his wife Armande who asked the king Louis XIV to allow a "normal" funeral celebrated at night. In 1792 his remains were brought to the museum of French monuments and in 1817 transferred to Cimetière Père-Lachaise
, Paris, close to Fouquet's friend, the writer, La Fontaine.
Tombs of Molière (right) and La Fontaine in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, XX ème arrondissement
Moliére's Lasting Impact on Culture
Many words or phrases used in Molière's places are still used in current French and many have found their way into English:
• A tartuffe
is a hypocrite, especially a hypocrite displaying affected morality or religious piety.
• A harpagon
, named after the main character of "The Miser", is an obsessively greedy and cheap man.
• The statue of the Commander (statue du Commandeur) from Don Juan is used as a comparison for implacable rigidity (raide comme la statue du Commandeur).
• Don Juan is used as a depreciative qualificative for males who seduce women with false pretenses, then drop them.
• In Les Fourberies de Scapin
, Act II, scene 7, Géronte is asked for ransom money for his son, allegedly held in a galley. He repeats, "What the devil was he doing in that galley?" ("Que diable allait-il faire dans cette galère?") The word galère ("galley") is used in French nowadays to mean "a cumbersome, painful affair", often with this sentence from Les Fourberies de Scapin.
• In Le Bourgeois gentillhomme
, the title character, M. Jourdain, learns to write a love letter based on the sentence "Beautiful marchioness, your beautiful eyes make me die from love" ("Belle marquise, vos beaux yeux me font mourir d'amour"). His poetry teacher invites him to shuffle the words in nearly every single way ("Beautiful marchioness, from love," etc.) only to admit, eventually, that the initial phrasing was the best. Nowadays, the phrase "Belle marquise..." indicates that two sentences have actually the same meaning .
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The School for Wives, and the Learned Ladies
The Misanthrope and Tartuffe