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Short biography - Jean Baptiste Poquelin says Moliere, the name alone evokes the greatest hours of French theater. Initially influenced by Italian comedies, Molière asserts an original style in a succession of comedies which are ironic on the customs of his time. Creator, actor and troupe leader, he has been able to renew moralistic and comic theater, inventing typical characters that he takes pleasure in ridiculing. But beyond the image of Epinal of the most performed playwright in France, who was really Molière?
Molière, a precocious passion for the theater
Born in 1622, Jean Baptiste is certainly not a child of the ball. His father Jean is indeed a wealthy merchant who has acceded to the prestigious position of King's Upholsterer. The young man thus received the most careful education at the renowned College of Clermont (now Louis the Great) run by the Jesuits. Although a diligent and gifted student, he is nonetheless passionate about the theater introduced to him by his grandfather.
The future Molière was thus particularly impressed with comic pranks and Italian genres. Custom would have liked him to take charge of his father, whom he took over at the end of 1637. However, this was without counting on the young man's passion for the theater. So in 1643 after continuing his university and theatrical studies, Jean-Baptiste broke up with his father and participated in the founding of the Illustrious Theater.
Difficult artistic beginnings
The artistic beginnings of Jean-Baptiste will be difficult. Taking the stage name: Molière, he performed in the provinces and then in Paris, but his financial troubles led him to be imprisoned in 1645. Freed he later went on to lead a life of wandering, subject to the goodwill of the Great, like the prince of Conti. Associated with the Béjarts, a brotherhood of actors, he crisscrossed the kingdom for more than ten years. Between 1653 and 1655, the troupe created their first comedy in Lyon, L'Etourdi ou les contretemps, of Italian inspiration.
The notoriety acquired in the provinces allowed him to return to Paris with the support of Monsieur, the king's brother. Gradually abandoning his pretensions as a tragedian, Molière ended up shining in the comic register. After the performance at the Louvre in front of the king and queen of the Doctor in love (1658), Molière will play Le Dépit d'Amour (1659) in the Petit-Bourbon theater.
The comic turn and the success of Molière
In 1658 it was his comic talent that earned him the attention of King Louis XIV that Corneille's tragedies tired him out. Very quickly Molière's troop, which became the king's troop, enjoyed unprecedented success. It was a time of greatest success for the playwright and actor, who would even have the great honor of having Louis XIV play himself in one of his plays.
Abandoning the Italian style, Molière asserts himself in a succession of comedies which are ironic on the customs of his time: Les Précieuses ridicules (1659), Sganarelle (1660), L'Ecole des femmes (1662), which provokes a scandal in the well-meaning circles. It won't be the last. He then tries his hand in the genre of ballet comedies (George Dandin or the Mari confused 1668), then provokes his detractors with Tartuffe, staged in 1664 and which will be performed in front of the king, before being banned until 1669 .
Molière was not discouraged, however, and continued to produce satirical works such as the Misanthrope and the Doctor in spite of himself (1666), the Miser (1668), then the Bourgeois gentilhomme (1670) and the Fourberies de Scapin (1670). He triumphed with the Women of Knowledge (1672).
A patient not so imaginary ...
In 1662, Molière married Armande Béjart, a pretty actress twenty-years younger. A lung disease, probably tuberculosis, was discovered at the end of 1665. A year later, separated from his wife, the famous playwright begins to suffer the throes of censorship more and more frequently. His last years will certainly be marked by some success, but above all by the deterioration of his state of health and by the loss of the King's favor.
On February 17, 1673 a few hours after having started the fourth performance of Le Malade Imaginaire, Molière was taken home by a final pulmonary congestion. Whoever has bequeathed to the French theater some of his finest works will be buried at night, in virtual secrecy, because of his profession as an actor, immoral for the Church. His troop will join the French comedy founded by the royal ordinance of 1680 and commonly known as the Maison de Molière ...
- Molière, biography of Georges Forestier. Gallimard, 2018.
- By reading Molière: The man and his time - the writer and his work, by Emile Faguet. The Mono, 2019.
- Molière by Roger Duchêne, biography. Fayard, 2006.