The Misanthrope
The Miser
The Physician in Spite of Himself
Plays by Moliere
The School for Wives
Tartuffe (The Imposter)


"Moliere" was the pseudonym of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin. The Jesuits at the College de Clermont educated him a boy and it would have been possible for him to take over his fatherís position as court furnisher. Instead, with the assistance of Joseph and Madeleine Bejart he formed the grandly-named "Illustre Theatre" in Paris at the age of twenty-one when he took his stage name, becoming an actor. Between 1648 and 1658 he toured the provinces with this group due to a lack of success in the capital. Moliere wrote at this time only slight sketches and improvisation comedy in the Italian style. In character he seems to have been a controversialist, an irritable and generous man but little is known in truth and he attacked those who interfered or nosed about in his personal affairs. It is known however that his marriage to Armande Bejart, younger sister of Madeleine, was not a happy one. It is also said that when one of his servants picked up one of his papers on which he had been translating Lucretius to curl the writerís wig, he threw a tantrum and tossed the rest of the work in the fire. It is no surprise then that he made himself many enemies due to his fierce ridicule of his critics on stage and off.

Following his return to Paris in 1658 he gained immediate notoriety by playing Corneilleís Nicomede before the King followed by a farce. The King was to employ him in 1665, however. Moliere was himself the main draw for his plays and he seems to have been a splendid actor who was a disciple of Scaramouche and moreover could twist his face into any contorted shape. Of his characters, Tartuffe in Tartuffe (The Imposter) (1664-7) is one of the dramatistís finest figures: a sensual individual who masks himself as an ascetic but must finally reveal himself for what he is. The School for Wives (1662) was also a popular success, telling of a man who gives his wife no education so that she will not be unfaithful and is straight comedy. In The Misanthrope (1666) there is an ambiguity in the very comedy of the central character Alceste; while in The Miser (1668) Moliere steers away from farce and depends on the incongruous and the absurd. His final play, The Imaginary Invalid (1673), is a fine comic critique of jargon but it is hard to treat it seriously when Moliere fell mortally ill (with enormous irony and comic timing) while playing the hypochondriac Argan on stage. He was buried at night and without ceremony due to difficulties with the clergy but now rests in Pere Lachaise with Wilde, Proust, Balzac, Colette and others.

Previous to Moliere, French theatre consisted of farce and intrigue comedies. Moliere brought to it a serious basis with his close and profound observation of human nature while still showing the humorous side behind its complexity. Some of his comedies bordered on tragedy while other more obviously serious works exposed hypocrisy and pretence in the way that English Restoration comedy of the same period did.

Links An other biography on Jean Baptist Moliere

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