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MOLIERE (1622-1673)

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Originally appearing in Volume V18, Page 667 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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MOLIERE (1622-1673), the nom de theatre chosen, for some undiscovered reason, by the great French dramatist Jean Baptiste Poquelin, and ever since substituted for his family name. He was born in Paris, probably in January 1622. The baptismal certificate which is usually, and almost with absolute certainty, accepted as his is dated 15th January 1622, but it is not possible to infer that he was born on the day of his christening. The exact place of his birth is also disputed, but it seems tolerably certain that he saw the light in a house of the Rue St Honore. His father was Jean Poquelin, an upholsterer, who, in 1631, succeeded his own uncle as " valet tapissier de chambre du roi." The family of Poquelin came from Beauvais, where for some centuries they had been prosperous tradesmen. The legend of their Scotch descent seems to have been finally disproved by the researches of M. E. Reverend du Mesnil. The mother of Moliere was Marie Cresse; and on his father 's side he was connected with the family of Mazuel, musicians attached tothe court of France. In 1632 Moliere lost his mother; his father married again in 1633. The father possessed certain shops in the covered Halle de la Foire, Saint Germain des Pres, and the biographers have imagined that Moliere might have received his first bent towards the stage from the spectacles offered to the holiday people at the fair. Of his early education little is known; but it is certain that his mother possessed a Bible and Plutarch's Lives, books which an intelligent child would not fail to study. In spite of a persistent tradition, there is no reason to believe that the later education of Moliere was neglected. " Il fit ses humanitez au college de Clermont," says the brief life of the comedian published by his friend and fellow-actor, La Grange, in the edition of his works printed in 1682. La Grange adds that Moliere " eut l'advantage de suivre M. le Prince de Conti clans toutes ses classes." As Conti was seven years younger than Moliere, it is not easy to understand how Moliere came to be the school contemporary of the prince. Among more serious studies the Jesuit fathers encouraged their pupils to take part in ballets, and in later life Moliere was a distinguished master of this sort of entertainment. According to Grimarest, the first writer who published a life of Moliere in any detail (1705), he not only acquired " his humanities," but finished his " philosophy " in five years. He left the College de Clermont in 1641, the year when Gassendi, a great contemner of Aristotle, arrived in Paris. The Logic and Ethics of Aristotle, with his Physics and Meta-physics, were the chief philosophical textbooks at the College de Clermont. But when he became the pupil of Gassendi (in company with Cyrano de Bergerac, Chapelle, and Hesnaut), Moliere was taught to appreciate the atomic philosophy of Lucretius. There seems no doubt that Moliere began, and almost or quite finished, a translation of the De natura rerum. According to a manuscript note of Trallage, published by M. Paul Lacroix, the manuscript was sold by Moliere's widow to a book-seller. His philosophic studies left a deep mark on the genius of Moliere. In the Jugement de Pluton sur les deux parties des nouveaux dialogues des morts (1684), the verdict is " que Moliere ne parleroit point de philosophie." To " talk philosophy " was a favourite exercise of his during his life, and his ideas are indicated with sufficient clearness in several of his plays. There seems no connexion between them and the opinions of "Moliere le Critique " in a dialogue of that name, published in Holland in 1709. From his study of philosophy, too, he gained his knowledge of the ways of contemporary pedants: of Pancrace the Aristotelian, of Marphorius the Cartesian, of Trissotin, " qui s'attache pour l'ordre au Peripatetisme," of Philaminte, who loves Platonism, of Belise, who relishes " les petits corps," and Armande, who loves " les tourbillons." Grimarest has an amusing anecdote of a controversy in which Moliere, defending Descartes, chose a lay-brother of a begging order for umpire, while Chapelle appealed to the same expert in favour of Gassendi. His college education over, Moliere studied law, and there is even evidence—that of tradition in Grimarest, and of Le Boulanger de Chalussay, the libellous author of a play called Elomire hypochondre—to prove that he was actually called to the bar. More trustworthy is the passing remark in La Grange's short biography (1682), " au sortir des ecoles de droit, it choisit la profession de comedien." Before joining a troop of half-amateur comedians, however, Moliere had some experience in his father's business. In 1637 his father had obtained for him the right to succeed to his own office as " valet tapissier de chambre du roi." The document is mentioned in the inventory of Moliere's effects, taken after his death. When the king travelled the valet tapissier accompanied him to arrange the furniture of the royal quarters. There is very good reason to believe (Loiseleur, Points obscurs, p. 94) that Moliere accompanied Louis XIII, as his valet tapissier to Provence in 1642. It is even not impossible' that Moliere was the young valet de chambre who concealed Cinq Mars just before his arrest at Narbonne, on the 13th of June 1642. But this is part of the romance rather than of the history of Moliere. Our next glimpse of the comedian we get in a document of 6th January 1643. Moliere acknowledges the receipt of money due to him from his deceased mother's estate, and gives up his claim to succeed his father as "valet de chambre du roi." On the 28th of December of the same year we learn, again from documentary evidence, that Jean Baptiste Poquelin, with Joseph Bejard, Madeleine Bejard, Genevieve Bejard, and others, have hired a tennis-court and fitted it up as a stage for dramatic performances. The company called themselves L'Illustre Theatre, illustre being then almost a slang word, freely employed by the writers of the period. We now reach a very important point in the private history of Moliere, which it is necessary to discuss at some length in defence of the much maligned character of a great writer and a good man. Moliere's connexion with the family of Bejard brought him much unhappiness. The father of this family, Joseph Bejard the elder, was a needy man, with eleven children at least. His wife's name was Marie Herve. The most noted of his children, companions of Moliere, were Joseph, Madeleine, Genevieve, and Armande. Of these, Madeleine was a woman of great talent as an actress, and Moliere's friend, or perhaps mistress, through all the years of his wanderings. Now, on the 14th of February 1662 (for we must here leave the chronological order of events), Moliere married Armande Claire Elisabeth Gresinde Bejard: His enemies at that time, and a number of his biographers in our own day, have attempted to prove that Armande Bejard was not the sister, but the daughter of Madeleine, and even that Moliere's wife may have been his own daughter by Madeleine Bejard. The arguments of M. Arsene Houssaye in support of this abominable theory are based on reckless and ignorant confusions, and do not deserve criticism. But the system of M. Loiseleur is more serious, and he goes no further than the idea that Madeleine was the mother of Armande. This, certainly, was the opinion of tradition, an opinion based on the slanders of Montfleury, a rival of Moliere's, on the authority of the spiteful and anonymous author of La Fameuse comedienne (1688), and on the no less libellous play, Elomire hypochondre. In 1821 tradition received a shock, for Beffara then discovered Moliere's "acte de mariage," in which Armande, the bride, is spoken of as the sister of Madeleine Bejard, by the same father and mother. The old scandal, or part of it, was revived by M. Fournier and M. Bazin, but received another blow in 1863. M. Soulie then discovered a legal document of the loth of March 1643, in which the widow of Joseph Bejard renounced, in the name of herself and her children, his inheritance, chiefly a collection of unpaid bills. Now in this document all the children are described as minors, and among them is "une petite non encore baptisee." This little girl, still not christened in March 1643, is universally recognized as the Armande Bejard afterwards married by Moliere. We reach this point, then, that when Armande was an infant she was acknowledged as the sister, not as the daughter, of Madeleine Bejard. M. Loiseleur refuses, however, to accept this evidence. Madeleine, says he, had already become the mother, in 1638, of a daughter by Esprit Raymond de Moirmoron, comte de Modene, and chamberlain of Gaston duc d'Orleans, brother of Louis XIII. In 1642 Modene, who had been exiled for political reasons, "was certain to return, for Richelieu had just died, and Louis XIII. was likely to follow him." Now Madeleine was again—this is M. Loiseleur's hypothesis—about to become a mother, and if Modene returned, and learned this fact, he would not continue the liaison, still less would he marry her—which, by the way, he could not do, as his wife was still alive. Madeleine, therefore, induced her mother to acknowledge the little girl as her own child. In the first place, all this is pure unsupported hypothesis. In the second place, it has always been denied that Bejard's wife could have been a mother in 1643, owing to her advanced age, probably fifty-three. But M. Loiseleur himself says that Marie Herve was young enough to make the story "sufficiently probable." If it was probable, much more was it possible. M. Loiseleur supports his contention by pointing out that two of the other children, described as legally minors, were over twenty-five, and that their age was understated to make the account of Armande's birth more probable. Nothing is less likely thanthat Modene would have consulted this document to ascertain the truth about the parentage of Armande, yet M. Loiseleur's whole theory rests on that extreme improbability. It must also be observed that the date of the birth of Joseph Bejard is unknown, and he may have been, and according to M. Jal (Dictionnaire critique, p. 178) must have been, a minor when he was so described in the document of the loth of March 1643, while Madeleine had only passed her twenty-fifth birthday, her legal majority, by two months. This view of Joseph's age is supported by Bouquet (Moliere d Rouen, p. 77). M. Loiseleur's only other proof is that Marie Herve gave Armande a respectable dowry, and that, as we do not know whence the money came, it must have come from Madeleine. The tradition in Grimarest, which makes Madeleine behave en femme furieuse, when she heard of the marriage, is based on a juster appreciation of the character of women. It will be admitted, probably, that the reasons for supposing that Moliere espoused the daughter of a woman who had been his mistress (if she had been his mistress) are flimsy and inadequate. The affair of the dowry is insisted on by M. Livet (La Fameuse comedienne, reprint of 1877, p. 143). But M. Livet explains the dowry by the hypothesis that Armande was the daughter of Madeleine and the comte de Modene, which exactly contradicts the theory of M. Loiseleur, and is itself contradicted by dates, at least as understood by M. Loiseleur. Such are the conjectures by which the foul calumnies of Moliere's enemies are supported in the essays of modern French critics. Michelet accepted the scandal apparently as a buttress to his charges against Louis XIV. and Madame (Histoire de France, 1879, XV. 63, 64, 332). To return to the order of events, Moliere passed the year 1643 in playing with and helping to manage the Theatre Illustre. The company acted in various tennis-courts, with very little success. Moliere was actually arrested by the tradesman who supplied candles, and the company had to borrow money from one Aubrey to release their leader from the Grand Chatelet (Aug. 13, 1645). The process of turning a tennis-court into a theatre was somewhat expensive, even though no seats were provided in the pit. The troupe was for a short time under the protection of the duc d'Orleans, but his favours were not lucrative. The duc de Guise, according to some verses printed in 1646, made Moliere a present of his cast-off wardrobe. But costume was not enough to draw the public to the tennis-court theatre of the Croix Noire, and empty houses at last obliged the Theatre Illustre to leave Paris at the end of 1646. "Nul animal vivant n'entra dans nbtre salle," says the author of the scurrilous play on Moliere, Elomire hypochondre. But at that time some dozen travelling companies found means to exist in the provinces, and Moliere determined to play among the rural towns. The career of a strolling player is much the same at all times and in all countries. The Roman comique of Scarron gives a vivid picture of the adventures and misadventures, the difficulty of transport, the queer cavalcade of horses, mules, and lumbering carts that drag the wardrobe and properties, the sudden metamorphosis of the tennis-court, where the balls have just been rattling, into a stage, the quarrels with local squires, the disturbed nights in crowded country inns, all the loves and wars of a troupe on the march. Perrault tells us what the arrangements to the theatre were in Moliere's early time. Tapestries were hung round the stage, and entrances and exits were made by struggling through the heavy curtains, which often knocked off the hat of the comedian, or gave a strange cock to the helmet of a warrior or a god. The lights were candles stuck in tin sconces at the back and sides, but luxury sometimes went so far that a chandelier of four candles was suspended from the roof. At intervals the candles were let down by a rope and pulley, and any one within easy reach snuffed them with his fingers. A flute and tambour, or two fiddlers, supplied the music. The highest prices were paid for seats in the dedans (cost of admission fivepence); for the privilege of standing up in the pit twopence-halfpenny was the charge. The doors were opened at one o'clock, the curtain rose at two. The nominal director of the Theatre Illustre in the provinces was Du Fresne; the most noted actors were Moliere, the Bejards, and Du Parc, called Gros Rene. It is extremely difficult to follow exactly the line of march of the company. They played at Bordeaux, for example, but the date of this performance, when Moliere (according to Montesquieu) failed in tragedy and was pelted, is variously given as 1644–1645 (Trallage), 1647 (Loiseleur), 1648–1658 (Lacroix). Perhaps the theatre prospered better elsewhere than in Paris, where the streets were barricaded in these early days of the war of the Fronde. We find Moliere at Nantes in 1648, at Fontenay-la-Compte, and in the spring of 1649 at Agen, Toulouse, and probably at Angouleme and Limoges. In January 165o they played at Narbonne, and between 165o and 1653 Lyons was the headquarters of the troupe. In January 1653, or perhaps 1655, Moliere gave L'Etourdi at Lyons, the first of his finished pieces, as contrasted with the slight farces with which he generally diverted a country audience. It would be interesting to have the precise date of this piece, but La Grange (1682) says that " in 1653 Moliere went to Lyons, where he gave his first comedy, L'Etourdi," while in his Registre La Grange enters the year as 1655. At Lyons de Brie and his wife, the famous Mlle de Brie, entered the troupe, and du Parc married the " marquise " de Gorla, better known as Mlle du Parc. The libellous author of La Fameuse comedienne reports that Moliere's heart was the shuttlecock of the beautiful du Parc and de Brie, and the tradition has a persistent life. Moliere's own opinion of the ladies and men of his company may be read between the lines of his Impromptu de Versailles. In 1653 Prince de Conti, after many political adventures, was residing at La Grange, near Pezenas, in Languedoc, and chance brought him into relations with his old schoolfellow Moliere. Conti had for first gentleman of his bed-chamber the abbe Daniel de Cosnac, whose memoirs now throw light for a moment on the fortunes of the wandering troupe. Cosnac engaged the company " of Moliere and of La Bejart "; but another company, that of Cormier, nearly intercepted the favour of the prince. Thanks to the resolution of Cosnac, Moliere was given one chance of appearing on the private theatre of La Grange. The excellence of his acting, the splendour of the costumes, and the insistence of Cosnac, and of Sarrasin, Conti's secretary, gained the day for Moliere, and a pension was assigned to his company (Cosnac, Memoires, i. 128; Paris, 1852). As Cosnac proposed to pay Moliere a thousand crowns of his own money to recompense him in case he was supplanted by Cormier, it is obvious that his profession had become sufficiently lucrative. In 1654, during the session of the estates of Languedoc, Moliere and his company played at Montpellier. Here Moliere danced in a ballet (Le Ballet des incompatibles) in which a number of men of rank took part, according to the fashion of the time. Moliere's own roles were those of the Poet and the Fishwife. The sport of the little piece is to introduce opposite characters, dancing and singing together. Silence dances with six women, Truth with four courtiers, Money with a poet, and so forth. Whether the ballet, or any parts of it, are by Moliere, is still disputed (La Jeunesse de Moliere, suivie du ballet des incompatibles, P. L. Jacob, Paris, 1858). In April 1655 it is certain that the troupe was at Lyons, where they met and hospitably entertained a profligate buffoon, Charles d'Assoucy, who informs the ages that Moliere kept open house, and " une table bien garnie." November 1655 found Moliere at Pezenas, where the estates of Languedoc were convened, and where local tradition points out the barber's chair in which the poet used to sit and study character. The longest of Moliere's extant autographs is a receipt, dated at Pezenas, on the 4th of February 1656, for 6000 livres, granted by the estates of Languedoc. This year was notable for the earliest representation, at Beziers, of Moliere's second finished comedy, the Depit amoureux. Conti now (1656) began to " make his soul." Almost his first act of penitence was to discard Moliere's troupe (1657), which consequently found that the liberality of the estates of Languedoc was driedup for ever. Conti's relations with Moliere must have definitively closed long before 1666, when the now pious prince wrote a treatise against the stage, and especially charged his old school-fellow with keeping a new school, a school of atheism (Traite de. la comedie, p. 24; Paris, 1666). Moliere was now (1657) independent of princes and their favour. He went on a new circuit to Nismes, Orange and Avignon, where he met another old class-mate, Chapelle, and also encountered the friend of his later life, the painter Mignard. After a later stay at Lyons, ending with a piece given for the benefit of the poor on the 27th of February 1658, Moliere passed to Grenoble, returned to Lyons, and is next found in Rouen, where, we should have said, the Theatre Illustre had played in 1643 (F. Bouquet, La Troupe de Moliere d Rouen, p. 9o; Paris, 1880). At Rouen Moliere must have made or renewed the acquaintance of Pierre and Thomas Corneille. His company had played pieces by Corneille at Lyons and elsewhere. The real business of the comedian in Rouen was to prepare his return to Paris. " After several secret journeys thither he was fortunate enough to secure the patronage of Monsieur, the king's only brother, who granted him his protection, and permitted the company to take his name, presenting them as his servants to the king and the queen mother " (Preface to La Grange's edition of 1682). The troupe appeared for the first time before Louis XIV. in a theatre arranged in the old Louvre (Oct. 24, 1658). Moliere was now thirty-six years of age. He had gained all the experience that fifteen years of practice could give. He had seen men and cities, and noted all the humours of rural and civic France. He was at the head of a company which, as La Grange, his friend and comrade, says, " sincerely loved him." He had the unlucrative patronage of a great prince to back him, and the jealousy of all playwrights, and of the old theatres of the Hotel de Bourgogne and the Marais, to contend against. In this struggle we can follow him by aid of the Registre of La Grange (a brief diary of receipts and payments), and by the help of notices in the rhymed chronicles of Loret. The first appearance of Moliere before the king was all but a failure. Nicomede, by the elder Corneille, was the piece, and we may believe that the actors of the Hotel de Bourgogne, who were present, found much to criticize. When the play was over, Moliere came forward and asked the king's permission to act " one of the little pieces with which he had been used to regale the provinces." The Docteur amoureux, one of several slight comedies admitting of much " gag," was then performed, and " diverted as much as it surprised the audience." The king commanded that the troupe should establish itself in Paris (Preface, ed. 1682). The theatre assigned to the company was a salle in the Petit Bourbon, in a line with the present Rue du Louvre. Some Italian players already occupied the house on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays; the company of Moliere played on the other days. The first piece played in the new house (Nov. 3, 1658) was L'Etourdi. La Grange says the comedy had a great success, producing seventy pistoles for each actor. The success is admitted even by the spiteful author of Elomire hypochondre (Paris, 167o): " Je jouai l'Etourdi, qui fut une merveille." The success, however, is attributed to the farcical element in the play and the acting—the cuckoo-cry of Moliere's detractors. The original of L'Etourdi is the Italian comedy (1629) L'Inavvertito, by Nicole) Barbieri detto Beltrame; Moliere pushed rather far his right to " take his own wherever he found it." Had he written nothing more original, the contemporary critic of the Festin de Pierre might have said, not untruly, that he only excelled in stealing pieces from the Italians. The piece is conventional: the stock characters of the prodigal son, the impudent valet, the old father occupy the stage. But the dialogue has amazing rapidity, and the vivacity of M. Coquelin to Mascarille made L'Etourdi a favourite on the modern stage, though it cannot be read with very much pleasure. The next piece, new in Paris, though not in the provinces, was the Depit amoureux (first acted at Beziers, 1656). The play was not less successful than L'Etourdi. It has two parts, one an Italian imbroglio; the other, which alone keeps the stage, is the original work of Moliere, though, of course, the idea of amantium irae is as old as literature. " Nothing so good," says Mr Saintsbury, " had yet been seen on the French stage, as the quarrels and reconciliations of the quartette of master, mistress, valet and soubrette." Even the hostile Le Boulanger de Chalussay (Elomire hypochondre) admits that the audience was much of this opinion: " Et de tous les c8tes chacun cria tout haut: C'est la faire et jouer les pieces comme it faut.' The same praise was given, perhaps even more deservedly, to Les Precieuses ridicules (Nov. 18, 1659). Doubts have been raised as to whether this famous piece, the first true comic satire of contemporary foibles on the French stage, was a new play. La Grange calls it piece nouvelle in his Registre; but, as he enters it as the third piece nouvelle, he may only mean that, like L'Etourdi, it was new to Paris. The short life of 1682, produced under La Grange's care, and probably written by Marcel the actor, says the Precieuses was " made " in 1659. There is another controversy as to whether the ladies of the Hotel Rambouillet, or merely their bourgeoises and rustic imitators, were laughed at. Menage, in later years at least, professed to recognize an attack on the over-refinement and affectation of the original and, in most ways, honourable precieuses of the Hotel Rambouillet. But Chapelle and Bachaumont had discovered provincial precieuses, hyper-aesthetic literary ladies, at Montpellier before Moliere's return to Paris; and Furetiere, in the Roman bourgeois (r666), found Paris full of middle-class precieuses, who had survived, or, like their modern counterparts, had thriven on ridicule. Another question is: Did Moliere copy from the earlier Precieuses of the abbe de Pure ? This charge of plagiarism is brought by Somaize, in the preface to his Veritables precieuses. De Pure's work was a novel (1656), from which the Italian actors had put together an acting-piece in their manner—that is, a thing of " gag," and improvised speeches. The reproach is interesting only because it proves how early Moliere found enemies who, like Thomas Corneille in 1659, accused him of being skilled only in farce, or, like Somaize, charged him with literary larceny. These were the stock criticisms of Moliere's opponents as long as he lived. The success of the Precieuses ridicules was immense; on one famous occasion the king was a spectator, leaning against the great chair of the dying Cardinal Mazarin. The play can never cease to please while literary affectation exists, and it has a comic force of deathless energy. Yet a modern reader may spare some sympathy for the poor heroines, who do not wish, in courtship, to " begin with marriage," but prefer first to have some less formidable acquaintance with their wooers. Moliere's next piece was less important, and more purely farcical, Sganarelle; ou le cocu imaginaire (May 28, r66o). The public taste preferred a work of this light nature, and Sganarelle was played every year as long as Moliere lived. The play was pirated by a man who pretended to have retained all the words in his memory. The counterfeit copy was published by Ribou, a double injury to Moliere, as, once printed, any company might act the play. With his habitual good-nature, Moliere not only allowed Ribou to publish later works of his, but actually lent money to that knave (Soulie, Recherches, p. 287).. On the rrth of October 166o the Theatre du Petit Bourbon was demolished by the superintendent of works, without notice given to the company. The king gave Moliere the Salle du Palais Royal, but the machinery of the old theatre was maliciously destroyed. Meanwhile the older companies of the Marais and the Hotel de Bourgogne attempted to lure away Moliere's troupe, but, as La Grange declares (Registre, p. 26), " all the actors loved their chief, who united to extraordinary genius an honour-able character and charming manner, which compelled them all to protest that they would never leave him, but always share his fortunes." While the new theatre was being put in order, the company played in the houses of the great, and before the king at the Louvre. In their new house (originally built by Richelieu) Moliere began to play on the loth of January 1661. Moliere now gratified his rivals by a failure. Don Garcie de Navarre, a heavy tragi-comedy, which had long lain among his papers, was first represented on the 4th of February 1661. Either Moliere was a poor actor outside comedy, or his manner was not sufficiently " stagy," and, as he says, " demoniac," for the taste of the day. His opponents were determined that he could not act in tragi-comedy, and he, in turn, burlesqued their pretentious and exaggerated manner in a later piece. In the Precieuses (sc. ix.) Moliere had already rallied " les grands comediens " of the Hotel Bourgogne. " Les autres," he makes Mascarille say about his own troupe, " sont des ignorants qui recitent comme Von parle, ils ne savent pas faire ronfler les vers." All this was likely to irritate the grands comediens, and their friends, who avenged themselves on that unfortunate jealous prince, Don Garcie de Navarre. The subject of this unsuccessful drama is one of many examples which show how Moliere's mind was engaged with the serious or comic aspects of jealousy, a passion which he had soon cause to know most intimately. Meantime the everyday life of the stage went on, and the doorkeeper of the Theatre St Germain was wounded by some revellers who tried to force their way into the house (La Grange, Registre). A year later, an Italian actor was stabbed in front of Moliere's house, where he had sought to take shelter (Campardon, Nouvelles pieces, p. 2o). To these dangers actors were peculiarly subject: Moliere himself was frequently threatened by the marquises and others whose class he ridiculed on the stage, and there seems even reason to believe that there is some truth in the story of the angry marquis who rubbed the poet's head against his buttons, thereby cutting his face severely. The story comes late (1725) into his biography, but is supported by a passage in the contemporary play, Zelinde (Paris, 1663, scene viii.). Before Easter, Moliere asked for two shares in the profits of his company, one for himself, and one for his wife, if he married. That fatal step was already contemplated (La Grange). On the 24th of June he brought out for the first time L'Ecole des marls. The general idea of the piece is as old as Menander, and Moliere was promptly accused of pilfering from the Adelphi of Terence. One of the ficelles of the comedy is borrowed from a story as old, at least, as Boccaccio, and still amusing in a novel by Charles de Bernard. It is significant of Moliere's talent that the grotesque and baffled paternal wooer, Sganarelle, like several other butts in Moliere's comedy, does to a certain extent win our sympathy and pity as well as our laughter. The next new piece was Les Fascheux, a comedieballet, the Comedy of Bores, played before the king at Fouquet's house at Vaux le Vicomte (Aug. 15-20, 1661). The comedians, without knowing it, were perhaps the real " fascheux " on this occasion, for Fouquet was absorbed in the schemes of his insatiable ambition (Quo non ascendam? says his motto), and the king was organizing the arrest and fall of Fouquet, his rival in the affections of La Valliere. The author of the prologue to Les Fascheux, Pellisson, a friend of Fouquet's, was arrested with the superintendent of finance. Pellisson's prologue and name were retained in the later editions. In the dedication to the king Moliere says that Louis suggested one scene (that of the Sportsman), and in another place he mentions that the piece was written, rehearsed, and played in a fortnight. The fundamental idea of the play, the interruptions by bores, is suggested by a satire of Regnier's, and that by a satire of Horace. Perhaps it may have been the acknowledged suggestions of the king which made gossips declare that Moliere habitually worked up hints and memoires given him by persons of quality (Nouvelles nouvelles, 1663). In February 1662 Moliere married Armande Bejard. The date is given thus in the Registre of La Grange: " Mardy 14, Les Visionnaires, L'Ecol des M. " Part. Visite chez Me d'Equeuilly." And on the margin he has painted a blue circle—his way of recording a happy event—with the words, " mariage de M. de Moliere au sortir de la Visite." M. Loiseleur gives the date in one passage as the 29th of February; in another as the loth of February. But La Grange elsewhere mentions the date as " Shrove Tuesday," which was, it seems, the 14th of February. Elsewhere M. Loiseleue makes the date of the marriage a vague day " in January." The truth is that the marriage contract is dated the 23rd of January 1662 (Soulie, Documents, p. 203). Where it is so difficult to establish the date of the marriage, a simple fact, it must be infinitely harder to discover the truth as to the conduct of Mme Moliere. The abominable assertions of the anonymous libel, Les Intrigues de Moliere et celles de sa femme; ou la fameuse comedienne (1688), have found their way into tradition, and are accepted by many biographers. But M. Livet and M. Bazin have proved that the alleged lovers of Mme Moliere were actually absent from France, or from the court, at the time when they are reported, in the libel, to have conquered her heart. A conversation between Chapelle and Moliere, in which the comedian is made to tell the story of his wrongs, is plainly a mere fiction, and is answered in Grimarest by another dialogue between Moliere and Rohault, in which Moliere only complains of a jealousy which he knows to be unfounded. It is noticed, too, that the contemporary assailants of Moliere counted him among jealous, but not among deceived, husbands. The hideous accusation brought by the actor Montfleury, that Moliere had married his own daughter, Louis XIV. answered by becoming the godfather of Moliere's child. The king, indeed, was a firm friend of the actor, and, when Moliere was accused of impiety on the production of Don Juan (1665) Louis gave him a pension. We need not try to make Mme Moliere a vertu, as French ladies of the theatre say, but it is certain that the charges against her are unsubstantiated. It is generally thought that Moliere drew her portrait in Le Bourgeois genlilhomme (acte u1. sc. ix.), " ale est capricieuse, mais on souffre tout des belles." From 1662 onwards Moliere suffered the increasing hatred of his rival actors. La Grange mentions the visit of Floridor and Montfleury to the queen mother, and their attempt to obtain equal favour, " la troupe de Moliere leur dormant beau-coup de jalouzie " (Aug. 12, 1662). On the 26th of December was played for the first time the admirable Ecole des femmes, which provoked a literary war, and caused a shower of " paper bullets of the brain." The innocence of Agnes was called indecency; the sermon of Arnolphe was a deliberate attack on Christian mysteries. We have not the space to discuss the religious ideas of Moliere; but both in L'Ecole des femmes and in Don Juan he does display a bold contempt for the creed of " boiling chaldrons " and of physical hell. A brief list of the plays and pamphlets provoked by L'Ecole des femmes is all we can offer in this place. December 26, 1662.—Ecole des femmes. February 9, 1663.—Nouvelles nouvelles, by De Vise. Moliere is accused of pilfering from Straparola. June 1, 1663.—Moliere's own piece, Critique de l'ecole des femmes. In this play Moliere retorts on the critics, and especially on his favourite butt, the critical marquess. August 1663.—Zelinde, a play by De Vise, is printed. The scene is in the shop of a seller of lace, where persons of quality meet, and attack the reputation of " Elomire "—that is, Moliere. He steals from the Italian, the Spanish, from Furetiere's Francion, " it lit tous Ies vieux bouquins," he insults the noblesse, he insults Christianity, and so forth. November 17, 1663.—Portrait du peintre is printed—an attack on Moliere by Boursault. This piece is a detailed criticism, by several persons, of L'Ecole des femmes. It is pronounced dull, vulgar, farcical, obscene and (what chiefly vexed Moliere, who knew the danger of the accusation) impious. Perhaps the only biographical matter we gain from Boursault's play is the interesting fact that Moliere was a tennis-player. On the 4th November 1663, Moliere replied with L'Impromptu de Versailles, a witty and merciless attack on his critics, in which Boursault was mentioned by name. The actors of the Hotel de Bourgogne were parodied on the stage, and their art was ridiculed. The next scenes in this comedy of comedians were: November 3o.—The Panegyrique de l'ecole des femmes, by Robinet. December 7.—Reponse a l'impromptu; ou la vengeance des marquis, by De Vise. January 19, 1664.—L'Impromptu de l'hOtel de Conde. It is a reply by a son of Montfleury. March 17, 1664.—La Guerre comique; ou defense de l'ecole des femmes. 1664.—Lettre sur les affaires du theatre, published in Diversites galantes. by the author of Zelinde. In all those quarrels the influence of Corneille was opposed to Moliere, while his cause was espoused by Boileau, a useful ally, when " les comediens et les auteurs, depuis le cadre [Corneille?] jusqu'a l'hysope, sont diablement animas contre lui " (Impromptu de Versailles, sc. v.). Moliere's next piece was Le Mariage force (Feb. 15, 1664), a farce with a ballet. The comic character of the reluctant bridegroom excites contemptuous pity, as well as laughter. From the end of April till the 22nd of May the troupe was at Versailles, acting among the picturesque pleasures of that great festival of the king's. The Princesse d'Elide was acted for the first time, and the three first acts of Tartuffe were given. Moliere's natural hatred of hypocrisy had not been diminished by the charges of blasphemy which were showered on him after the Ecole des femmes. Tartuffe made enemies everywhere. Jansenists and Jesuits, like the two marquesses in L'Impromptu de Versailles, each thought the others were aimed at. Five years passed before Moliere got permission to play the whole piece in public. In the interval it was acted before Madame, Conde, the legate, and was frequently read by Moliere in private houses. The Gazette of the 17th of May 1664 (a paper hostile to Moliere) says that the king thought the piece inimical to religion. Louis was not at that time on good terms with the devots, whom his amours scandalized; but, not impossibly, the queen mother (then suffering from her fatal malady) disliked the play. A most violent attack on Moliere, " that demon clad in human flesh," was written by one Pierre Roulle (Le Roy glorieux au monde, Paris, 1664). This fierce pamphlet was suppressed, but the king's own copy, in red morocco with the royal arms, remains to testify to the bigotry of the author, who was cure of Saint Barthelemy. According to Roulle, Moliere deserved to be sent through earthly to eternal fires. The play was prohibited, as we have seen, but in August 1665 the king adopted Moliere's troupe as his servants, and gave them the title of " troupe du roy." This, however, did not cause Moliere to relax his efforts to obtain permission for Tartuffe (or Tartufe, or Tartufle, as it was variously spelled), and his perseverance was at length successful. That his thoughts were busy with contemporary hypocrisy is proved by certain scenes in one of his greatest pieces, the Festin de Pierre, or Don Juan (Feb. 15, 1665). The legend of Don Juan was familiar already on the Spanish, Italian and French stages. Moliere made it a new thing: terrible and romantic in its portrait of un grand seigneur mauvais homme, modern in its suggested substitution of la humanite for religion, comic, even among his comedies, by the mirthful character of Sganarelle. The piece filled the theatre, but was stopped, probably by authority, after Easter. It was not printed by Moliere, and even in 1682 the publication of the full text was not permitted. Happily the copy of De la Regnie, the chief of the police, escaped obliterations, and gave us the full scene of Don Juan and the Beggar. The piece provoked a virulent criticism (Observations sur le festin de Pierre, 1665). It is allowed that Moliere has some farcical talent, and is not unskilled as a plagiarist, but he " attacks the interests of Heaven," " keeps a school of infidelity," " insults the king," " corrupts virtue," " offends the queen-mother " and so , forth. Two replies were published, one of which is by some critics believed to show traces of the hand of Moliere. The king's reply, as has been shown, was to adopt Moliere's company as his servants, and to pension them. L'Amour medecin, a light comedy, appeared on the 22nd of September 1665. In this piece Moliere, for the second time, attacked physicians. In December there was a quarrel with Racine about his play of Alexandre, which he treacherously transferred to the Hotel de Bourgogne. The 4th of June 1666 saw the first representation of that famous play, Le Misanthrope (ou L'Atrabiliaire amoureux, as the original second title ran). This piece, perhaps the masterpiece of Moliere, was more successful with the critics, with the court, and with posterity than with the public. The rival comedians called it " a new style of comedy," and so it was. The eternal passions and sentiments of human nature, modified by the influence of the utmost refinement of civilization, were the matter of the piece. The school for scandal kept by Celimene, with its hasty judgments on all characters, gave the artist a wide canvas. The perpetual strife between the sensible optimism of a kindly man of the world (Philinte) and the saeva indignatio of a noble nature soured (Alceste) supplies the intellectual action. The humours of the joyously severe Celimene and of her court, especially of that deathless minor poet Oronte, supply the lighter comedy. Boileau, Lessing, Goethe have combined to give this piece the highest rank even among the comedies of Moliere. As to the " keys " to the characters, and the guesses about the original from whom Alceste was drawn, they are as valueless as other contemporary tattle. A briefer summary must be given of the remaining years of the life of Moliere. The attractions of Le Misanthrope were reinforced (Aug. 6) by those of the Medecin malgre lui, an amusing farce founded on an old fabliau. In December the court and the comedians went to St Germain, where, among other diversions, the pieces called Melicerte, La Pastorale comique (of which Moliere is said to have destroyed the MS.) and the charming little piece Le Sicilien were performed. A cold and fatigue seem to have injured the health of Moliere, and we now hear of the consumptive tendency which was cruelly ridiculed in Elomire hypochondre. Moliere was doubtless obliged to see too much of the distracted or pedantic physicians of an age when medicine was the battlefield of tradition, superstition, and nascent chemical science. On the 17th of April 1667 Robinet, the rhyming gazetteer, says that the life of Moliere was thought to be in danger. On the loth of June, however, he played in Le Sicilien before the town. In the earlier months of 1667 Louis XIV. was with the army in Flanders. There were embassies sent from the comedy to the camp, and on the 5th of August it was apparent that Moliere had overcome the royal scruples. Tartuffe was played, but Lamoignon stopped it after the first night. La Grange and La Torilliere hastened to the camp, and got the king's promise that he would reconsider the matter on his return. Moliere's next piece (Jan. 13, 1668) was Amphitryon, a free—a very free—adaptation from Plautus, who then seems to have engaged his attention; for not long afterwards he again borrowed from the ancient writer in L'Avare. There is a controversy as to whether Amphitryon was meant to ridicule M. de Montespan, the husband of the new mistress of Louis XIV. Michelet has a kind of romance based on this probably groundless hypothesis. The king still saw the piece occasionally, after he had purged himself and forsworn sack under Mme de Maintenon, and probably neither he nor that devout lady detected any personal references in the coarse and witty comedy. As usual, Moliere was accused of plagiarizing, this time from Rotrou, who had also imitated Plautus. The next play was the immortal George Dandin (July 1o), first played at a festival at Versailles. Probably the piece was a rapid palimpsest on the ground of one of his old farces, but the addition of these typical members of a county family, the De Sotenville, raises the work from farce to satiric comedy. The story is borrowed from Boccaccio, but is of unknown age, and always new—Adolphus Crosbie in The Small House at Allington being a kind of modern George Dandin. Though the sad fortunes of this peasant with social ambition do not fail to make us pity him somewhat, it is being too refined to regard George Dandin as a comedy with a concealed tragic intention. Moliere must have been at work on L'Avare before George Dandin appeared, for the new comedy after Plautus was first acted on the 9th of September. There is a tradition that the piece almost failed; but, if unpopular in the first year of its production, it certainly gained favour before the death of its author. M. de Pourceaugnac (Sept. 17, 1669) was first acted at Chambord, for the amusement of the king. It is a rattling farce. The physicians, as usual, bore the brunt of Moliere's raillery, some of which is still applicable. Earlier in 1669 (Feb. 5) Tartuffe was played at last, with extraordinary success. Les Amants magnifiques, a comedy-ballet, was acted first at St Germain(Feb. ro, r67o). The king might have been expected to dance in the ballet, but from Racine's Britannicus (Dec. 13, 1669) the majestical monarch learned that Nero was blamed for exhibitions of this kind, and he did not wish to out-Nero Nero. Astrology this time took the place of medicine as a butt, but the satire has become obsolete, except, perhaps, in Turkey, where astrology is still a power. The Bourgeois gentilhomme, too familiar to require analysis, was first played on the 23rd of October 1770. The lively Fourberies de Scapin " saw the footlights" (if footlights there were) on the 24th of May 167r, and on the 7th of May we read in La Grange, " les Repetitions de Spsyche ont commance." La Grange says the theatre was newly decorated and fitted with machines. A " concert of twelve violins" was also provided, the company being resolute to have every-thing handsome about them. New singers were introduced, who did not refuse to sing unmasked on the stage. Quinault composed the words for the music, which was by Lulli; Moliere and Pierre Corneille collaborated in the dialogue of this magnificent opera, the name of which (Psyche) La Grange eventually learned how to spell.. The Comtesse d'Escarbagnas (Feb. 2, 1672) was another piece for the amusement of the court, and made part of an entertainment called Le Ballet des ballets. In this play, a study of provincial manners, Moliere attacked the financiers of the time in the person of M. Harpin. The comedy has little importance compared with Les Femmes savantes (Feb. 1r), a severer Precieuses, in which are satirized the vanity and affectation of sciolists, pedants and the women who admire them. The satire is never out of date, and finds its modern form in Le Monde on l'on s'ennuie, by M. Pailleron. On the 17th of February Madeleine Bejard died, and was buried at St Paul. She did not go long before her old friend or lover Moliere. His Manage force, founded, perhaps, on a famous anecdote of Gramont, was played on the 18th of July. On the 7th of August La Grange notes that Moliere was indisposed, and there was no comedy. Moliere's son died on the 11th of October. On the 22nd of November the preparations for the Malade imaginaire were begun. On the roth of February 1673 the piece was acted for the first time. What occurred on the 17th of February we translate from the Registre of La Grange: " This same day, about ten o'clock at night, after the comedy, Monsieur de Moliere died in his house, Rue de Richelieu. He had played the part of the said Malade, suffering much from cold and inflammation, which caused a violent ccugh. In the violence of the cough he burst a vessel in his body, and did not live more than half" an hour or three-quarters after the bursting of the vessel. His body is buried at St Joseph's, parish of St Eustache. There is a gravestone raised about a foot above the ground." Moliere's funeral is thus described in a letter, said to be by an eyewitness, discovered by M. Benjamin Fillon: " Tuesday, 21st February, about nine in the evening, was buried Jean Baptiste Poquelin Moliere, tapissier valet de chambre, and a famous actor. There was no procession, except three ecclesiastics; four priests bore the body in a wooden bier covered with a pall, six children in blue carried candles in silver holders, and there were lackeys with burning torches of wax. The body . . . was taken to St Joseph's churchyard, and buried at the foot of the cross. There was a great crowd, and some twelve hundred livres were distributed among the poor. The archbishop had given orders that Moliere should be interred without any ceremony, and had even forbidden the clergy of the diocese to do any service for him. Nevertheless a number of masses were commanded to be said for the deceased." When an attempt was made to exhume the body of Moliere in 1792, the wrong tomb appears to have been opened. Unknown is the grave of Moliere. Moliere, according to Mlle Poisson, who had seen him in her extreme youth, was " neither too stout nor too thin, tall rather than short; he had a noble carriage, a good leg, walked slowly, and had a very serious expression. His nose was thick, his mouth large with thick lips, his complexion brown, his eyebrows black and strongly marked, and it was his way of moving these that gave him his comic expression on the stage." " His eyes seemed to search the deeps of men's hearts," says the author of Zelinde. The inventories printed by M. Soulie prove that Moliere was fond of rich dress, splendid furniture, and old books. The charm of his conversation is attested by the names of his friends, who were all the wits of the age, and the greater their genius the greater their love of Moliere. As an actor, friends and enemies agreed in recognizing him as most successful in comedy. His ideas of tragic declamation were in advance of his time, for he set his face against the prevalent habit of ranting. His private character was remarkable for gentleness, probity, generosity and delicacy, qualities attested not only by anecdotes but by the evidence of documents. He is probably the greatest of all comic writers within the limits of social and refined, as distinguished from romantic, comedy like that of Shakespeare, and political comedy like that of Aristophanes. He has the humour which is but a sense of the true value of life, and noW takes the form of the most vivacious wit and the keenest observation, now of melancholy and pity and wonder at the fortunes of mortal men. In the literature of France his is the greatest name, and in the literature of the modern drama the greatest after that of Shakespeare. Besides his contemplative genius he possessed an unerring knowledge of the theatre, the knowledge of a great actor and a great manager, and hence his plays can never cease to hold the stage, and to charm, if possible, even more in the performance than in the reading. The best biography of Moliere on a level with the latest researches into his life is that in vol. x. of his works in Grands ecrivains de la France (Eugene Despois and Paul Mesnard). The next best is probably that of M. Taschereau, prefixed to an edition of his works (fEuvres completes, Paris, 1863). To this may be added Jules Loiseleur's Les Points obscurs de la vie de Moliere (Paris, 1877). We have seen that M. Loiseleur is not always accurate, but he is laborious. For other books it is enough to recommend the excellent Bibliographie molieresque of M. Paul Lacroix (1875), which is an all but faultless guide. The best edition of Moliere's works for the purposes of the student is that published in Les Grands ecrivains de la France (Hachette, Paris, 1874-1882). It contains reprints of many contemporary tracts, and, with the Registre of La Grange, and the Collection molieresque of M. Lacroix, is the chief source of the facts stated in this notice, in cases where the rarity of documents has prevented the writer from studying them in the original texts. Another valuable authority is the Recherches sur Moliere et sur sa famille of Ed. Soulie (1863). Lotheisen's Moliere, sein Leben and seine Werke (Frankfurt, 188o), is a respect-able German compilation. Le Molieriste (Tresse, Paris, ed. by M. Georges Monval) was a monthly serial, containing notes on Moliere and his plays, by a number of contributors. The essays, biographies, plays and poems on Moliere are extremely numerous. The best guide to these is the indispensable Bibliographic of M. Lacroix. (A. L.)
End of Article: MOLIERE (1622-1673)
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Moliere began the study of law but disliked it and preferred to devote himself to the theatre, join ing up with a traveling troupe of players.
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