Jean Baptiste Poquelin Moliere
About the Author
French actor and playwright, the greatest of all writers of French comedy. Molière's 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.
Molière was born in Paris. His father was a prosperous upholster, the descendant of a long line of Beauvais tradesmen. Molière studied with Jesuits at the Collège de Clermont where he had a strict upbringing. In 1643 he abandoned his social class and family's plans for his future for the theatre. With his friend he founded the Illustre Théâtre. It lasted for over three years in Paris, and then moved to the provinces.
The theatre had sufficient success and it obtained the patronage of Philippe d'Orléans. After almost fifteen years experience of acting, managing, and writing, Molière returned to Paris. In 1658 he performed before the King Louis XIV, and organized a regular theatre under the patronage of the brother of the king. After a difficult start, Molière's plays enjoyed popularity. 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 Bèjart, who may have been the illegitimate daughter of his former mistress, and who soon antagonized a number of his friends.
During his early years in Paris, among Molière's close friends were La Fontaine, Claude Chapelle, and Racine. Molière achieved first fame in 1659 with Les Précieuses Ridicules. He soon had his own theatre, which was competing with Racine';s stage plays. The Shool for Wives from 1662 is generally regarded as the first of Molière's masterpieces. It 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, acting unexpectnessly, Molière misanthropes, servants, chambermaids, and imaginary invalids were incorporations of single passions and ideas.
In 1664 Louis XIV became the godfather of Molière's son Louis, Tartuffe aroused the wrath of the Jansenists and the play was banned. 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 at that time an instrument of the government and the King 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." Molière's son died in November, and his friend Racine wrote his play for a rival, older theatre. In this time Moliére started to suffer from bad health. Don Juan, written in 1665 and based on plays of the same title by the actor-writer Dorimont and Claude Villiers, was banned. Molière was constantly working, writing plays and directing. Moreover, he nearly always acted in the lead role himself. - In February 17, 1673, Molière collapsed onstage during an early performance of his last play Le Malade Imaginaire, 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 works.
Among Molière's best-known works are L'Ecole des Femmes (1622), Tartuffe (1664), Le Misanthrope (1666), and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (1670).- The publication of a plagiarized version of his play The Affected Ladies in 1659 forced Molière to begin publishing his own plays, and as a result his works have survived fairly well.
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