Who is Molière ? That the subject of this blog post !
«The road is long from the project to the thing» said so well Molière, in Tartuffe.
Did you know that yesterday, January 15th, was the birthday of Jean Baptiste Poquelin, dit Molière? This author and director rocked our high school years with his plays, which we had to read. We all remember “Le Malade Imaginaire”, “Le Médecin Malgé Lui” or “Le Bourgeois GentilHomme”, but do we really know his life? In this article, you will discover the man behind the curtains.
WHO IS MOLIERE ?
THE CHILDHOOD OF MOLIÈRE
First of all, Molière was born on 15th January 1622 in Paris. He is the eldest of a sibling of 5 children from a family of master upholsterers of the king.
(What does Master Upholsterer mean?: The King’s Room includes a hundred people: it includes eight upholsterers who are responsible for making the monarch’s bed, to arrange the tapestries in the royal apartments, during the movements of the Court, and to watch over the furniture.)
In addtition, Molière lost his mother when he was ten. He began his studies at the prestigious Jesuit college in Clermont (the current Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris) to learn humanities and philosophy. After that, he practised a few months as a lawyer and then inherited the office of upholsterer from the king. He took an early interest in the theatre 🎭, under the influence of his grandfather who took him to see the shows of the Hôtel de Bourgogne.
JEAN BAPTISTE BECAME MOLIÈRE
Then, in 1643, with the actress Madeleine Béjart (an actress famous for her beauty and the variety of her acting) and her troupe, he founded “L’Illustre Théâtre” and became “Molière”, but in view of the competition, “l’Illustre Théâtre” went bankrupt in 1645. However, he did not abandon his theatre dreams and he joined a touring troupe with the Béjarts in the provinces. The troupe is under the protection of the Prince de Conti, governor of Languedoc. Molière began writing for the company : farces, then comedies 🎭. But the prince de Conti, who had become a devotee, withdrew his support from the actors and the troupe left the province for Paris, where Molière obtained the protection of Philippe d’Orléans, dit «Monsieur», the king’s only brother.
TO THE KING’S COURT
On October 24th, 1658, the troupe began before the Court. They performed at the Louvre in front of Louis XIV, Anne of Austria, Mazarin and the actors of the Hôtel de Bourgogne. They play successively “Nicomède” from Corneille and a farce of Molière that has not been preserved, “Le Docteur amoureux”.
On November 18th 1659, he staged “Les Précieuses Ridicules”, in which he played the role of the valet Mascarille. This piece will be a triumphant success and creates a fashion effect. The success was such that one came to Paris from twenty leagues round to have the entertainment. The subject is copied and taken up again but Molière makes print his piece hastily because we try to steal it from him. This is the first time he has published, he now has the status of author 🎭.
THE PRIVACY OF MOLIÈRE
On January 23rd 1662, Molière, 40 years old, signed a marriage contract with Armande Béjart, about 20 years old, whom he married religiously on February 20th. On both occasions, the young woman is said to be the daughter of Joseph Béjart and Marie Hervé, and sister of Madeleine Béjart. However, some contemporaries saw her as Madeleine’s daughter.
They had two sons, who died very young, and a daughter, Esprit-Madeleine, who died in 1723 without descendants. They also had a daughter and son, who died just after they were born.
At the age of 43, he has lung fluxion, an acute inflammation of the lung.
However, he does not stop there and continues to stage these theatrical works, despite his illness.
From 1664, and for eight years, Molière and Lully, superintendent of royal music, collaborated successfully: Lully composing the music of Molière’s comedies for the great royal feasts.
As far as his plays are concerned, Molière has made, during his life, plays of theatres in different forms: the farce and the comedy with “Le Médecin Malgré Lui“, the satirical comedy with “Le Malade Imaginaire“, the mythological comedy with “L’Avare“, the comedy-ballet with “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme“, the comedy of manners with “Les Précieuses Ridicules“, the comedy of character (“Tartuffe“), the philosophical comedy (“Dom Juan“) and the serious genre (“Psyché“).
Some of these pieces are failures, others provoke scandals such as “L’Ecole des Femmes” in 1664 which is accused of being blasphemous or as “Tartuffe” in 1664, which is forbidden by the devotees. On the other hand, between 1668 and 1670, “L’Avare” and “Le Bourgeois GentilHomme” were triumphs.
On February 17th 1672, Madeleine Béjart died, a year to the day before Molière. She was buried under the mass graves of the church of Saint-Paul. She received the last sacraments, after having signed (under duress) the act of solemn renunciation to the profession of actress.
On February 17th 1673, during the fourth performance of “Le Malade Imaginaire” 🎭, a malaise seized him on stage, because of his lung problem. Taken to his home on Rue de Richelieu, he died in the evening.
Since Molière had not signed a renunciation of his profession as an actor, he could not receive a religious burial because the ritual of the diocese of Paris required a renunciation in writing or before a priest. The Church is embarrassed. And, on the other hand, denying a Christian burial to such a well-known man risked shocking the public. The solution was to address the archbishop of Paris, which Armande did on 18th February. But unfortunately this did not take place and she threw herself at the king’s feet to have a dignified burial. Thanks to the king’s intervention, Molière’s body was given a night-time burial at Saint-Joseph Cemetery without “solemn service”. This cemetery was located between the streets of Croissant, Montmartre and Saint-Joseph in Paris. It is closed around 1781 and is destroyed around 1796.
On July 6th 1792, the revolutionary authorities had the remains of Molière exhumed in the cemetery of the East, the present Père-Lachaise, where he received a definitive place on May 2nd 1817.
L’École des Femmes 🎭
L’École des femmes is a comedy written by Molière whose first performance took place on December 26th 1662 . It was the most successful play and reported the most to Molière’s troupe. This comedy in five acts deals with the place of women in the society of the seventeenth century and criticism of the manners of the time. L’École des Femmes had caused a scandal at the time: Molière was accused of putting too serious subjects on the comic theatre (the moral and religious education of women).
Summary of the play:
The play features Agnès, a naive and submissive girl who is forced to marry Arnolphe, an old man she does not love but who raised her since childhood. She is placed under the supervision of Alain and Georgette who are stupid servants. Arnolphe fears one thing above all else: to be a cheated husband.
The Misanthrope 🎭
The Misanthrope is a comedy in five acts and verses by Molière. This play is also called l’Atrabilaire amoureux. It was first performed on June 4th 1666 on the stage of the Palais-Royal. The subtitle «or l’Atrabilaire amoureux» does not appear in the published editions of this piece but only in the manuscript mention of Molière for the printing of his piece.
Summary of the play:
The main character is called Alceste. He hates humanity because he finds men hypocrites, fearful and full of compromises. Alceste is a misanthrope. However, he passionately loves a woman with a forked tongue and very coquettish; her name is Célimène.
Le Médecin Malgré Lui 🎭
Le Médecin malgré lui is a play by Molière in three acts in prose performed for the first time on August 6th 1666 at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal, where it obtained a great success.
The parody of the medical practices of the time constitute the main themes of Le Médecin Malgré Lui, concealing a denunciation of charlatanism, a satire of credulity, even a critique of religion.
L’Avare is a comedy by Molière in five acts and prose and performed for the first time on the stage of the Palais-Royal on September 9th, 1668.
Summary of the play:
Harpagon, a rich old man, subjected all his household to his blind and tyrannical passion for money. His avarice hinders his children’s love projects, leads him to suspect his loved ones and makes his servants want to deceive him.
Tartuffe ou l’Imposteur 🎭
Tartuffe or the Impostor is a comedy by Molière in five acts and verse premiered on February 5th 1669 on the stage of the Palais-Royal Theatre.
A first version in three acts was given, under the title The Tartuffe or the Hypocrite, at the Palace of Versailles, on May 12th 1664, before Louis XIV and his court. At the request of the archbishop of Paris, the king forbade public representations of it. Molière undertook to rework his play to make it less provocative, and on August 5th 1667, at the Palais-Royal, the troupe gave a five-act version entitled L’Imposteur. Forbidden in turn, it has only one representation. Eighteen months later, the final version was approved and was a huge public success.
Summary of the play:
It is the story of a false devotee who tries by all means to deceive Orgon (the householder) and his mother Mme Pernelle who have total confidence in Tartuffe. But, the rest of the family has unmasked the imposter’s game and is trying at all costs to open their eyes to Orgon and Mme Pernelle.
Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme 🎭
Le Bourgeois gentilhomme is a comedy-ballet by Molière, in three and then five acts in prose (except for the ballet entries that are in verse), first performed on October 14th 1670, in front of the court of Louis XIV, at the castle of Chambord by the troupe of Molière. The music is by Jean-Baptiste Lully.
This show is much appreciated by Louis XIV who imposes it on his rather hostile courtiers.
Summary of the play:
Mr. Jourdain is a rich bourgeois whose obsession is to belong to the nobility. He strives to achieve this by acquiring the necessary manners and culture by multiplying the private lessons (music, dance, fencing, philosophy). Although married, he coveted a marquise who played him with the complicity of his lover, Count Dorante. Mr. Jourdain’s daughter, Lucile, loves Cléonte but the father opposes their marriage because he is not noble. So the young people will use a ploy to get his approval, using his taste for honors…
Les Femmes Savantes 🎭
Les Femmes savantes is a comedy of character by Molière, in five acts and verse, premiered on March 11th 1672 by the Troupe du Roy at the Palais-Royal.
Summary of the Exhibit:
This literary work transcribes the story of three bourgeois women (Philaminte, Bélise and Armande) passionate about science and poetry, manipulated by a false scholar (Trissotin), whose intentions are only arrivistic and opportunistic. These «Learned Women» try, as best as they can, to impose themselves on the other members of the family, who undertake to reveal the true nature of this pedantic poet.
Le Malade Imaginaire 🎭
Le Malade imaginaire, the last dramatic work written by Molière, is a comedy-ballet in three acts and in prose, premiered on February 10th 1673 by the King’s Company on the stage of the Palais-Royal in Paris.
Summary of the play:
Argan, a bourgeois, still thinks he is sick; his wife gives him attentive care, but waits only for his death to be able to inherit. He is treated by doctors who are more concerned to please their patient than the health of the patient. For his master to eat well, Toinette, his servant, disguised himself as a doctor and gave him more reasonable advice.
He would prefer to see his daughter married to Thomas Diafoirus, the son of a doctor, rather than Cléante, whose daughter is in love with her because Cléante is poor. Toinette recommends that Argan make the death and observe the reactions of his family….
And you, what is your favorite Molière play?
I hope that this article will make you want to review or reread the plays of this great author!
And as always… Be curious!