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||Molière (1622-1673) - pseudonym of JEAN BAPTISTE POQUELIN|
French actor and playwright, the greatest of all writers of French comedy. Among Molière's best-known dramas are L'École des femmes (1662, School for Wives), Tartuffe, ou, L'imposteur (1664, Tartuffe, or the Impostor), Le Misanthrope (1666, The Misanthrope), L'Avare (1668, The Miser), and Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (1670, The Bourgeois Gentleman). His masterpieces are those plays in which, attacking hypocrisy and vice, he created characters that have become immortal types, such as the hypochondriac Argan, Tartuffe, the hypocrite, Harpagon, the miser, and Alceste, the misanthrope. Like Shakespeare, Molière was an actor-manager, but his plays were comedies and had happy endings.
"If everyone were clothed with integrity, if every heart were just, frank, kindly, the other virtues would be well-night useless, since their chief purpose is to make us bear with patience the injustice of our fellows." (from Le Misanthrope, 1666)
was born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin in Paris, the son of Jean Poquelin, a
prosperous upholsterer and furniture merchant, and Marie Cressé, whose
father was also a
merchant-upholsterer. Their matrimonial bed was made of walnut and it
had olive green wool curtains, decorated with silk and lace. Marie
Cressé gave birth in it to her first son, Jean-Babtiste, and five more
children; she died when Jean-Babtiste was ten. Their house is thought to have been on the Rue St Honore. The
an old bourgeois family, perhaps originally of Scottish origin.
Molière's father was a descendant of a long
line of Beauvais tradesmen.
Molière studied until 1639 with Jesuits at the Collège de Clermont, where he had a strict upbringing, but he also received a solid education in the classics of Latin and Greek literature. After studying law at the Université d'Orléans, he abandoned his social class and family's plans for his future for the theatre. With his companion Madeleine Béjart and her family, he cofounded the Illustre Théâtre. The company members were mostly young and inexperienced, but their aim was to compete with the established theatre companies.
Located in the less fashionable suburb of St-Germain-des-près, the Illustre Théâtre survived for nearly eighteen months, and eventually moved to the provinces. The theatre had sufficient success and it obtained the patronage of Philippe d'Orléans. Molière worked constantly, directing and writing plays heavily influence by the Italian commedia dell'arte. Moreover, he nearly always acted in the lead role himself. According to an actress, Mlle Poissa, Angélique Du Croisy, who was fifteen when Molière died, he was "neither too fat nor too thin; he was more tall than short, he had a noble bearing and a handsome leg; he walked slowly, gravely, with a very serious air. His nose was large, as was his mouth; he had thick lips, a dark complexion, heavy black brows, the various movements of which made his expression very comical . . . Nature . . . had refused him those external gifts so necessary to the stage, especially for tragic roles."
After almost fifteen years experience of
acting, managing, and writing, Molière returned to Paris. Little is
know of his life in the provinces. His translation of Lucretius has
been lost. In 1658 Molière performed before the King Louis XIV Corneille's Nicomède and his own farce, Le Docteur amoureux,
organized a regular theatre, the Théâtre du Petit Bourbon, under the
patronage of the brother of the
king. After a difficult start, Molière's plays enjoyed popularity. By
1661, Molière and his troupe had the privilege of performing in
the prestigious Palais Royal, the best theater in Paris.
Later in life Molière concentrated on writing musical comedies, in
which the drama is interrupted by songs and dance or a combination of
both. In 1662 he married nearly twenty years younger capricious, giddy
Armande Béjart, who may have been the illegitimate daughter of his
former mistress, Madeleine Béjart. Armande soon antagonized a
number of his friends. The issue of her parentage has never been
settled. It has been suggested that she was the daughter of Madeleine
and Molière himself, whose enemies took advantage of this confusion.
Armande played mostly female leads and love interests. Some anecdotes
recorded in an anonymous pamphlet entitled La Fameuse Comédienne (1687) suggest that she had one of more affairs. In L'Impromptu de Versailles (1663) Molière's famous line to Armande on stage is, "Shut up, wife, you're an idiot."
During his early years in Paris, among Molière's close friends were La Fontaine, Claude Chapelle, and Racine. Molière achieved fame with the prose comedy Les Précieuses ridicules, first performed November 18, 1659 at the Théâtre du Petit-Bourbon. The author himself played successfully the Marquis de Mascarille, actually a disguised servant, and nearly adopted "Mascarille" as a new stage name. He soon had his own theatre, which was competing with Racine´s stage plays at the Hôtel de Bourgogne.
The Shool for Wives (1662) is generally regarded as the first of Molière's masterpieces, but it was criticized by the actors at the Hôtel de Bourgogne, who were jealous of the king's patronage. This comedy poked fun at the limited education that was given to daughters of rich families, and reflected the Molière's own marriage. "It's an odd job, making decent people laugh," says Dorante in La Critique de l'école des femmes. Moliére was among the few contemporary writers who had maintained the connection with the folk poetry of the Middle Ages. His characters were conceived in the French classic tradition, and compared to Shakespeare's individuals. Molière misanthropes, servants, chambermaids, and imaginary invalids were incorporations of single passions and ideas.
"Man, I can assure you, is a nasty creature," wrote Molière in Tartuffe, ou L'imposteur (1664, Tartuffe, or the Impostor), which aroused the wrath of the Jansenists. The play was banned but Molière escaped further punishment thanks to the royal protection – Louis XIV allowed it to be staged. The title characer Tartuffe has been taken to the home of credulous Orgon. He believes with his mother Pernelle that Tartuffe's pious example will be good for the other members of the family. Orgon determines that his daughter Mariane, who loves a young man named Valère, shall marry Tartuffe. Orgon's wife Elmire begs Tartuffe to refuse Mariane's hand, and he attempts to seduce her. Orgon rejects the truth about his guest and signs over his entire property to him. Elmire devises a way to expose the hypocrite Tartuffe to Orgon, whose eyes are opened a little too late. Tartuffe turns the family out of the house, and tries to have his former host arrested. But by the order of the King, the arresting officer apprehends Tartuffe instead, and the impostor is hauled off to prison.
When an outraged theatre-goer stood up during a performance of Sganarelle; ou, le Cocu imaginaire (1660) and declared that he was being libelled, the audience laughed knowing that they all were libelled. While his troupe was in Paris, Moliére played the traditional comic servant himself. There are other Sganarelle figures in later plays, the final is in Le Médecin malgré lui (1667).
Although Moliére mocked the sly peasant and the vain bourgeois, he was careful not to attack the institution of monarchy and the authority of the Church. Art had become an instrument of the government, but Louis XIV himself had not much time to think the artistic significance of his favorite, who enjoyed his protection from the attacks of the court. When the King once heard that Molière was the greatest writer of the century, he replied: "But I never knew that." Louis XIV became in 1664 the godfather of Molière's first son Louis, who died in November.
At this time Molière started to suffer from bad health,
but he remained stubborn in his efforts to get his controversial plays
performed. Basically he believed that nature is the only effective doctor. Moreover, Molière's
doctors never cure anybody. The medical profession of the period was a
recurrent subject matter in his work, beginning from the early play Le Médecin volant to Le Malade imaginaire (1673).
After the disastrous reception of the first three acts of Tartuffe,
he wrote its fourth and fifth act. Dom Juan; ou, Le Festin de
pierre, finished in 1665 and based on plays of the same title
by the actor-writer Dorimont and Claude Villiers, was banned. Molière's melancholic side surfaced in the sombre notes of Tartuffe, Le Misanthrope and L'Avare. These were the foundational plays in his oeuvre that struck poets like Goethe and Musset.
In February 17, 1673, Molière collapsed onstage during an early performance of his last play Le Malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid), partly based on his own sad life and illness. He died ten o´clock at the same night. There having been no priest present, he was refused sanctified burial. After Molière's death, the theatre group Comédie Française was formed to promote his work. Armande married the actor Isaac-François Guérin; she retired in 1694. The publication of a plagiarized version of his play The Affected Ladies in 1659 promted Molière to begin publishing his own plays. As a result his works have survived fairly well. During centuries, a mass of legend has accumulated around his personality.
For further reading: The Life of Molière by H. Trollope (1905); Molière: His Life and His Work by B. Matthews (1910); La jeunesse de Molière by G. Michaut (1922); Molière by J. Palmer (1930); Molière: Sa vie dans ses oeuvres by P. Brisson (1942); New Light on Molière by J. Cairncross (1957); Molière: A New Criticism by W.G. Moore (1962); Men and Masks by L. Grossman (1963); Molière: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. by J. Guicharnaud (1964); History of French Dramatic Literature in the Seventeeth Century by Henry C. Lancaster (1966); Molère by A. Tilley (1968); Molière: Traditions in Criticism, 1900-1970 by E. Romero (1974); From Gesture to Idea by Nathan Gross (1983); The Happy End of Comedy by Zvi Jagendorf (1984); The Life of Monsieur De Molière by Mikhail Bulgakov and Mirra Ginsburg (1986); Molière by Hallam Waller (1990); Molière's Theatrical Bounty by Albert Bermel (1990); Molière: The Theory and Practice of Comedy by Andrew Calder (1993); Rereading Molière by James Patrick Carmody and Jim Carmody (1993); Approaches to Teaching Moliere's Tartuffe and Other Plays, ed. by James F. Gaines and Michael S. Koppisch (1995); Intruders in the Play World: The Dynamics of Gender in Molière's Comedies by Roxanne Decker (1996); La Carriere de Molière by C.E.J. Caldicott (1998); The Public Mirror: Molière and the Social Commerce of Depiction by Larry F. Norman (1999); Molière: A Theatrical Life by Virginia Scott (2000); Molière, the French Revolution, and the Theatrical Afterlife by Mechele Leon (2009); Molière on Stage: What's So Funny? by Robert W. Goldsby (2012); Molière's Strategies: Timely Reflections on His Art of Comedy by Walter E. Rex (2013); Controversy in French Drama: Molière's Tartuffe and the Struggle for Influence by Julia Prest (2014); Molière's Metatextual Maneuvers by M.J. Muratore (2016) - See also: Isaiah Berlin - Suom.: Moliérilta on suomennettu lukuisia muita näytelmiä, mm. Scapinin vehkeilyt, 1901 (suom. Jalmari Finne), Lannistettu aviomies, Oppineita naisia, Väkinäinen naiminen sekä valikoimat Komedioja 1-2.