1902 Encyclopedia > Molière

Molière
(also known as: Jean Baptiste Poquelin)
French playwright and actor
(1622-73)





MOLIERE (1622-1673), to give Jean Baptiste Poquelin the stage name which he chose, for some undiscovered reason, to assume, was born in Paris, probably in January 1622. The baptismal certificate which is usually, and almost with absolute certainty, accepted as his is dated 15th January 1622, but it is not possible to infer that he was born on the day of his christening. The exact place of his birth is also disputed, but it seems tolerably certain that he saw the light in a house of the Rue St Honoré. His father was Jean Poquelin, an upholsterer, who, in 1631, succeeded his own uncle as "valet tapissier de chambre du roi." The family of Poquelin came from Beauvais, where for some centuries they had been prosperous tradesmen. The legend of their Scotch descent seems to have been finally disproved by the researches of M.E. Révérend du Mesnil. The mother of Molière was Marie Cressé; and on his father’s side he was connected with the family of Mazuel, musicians attached to the court of France. In 1632 Molière lost his mother; his father married again in 1633. The father possessed certain shops in the covered Halle de la Foirem Saint Germain des Prés, and the biograohers have imagined that Molière might have received his first bent towards the stage from the spectacles offered to the holiday people at the air. Of his early education little is known; but it is certain that his mother possessed a Bible and Plutarch’s Lives, books which an intelligent child would not fail to study. In spite of a persistent tradition, there is no reason to believe that the later education of Molière was neglected. "Il fit ses humanitez au Collége de Clermont," says the brief life of the comedian published by his friend and fellow-actor, La Grange, in the edition of his works printed in 1682. La Gringe adds that Molière "eut l’advantage des suivre M. le Prince de Conti dans toutes ses classes." As Conti was seven years younger than Molière, it is not easy to understand how Molière came to be the school contemporary of the prince. Among more serious studies the Jesuit fathers encouraged their pupils to take part in ballets, and in later life Molière was a distinguished master of this sort of entertainment. According to Grimarest, the first writer who published a life of Molière in any detail (1705), he not only acquired "his humanities," but finished his "philosophy" in five years. He left the Collége de Clermont in 1641, the year when Gassendi, a great contemner of Aristotle, arrived in Paris. The Logic and Ethics of Aristotle, with his Physics and Metaphysics, were the chief philosophical text-books at the College de Clermont. But when he became the pupil of Gassendi (in company with Cyrano de Bergerac, Chapelle, and Hesnaut), Molière was taught to appreciate the atomic philosophy as taught by Lucretius. There seems no doubts that Molière began and almost or quite finished, a translation of the De Natura Rerum. According to a manuscript note of Trallage, published by M. Paul Lacroix, the manuscript was sold by Molière’s widow to a bookseller. His philosophic studies left a deep mark on the genius of Molière. In the Jugement de Pluton sur les deux Parties des Nouveaux Dialogues des Morts (1684), the verdict is "que Molière ne parleroit de Philosophie." To "talk philosophy" was a favourite exercise of his during his life, and his ideas are indicated with sufficient clearness in several of his plays. Thre seems no connexion between them and the opinions of "Molière le Critique" in a dialogue of that name, published in Holland in 1709. From his study of philosophy, too, he gained his knowledge of the ways of contemporary pedants,—of Pancrace the Aristotelian, of Marphorius the Cartesian, of Trissotin, "qui s’attache pour l’ordre au Péripatétisme", of Philaminte, who loves Platonism, of Belise, who relishes "les petits corps," and Armande, who loves "les tourbillons." Grimarest has an amusing anecdote of a controversy in which Molière, defending Descartes, chose a lay-brother of a begging order for umpire, while Chapelle appealed to the same expert in favour of Gassendi. His college education over, Moliére studied law, and there is even evidence—that of tradition, in Grimarest, and of Le Boulanger de Chalussay, the libelous author of a play called Élomire Hypochondre—to prove that he was actually called to the bar. More trustworthy is the passing remark in La Grange’s short biography (1682), "au sortie des ècoles de droit, il choisit la profession de comédien." Before joining a troop of half-amateur comedians, however, Molière had some experience in his father’s business. In 1637 his father had obtained for him the right to succeed to his own office as "valet tapissier de chambre du roi." The document is mentioned in the inventory of Molière’s effects, taken after his death. When the king traveled the valet tapissier accompanied him to arrange the furniture of the royal quarters. There is a very good reason to believe (Loiseleur, Points Obscurs, p. 94) that Molière accompanied Louis XIII. as his valet tapissier to Provence in 1642. It is even not impossible that Molière was the young valley de chmabre who concealed Cinq Mars just before his arrest at Narbonne, 13th June 1642. But this is part of the romance rather than of the history of Molière. Our next glimpse of the comedian we get in a documents of 6th January 1643. Molière acknowledges the receipt of money due to him from his deceased mother’s estate, and gives up his claim to succeed his father as "valet de chambre du roi." On 28th December of the same year we learn, again from documentary evidence, than Jean baptiste Poquelin, with Joseph Bèjard, Madeleine Bèjard, Geneviève Bèjard, and others, have hired a tennis-court, and fitted it up as a stage for dramatic performances. The company called themselves L’Illustre Thèâtre, illustre being then most a slang word, very freely employed by the writers of the period.

We now reach a very important pointing the private history of Molière, which it is necessary to discuss at some length in defence of the much maligned character of a great writer and a good man. Molière’s connection with the family of Bèjard brought him much unhappiness. The father of this family, Joseph Bèjard the elder, was a needy man with eleven children at least. His wife’s name was Marie Hervé. The most noted of his children, companions of Molière, were Joseph, Madeleine, Geneviève, and Armande. Of these, Madeleine was a woman of great talent as an actress, and Molière’s friend, or perhaps mistress, through all the years of his wanderings. Now, on 14th February 1662 (for we must have leave the chronological order of events), Molière married Armande Claire Élisabeth Grèsinde Bèjard. His enemies at that time, and a number of his biographers in our own day, have attempted to prove that Armande Béjard was not the sister, but the daughter of Madeleine, and even that Molière’s wife may have been his own daughter by Madeleine Béjard. The arguments of M. Arsène Houssaye in support of this abominable theory are based on reckless and ignorant confusions, and do not deserve criticism. But the system of M. Loiseleur is more serious, and he goes no further than the idea that Madeleine was the mother of Armande. This certainly, was the opinion of tradition, an opinion based on the slanders of Montfleury, a rival of Molière’s, on the authority of the spiteful and anonymous author of La Fameuse Comédienne (1688), and on the no less libelous play, Élomiere Hypochondre. In 1821 tradition received a shock, for Beffara then discovered Molière’s "acte de marriage," in which Armande, the bride, is spoken of as the sister of Madeleine Béjard, by the same father and mother. The old scandal, or part of it, was revived by M. Fournier and M. Bazin, but received another blow in 1863. M. Soulié then discovered a legal document of 10th March 1643, in which the widow of Joseph Bejérd renounced, in the name of herself and her children, his inheritance, chiefly a collection of unpaid bills. Now in this document all the children are described as minors, and among them is "une potite non encore baptisée. This little girl, still not christened in March 1643, is universally recognized as the Armande Béhard afterwards married by Molière. We reach this point, then, that when Armande daughter, of Madeleine Bejérd. M. Loiseleur refuses, however, to accept this evidence. Madeleine, says he, had already become the mother, in 1638, of a daughter by Esprit Raymond de Moirmoron, comte de Modène, and chamberlain of Aston duc d’Orléans, brother of Louis XIII. In 1642 Modène, who had been exile for political reasons, "was certain to return, for Richelieu had just died, and Louis XIII. was likely to follow him." Now Madeleine was again—this is M. Loiseleur’s hypothesis—about to become a mother, and if Modène returned, and learned this fact, he would not continue the liaison, still less would he marry her—which, by the way, he could not do, as his wife and still alive. Madeleine, therefore, induced her mother to acknowledge the little girl as her own child. In the first place, all this pure unsupported hypothesis. In the second place it has always been denied that Béjard's wife could have been a mother in 1643, owing to her advanced age, probably fifty-three. But M. Loiseleur himself says that Marie Hervé was young enough to make the story "sufficiently probable." If it was probable, much more was it possible. M. Loiseleur supports his contention by pointing out that two of the other children, described as legally minors, were over twenty-five, and that their age was understated to make the account of Armande’s birth more probable. Nothing is less likely than that Modéne would have consulted this document to ascertain the truth about the parentage of Armande, yet M. Loise leur’s whole theory rests on that extreme improbability. It must also be observed that the date of the birth of Joseph Béjard is unknown, and he may been, and according to M. Jal (Dictionnaire Critique, p. 178) must have been, a minor when he was so described in the document of 10th March 1643, while Madeleine had only passed her twenty-five birthday, her legal majority, by two months. This view of Joseph’s age is supported by Banquet (Molière à Rouen, p. 77). M. Loiseleur’s only other proof is that Marie Hervé gave Armande a respectable dowry, and that, as we do not know whence the money came, it must have came from Madeleine. The tradition is Grimarest, which makes Madeleine behave en femme furieuse, when she heard of the marriage, is based on a juster appreciation of the character of women. It will be admitted, probably, that the reasons for supposing that Molière espoused the daughter of a woman who have been his mistress (if she had been his mistress) are flimsy and inadequate. The affair of the dowry is insisted on by M. Livet (La dameuse Comédienne, reprint of 1877, p. 143). But M. Livet explains the dowry by the hypothesis that Armande was the daughter of Madeleine and the comte de Modène, which exactly contradicts the theory of M. Loiseleur, and is itself contradicted by dates, at least as understood by M. Loiseleur. Such are the conjectures by which the foul calumnies of Molière’s enemies are supported in the essays of modern French critics.

To return to the order of events, Molière passed the year 1643 in playing with, and helping to manage, the Théatre Illustre. The company acted in various tenniscourts, with very little success. Molière was actually arrested by the tradesman who supplied candles, and the company had to borrow money from one Aubrey to release their leader form the Grand Châtelet (13th August 1645). The process of turning a tennis-court into a theatre was somewhat expensive, even though no seats were provided in the pit. The troupe was for a short time under the protection of the duc d’Orleéans, but his favours were not lucrative. The duc de Guise, according to some verses printed in 1646, made Molière a present of his cast-off wardrobe. But costume was not enough to draw the public to the tennis-court theatre of the Croix Noire, and empty houses at last obliged the Théâtre Illustre to leave Paris a the end of 1646.

"Nul animals vivant n’entra dans nôtre salle," says the author of the scurrilous play on Molière, Élomire Hypochondre. But at that time some dozen traveling companies found means to exists in the provinces, and Molière determined to play among the rural towns. The career of a strolling player is much the same at all times and in all countries. The Roman Comique of Scarron gives a vivid picture of the adventures and misadventures, the difficulty of transport, the queer cavalcade of horses, mules, and lumbering carts that drag the wardrobe and properties, the sudden metamorphosis of the tennis-court, where the balls have just been rattling, into a stage, the quarrels with local squires, the disturbed nights in crowded country inus, all the loves and wars if troupe on the march. Perrault tells us what the arrangements of the theatre were in Molière’s early time. Tapestries were hung round the stage, and entraces ad exists were made by struggling through the heavy curtains, which often knocked off the hat of the comedian, or gave a strange cock to the helmet of a warrior or a god. The lights were candles struck in tin sconces at the back and sides, but luxury sometimes went so far that a chandelier of four candles was suspended from the roof. At intervals the candles were let down by a rope and pulley, and any one within easy reach snuffed them with his fingers. A flute ad tambour, or two fiddlers, supplied the music. The highest prices were paid for seats in the dedans (cost of admission fivepence); for the privilege of standing up in the pit twopennce-halfpenny was the charge. The doors were opened at one o’clock, the curtain rose at two.





The nominal director of the Thèâtre Illustre in the provinces was Du Fresne; the most noted actors were Molière, the Béjards, and Du Parc, called Gros René. It is extremely difficult to follow exactly the line of march of the company. They played at Bordeaux, for example, but the date of this performance, when Molière (according to Montesquieu) failed in tragedy and was pelted, is variously given as 1644-45 (Trallage), 1647 (Loiseleur), 1648-58 (Lacroix). Perhaps the theatre prospered better elsewhere than in Paris, where the streets were barricaded in these early days of the year of the Fronde. We find Molière at Nates in 1648, at Fontenay-le-Compte, and in the spring of 1649 at Agen, Toulouse, and probably at Angoulême and Limoges. In January 1650 they played at Narbonne, and between 1650 and 1653 Lyons was the headquarters of the troupe. In January 1653, or perhaps 1655, Molière gave L’Etourdi at Lyons, the first of his finished pieces as contrasted with the slight farces with which he generally diverted a country audience. It would be interesting to have the precise date of this piece, but La Grange (1682) says that "in 1653 Molière went to Lyons, where he gave his first comedy, L’Étourdi," while in his Registre La Grange enters the years as 1655. At Lyons De Brie and his wife, the famous Mlle. De Brie, entered the troupe, and Du Parc married marquise de Gorla, better known as Mlle. Du Parc. The libelous author of La Fameuse Comédienne reports that Molière’s heart was the shuttlecock of the beautiful Du Parc and De Brie, and the tradition has a persistent life. Molière’s own opinion of the ladies and men of his company may be read between the lines of this Impromptu de Versailles. In 1653 Prince de Conti, after many political adventures, was residing at LA Grange, near Pézénas, in Languedoc, and chance brought him into relations with his old schoolfellow Molière. Conti had for fist gentleman of his bedchambers the abbé Daniel de Cosnac, whose memoirs now throw light for a moment on the fortunes of the wandering troupe. Cosnac engaged the company "of the Molière and of La Béjard;" but another company, that of Cormier, nearly intercepted the favour of the prince. Thanks to the resolution of Cosnac, Molière was given one chance of appearing on the private theatre of La Grange. The excellence of his acting, the splendour of the costumes, and the insistence of Cosnac, and of Sarrasin, Conti’s secretary, gained the day for Molière, and a pension was assigned to his company (Cosnac, Mémoires, i. 128, Paris. 1852). Asa Cosnac proposed to pay Molière a thousand crowns of his own money to recompense him in case he was supplanted by Cormier, it is obvious that his profession had become sufficiently lucrative. In 1654, during the session of the estates of Languedo, Molière and his company played at Montpellier. Here Molière danced in a ballet (Le Ballet des Incompatibles) in which a number of men of rank took part, according to the fashion of the time. Molière’s own rôles were those of the Poet and the Fishwife. The sport of the little piece is to introduce opposite characters, dancing and singing together. Silence dances with six women, Truth with four centuries, Money with a poet, and so forth. Whether the ballet, or any parts of it, are by Molière, is still disputed (La Jeunesse de Molière, suivie du Ballet des Incompatibles, P. L. Jacob, Paris, 1858). In April 1655 it is certain that the troupe was at Lyons, where they met and hospitability entertained a profligate buffoons, Charles d’Assoucy, who informes the ages that Molière kept open house, and "une table bien garnie." November 1655 found Molière at Pézénas, where the estates of Languedoc were convened, and where local tradition points out the barber’s chair in which the poet used to sit and study character. The longest of Molière’s extant autographs is a receipt, dated at Pézénas, 4th February 1656, for 6000 livres, granted by the estates of Languedoc. This year was notable for the earliest representation, at Béziers, of Molière’s second finished comedy, the Dépit Amoureux. Conti now withdrew to Paris, and began to "make his soul," as the Irish says. Almost his first act of penitence was to discard Molière’s troupe (1657), which consequently found that the liberality of the estates of Languedoc was dried up for ever. Conti’s relations with Molière must have definitively closed long before 1666, when the now pious prince wrote a treatise against the stage, and especially charged his old schoolfellow with keeping a new school , a school of atheism (Traité de la Comédie, p. 24, Paris, 1666). Molière was now (1657) independent of princes and their favour. He went on a new circuits to Nismes, Orange, and Avignon, where he met another old class-mate, Chapelle, and also encountered the friend of his later life, the painter Mignard. After a later stay at Lyons, ending with a piece given for the benefit of the poor of 27th February 1658, Molière passed to Grenoble, returned to Lyons, and is next found in Rouen, where, we should have said, the Théâtre Illustre had played in 1643 (F. Bouquet, La Troupe de Molière à Rouen, p. 90, Paris, 1880). At Rouen Molière must have made or renewed the acquaintance of Pierre and Thomas Corneille. His company had played pieces by Corneille at Lyoncs and elsewhere. The real business of the comedian in Rouen was to prepare his return to Paris. "After several secret journeys thirther he was fortunate enough to secure the patronage of Monsieur, and permitted the company to take his name, presenting them as his servants the king and the queen-mother" (Preface to La Grange’s edition of 1682). The troupe appeared for the first time before Louis XIV. In a theatre arranged in the old Louvre (24th October 1658).

Molière was now thirty-six years of age. He had gained all the experience that fifteen years of practice could give. He had seen men and cities, and noted all the humours or rural and civic France. He was at the head of a company which, as La Grange, his friend and comrade, says, "sincerely loved him." He had the unlucrative patronage of a great prince to back him, and the jealously of all playwrights, and of the old theatres of the Hôtel de Bourgogne and the Marais, to contend against. In this struggle we can follow him by aid of the Registre of La Grange (a brief diary of receipts of payments), and by the help of notices in the rhymed chronicles of Loret.

The first appearance of Molière before the king was all but a failure. Nicomède, by the elder Corneille, was the piece, ad we may believe that the actors of the Hôtel de Bourgogne, who were present, found much to criticize. When the play was over, Molière came forward and asked the king’s permission to act "one of the little pieces with which he had been used to regale the provinces." The Docteur Amoureux, one of several slight comedies admitting of much "gag," and the performed, and "diverted as much as it surprised the audience." The king commanded that the troupe should establish itself in Paris (Preface, ed. 1682). The theatre assigned to the company was a sale in the Petit Bourbon, in a line with the present Rue du Louvre. Some Italian players already occupied the house on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays; the company of Molière played on the other days. The first piece played in the new house (3d Now. 1658) was L’Etourdi. La Grange says the comedy had a great success, producing seventy pistols for each actor. The success is admitted even by the spiteful author of Élomire Hypochondre (Paris, 1670)—

"Je jouai l’Étourdi, qui fu tune merveille."

The success, however, is attributed to the farcical element in the play and the acting—the cuckoo cry of Molière’s detractors. The original of L’Étourdi is the Italian comedy (1629) L’Inavventito, by Nicolò Barbieri ditto Beltrame; Molière pushed rather far his right to "take his own wherever he found it." Had be written nothing more original, the contemporary critics of the Festin de Pierre might have said, not untruly, that he only excelled in stealing pieces from the Italians. The piece is conventional; the stock characters of the prodigal son, the impudent valet, the old father occupy the stage. But the dialogue has amazing rapidity, and the vivacity of M. Coquelin in Mascarille still makes L’Étourdi a favourite on the stages, though it cannot be read with very much pleasure. The next piece, new in Paris, though not in the provinces, was the Dépit Amoureux (first acted at Béziers, 1656). The play was not less successful than L’Étourdi. It has two parts, one an Italian imbroglio; the other, which alone keeps the stage, is the original work of Molière, though, of course, the idea of amantium irae is as old as literature. "Nothing os good," says Mr. Saintsburry, "had yet been seen on the French stage, as the quarrels and reconciliations of the quartette of master, mistress, valet, and soubrette." Even the hostile Le Boulanger de Chalussay (Élomiere Hypochondre) admits that the audience was much of this opinion—

"Et de tous les côtés chacun cria tout haut,
‘C’est la faire et jouer les pieces comme il faut."

The same praise was given, perhaps even more deservedly, to Les Précieuses Ridicules (18th November 1659). Doubts have been raised as to whethere this famous piece, the first true comic satire of contemporary foibles on the French stage, was a new play. La Grange calls it pièce nouvelle in his Registre, but, as he enters it as the third pièce nouvelle, he may only mean that, like L’Étourdi, it was new to Paris. The short life of 1682, produced under La Grange’s care, and probably written by Marcel the actor, says the Précieuses was "made" in 1659. There is another controversy as to whether the ladies of the Hôtel Rambouillet, or merely their bourgeoises and rustic imitators, were laughed at. Ménage, in later years at least, professed to recognize an attack on the over-refinement and affectation of the original and, in most ways, honourable précieuses of the Hôtel Rambouillet. But Chapelle and Bachaumont had discovered provincial prècieuses, hyper-aesthetic literary ladies, at Montpellier before Molière’s return to Paris; and Furetière, in the Roman Bourgeois (1666), found Paris full of middleclass précieuses, who had survived, or, like their modern counterparts, had thriven on ridicule. Another question is—Did Molière copy from the earlier Preéciuses of the abbé de Pure? This chare of plagiarism is brought by Somaize, in the preface to his Véritables Préciuses. De Pure’s work was a novel (1656), from which the Italian actors had put together an acting piece in their manner, that is a thing of "gag," and improvised speeches. The reproach is interesting only because it proves how early Molière found enemies who, like Thomas Corneille in 1659, accused him of being skilled only in farce, or, like Somaize, charged him with literary larceny. These were the stock criticisms of Molière’s opponents as long as he lived. The success of the Prècieuses Ridicules was immense; on one famous occasion the king was a spectator, leaning against the great chair of the dying Cardinal Mazarin. The play can never cease to please while literary affectation exists, and it has a comic force of deathless energy. Yet a modern reade may spare some sympathy for the poor heroines, who do not wish, in courtship, to "begin with marriage," but prefer first to have some less formidable acquintance with their woomers. Molière’s next piece was less important, and more purely farcial, Sganarelle; ou le Cocu Imaginaire (28th May 1660). The public taste preferred a work of this light nature, and Sganarelle was played every year as long as Molière lived. The play was pirated by a man who pretended to have retained all the words in his memory. The counterfeit copy was published by Ribou, a double injury to Molière, as, once printed, any company might act the play. With his habitual good-nature, Molire not only allowed Ribou to publish later works of his, but actually lent money to that knave (Soulié, Recherches, p. 287).





On 11th October 1660 the Théâtre du Petit Bourbon was demolished by the superintendent of works, without notice given to the company. The king gave Molière the Salle du Palais Royal, but the machinery of the old theatre was maliciously destroyed destroyed. Meanwhile the older companies of the Marais and the Hôtel de Bourgogne attempted to lure away Molière troupe, but, as La Grange declares (register, p. 26), "all the actors loved their chief, who united to extraordinary genius an honourable character and charming manner, which compelled them all to protest that they would never leave him, but always share his for tunes." While the new theatre was being put in order, the company played in the houses of the great, and before the king at the Lourve. In their new house (originally built by Richelieu) Moliére began to play on 20th January 1661. Molière now gratified his tragic-comedy, which had long lain among his papers, was first represented on 4th February 1661. Either Molière was a poor actor outside comedy, or his manner was not sufficiently "stagy," and, as he says, "demoniac," for the taste of the day. His opponents were determined that he could not act in tragic-comedy, and he, in turn, burlesqued their pretentious and exaggerated manner in a later piece. In the Précieuses (sc. Ix.) Molière had already rallied "les grands comédiens" of the Hôtel Bourgogne. "Les autres," he makes Mascarille say about his own troupe, "sont des ignorants qui rècitent comme l’on parle, ils ne savant pas faire ronfler les vers." All this was likely to irritate the grands comèdiens, and their friends, who avenged themselves on that unfortunate jealous prince, Don Garcia de Navarre. The subject of this unsuccessful drama is one of many examples which show how Molière’s mind was engaged with the serious or comic aspects of jealously, a passion which he had soon cause to know most intimately. Meantime the everyday life of the stage went on, and the doorkeeper of the Théâtre St. Germain was wounded by some revelers who tried to force their way into the house (La Grange, Registre). A year later, an Italian actor was stabled in front of Molière’s house, where he had sought to take shelter (Campardon, Nouvelles Pièces, p. 20). To these dangers actors were peculiarly subject: Molière himself was frequently threatened by the marquises and others whose class he ridicules on the stage, and there seemseven reason to believe that there is some truth in the story of the angry marquis who rubbed the poet’s head against his buttoms, thereby cutting his face severely. The story comes late (1725) into his biography, but is supported by a passage in the contemporary play, Zélinde (Paris, 1663, scene viii). Before Easter, Molière asked for, two shares in the profits of his company, one for himself, and one for his wife, if he married. That fatal step was already contemplated (La Grange). On 24th June he brought out for the first time L’École des Maris.The general idea of the piece is as old as Menander, and Molière was promptly accused of pilfering from the Adelphi of Terence. One of the ficelles of the comedy is borrowed from a story as old, as least, as Boccaccio, and still amusing in a novel by Charles de Bernard. It is significant of Molière’s talent that the grotesque and baffled paternal woorer, Sganarelle, like several other butts in Molière’s comedy, does to a certain extent win our sympathy and pity as well as out laughter. The next new piece was Les Fascheux, a comédie-ballet, the Comedy of Bores, played before the king at Fonquet’s house at Vaux le Vicomte (August 15-20, 1661). The comedians, without knowing it, were perhaps the real "fascheux" on this occasion, for Fouquet was absorbed in the schemes of his insatiable ambition (Quo non ascendam? says his motto), and the king was organizing the arrest and fall of Fouquet, his rival in the affections of La Vallière. The author of the prologue to Les Fascheux, Pellisson, a friend of Fouquet’s, was arrested along with the superintendent of finance. Pellisson’s prologue and name were retained in later editions. In the dedication to the king Molière says that Louis suggested one scene (that of the Sportsman), and in anther place he mentions that he piece was written, rehearsed, and played in a fortnight. The fundamental idea of the play, the interruptions by bores, is suggested by a satire of Régnier’s, and that by a satire of Horace. Perhaps it may have been the acknowledged suggestions of the king which made gossips declare that Molière habitually worked up hints and mémoires given him by persons of quality (Nouvelles Nouvelles, 1663).





In February 1662 Molière married Armande Béjard. The date is given thus in the Registre of La Grange" "Mardy 14, Les Visionnaries, L’Écol des M. Part. Visite chez Me d’Equeuilly."

And on the margin he had painted a blue circle, his way of recording a hapy event, with the words, "marriage de M. de Molière au sortir de la Visite." M. Loiseleur gives the date in one passage as 29th February, in another as 20th February. But La Grange elsewehrere mentions the date as "Shrove Tuesday," which was, it seems, 14th Fenruary. Elsewhere M. Loiseleur makes the date of the marriage a vague day "in January." The truth is that the marriage contract is dated 23d January 1662 (Soulié, Documents, p. 203). Where it is so difficult to establish the date of the marriage, a simple fact, it must be infinitely harder to discover the truth as to the conduct of Madame Molière. The abominable assertions to the anonymous libel, Les Intrigues de Molière et celles de sa Femme; ou la Fameuse Comédienne (1688), have found their way into tradition, and are accepted by many biographers. But M. Livet and M. Bazin have proved that the alleged lovers of Madame Molière were actually absent from France, or from the court at the time when they reported, in the libel, to have conquered her heart. A conversation between Chapelle and Molière, in which the comedian is made to tell the story of his wrongs, is plainly a mere fiction, and is answered in Grimarests by another dialogue between Molière and Rohault, in which Molière only complains of a jealously which he knows to be unfounded. It is noticed, too, that the contemporary assailants of Molière counted him among jealous, but not among deceived, husbands. The hideous accusation brought by the actor Montfleury, that Molière had married his own daughter, Louis XIV. answered by becoming the godfather of Moliére’s child. The king, indeed, was a firm friend of the actor, and, when Molière was accused of impiety on the production of Don Juan (1665) Louis gave him a pension. We need not try to make Madame Molière a vertu, as French ladies of the theatre say, but it is certain that the charges against her are unsubstantiated. It is generally thought that Molière drew her portrait in Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, acte iii. sc. ix., "elle est capricieuse, mais on souffre tout des Belles."

From 1662 onwards Molière suffered the increasing hatred of his actors. La Grange mentions the visit of Floridor and Montfleury to the queen-mother, and their attempt to obtain equal favour, "la troupe de Molière leur donnant beaucoup de jalousie" (12th August 1662). On 26th December was played for the first time the admirable École des Femmes, which bullets of the brain." The innocence of Agnes was called on Christian mysteries. We have not the space to discuss the religious ideas of Molière; but boith in L’École des Femmes and in Don Juan he does display a bold contempt for the creed of "boiling chaldrons" and of a physical hell. A brief list of the plays and pamplets provoked by L’ École des Femmes is all we can offer in this place.

December 26, 1662.—École des Femmes.

February 9, 1663.—Nouvelles Nouvelles, by De Visé. Molière is accused of pilfering from Straparola.

June 1, 1663.—Molière’s own piece, Critique de l’École des Femmes. In this play Molière retorts on the critics, and especially on his favourite butt, the critical marquis.

August 1663.—Zélinder, a play by De Visé, is printed. The scene is in the shop of a seller of lace, where persons of quality meet, and attack the reputation of "Élomire," that is, Molière. He steals from the Italian, the Spanish, from Furetière’s Francion. "il lit tous les vieux bouquins," he insults the noblesse, he insults Christianity, and so forth.

November 17, 1663.—Portrait du Peintre is printed,—an attack on Molière by several persons, of L’École des Femmes. It is pronounced dull, vulgar, farcical, obscene, and (what chiefly vexed Molière, who knew the danger of the accusation) impious. Perhaps the only biographical matter we gain from Boursault’s play is the interesting fact that Molière was a tennis-player. On 4th November 1663 Molière replied with L’Impromptu de Versailles, a witty and merciless attack on his critics, in which Boursault was mentioned by name. The actors of the Hôtel de Bourgogne were parodied on the stage, and their art was ridiculed.

The next scenes in this comedy of comedians were:—

November 30.—The Panégyrique de l’École des Femmes, by Robinet.

December 7.—Réponse á l’Impromptu; ou la Vengeance des Marquis, by De Visé.

January 19, 1664.—L’Impromptu de l’Hôtel de Condé. It is a reply by a son of Montefleury.

March 17, 1664.—La Guerre Comique; ou Dèfense de École des Femmes.

1664—Lettre sur les Affaires du Théâtre, published in Diversités Galantes, by the author of Zélinde.

In all those quarrels the influence of Corneille was opposed to Molière, while his cause was espoused by Boileau, a useful ally, when "les comèdiens et les auteurs, depuis de cèndre [Corneille?] jusqu’à l’hysope, sont disablement animés centre lui" (Impromptu de Versailles, scène v.).

Molière’s next piece was Le Maraige Forcé (15th February 1664), a farce with a ballet. The comic character of the reluctant bridegroom excites contemptuous pity, as well as laughter. From the end of April till 22d May the troupe was at Versailles, acting among the picturesque pleasures of that great festival of the king’s. The Princesse d’Élide was acted for the first time, and the three first acts of Tartuffe were given. Molière’s natural hatred of hypocrisy had not been diminished by the charges of blasphemy which were showered on him after the École des Femmes. Tartuffe made enemies everywhere. Jansenists and Jesuits, like the two marquises in L’Impromptu de Versailles, each thought the others were aimed at. Five years passed before Molière got permission to play the whole piece in public. In the interval it was acted before Madame, Condé, the legate, and was frequently read by Molière in private houses. The Gazette of 17th May 1664 (a paper hostile to Molière) says that the king thought the piece inimical to religion. Louis was not at that time on good terms with the dèvots, whom his amours scandalized; but, not impossibly, the queen-mother (then suffering from her fatal malady) dislikes the play. A most violent attack on Molière, ‘that demon clad in human flesh," was written by one Pierre Roullé (Le Roy Glorieux au Monde, Paris, 1664). This fierce pamphlet was suppressed, but the king’s own copy, in red morocco with the royal arms, remains to testify to the bigotry of the author, who was cure of Saint Barthélemy. According the Rouvillé, Molière deserved to be sent through earthly to eternal fires. The play was prohibited, as we have seen, but in August 1665 the king adopted Molière’s troupe as his servants, and gave them the title of "troupe du roy." This, however, did not cause Molière to relax his efforts to obtain permission for Tartuffe (or Tartufe, or Tartuffle, as it was variously spelled), and his perseverance was at length successful. That his thoughts were busy with contemporary hypocrisy is proved by certain scenes in one of his greatest pieces, the Festin de Pierre, or Don Juan (15th February 1665). The legend of Don Juan was familiar already on the Spanish, Italian, and French stages. Molière made it a new thing: terrible and romantic in its portraits of un grand seigneur mouvais home, modern in its suggested substitution of la humanité for religion, comic, even among his comedies, by the mirthful character of Sganarelle. The piece filled the theatre, but was stopped, probably by authority, after Easter. It was not printed by Molière, and even in 1682 the publicaiton of the full text was not permitted. Happily the copy of De la Regnie, the chief of the police, escaped obliterations, and gave us the full scene of Don Juan and the Beggar. The piece provoked a virulent criticism (Observations sur le Festin de Pierre, 1665). It is allowed that Molière has some farcical talent, and it not unskilled as a plagiarist, but he "attacks the interests of Heaven," "keeps a school of infidelity," "insults the king," "corrupts virtue," "offends the queen-mother,’ and so forth. Two replies were published, one of which is by some critics believed to show traces of the hand of Molière. The king’s reply, as has been shown, was to adopt Molière company as his servants, and to pension them. L’Amour Mèdecin, a light comedy, appeared 22d September 1665. In this piece Molière, for the second time, attacked physicians. In December there was a quarrel with Racine about his play of Alexandre, which he treacherously transferred to the Hôtel de Bourgogne. June 4, 1666 saw the first representation of that famous play, Le Misanthrope (ou L’Atrabiliaire Amoureux, as the original second title ran). This piece, perhaps the masterpiece of Molière, was more successful with the critics, with the court, and with posterity than with the public. The rival comedians called it "a new style of comedy,’ and so it was. The eternal passions and sentiments of human nature, modified by the influence of the utmost refinement of civilization, were the matter of the piece. The school for scandal kept by Célimène, with its hasty judgments on all characters, gave the artist a wide canvas. The perpetual strife between the sensible optimish of a kindly man of the world (Philinte) and the saeva indignation of a noble nature soured (Alceste) supplies the intellectual action. The humous of the joyously severe Célimène and of her court, especially of that deathless minor poet Oronte, supply the lighter comedy. Boileau, Lessing, Goethe have combined to give this piece the highest rank even among the comedies of Molière. As to the "keys" to the characters, and the guesses about the original from whom Alceste was drawn, they are as valueless as other contemporary tattle.

A briefer summary must be given of the remaining years of the life of Molière. The attractions of Le Misanthrope were reinforced (6th August) by those of the Mèdecin Malgré Lui, an amusing farce founded on an old fabliau. In December the court and the comedies went to Saint Germain, where, among other diversions, the pieces called Mélicerte, La Pastorale Comique (ofd which Molière is said to have destroyed the MS.), and the charming little piece Le Sicilien, were perfomed. A cold and fatigue seem to have injured the health of Molière, and we now hear of the consumptive tendency which was cruelly ridicules in Élomire Hypochondre. Molière was doubtless obliged to see too much of the distracted or pedantic physicians of an age when medicine was the battlefield of tradition, superstition, and nascent chemical science. On 17th April 1667 Robinet, the rhyming gazetteer, says that the life of Molière was thought to be in danger. On the 10th of June, however, he played in Le Sicilien before the town. In the earlier months of 1667 Louis XIV. was with the army in Flanders. There were embassies sent from the comedy to the camp, and on 5th August it was apparent that Molière had overcome the royal scruples. Tartuffe was played, but Lamoignon stopped it after the first night. La Grange and La Torillière hastened to the camp, and got the king’s promise that he would reconsider the matter on his return. Molière next piece (13th January 1668) was Amphitryon, a free—a very free—adaptation from Plautus, who then seems to have engaged his attention, for not long afterwards he again borrowed from the ancient writer in L’Avare. There is a controversy as to whether Amphitryon was meant to ridicule M. de Montespan, the husband of the new mistress of Louis XIV. Michelet has a kind of romance based on this probably groundless hypothesis. The king still saw the piece occasionally, after he had purged himself and forsworn sack under Madame de Maintenon, and probably neither he nor that devout lady detected any personal references in t eh coarse and witty comedy. As usual, Molière was accused of plagiarizing, this time from Rotrou, who had also imitated Plautus. The next play was the immortal George Dandin (10th July), first played as a festival at Versailles. Probably the piece was a rapid palimpsest on the ground of one of his old farces, but the addition of these typical members of a country family, the De Sotenville, raises the work from farce to satiric comedy. The story is borrowed from Boccaccio, but is of unknown age, and always new,—Adolphus Crosbie in The Small House At Allington being a kind of modern George Dandin. Though the sad fortunes of this peasant with social ambition do not fail to make us pity him somewhat, it is being too refined to regard George Dandin as a comedy with a concealed tragic intention. Molière must have been at work on L’Avare before George Dandin appeared, for the new comedy after Plautus was first acted on 9th September. There is a tradition that the piece almost failed; but, if unpopular in the first year of its production, it certainly gained favour before the death of its author. M. de Pourceaugnac (17th September 1669) was first acted at Chambord, for the amusement of the king. It is a rattling farce. The physicians, as usual, bore the brunt of Molière’s raillery, some of which is still applicable. Earlier in 1669 (5th February) Tartuffe was played at last, with extraordinary success. Les Amants Magnifiques, a comedy-ballet, was acted first at Saint Germain (10th February 1670). The king might have been expected to dance in the ballet, but from Racine’s Britannicus (13th December 1669) the majestical monarch learned that Nero was blamed for exhibitions of this kind, and he did not wish to out-Nero Nero. Astrology this time took the place of medicine as a butt, but the satire has become obsolete, except, perhaps, in Turkey, where astrology is still a power. The Bourgeios Gentilhomme, too familiar to require analysis, was first played on 23d October 1770. The lively Fourberies de Scapin "saw the footlights" (if footlights there were) on 24th may 1671, and on 7th May we read in La Grange, ‘les repetitions de Spsyche ont commence." La Grange says the theatre was newly decorated and fitted with machines. A "concert being twelve violins" was also provided, the company being resolute to have everything handsome about them. New singers were introduced, who did not refuse to sing unmasked on the stages. Quinault composed the words for the music, which was by Lulli; Molière and Pierre Corneille collaborated in the dialogue of this magnificent opera, the name of which (Psyche) La Grange eventually learned how to spell. The Comtesse d’Escarbagnas (2d February 1672) was another piece for the amusement of the court, and made part of an entertainment called Le Ballet des Ballets. In this play, a study of provincial manners, Molière attacked the financiers of the time in the person of M. Harpin. The comedy has little importance compared with Les Femmes Savantes (11th February), a severer Précieuses, in which are satirized the vanity and affectation of sciolists, pedants, and the woman who admire them. The satire is never out of date, and finds its modern form in Le Monde où l’on s’ennuie, by M. Pailleron. On the 17th Febraury MadelieneBéjard died, and was buried at St Paul. She did not go long before her old friend or lover, Molière. His Maraige Foré, founded, perhaps, on a famous anecdote of De Gramont, was played on 8th July. On 7th August La Grange notes that Molière was indisposed, and there was no comedy. Molière son died on the 11th October. On 22d November the preparations for the Malade Imaginaire were begun. On 10th February 1673 the piece was acted for the first time. What occurred on 17th February we translate from the Registre of La Grange:—

"This same day, about then o’clock at night, after the comedy Monsieur de Moliere died in his house, Rue de Richelieu. He had played the part of the said Malade, suffering much from cold and inflammation, which caused a violent cough. In the violence of the cough he burst a vessel in his body, and did not live more than half an hour or three-quarters after the bursting of the vessel. His body is buried at St Joseph’s, parish of St Eustache. There is a gravestone raised about a foot above the ground.

Molière’s funeral is thus described in a letter, said to be by an eye-witness, discovered by M. Benjamin Fillon:—

"Tuesday, 21st February, about nine in the evening, was buried Jean Baptiste Poquelin Molière, tapissier valet du chambre, and a famous actor. There was no procession, except three ecclesiastics; four priests bore the body in a wooden bier covered with a pall, six children in blue carried candles in silver holders, and there were lackeys with burning torches of wax. The body…was taken to St Joseph’s churchyard, and buried at the foot of the cross. There was a great crowd, and some twelve hundred livres were distributed among the poor. The archbishop had given order that Molière should be interred without any ceremony, and had even forbidden the clergy of the diocese to do any service for him. Nevertheless a number if masses were commanded to be said fro the deceased."

When an attempt was made to exhume the body of Molière in 1792, the wrong tomb appears to have been opened. Unknown is the grave of Molière.

Molière, according to Mlle. Poisson, who had seen him in her extreme youth, was "neither too stout nor too thin, tall rather than short; he had a noble carriage, a good leg, walked slowly, and had a very serious expression. His nose was thick, his mouth large with thick lips, his complexion brown, his eyebrows black and strongly marked, and it was his way of moving these that gave him his comic expression on the stage." "His eyes seemed to search the deeps of men’s hearts," says the author of Zélinde. The inventories printed by M. Souilié prove that Molière was find of rich dress, splendid furniture, and old books. The charm of his conversation is attested by the names of his friends, who were all the wits of eh age, and the greater their genius the greater their love of Molière, As an actor, friends and enemies agreed in recognizing him as most successful in comedy. His ideas of tragic declamation were in advance of his time, for he set his face against the prevalent habit of ranting. His private character was remarkable for gentleness, probity, generosity, and delicacy qualities attested not only by anecdotes but by the evidence of documents. He is probably (as Menander is lost) the greatest of all comic writers the limits of social and refined as distinguished from romantic comedy, like that of Shakespeare, and of political comedy like that of Aristophanes. He has the humour which is but a sense of the true value of life, and now takes the form of the most vivacious wit and the keenest observation, now of melancholy, and pity, and wonder at the fortunes of mortal men. In the literature of France his is the greatest name, and in the literature of the modern drama the greatest after that of Shakespeare. Besides his contemplative genius he possessed an unerring, the knowledge of the theatre the knowledge of a great actor and a great manager, and hence his plays can never cease to hold the stage, and to charm, if possible, even more in the performance than in the reading.

There is no biography of Molière on a level with the latest researches into his life. The best is probably that of M. Taschereau, prefixed to an edition of his works (Oeuvres Complètes, Paris, 1863). To this may be added Jules Loiseleur’s Les Points Obscurs de la Vie de Molière, Paris, 1877. We have seen that M. Loiseleur is not always accurate, but he is laborious. For other books it is enough to recommend the excellent Bibliographie Moliéresque of M. Paul Lacroix (1875), which is an all but faultless guide. The best edition of Molière’s works for the purposes of the student is that published in Les Grands Écrivains de la France (Hachette, Paris, 1874-1882). The edition is still incomplete. It contains reprints of many contemporary tracts and with the Registre of La Grange, and the Collection Moliéresque of M. Lacroix, is the chief source of the facts stated in this notice, in cases where the rarity of documents has prevented the writer from studying them in the original texts. Another valuable authority is the Recherches sur Molière er sur sa Famille of Ed. Soulié (1863). Lotheisen’s Molière, sein Leben und seine Werke (Frankfurt, 1880), is a respectable German compilation. Le Moliériste (Tresse, Paris, edited by M., Georges Monval) is a monthly serial, containing notes on Molière and his plays, by a number of contributors. The essays, biographers, plays, and pomes on Molière are extremely numerous. The best guide to these is the indispensable Bibliographie of M. Lacroix . The English biographies are few and as a rule absolutely untrustworthy. (A. L.)



The above article was written by: Andrew Lang, M.A., LL.D., Hon. Fellow of Merton College, Oxford; author of Oxford, Helen of Troy, Custom and Myth, Myth, Ritual and Religion, Pickle the Spy, The Book of Dreams and Ghosts, The Making of Religion, The Companions of Pickle, A History of Scotland from the Roman Occupation, Prince Charles Edward, Magic and Religion, The Mystery of Mary Stewart, etc.; part author of translations of the Odyssey and the Iliad.



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