Molière: 400 years as a master of the French stage, Entertainment News

When the French refer to their mother tongue, it is “the language of Molière”, and as it turns 400 this week, it remains as central in their culture as Shakespeare in the English-speaking world.

Here are some indications on the life and legacy of the most illustrious French playwright:

– An unknown star –

Molière, whose real name is Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, has left no trace of his personal life: no diary, correspondence or even notes on his work. The only one of his four children to survive to adulthood, has lost his manuscripts.

We do not know the source of his stage name – which refers to a career – nor his date of birth (we only have a baptismal certificate, dated January 15, 1622, discovered two centuries later in 1820).

As the eldest son, he was to inherit a comfortable life from his father as head upholsterer and king’s servant, but abandoned him to become an actor.

This caused a lot of conflict for his father: he was forced to buy out his son from prison after his first company, The Illustrious Theater, went into debt.

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Molière fled Paris at age 23, spending the next 13 years with an itinerant troop.

Success on the road earned him a return to Paris and a successful audience for the young King Louis XIV, which earned him a powerful patron even though he faced constant battles with censorship.

Despite the myth, he was not quite dead on stage, but shortly after a performance – like the hypochondriac Argan no less – at his home, rue de Richelieu, on February 17, 1673.

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– The oldest company in the world –

The Comédie-Française was created by King Louis XIV in 1680, seven years after Molière’s death, by merger between his company and another.

The oldest theater company in the world, it is known as “La Maison de Molière” and has performed its work every year since its inception.

Established since 1799 rue de Richelieu, close to the Louvre, it now employs 400 people, including 60 actors, and has a costume department of 50,000 pieces.

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– Memorable characters –

Molière has created characters who often push their weaknesses to the limit, but allow us to laugh at our universal human failings in the process.

Perhaps the best known is Tartuffe, taken from the play of the same name – a crook who disguises himself as a priest to convince a naive and wealthy aristocrat to hand him his fortune and his daughter’s hand in marriage, even as he runs after his wife.

The play is considered to practically invent the “comedy of manners” which satirizes the moral hypocrisies of high society.

Although Molière himself was not particularly anti-religious, “Tartuffe” scandalized the Catholic Church and became a key text in the anticlerical movement of the following centuries.

Among the other key figures, the money-obsessed Harpagnon, from “The Miser”, who urges his servants “not to scrub the furniture too much for fear of wearing it out”.

Another eternal character Molière used to satirize medical charlatans who exploited people’s fear of death was hypochondriac Argan from “The Imaginary Invalid”.

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