Biography of Famous Playwrights: Moliere Part 2

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

Moliere (Jean Baptiste Poquelin) (1622-1673)

With L'Ecole des femmes (The School for Wives), written the year after he married, Moliere championed young love and ridiculed the conventions of marriage. Two years later, in 1664, his marriage problems dampening his flair for light comedy, the dramatist turned to a more serious theme with Le Tartuffe (The Hypocrite). His attack on religious hypocrisy offended many who were deeply religious, including the King's mother, Anne of Austria. To placate her, Louis forbade a repeat performance until after she died in 1666. Moliere reworked the play and put it forth again, on August 5, 1667, as L'Imposteur, while Louis was away at war. The play was promptly closed by Parisian mayor Lamoignon. In 1669, the ban was finally lifted to permit free performances of one of Moliere's greatest triumphs.

While Tartuffe's fate was being disputed, Moliere turned back to comedy, 1st with L'Amour medicin (Love Is the Best Doctor) in 1664, jousting with the medical profession, and in 1666 with Le Misanthrope, one of his greatest works. Moliere himself played Alceste, the man who turns to misanthropy because of worldwide hypocrisy.

Moliere's popular Le Medicin malgre lui (The Doctor in Spite of Himself), mocked the medical doctors' competence again, possibly because of the profession's inability to cure Moliere's own tubercular condition, which was rapidly weakening his health. Sapped by the disease and worn by his estrangement with Armande, the victory with Tartuffe brought Moliere respite, albeit a temporary one. Throughout 1670, and the next 2 years, he scored again, with Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (The Would-Be Gentleman), Psyche (a ballet of little importance except to Moliere personally--it brought his beloved Armande back to him), and a last highly acclaimed comedy, Les Femmes savantes (The Learned Ladies).

In 1673, he again aimed at the ineffectual doctors with Le Malade imaginaire, playing the hypochondriac Argan. It was his last performance. He managed to complete the final scene despite an onstage fit of coughing blood, but died within a few hours, on February 17.

His frequent controversies with the Church produced one final, posthumous quarrel: He was denied burial in holy ground and forbidden the Extreme Unction sacrament. Only after the King's demand was the restriction lifted, with the proviso that the burial would take place quietly at night to "avoid scandal."

The stipulation produced the opposite effect. In a dramatic torchlight procession that Moliere would have loved, his "quiet" burial was attended by thousands of his admirers from all walks of life. They had come to pay their last respects to the greatest master of comedy that France has ever known.

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