Biography of Famous Playwrights: Moliere Part 1

About the famous French playwright Moliere, history and biography about the master of drama.

Moliere (Jean Baptiste Poquelin) (1622-1673)

Those whose conduct gives room for talk are always the 1st to attack their neighbors.

Tartuffe, Act I

Secretly encouraged by a grandfather who loved the theater, Moliere refused to follow his father as an upholsterer to the court of Louis XIV. Instead he elected to join the Bejart amateur theatrical group, then performing on a Paris tennis court. Calling themselves L'Illustre Theatre, they opened on January 1, 1644, with young Poquelin billed as "Moliere," to avoid embarrassment to his father. The offering failed. Unable to succeed in Paris, the group toured the provinces between 1646 and 1658, building a reputation as one of the most accomplished theatrical companies in France.

On October 24, 1658, returning to Paris under the patronage of Louis XIV's brother, Moliere's troupe gave a performance of Pierre Corneille's tragedy, Nicomede. The classic lines fell flat, coming from the lips of actors accustomed to fencing vocally with Moliere's jests and witticisms. Sensing the King's cold reception, Moliere asked for, and was given, permission to continue with a farce that had amused the provinces, Le Docteur amoureux (The Love-Sick Doctor). The comedy relief pleased Louis, and he granted permission for them to use the Hotel du Petit-Bourbon for future performances, sharing it jointly with an Italian company sponsored by Cardinal Mazarin. More important, L'Illustre Theatre was allowed to call itself the Troupe de Monsieur, signifying a royal sponsorship. Eventually it became the ancestor of the Comedie Francaise.

Moliere, as a man of multiple talents, produced many farces, comedies, ballets, and masques for the court on short notice. But he is best known for the comedies of character in which the device of caricature was used to lampoon or ridicule a vice or an affectation. One of his 1st successes, Les Precieuses ridicules, made fun of the absurdities in manners practiced by salons such as that of Madame de Rambouillet. In Sganarelle (1660), Moliere reworked the medieval cuckolding theme, utilizing his gift of mimicking to play the leading role with resounding success. One year later, he presented his very popular L'Ecole des maris (The School for Husbands), borrowing the plot from the Boccaccio and Lope de Vega versions of earlier years.

L'Ecole's leading lady, the beautiful Armande Bejart, played her flirtatious role with such feeling that Moliere took her as his wife. Too late he learned that Madeleine Bejart's younger sister had the real-life personality of a vain, cold-blooded opportunist and he found himself cast as the jealous, older, and betrayed husband. The stormy Armande mellowed somewhat in later years to justify Moliere's choice.

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