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MOLIERE - French Dramatist
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Reax white 101 White wolf Nike Grey white La Comédie Française or le Théâtre Français -- the French national theater -- was founded in 1680 in Paris by merging three existing companies: the Hôtel de Bourgogne, the Théâtre du Marais, and the troupe of Molière. It is organized cooperatively, according to the original charter granted by Louis XIV and revised by Napoleon. From its inception the company has had a tumultuous existence. During the French Revolution the Comédie Française split into two rival factions. In 1803 it was reconstituted. As recently as 1945 and 1959 internal problems necessitated reforms in its charter. It is still noted for its productions of classical French drama.

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Alvin Goldfarb. Bibliography: A. Houssaye, Behind the Scenes of the Comédie Française (1889); H.C. Lancaster, The Comédie Française, 2 vols (1941; 1951).

Molière {mohl-yair'}, whose real name was Jean Baptiste Poquelin, composed 12 of the most durable and penetratingly satirical full-length comedies of all time, some in rhyming verse, some in prose, as well as six shorter farces and comedies. As a comic dramatist he ranks with such other distinctive masters of the genre as Aristophanes, Plautus, and George Bernard Shaw. He was also the leading French comic actor, stage director, and dramatic theoretician of the 17th century. In a theatrical period, the early baroque, dominated by the formal neoclassical tragedies of Mairet, Rotrou, du Ryer, Pierre and Thomas Corneille, and Racine, Molière affirmed the potency of comedy as a serious, flexible art form. He also wrote a number of pastorals and other indoor and outdoor divertissements, such as his popular comedy-ballets, that depended on a formidable array of stage machinery (mostly imported from Italy) capable of providing swift and startling changes of sumptuous scenic effects.

He was born on Jan. 15, 1622, to Marie and Jean Poquelin; his father was a Parisian furniture merchant and upholsterer to the king. Jean Baptiste received his early education at the College de Clermont, a Jesuit school, becoming a promising scholar of Latin and Greek. Although he proceeded to study law and was awarded his law degree in 1642, he turned away from both the legal profession and his father's business. Instead, he incorporated (1643) an acting troupe, the Illustre Theatre, in collaboration with the Bejart family, probably because he had fallen in love with their oldest daughter, Madeleine Bejart, who became his mistress. At roughly the same time he also acquired the pseudonym Molière. With this company, Molière played an unsuccessful season in Paris and went bankrupt, then left to tour the provinces, primarily in southern and southwestern France, from about 1646 to 1658. During these 12 years he polished his skills as actor, director, administrator, and playwright. In 1658 the troupe returned to Paris and played before Louis XIV. The king's brother became Molière's patron; later Molière and his colleagues were appointed official providers of entertainment to the Sun King himself.

In the following 24 years, starting with The Precious Maidens Ridiculed (1659), which established him as the most popular comic playwright of the day, and ending with The Imaginary Invalid (1673), Molière advanced from being a gifted adapter of Italian-derived sketches and a showman who put on extravaganzas to a writer whose best plays had the lasting impact of tragedies. Unwittingly, he made many enemies. The clergy mistakenly believed that certain of his plays were attacks on the church. Other playwrights resented his continual experiments with comic forms (as in The School for Wives) and with verse (as in Amphitryon). Famous tragedians such as Montfleury and Hauteroche envied his success with the public and the royal protection he enjoyed. Molière responded by incorporating some of his detractors into his comedies as buffoons and ineffectuals.

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In 1662 he married Armande Béjart, a 19-year-old actress who was either Madeleine's sister or (as some of the playwright's rivals claimed) her daughter by Molière. They had one child, Esprit-Madeleine, born in 1665. The marriage led to more than one separation and reconciliation between the playwright and his wife, who was 21 years his junior.

In the late 1660s, Molière developed a lung ailment from which he never recovered, although he continued to write, act, direct, and manage his troupe as energetically as before. He finally collapsed on Feb. 17, 1673, after the fourth performance of The Imaginary Invalid, and died at home that evening. Four days later, on the night of February 21, he was interred in Saint Joseph's Cemetery. Church leaders refused to officiate or to grant his body a formal burial. Seven years later the king united Molière's company with one of its competitors; since that time the French national theater, the Comédie Francaise, has been known as the House of Molière.

The strongest influence on Molière's theater came from the Italian commedia dell'arte troupes -- with their stock characters and situations -- that he encountered during his travels. This influence was enhanced by Molière's sharing of the Théâtre du Petit-Bourbon in Paris with the Italian Players, led by the celebrated Scaramouche. In his longer comedies, Molière immensely refined the commedia themes and techniques, setting most of his plots in and around Paris and raising neoclassical French comedy to a plane of artistry and inventiveness never attained before or since. He applied the alexandrine , or rhymed hexameter line -- borrowed from contemporary tragedies, many of which he had staged -- to a relaxed dialogue that imitated conversational speech. He also created a gallery of incisive portraits: Tartuffe the religious hypocrite, and Orgon, his dupe; Jourdain the social climber; Don Juan the rebel and libertine; cuckolds such as Arnolphe, Dandin, and Amphitryon; Alceste the stony idealist; Harpagon the miser; Scapin the trickster; Argan the hypochondriac; Philaminte the pretentiously cultured lady; and many more.

Molière's principal short plays (in one or two acts) are: The Jealous Husband (1645?), The Flying Doctor (1648?), Sganarelle (1660), The Rehearsal at Versailles (1663), and The Forced Marriage (1664); the longer plays (in three or five acts) include The School for Husbands (1661), The School for Wives (1662), Tartuffe (1664), Don Juan (1665), The Misanthrope (1666), The Doctor in Spite of Himself (1666), Amphitryon (1668), The Miser (1668), George Dandin (1668), The Bourgeois Gentleman (1670), Scapin (1671), Reax white Nike Grey wolf White 101 white The Learned Ladies (1672), and The Imaginary Invalid (1673).


Albert Bermel, Professor of Theatre, Herbert H. Lehman College, Graduate Center of the City University of New York, New York City.
Source: 1997 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia v.9.0.1
Bibliography: THE PLAYS: Comedies, 2 vols., trans. by H. Baker and J. Miller (1739; repr. 1961); The Misanthrope and Other Plays, trans. by John Wood (1959); The Miser and Other Plays, trans. by John Wood (1953); One-Act Comedies of Molière, 2d ed., trans. by Albert Bermel (1975); Tartuffe and Other Plays (1967) and The Misanthrope and Other Plays (1968), both trans. by Donald M. Frame. BIOGRAPHY AND CRITICISM: Lionel Gossman, Men and Masks: A Study of Molière (1963); Jacques Guicharnaud, ed., Molière: A Collection of Critical Essays (1964); W.D. Howarth and J. M. Thomas, eds., Molière: Stage and Study (1973); J.D. Hubert, Molière and the Comedy of Intellect (1962); F.L. Lawrence, Molière: The Comedy of Unreason, 2 vols. (1968); D.B. Wyndham Lewis, Molière: The Comic Mask (1959); Robert McBride, The Sceptical Vision of Molière: A Study in Paradox (1977); Gertrud Mander, Molière, trans. by Diana S. Peters (1973); W.G. Moore, Molière: A New Criticism, rev. ed. (1962); John Palmer, Molière, 2d ed. (1965).
wolf Grey White white white 101 Reax Nike Image Source: Portrait of Molière - The Bettmann Archive; Comédie Française scene - Giraudon/Art Resource, NY.

Playwright Biographies:

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