Molière was a renowned 17th century French dramatist, actor, director and playwright. He is best-known for his comedy works in Western literature some of which are ‘Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme’, ‘Le Misanthrope’, ‘L’Ecole des Femmes’ and ‘Tartuffe ouL’Imposteur’. He is considered one of France’s greatest playwrights, who perfectly captured the double standards of 17th century French society, fusing both humor and intellect in his works. He was born into a fairly aristocratic family and was educated in France’s finest schools, receiving some of the finest training in theater and fine arts. Throughout his career, he obtained the patronage of nobles including Philippe I, Duke of Orleans. He was admired by court nobles and Parisians alike, making him one of the most-loved figures of theatre. Although some of his works were directly attacked by the Church, he continued to win the hearts of audiences. Today, his works are immensely popular around the world; both in universities and on stage, where it is emulated by modern-day playwrights. Towards the end of his career, persistent illnesses began to take a toll on his health, which reduced his theatrical capacities. Just as his entry into the world of theater was dramatic, so was his exit. He passed away collapsing on the stage after one of his best performances.
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin was born on January 15, 1622 to Jean Poquelin and Marie Cresse in Paris, France. His father was a tapestry maker and his mother was the daughter of a wealthy bourgeois family.
His childhood was a relatively comfortable one. However, it was dotted with sadness. Young Poquelin was extremely close to his mother, whom he lost at the age of 10. After the death of his mother, he lived with his father in a posh locality in Paris.
It is believed that his first education was at a well-to-do Parisian elementary school, after which he studied at the renowned Jesuit College de Clermont.
He then started a brief career as a lawyer and pursued his father’s work under Louis XIII, until the king’s death in 1643. He then co-founded the L’Illustre Theater with just 630 livres, for which he chose the nom-de-plum, ‘Moliere’.
In 1645, the new theater troupe he formed went bankrupt. He was the head of the troupe because he already had formal training in theater. However, due to all the bad debts that the theater troupe had accrued, he spent 24 hours in prison.
In 1653, his troupe went on to become the official theatre troupe of the Prince de Conti. The next year, he presented his first play, ‘L’Etourdi, ou le Contretemps’, in Lyon.
In 1656, he presented, ‘Le Depitamoureux, in Beziers. However, the very same year, the troupe lost its donations from Conti, who was becoming extremely disapproving of theater productions.
King Louis XIV offered Moliere to perform at the Petit-Bourbon, where his first 2 plays went on to have great run. In 1659, he presented his third play, ‘Les Precieuses Ridicules’. He also presented ‘Sganarelleou le Cocuimaginaire’, after which the troupe shifted to the Palais-Royal.
In 1661, he showcased ‘L’Ecole des maris’ and the subsequent year, he presented L’Ecole des femmes’. The year 1662 also proved to be an extremely exciting one for Moliere. It was the same year when he and his troupe were accepted at the King’s court.
In 1665, he presented ‘Dom Juan’, followed by ‘Le Misanthrope’ and ‘Le Medecinmalgrelui’ the next year.
They performed ‘Attila’ and ‘L’Imposteur’, which was only presented once because it was immediately banned afterward. In 1668, Moliere and his troupe presented ‘George Dandin’, ‘L’Avare’ and ‘Amphitryon’.
From 1669 to 1672, he presented a range of plays including ‘Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme’, ‘Les Fourberies de Scapin’ and ‘Les Femmes savantes’.
In 1673, he gave his last stage performance in ‘Le MaladeImaginaire’, after which he collapsed and breathed his last.
‘Le Misanthrope’ is a popular 17th century play written by Moliere. It is considered one of his greatest works because it was a bold parody on the French aristocratic society, pointing out all its flaws, while ingeniously combining its blemishes with subtle humor. This is also considered a lot different from his other plays, because it focused more on character progress than on plot. Though not a commercial hit when it first premiered in 1666, the play survives in the archives as one of his best-remembered works today.
He was honored with the title of ‘Troupe de Monsieur’.
He married Armande Bejart on February 20, 1662. They had a son two years later, but he died just before his first birthday. He had another son, but the latter also passed away a few days after his baptism. The third child that was born to the couple was a daughter, but since she had no children of her own later on, Moliere did not have any direct descendants.
He suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis, which also took his life in the end. While he was performing in his last play on stage, he coughed violently and hemorrhaged, collapsing on stage. He suffered from another hemorrhage and passed away at home a few hours later on February 17, 1673.
He did not receive any last rites because two priests refused to conduct the last rites and the third priest arrived too late. Thus, his wife took the permission from the king to grant him a ‘normal’ funeral and the king agreed. He is thus, interred in a cemetery that is reserved for unbaptized infants.
Later, in 1792, his remains were shifted to the museum of French monuments and were once again transferred to Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
Even after his death, his legacy was huge. Though many people of his time criticized his works, the impact he had on the public was largely positive and widespread. Many playwrights and theater companies began to emulate his style through the 18th century.
In the 19th century, his comedies soon became popular among critics in France and he became the center of adulation for Romanticists. Many of his works were even translated in English.
Some of the words that Moliere used in his plays such as ‘tartuffe’ and ‘harpagon’ are still used in current French.
He has been portrayed in popular culture as well. The films, ‘Le RoiDanse’, ‘Moliere’ and the 2007 film, ‘Moliere’ are also loosely based on his life.
The superstition that wearing ‘green’ can bring bad luck for actors was created after this famous French playwright and actor wore green on stage just before he collapsed on stage and died.