Jean-Baptiste Poquelin known as Molière is a representative of classicism, who, in his time, turned his attention to the ridicule of the society of that time. He was mostly focused on class prejudices, the corruption of the aristocracy, and the hypocrisy of the clergy of that time. Not to mention how disgusted he was in some circles. He was a French comedian, screenwriter, and writer, one of the greats of humorous satire; and one of the most respected literary authors in Western culture in general.
Early Life and Education
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known as Molière, was born in Paris on January 15th, 1622. He was the son of Jean Poqueline and Marie Cressé who belonged to a successful bourgeois family. His mother passed away when he was 10, and he doesn’t appear to have established a close relationship with his father. After his mother's death, he lived with his father above the "Pavillon des singes" in rue Saint-Honoré, a wealthy part of Paris.
His education likely began in Parisian primary school, after which he enrolled in the prestigious Jesuit "Collège de Clermont", where he completed his education in a strictly academic environment.
In 1631, Jean Poquelin bought the position of "personal servant of the King's court and keeper of carpets and wallpaper" ("valet de chambre ordinaire et tapissier du Roi") at the King Louis XIII court. His son took the same position in 1641. The title required only three months of work and an initial cost of 1,200 pounds. The position brought in an annual income of 300 pounds and enabled numerous lucrative contracts.
Poquelin studied to be a provincial lawyer sometime around 1642, probably in Orléans, but it is not recorded that he completed his studies. Until then, Molière had followed his father's plan, hung out with the nobility at the Collège de Clermont, and seemed destined for a career in the office.
In June 1643, when Molière was 21 years old, he left his social class and decided on a career on stage. Leaving his father, he joined the actress Madeleine Béjart, with whom he had met before, and founded the theater "Illustre Théâtre". They were later joined by Madeleine's brother and sister.
The new theater group went bankrupt in 1645. Molière became the leader of the group, partly because of his acting skills and partly because of his legal knowledge. The group amassed large debts, mostly due to renting a theater for which they owed 2,000 livres.
Historians doubt whether his father or the lover of one of the members of the group paid the debts because Molière returned to acting circles after spending 24 hours in prison. He then began using the pseudonym Molière, possibly inspired by a small village of the same name in Midi (a colloquial name for southern France) near the village of Le Vigan. It is possible that he changed his name to protect his father from the shame of having an actor as a son (actors were no longer belittled by the state under Louis XIV, but they were still not allowed to be buried on holy ground).
After closing the theater, he and Madeleine embarked on a theatrical tour of the province with a new theater group; it lasted about 12 years, during which he initially performed in the troupe of Charles Dufresne, and later founded his own group, which was successful enough and gained the sponsorship of Philip I, Duke of Orléans.
Several plays have been preserved from that time, of which the most significant are "L'Étourdi, ou le Contretemps" and "Le Docteur Lamoureux", in which Molière distanced himself from the great influence of Italian improvisation Commedia dell'arte, and showed his gift of ridicule.
During his travels, he met Armando, Prince Conti, Governor of Languedoc, who became his sponsor and named the group after himself. The friendship was broken when Conti, infected with syphilis, tried to cure himself with religion. Religious advisers spoke out against supporting Molière's theater group and advised him to join his rivals, the Parti des Dévots and the Compagnie de Saint Sacrement.
In Lyon, Mademoiselle Du Parc (Marquise-Thérèse de Gorla), known as the Marquise, joined the group. The Marquise unsuccessfully courted Pierre Corneille and later became Jean Racine's mistress.
Racine offered Molière his tragedy "Théagène et Chariclée" (one of his first works after leaving the study of theology), but Molière didn’t want to perform it even though he supported Racine in the continuation of his artistic career. It is believed that Molière soon became angry with Racine when he learned that he had offered the tragedy to the theater group "Hôtel de Bourgogne".
Molière was forced to perform in Paris. He was originally out of town for a few weeks as he promoted himself among the gentlemen and as his reputation in Paris grew. He came to Paris in 1658 and performed Corneille's tragedy "Nicomède" and the farce "Le Docteur Lamoureux" in front of the King in the Louvre (which was then rented as a theater) with some success. He was awarded the title of "Troupe de Monsieur" (monsieur was an honorary title for the King's brother Philip I, Duke of Orléans). With the help of Monsieur, his group was allowed to share the theater in the great hall of Petit-Bourbon with the famous Italian group Commedia dell'arte, Tiberio Fiorelli, called Scaramouche, (the character of a clown in the Italian plays Commedia dell'arte). The groups performed on different evenings. The premiere of "Les Précieuses ridicules" (Funny Capers) took place in Petit-Bourbon on November 18, 1659. The work was Moliere's first attempt to ridicule certain social habits and attitudes then present in France.
It is generally accepted that the plot is based on Samuel Chappuzeau 1656 "Le Cercle des femmes". The Académie advocated the unity of time, action, and verse style. Moliere is often associated with the phrase that the comedy "castigat ridendo mores" or "criticizes customs through humor" originated by Jean de Santeuil, and is often mistaken for a classic Latin proverb.
Although he preferred tragedies, which he tried to perfect with "Illustre Théâtre", he became famous for his farces, which were usually written in one act and performed after the tragedy. Some of these farces are only partially written and performed in the style of commedia dell'arte with improvisation with a short outline of the plot (Italian: canovaccio).
He also wrote two comedies in verse, but they were less successful and are considered less significant. Later in life, he devoted himself to writing musical comedies in which the drama is interrupted by song or dance.
He wrote a number of pieces in prose and verse in which he ridiculed the society of that time, class prejudices, the corruption of the nobility, and the greed of the bourgeoisie. He didn’t shy away from condemning the hypocritical Catholic clergy. Molière developed the Italian comedy of intrigue into a social comedy and a comedy of customs with a tragicomic background in which the greatness of the comic reaches the proportions of the tragic.
Moliere's oeuvre consists of about thirty farces, court ballets, and classical comedies, while most significant works are: A Tartuffe, The Miser, The Misanthrope, etc.
Molière suffered from a pulmonary form of tuberculosis that he probably contracted as a young man while he was in prison. One of the most famous moments in his life was when during the performance of his last play, he collapsed on stage due to a bloody cough attack. The play featured lavish dance points with music by composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier ironically called "Le Malade imaginaire" (The Imaginary Patient). Molière insisted on finishing the performance.
After the performance, he collapsed again after re-bleeding and was taken home, where he died a few hours later without receiving the anointing of the sick, because two priests refused him, while the third came too late. The superstition that green brings bad luck to actors stems from his last performance, during which he wore green clothes.
Under French law at the time, the actors were not allowed to be buried on the sacred ground of the cemetery. However, Molière's widow Armande asked the king to allow her husband the usual funeral. The king agreed, and Molière's body was buried in the part of the cemetery intended for unbaptized infants. In 1792, his remains were transferred to the museum, and in 1817 he was buried in the "Père Lachaise" cemetery in Paris, near the tomb of La Fontaine.
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