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MADELEINE BEJART (1618-1672)

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Originally appearing in Volume V03, Page 660 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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MADELEINE BEJART (1618-1672) was at the head of the travelling company to which her sister Genevieve (1631-1675)—who played as Mlle Herve—and her brothers belonged, before they joined Moliere in forming l'Illustre Theatre (1643). With Moliere she remained until her death on the 17th of February 1672. She had had an illegitimate daughter (1638) by an Italian count, and her conduct on her early travels had not been exemplary, but whatever her private relations with Moliere may have been, however acrimonious and violent her temper, she and her family remained faithful to his fortunes. She was a tall, handsome blonde, and an excellent actress, particularly in soubrette parts, a number of which Moliere wrote for her. Among her creations were Maratte in Les Precieuses ridicules, Lisette in L'Ecole des marls, Dorine in Tartuffe. Her sister, ARMANDE GRESINDE CLAIRE ELIZABETH BEJART (1645-1700), seems first to have joined the company at Lyons in 1653. Moliere directed her education and she grew up under his eye. In 1662, he being then forty and she seventeen, they were married. Neither was happy; the wife was a flirt, the husband jealous. On the strength of a scurrilous anonymous pamphlet, La Fameuse Comedienne, ou histoire de la Guerin (1688), her character has been held perhaps unduly low. She was certainly guilty of indifference and ingratitude, possibly of infidelity; they separated after the birth of a daughter in 1665 and met only at the theatre until 1671. But the charm and grace which fascinated others, Moliere too could not resist, and they were reconciled. Her portrait is given in a well-known scene (Act iii., Sc. 9) in Le Bourgeois gentilhomme. Mme Moliere's first appearance on the stage was in 1663, as Elise in the Critique de l'ecole des femmes. She was out of the cast for a short time in 1664, when she bore Moliere a son—Louis XIV. and Henrietta of England standing sponsors. But in the spring, beginning with the fetes given at Versailles by the king to Anne of Austria and Maria Theresa, she started her long list of important roles. She was at her best as Celimene—really her own highly-finished portrait—in Le Misanthrope, and hardly less admirable as Angelique in Le Malade imaginaire. She was the Elmire at the first performance of Tartuffe, and the Lucile of Le Bourgeois gentilhomme. All these parts were written by her husband to display her talents to the best advantage and she made the most of her opportunities. The death of Moliere, the secession of Baron and several other actors, the rivalry of the Hotel de Bourgogne and the development of the Palais Royal, by royal patent, into the home of French opera, brought matters to a crisis with the comediens du roi. Well advised by La Grange (Charles Varlet, 1639-1692), Armande leased the Theatre Guenegaud, and by royal ordinance the residue of her company were combined with the players from the Theatre du Marais, the fortunes of which were at low ebb. The combination, known as the troupe du roi, at first was unfortunate, but in 1679 they secured Mlle du Champmesle, later absorbed the company of the Had. de Bourgogne, and in 168o the Comedie Francaise was born. Mme Moliere in 1677 had married Eustache Francois Guerin (1636-1728), an actor, and by him she had one son (1678-1708). She continued her successes at the theatre until she retired in 1694, and she died on the 3oth of November 1700.
End of Article: MADELEINE BEJART (1618-1672)
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