Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin aka Molière
(1622 - 1673)
Known to be one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature, Molière was a playwright as well as an actor. He wrote dozens of plays, some of the most famous of which are:
Le Misanthrope (The Misanthrope),
L'École des femmes (The School for Wives),
Tartuffe ou L'Imposteur, (Tartuffe or the Hypocrite),
L'Avare (The Miser),
and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (The Bourgeois Gentleman)
Les Précieuses ridicules (The Affected Ladies),
L'École des maris (The School for Husbands), and
Le Malade imaginaire (The Hypochondriac).
Molière was born into a well to do family. His mother died when he was ten years old. His father purchased a post from the court of Louis XIII, that of "valet de chambre ordinaire et tapissier du Roi" ("valet of the King's chamber and keeper of carpets and upholstery"). After having completed his studies at the Jesuit Collège de Clermont, he followed his father's plans taking up the King's post which would serve to help him in the future as a great network of contacts.
When he was twenty-one, he decided to pursue a career on the stage, a big decision for a man of his class at the time. Actors were no longer seen as utter villains under King Louis XIV, but they were not allowed to be buried in hallowed ground. This is perhaps why he took the stage name, Molière, to spare his father any embarrassment.
Partnering up with fellow actress Madeleine Béjart, he founded L'Illustre Théâtre in 1643. This company went bankrupt and another was formed which lasted twelve years. During the travels of this second company, Armand, Prince of Conti, governor of Languedoc and member of the reigning house of Bourbon (more on that in the next blog, as I visited the Chateau de Chantilly, home of the Bourbons and Princes of Condé), became his patron.
That is until Armand, Prince of Conti contracted syphilis from a courtesan, attempted to cure himself through religion and turned against Molière. (The drama!)
Armand, Prince of Conti
In Lyon, Molière's troupe picked up a ballet dancer and actress; a certain Marquise-Thérèse de Gorla, stage name Mademoiselle Du Parc.
Known for her love affairs, she was the object of affection for several famous people including Corneille who wrote poems about her. A star of the troupe, "She made some notable antics, because we saw her legs and part of her thighs through its split skirt on both sides, with silk stockings attached to the top of panties". After Racine and Molière quarreled (as Molière refused to perform one of Racine's works), Racine began a love affair with Mademoiselle Du Parc and she consequently transferred over to his acting troupe.
In 1658, Molière performed Corneille's tragedy Nicomède in front of the King at the Louvre. The King as delighted and Molière was awarded the title Troupe de Monsieur and he joined a famous Italian Commedia dell'arte company.
In 1661, Nicolas Fouquet (see my blog) requested that Molière perform his play Les Fâcheux for the first time at a magnificent fête in King Louis XIV's honor at his new castle, Vaux-le-Vicomte. One of the biggest fêtes in the history of France (the head chef was non other than the famous François Vatel, take note of this name, more to come). Fouquet was arrested that night for embezzlement (he was the King's treasurer), imprisoned for life and his wife and son exiled.
As Molière frequently wrote satires on social mannerisms and affections, he was often attacked and criticized for his works. The King always stood behind him, although sometimes admonishing him by obliging him to write something on a more softer tone. Several of Molière's plays were banned during this time, among them Tartuffe and Dom Juan ou le Festin de Pierre.
It is important to recognize the amazing feats that Molière performed: during his fourteen year reign in Paris on the stage, he wrote thirty-one of the eighty-five plays performed and single-handedly held the troupe together.
Suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis, Molière collapsed on stage in a fit of coughing while performing in his last play Le Malade imaginaire (The Hypochondriac). He insisted upon finishing the play, collapsing again with a large hemorrhage. He was taken home at the end of the play and died two hours later in his bed.
As I mentioned above, French actors were not allowed to be buried in hallowed ground. Molière's widow begged the King for a night funeral and the King agreed, allowing Molière to be buried in the back part of the cemetery reserved for unbaptised children.
In 1817, Molière's remains were brought to the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris where you can visit today.
In 2007, director Laurent Tirard made the film entitled Molière starring one of my favorite actors, Roman Duris (see my blog), Fabrice Luchini and Ludivine Sagnier. Voici le trailer:
Voila! gros bisous de comédie exquise et a bientôt!!