Molière

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Molière

 

(pseudonym of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin). Born Jan. 15, 1622, in Paris; died there Feb. 17, 1673. French playwright, actor, and theatrical figure.

Moliáre was the creator of “high comedy,” which laid the foundation for realistic dramaturgy. Combining the best traditions of French folk theater with progressive humanist ideas inherited from the Renaissance and applying the principles of classicism, Moliáre created a new type of comedy addressed to his time and exposing the ugliness of noble and bourgeois society. In his plays, which reflected “all of society, as in a mirror,” he set forth new artistic principles: veracity, individualization of characters as well as creation of stereotypes, and retention of a stage form that communicated the buoyant spontaneity of the theater of the public square.

Moliáre was the son of J. Poquelin, upholsterer and furniture-maker to the king. After graduating from the College of Cler-mont (1639), he decided to devote his life to the theater. He took a pseudonym, and in 1643 he and a few actors and amateurs organized the Illustre Theatre. Because of its outdated, dramatically weak repertoire, the new theater was a failure, and Moliáre had to leave Paris with his colleagues.

The actors began performing in the provinces to audiences of common people,for whom Moliáre wrote short, gay comedies in the spirit of popular farces and the tradition of the commedia dell’arte. The plots of his first full-length comedies, The Blunderers (staged 1655, published 1663), and The Amorous Quarrel (staged 1656, published 1663), were drawn from Italian plays that he fundamentally reworked. The servant Mascarille, a character in The Blunderers, embodies the wit, energy, and buoyancy of the people. In many respects, Mascarille is representative of the general tone of Moliáre’s dramaturgy, and he is the first in the playwright’s gallery of servants.

The success of Moliáre and his troupe in the provinces (1645-58) made it possible for them to return to Paris. Their first performance, presented at the Palais-Royal, was favorably received by Louis XIV, whose warm reaction foreordained the troupe’s success. Moliáre’s comedies, beginning with The Affected Young Ladies (staged 1659, published 1660), attacked the preciosity of the aristocratic salons and consolidated the genre of the comedy, which he gradually enriched with the truth of psychological experience, social satire, and humanist ethics. These features were reflected even in the playwright’s first high comedy, The School for Wives (staged 1662, published 1663), the central figure of which is the despotic bourgeois Arnolphe, a defender of proprietary patriarchal morals. The School for Wives was tremendously successful with democratic audiences but was sharply attacked by aristocrats and conservative writers and actors. In response, Moliáre presented two short plays expressing his aesthetic point of view: The Critique of “The School for Wives”; (staged and published 1663) and Versailles Impromptu (staged 1663, published 1682).

Moliáre’s talent reached its peak in the comedies Tartuffe (staged in 1664 and immediately banned; staged and published 1669), Don Juan (staged 1665, published 1683), and The Misanthrope (staged 1666, published 1667), which were directed against hypocrisy blanketed with piety and ostentatious virtue and against the spiritual bankruptcy and blatant cynicism of the aristocracy. The characters of these comedies became very powerful social stereotypes. V. G. Belinskii wrote that in Tartuffe, Moliáre was able “before the eyes of hypocritical society, to strike a fearful blow at the venomous hydra of sanctimoniousness” (Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 6, 1955, p. 370). The fierce struggle over Tartuffe lasted for five years. Moliáre’s enemies had the comedy Don Juan, with its elements of freethinking and its sharp criticism of the licentiousness of the nobility, removed from the repertoire. The comedy The Misanthrope exposes social ills, and its hero, Alceste, angrily condemns the vices of the ruling estates. Moliáre’s determination and his refusal to compromise are revealed with particular clarity in those of his characters who are common people—energetic, intelligent, buoyant male and female servants who act out their contempt for the idle aristocracy and the self-satisfied bourgeoisie. Dorine, Nicole, and Toinette wittily ridicule the hypocrisy of Tartuffe and the gullibility of Orgon, Mr. Jourdain’s comic passion to become a nobleman, and Argan’s absurd self-aggrandizement (The Bourgeois Gentleman, staged 1670 and published 1671; The Imaginary Invalid, staged 1673 and published 1674).

Although Moliáre’s work has a lively, emotional quality, intellectuality is its paramount feature. The rationalistic method was conducive to a profound analysis of characters and conflicts and to compositional clarity. Studying broad strata of life, the playwright picked out features essential for the depiction of certain types and certain consuming passions. A particularly fine example of this approach is The Miser (staged 1668, published 1669). Moliáre raised French comedy to the level of great art but preserved its organic link to popular farce (for example, The Cheats of Scapin, staged and published 1671).

In Russia the first translations of Moliáre’s comedies appeared at the beginning of the 18th century. The most prominent Rus-sian and Soviet actors performed in Moliáre works, including I. A. Dmitrevskii, M. S. Shchepkin, P. S. Mochalov, K. S. Stanislavsky, lu. M. lur’ev, and V. O. Toporkov. After the October Socialist Revolution his comedies became especially popular and were firmly established in the repertoire of Soviet theaters. The sharp satire and bright optimism in Moliáre’s plays evoke a lively response from the Soviet Union’s multinational audiences.

WORKS

In Russian translation:
Poln. sobr. soch., vols. 1–4. Moscow, 1965–67.

REFERENCES

Mokul’skii, S. Mol’er: Problemy tvorchestva. Leningrad, 1935.
Bulgakov, M. Zhizngospodina de Molera. Moscow, 1962.
Boiadzhiev, G. Moler: Istoricheskie puti formirovaniia zhanra vysokoi komedii. [Moscow, 1967.]
Boiadzhiev, G. Moler na sovetskoi stsene. Moscow, 1971.
Brisson, P. Moliáre, sa vie dans ses oeuvres. Paris, 1942.
Audiberti, J. Moliáre dramaturge. Paris, 1954.
Romano, D.“Essai sur le comique de Moliáre, Berne, 1960.” Europe, 1966, nos. 4412. (Issue devoted to Moliáre.)
Jurgens, M., and E. Maxfield-Miller. Cent Ansde recherches sur Moliáre. [Paris] 1963.
Brett, V. Moliáre. Prague, 1967.
Le Petit Moliáre (1673-1973). Paris, 1973.

G. N. BOIADZHIEV