Moliere Essay, Research Paper
Moli?re, pseudonym of JEAN BAPTISTE POQUELIN (1622-73), French dramatist, and one of the greatest of all writers of comedies. His universal comic types still delight audiences; his plays are often produced and have been much translated.
Moli?re was born in Paris on January 15, 1622, the son of a wealthy tapestry maker. From an early age he was completely devoted to the theater. In 1643 he joined a theatrical company established by the B?jarts, a family of professional actors; he married one of the members of the family, Armande B?jart, in 1662. The troupe, which Moli?re named the Illustre Th??tre, played in Paris until 1645 and then toured the provinces for 13 years, returning to Paris in 1658. On their return Louis XIV lent the troupe his support and offered them occasional use of the Th??tre du Petit-Bourbon and, in 1661, use of the playhouse in the Palais-Royal. Secure at the Palais-Royal, “Moli?re for the rest of his life committed himself entirely to the comic theater, as dramatist, actor, producer, and director” (Encarta 96).
In 1659 the company presented Moli?re’s Les pr?cieuses ridicules (The Affected Young Ladies). Written in a style similar to that of the older farces, it satirizes the pretensions of two provincial girls. The work took Paris by storm, and from that time until his death, at least one of Moli?re’s comedies was produced each year (Compton’s 95).
L’?cole des femmes (The School for Wives, 1662) marks a break with the farce tradition. “Considered the first great seriocomic work of French literature”, it deals with the part women played in society and their preparation for it; the play constitutes a bold satire on contemporary materialistic values and, as such, was denounced for impiety and vulgarity (Encarta 96).
In Tartuffe (first version, 1664; third and final version, 1669) Moli?re invented one of his famous comic types, that of a religious hypocrite. The audacity of this play is attested to by the king’s not permitting a public performance of it for five years although he himself thought it amusing. The king had good reason to believe that the play, with the grasping, hypocritical Tartuffe, clad in clerical garb and hair shirt, would offend the powerful French higher clergy (Britannica 91).
The ever-popular Le Misanthrope (1666) pictures a young suitor, Alceste, sincere but humorless, trying to woo C?lim?ne, a flirtatious court soubrette. Because this play does not end happily, it is sometimes characterized as a tragedy (Earley and Keil 92).
Others among Moli?re’s most successful plays (numbering about 33) are L’avare (The Miser, 1668), a stark “comedy,” loosely based on a work by the Roman comic dramatist Plautus, and Le m?decin malgr? lui (The Physician in Spite of Himself, 1666), a satire on the medical profession. Le bourgeois gentilhomme (The Would-Be Gentleman, 1670), a comedy-ballet with music by the king’s favorite composer, Jean Baptiste Lully, mocks a successful but naive cloth merchant who aspires to being received at court. A swindler bilks him with promises to arrange such an invitation, and in hopes of becoming a courtier Monsieur Jourdain, the would-be gentleman, prepares himself by taking lessons in music, dancing, fencing, and philosophy. The four scenes devoted to these lessons are among the most hilarious ever written by Moli?re, and all ends happily with a mock Turkish ballet (Earley and Keil 92).
Moli?re’s last comedy, Le malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid, 1673), about a hypochondriac who fears the ministrations of doctors, is in the tradition of those satires on medicine widespread in 16th- and 17th-century literature. Ironically, during the first week of the play’s run, as Moli?re was playing the leading role, he was stricken ill onstage and died a few hours later (February 17, 1673) (Compton’s 95).
Moli?re’s satires, directed against social conventions that thwart nature, give a more accurate portrait of contemporary French society than do the serious dramas of his contemporaries Pierre Corneille and Jean Baptiste Racine. Although his stock characters and comic effects were borrowed from older traditions—from the comedies of the Greek writer Aristophanes, from the Roman comedy of Terence and Plautus, and from the Italian commedia dell’arte—he gave psychological depth to his misers, lovers, hypocrites, and social climbers. “A master of slapstick, he yet contrived to maintain an underlying note of pathos.” Like the troupes of Italian actors who performed regularly in Paris during the 17th century, Moli?re’s company was trained to extract the full potential from the stock characters portrayed. This training included the study of appropriate facial expressions, gestures, and gags. Thus, “Moli?re’s comedies can be appreciated to the fullest when acted by a brilliant, disciplined company, such as the famous Com?die Fran?aise, the national theater of France.” Established in 1680 through a merger of the Illustre Th??tre and rival troupes, it is still familiarly known as the Theater of Moli?re (Britannica 91).
Commedialike farce was popular in late 16th century France and made it difficult for neoclassical drama to establish a foothold. No theater buildings existed in Paris at the time; hence roofed tennis courts were converted to theaters. The strong Italian influence in the French court led to the popular intermezzolike performances called ballets (Encarta 96).
Neoclassical drama did not become common until the 1630s with the dramas of Pierre Corneille and, later, of Jean Baptiste Racine. Under the influence of Cardinal Richelieu, neoclassical doctrine was strictly enforced, and the French Academy for violating the proprieties of decorum and verisimilitude, although enormously popular, condemned Corneille’s Le Cid (1636 or 1637). Racine’s plays successfully combine the formal beauties of neoclassical structure and verse with mythological subjects to create lofty, rugged dramas (Encarta 96).
Moli?re is considered France’s greatest playwright. His plays are mostly commedia-influenced farces and comedies of manners—plays that satirize the customs of the upper classes—but they generally rise above their specific, contemporary targets and can be seen as observations on the flaws and limitations of humankind. A certain bitterness suffuses many of his dramas (Compton’s 95).
Moli?re was also the leading comic actor of his day, and he did much to alter the histrionic, bombastic style that then dominated French acting. He directed the members of his company, for whom he wrote specific roles in his plays, to speak in a more conversational manner and to move in a more restrained fashion. While he was successful in his own productions, the older grandiose style remained popular in France until the early 1800s. “Within a few years of his death in 1673, Moli?re’s company was combined in 1680 with the other dramatic troupes of Paris by order of Louis XIV into the Com?die Fran?aise—still in existence, and now the oldest national theater in the world.” For the next century French theater was dominated by actors and produced little drama of note until the late 1700s. “The quasi-legal fairground and boulevard theaters developed popular forms of theater during this time” (Britannica 91).
On the death of Cardinal Mazarin in 1661 Louis XIV announced that from this time on he would be his own first minister. For the next 54 years he ruled France personally and conscientiously and established himself as the model of the divine right, absolutist monarch in the European Age of Absolutism. Early in the period of his personal rule Louis established the structure of the absolute state. He organized a number of councils to advise him and to carry out his instructions, and he staffed them with able men, completely dependent on him for position and income. The claims of the parliaments to a veto over royal decrees were effectively silenced. The potentially dangerous nobility of the sword (descendants of the old feudal nobility) was attached to the court in prestigious but ceremonial offices, which left them no time for political activity. The wealthy bourgeoisie was kept politically satisfied by the government’s assurance of order at home, its active promotion of commerce and industry, and by the opportunities to make fortunes from the state’s expenditures. Louis XIV ruled France and absolute royal authority was consolidated during his reign (Encarta 96).
In 1666 when Moliere opened Le Misanthrope at the Palais-Royal, society didn’t know what to make of the central character, Alceste. He is self-righteously opposed to the superficiality of the society in which he lives and to some degree he is right. The world in which he moves is full of gossip, slander, lawsuits and false love and Alceste is himself being sued in the courts for libel, which only compounds his misanthropy. He is in love with C?lim?ne whose flirtatiousness with other men and tolerance of society’s foibles only adds to his despair. She is his comic flaw and their incompatibility leads to his departure from Paris at the end of the play on a very sour note. Society in this play as well as in 17th century Paris is off base and authority doesn’t need to dictate rules, they’re followed because they make sense. That is why this has been said to be Moli?re’s most successful play (Earley and Keil 92).