J. B. P. Molière

J. B. P. Molière books and biography


Molière, engraved on the frontispiece to his Works.
Molire, engraved on the frontispiece to his Works.
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Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known as Molire (January 15, 1622 – February 17, 1673), was a French theatre writer, director, stage manager, actor, and all-around man of theatre, one of the masters of comic satire.



The son of an interior decorator, Jean Baptiste Poquelin lost his mother at a young age and entered into the prestigious Jesus & Jesuit Society at Clermont College to complete his studies.

At the age of 18 Poquelin received the title of the "Tapissier du Roi." This put him in frequent contact with King Louis XIV. Poquelin became a lawyer in Orlans in 1642.

Arrival in Paris

In June 1643, together with his lover Madeleine Bjart and a brother and sister of hers, he founded the theatre company or troupe of L'Illustre Thtre, which became bankrupt in 1645. At this time he assumed the pseudonym Molire, possibly inspired by a small village of the same name in Southern France close to Le Vigan. It was also likely that he changed his name to spare his father the shame of having an actor in the family. The failure of the company caused him to spend some weeks in prison for debt. He was freed with the help of his father, and left with Madeleine for a tour of villages as a travelling comedian. This life lasted 14 years, during which he initially played with the companies of Charles Dufresne, and subsequently created a company of his own. In the course of his travels he met the Prince of Conti, the governor of Languedoc, who became his patron, and named his company after him. This friendship would end later, when Conti joined Molire's enemies in the Parti des Dvots.

In Lyon, Mlle Duparc, known as Marquise, joined the company. Marquise was courted, in vain, by Pierre Corneille and later became the lover of Jean Racine. Racine offered Molire his tragedy Thagne et Charicle (one of the first works he wrote after he had left his theology studies), but Molire would not perform it, though he encouraged Racine to pursue his artistic career. It is said that soon thereafter Molire became very angry with Racine when he was told that he had secretly presented his tragedy to the company of the Htel de Bourgogne as well.

Molire reached Paris in 1658 and played at the Louvre (then for rent as a theatre) in Corneille's tragedy Nicomde and in the farce Le docteur amoureux (The Doctor in Love), with some success. He was awarded the title of Troupe de Monsieur (the Monsieur was the king's brother) and with the help of Monsieur, his company joined a famous Italian Commedia dell'arte company. He became firmly established at their theatre, Petit-Bourbon, where on November 18, 1659, he performed the premiere of Les Prcieuses Ridicules (The Affected Young Ladies), one of his masterpieces.

Les Prcieuses Ridicules was the first of Molire's many attempts to make fun of certain mannerisms and affectations then common in France. He coined the phrase that satire castigat ridendo mores (criticises customs through humour), sometimes mistaken for a classical Latin proverb. The style and the content of his first success were soon at the centre of a wide literary debate.

Height of fame

Despite his own preference for tragedy, Molire became famous for his farces, which were generally in one act and performed after the tragedy. Some of these farces were only partly written, and were played in the style of Commedia dell'arte with improvisation over a canovaccio. He also wrote two comedies in verse, but these were less successful and are generally considered less significant.

Les Prcieuses won Molire the attention and the criticism of many, but it was not a popular success. He then asked his Italian partner Tiberio Fiorelli, famous for his play Scaramouche, to teach him the techniques of Commedia dell'arte. His 1660 play Sganarelle, ou le Cocu Imaginaire (The Imaginary Cuckold) seems to be a tribute both to Commedia dell'arte and to his teacher. Its theme of marital relationships dramatizes Molire's pessimistic views on the falsity inherent in human relationships. This view is also evident in his later works, and was a source of inspiration for many later authors, including (in a different field and with different effect) Luigi Pirandello.

In 1661, in order to please his patron, Monsieur, who was so enthralled with entertainment and art that he was soon excluded from state affairs, Molire wrote and played Dom Garcie de Navarre, ou le Prince Jaloux (The Jealous Prince), an heroic comedy derived from a work of Cicognini's. Two other comedies of the same year were the successful L'cole des Maris (The School for Husbands) and Les Fcheux, subtitled Comdie faite pour les divertissements du Roi (a comedy for the King's amusements) because it was performed during a series of parties that Nicolas Fouquet gave in honour of the sovereign. These entertainments led Jean-Baptiste Colbert to demand the arrest of Fouquet for wasting public money, and he was condemned to life imprisonment.

In 1662 Molire moved to the Thtre du Palais-Royal, still with his Italian partners, and married Armande, whom he believed to be the sister of Madeleine; she was in fact her illegitimate daughter, the result of a flirtation with the Duc of Modne in 1643, when Molire and Madeleine were starting their affair. The same year he played L'cole des Femmes (The School for Wives), subsequently regarded as a masterpiece. Both this work and his marriage attracted much criticism. The play sparked the protest called the "Quarrel of L'cole des femmes." On the artistic side he responded with two lesser-known works: La Critique de "l'cole des Femmes", in which he imagined the spectators of his previous work attending it, and L'Impromptu de Versailles, about Molire's troupe preparing an improvisation. This was the so-called Guerre Comique (War of Comedy), in which the opposite side was taken by writers like Donneau de Vis, Edm Boursault, and Montfleury.

Molière, by Antoine Coypel
Molire, by Antoine Coypel

But more serious opposition was brewing, focusing on Molire's politics and his personal life. A so-called parti des Dvots arose in French high society, who protested against Molire's excessive "realism" and irreverence, which were causing some embarrassment. These people accused Molire of having married his daughter. The Prince of Conti, once Molire's friend, joined them. Molire had other enemies, too, among them the Jansenists and some traditional authors. However, the King expressed his solidarity with the author, granting him a pension and agreeing to be the godfather of Molire's first son. Boileau also supported him through statements that he included in his Art Potique.

Molire's friendship with Jean Baptiste Lully influenced him towards writing his Le Mariage Forc and La Princesse d'lide (subtitled as "Comdie galante mle de musique et d'entres de ballet"), written for royal "divertissements" at Versailles.

Le Tartuffe, ou L'Imposteur was also performed at Versailles, in 1664, and created the greatest scandal of Molire's artistic career. Its depiction of the hypocrisy of the dominant classes was taken as an outrage and violently contested.

The King allegedly suggested that Molire suspend the performances of Tartuffe, and the author rapidly wrote Dom Juan, ou le Festin de Pierre to replace it. It was a strange work, derived from a work by Tirso de Molina and inspired by the life of Giovanni Tenorio, rendered in a prose that still seems modern today. It describes the story of an atheist who becomes a religious hypocrite and for this is punished by God. This work too was quickly suspended. The king, demonstrating his protection once again, became the new official sponsor of Molire's troupe.

With music by Lully, Molire presented L'Amour mdecin (Love Doctor). Subtitles on this occasion reported that the work was given par ordre du Roi, by order of the king, and this work was received much more warmly than its predecessors.

In 1666, Le Misanthrope was produced. It is now widely regarded as Molire's most refined masterpiece, the one with the highest moral content, but it was little appreciated at its time. It caused the "conversion" of Donneau de Vis, who became fond of his theatre. But it was a commercial flop, forcing Molire to immediately write the Le Mdecin malgr lui (The Doctor Despite Himself), a satire against the official sciences. This was a success despite a moral treatise by the Prince of Conti, criticizing the theatre in general and Molire's in particular. In several of his plays, Molire depicted the physicians of his day as pompous individuals who speak (poor) Latin to impress others with false erudition, and know only clysters and bleedings as (ineffective) remedies.

After the Mlicerte and the Pastorale Comique, he tried again to perform Tartuffe in 1667, this time with the name of Panulphe or L'imposteur. As soon as the King left Paris for a tour, Lamoignon and the archibishop banned the play. The King finally imposed respect for Tartuffe a few years later, after he had gained more power over the clergy.

Molire, now ill, wrote less. Le Sicilien, ou l'Amour Peintre was written for festivities at the castle of Saint-Germain, and was followed in 1668 by a very elegant Amphitryon, obviously inspired by Plautus's version but with allusions to the King's love affairs. George Dandin, ou le Mari Confondu (The Confounded Husband) was little appreciated, but success returned with L'Avare (The Miser), now very well known.

With Lully he again used music for Monsieur de Pourceaugnac, for Les Amants Magnifiques, and finally for Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (The Middle Class Gentleman), another of his masterpieces. It is claimed to be particularly directed against Colbert, the minister who had condemned his old patron Fouquet. The collaboration with Lully ended with a tragdie et ballet, Psych, written in collaboration with Pierre Corneille and Philippe Quinault.

In 1672, Madeleine Bjart died, and Molire suffered from this loss and from the worsening of his own illness. Nevertheless, he gave a successful Les Fourberies de Scapin (Scapin's Schemings), a farce and a comedy in 5 acts. His following play, La Comtesse d'Escarbagnas, is considered one of his lesser works.

Tomb of Molière in Le Père Lachaise Cemetery. La Fontaine's grave can be seen right behind.
Tomb of Molire in Le Pre Lachaise Cemetery. La Fontaine's grave can be seen right behind.

Les Femmes Savantes (The Learned Ladies) of 1672 is considered one of Molire's masterpieces. It was born from the termination of the legal use of music in theatre, since Lully had patented the opera in France, so Molire had to go back to his traditional genre. It was a great success, and it led on to his last work, which was also one that is held in high esteem.


One of the most famous moments in Molire's life is the last, which became legend: he died on stage, while performing Le Malade Imaginaire. Strictly speaking, he collapsed on stage, and died a few hours later at his house, without sacraments because two priests refused to visit him and the third arrived too late. It is said that he was wearing green, and because of that, there is a superstition that green brings bad luck to actors.

As an actor, he was not allowed by the laws of the time to be buried in an ordinary cemetery, in sacred ground. It was his wife Armande who asked the king Louis XIV to allow a "normal" funeral celebrated at night.

In 1792 his remains were brought to the museum of French monuments and in 1817 transferred to Le Pre Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, close to La Fontaine.

Influence on French culture

Many words or phrases used in Molire's places are still used in current French:

  • A tartuffe is a hypocrite, especially a hypocrite displaying affected morality or religious piety.
  • A harpagon, named after the main character of The Miser, is an obsessively greedy and cheap man.
  • The statue of the Commander (statue du Commandeur) from Don Juan is used as a model of implacable rigidity (raide comme la statue du Commandeur).
  • A Don Juan is a man who seduces women with false pretenses, then abandons them.
  • In Les Fourberies de Scapin, Act II, scene 7, Gronte is asked for ransom money for his son, allegedly held in a galley. He repeats, "What the devil was he doing in that galley?" ("Que diable allait-il faire dans cette galre?") The word galre ("galley") is used in French nowadays to mean "a cumbersome, painful affair".
  • In Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, the title character, M. Jourdain, composes a love note as follows: "Beautiful marchioness, your beautiful eyes make me die from love" ("Belle marquise, vos beaux yeux me font mourir d'amour"). He then asks his poetry teacher to rephrase the sentence which he does by shuffling the words in nearly every single way ("Beautiful marchioness, from love," etc.). M. Jourdain then asks which phrasing is best and the teacher promptly replies that the first is best. The phrase "Belle marquise..." is now used to indicate that two different sentences mean the same thing.

Molire is also considered the creator of modern French comedy.

List of major works

  • Le Mdecin volant (1645)
  • La Jalousie du barbouill (1650)
  • L'tourdi ou les Contretemps (1655)
  • Le Dpit amoureux (December 16th 1656)
  • Le Docteur amoureux (1658), the first play performed by Molire's troupe for Louis XIV (now lost)
  • Les Prcieuses ridicules (November 18th 1659)
  • Sganarelle ou le Cocu imaginaire (May 28th 1660)
  • Dom Garcie de Navarre ou le Prince jaloux (February 4th 1661)
  • L'cole des maris (June 24th 1661)
  • Les Fcheux (August 17th 1661)
  • L'cole des femmes (December 26th 1662)
  • La Jalousie du Gros-Ren (April 15th 1663) (presumably the same as "La Jalousie du Barbouill")
  • La Critique de l'cole des femmes (June 1st 1663)
  • L'Impromptu de Versailles (October 14th 1663)
  • Le Mariage forc (January 29th 1664)
  • Gros-Ren, petit enfant April 27th 1664 (now lost)
  • La Princesse d'lide (May 8th 1664)
  • Tartuffe ou l'Imposteur (May 12th 1664)
  • Dom Juan ou le Festin de pierre (February 15th 1665)
  • L'Amour mdecin (September 15th 1665)
  • Le Misanthrope ou l'Atrabilaire amoureux (June 4th 1666)
  • Le Mdecin malgr lui (August 6th 1666)
  • Mlicerte (December 2nd 1666)
  • Pastorale comique (January 5th 1667)
  • Le Sicilien ou l'Amour peintre (February 14th 1667)
  • Amphitryon (January 13th 1668)
  • George Dandin ou le Mari confondu (July 18th 1668)
  • L'Avare ou l'cole du mensonge (September 9th 1668)
  • Monsieur de Pourceaugnac (October 6th 1669)
  • Les Amants magnifiques (February 4th 1670)
  • Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (October 14th 1670)
  • Psych (January 17th 1671)
  • Les Fourberies de Scapin (May 24th 1671)
  • La Comtesse d'Escarbagnas (December 2nd 1671)
  • Les Femmes savantes (March 11th 1672)
  • Le Malade imaginaire (February 10th 1673)

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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Dom Juan, Ou Le Festin De Pierre

L' Avare

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L'école Des Femmes

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Les Fourberies De Scapin

By J. B. P. Molière
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Les Fourberies De Scapin
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By J. B. P. Molière
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