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Molière Molière[1†]

Molière, born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin in 1622 Paris, was a pioneering French playwright and actor renowned for transforming comedy. His works span comedies, farces, and tragicomedies, influencing the French language profoundly. His notable plays include "Tartuffe" (Le Tartuffe, or L’Imposteur), "The School for Wives" (L'École des femmes), and "The Bourgeois Gentleman" (Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme), which continue to shape theatrical traditions worldwide. His comedic vision, blending satire with human folly, endures as a cornerstone of global literature[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière, was born on January 15, 1622, in the heart of Paris[2†][3†]. His mother, who he was extremely close to, passed away when he was just 10 years old[2†][3†]. His father, a prosperous tapestry maker, was one of the appointed furnishers of the royal household[2†][3†][4†]. Despite the early loss of his mother, Molière had a relatively comfortable childhood[2†][3†].

Molière received a good education at the Collège de Clermont, a school renowned for training many brilliant Frenchmen, including Voltaire[2†]. This institution, later known as the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, was one of France’s finest schools[2†][3†]. After completing his elementary education, he briefly pursued a career in law and worked under Louis XIII until the king’s death in 1643[2†][3†].

However, Molière’s passion for theatre led him to abandon his legal career and his father’s trade. In 1643, he co-founded the L’Illustre Theatre with a modest investment of 630 livres[2†][3†]. It was at this point that he adopted the stage name 'Molière’[4†].

Career Development and Achievements

Molière’s career in theatre began in his early 20s when he founded his own theatre company, the Illustre Theatre[1†][5†]. His company toured the French provinces for several years before securing the patronage of King Louis XIV’s brother in 1658 at a performance given at the Louvre[1†][5†]. With the advantage of royal patronage, Molière’s company began to grow in prestige[1†][5†].

Molière was not just a playwright, but also a skilled actor and stage director[1†][6†]. He poured his efforts into his theatre for the remaining 30 years of his life[1†]. His work combined elements of Commedia dell’arte with the more refined French comedy[1†]. He is hailed as the greatest writer of French comedy and has shaped modern dramatic comedy[1†][7†].

Some of his most notable works include “Tartuffe” (Le Tartuffe, or L’Imposteur), “The School for Wives” (L’École des femmes), “Le Misanthrope”, “The Bourgeois Gentleman” (Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme), and many others[1†][2†][1†]. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed at the Comédie-Française more often than those of any other playwright today[1†].

Despite the adulation of the court and Parisians, Molière’s satires attracted criticism from other circles. For “Tartuffe”'s impiety, the Catholic Church in France denounced this study of religious hypocrisy, which was followed by a ban by the Parlement, while “Dom Juan” was withdrawn and never restaged by Molière[1†].

Molière’s career was not without its hardships. His hard work in so many theatrical capacities took its toll on his health and, by 1667, he was forced to take a break from the stage[1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Molière’s works are renowned for their wit, humor, and insight into the human condition. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed at the Comédie-Française more often than those of any other playwright today[1†]. Here are some of his main works:

These are just a few examples of Molière’s prolific output. His works continue to be celebrated for their timeless themes and enduring humor[1†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Molière’s work is celebrated for its brilliant imagination, keen observation of humanity, and its basis in truth[9†]. His comedies, which range from the most farcical to the most subtle, are carefully constructed to make the spectator laugh at humanity[9†]. Despite their universality, Molière’s characters are complex, each possessing general traits observed and abstracted from reality, yet endowed with enough particulars to make each a real human being[9†].

Molière’s plays compose a portrait of all levels of 17th-century French society and are marked by their good-humoured and intelligent mockery of human vices, vanities, and follies[9†][8†]. His works, such as “The School for Wives” (L'École des Femmes), “Tartuffe”, “The Misanthrope” (Le Misanthrope or L'Atrabilaire Amoureux), “The Miser” (L'Avare), “The Bourgeois Gentleman” (Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme), and “The Imaginary Invalid” (Le Malade imaginaire), provide a thorough exploration of the plot, characters, and main themes, including greed, love, marriage, religious hypocrisy, and the critique of social norms[9†][10†].

Molière made special use of those observations that could make the spectator laugh at humanity[9†]. Especially telling is Molière’s device of making certain characters repeat words and gestures that reveal the vice or passion that controls each[9†]. By this technique, the characters are reduced almost to the status of machines and thus inspire, not sympathy or pity, but ridicule[9†].

Molière’s work has had a profound influence on French literature and drama. His plays are still performed today, and his comedic style has influenced countless playwrights and authors[9†].

Personal Life

Molière, born as Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, was known to keep his personal life quite private. Despite his fame and influence, he left no trace of his personal life in the form of journals, correspondence, or even notes on his work. This has led to a certain level of mystery surrounding his personal affairs.

However, it is known that Molière was married to Armande Béjart[1†], a member of the Béjart family, a famous theatrical family of the 17th century. The couple had four children, but tragically, only one of them, Marie Madeleine, survived to adulthood[1†].

Despite his prosperous upbringing and promising inheritance in his father’s upholstery trade, Molière chose to pursue a career in theatre[4†]. This decision indicates a deep passion for the arts and a willingness to follow his own path, even when it diverged from societal expectations[4†].

Molière’s dedication to his craft was so profound that it ultimately contributed to his demise. In 1673, during a production of his final play, “The Imaginary Invalid” (Le Malade imaginaire), Molière, who suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis, was seized by a coughing fit and a haemorrhage while playing the hypochondriac Argan[1†]. He managed to finish the performance but collapsed again and died a few hours later[1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Molière’s legacy is vast and enduring. He is considered the greatest French dramatist and the father of modern French comedy[8†]. His plays, such as “Tartuffe” and “Don Juan”, were scandalous and banned during his lifetime, yet they have since been celebrated for their wit, insight, and critique of society[8†][11†].

Molière elevated comedy to a level of respect and importance once exclusively reserved for tragedy[8†][11†]. His name is often mentioned in the same breath as William Shakespeare and other literary titans[8†][11†]. His plays, which are still regularly performed today, challenged figures of authority like the church, nobles, and even death — but always through the power of laughter[8†][11†].

Despite his success, Molière never ceased to act and direct[8†]. Taken ill during a performance, he died of a hemorrhage within a day and was denied holy burial[8†]. Ironically, he was performing the title role in “The Imaginary Invalid” (Le Malade imaginaire), which ridiculed doctors and medicine[8†][12†].

Molière created a new kind of comedy. In his plays, the comic is based on a double vision that holds together opposing ideas, such as wisdom and folly or right and wrong[8†][2†]. It is testimony to the freshness of his vision that the greatest comic artists working centuries later in other media, such as Charlie Chaplin, have been compared to Molière[2†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Molière [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Molière: French dramatist [website] - link
  3. The Famous People - Moliere Biography [website] - link
  4. Court Theatre - Molière: A Brief Biography [website] - link
  5. Britannica - How did Molière begin his career in theatre? [website] - link
  6. Gradesfixer - Molière: Life and Career [website] - link
  7. CliffsNotes - The Misanthrope - Molière Biography [website] - link
  8. Britannica - Moliére and his contribution to comedy [website] - link
  9. eNotes - Molière Analysis [website] - link
  10. Unknwon error - link
  11. Deutsche Welle - Celebrating Moliere's enduring legacy – DW – 01/15/2022 [website] - link
  12. eNotes - Molière Biography [website] - link
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