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Jean Baptiste Poquelin Molière (1622-1673)

  • French actor and playwright; considered the greatest writer of comedy and one of the representative figures of the Enlightenment

  • Born in 1622, son of Paris upholsterer in the service of the king

  • Real name, Jean Baptiste Poquelin; took stage name, Molière, by 1644

  • Educated at the Collège de Claremont

  • Left home in 1643 and eventually joined Béjart family theatre company

  • First performed for Louis XIV in 1658 with Béjart company

  • Married Armande Béjart in 1662

  • Company adopted by the king as "Troupe du roi," 1665 (eventually "La Comédie Française," 1680)

  • Enjoyed much success and popularity but also suffered attacks and persecution for his satires of the pretentions and hypocrisy of middle and upper class French society

  • Collapsed on the stage, and later died, while performing his play, The Imaginary Invalid, in 1673

Main Works

  • The Affected Young Ladies (Les Précieuses Ridicules) (also known as The High-Brow Ladies) (1659), Molière's first success; about two provincial girls affecting elegance and wit.

  • The School for Wives (L'École des femmes) (1662), the first performance caused a great scandal; the pedantic Arnoplhe is afraid of women and decides to marry a girl without any experience of the world; the young woman's natural intelligence and perceptiveness are used as a vehicle of Molière's critical insights

  • Tartuffe (Le Tartuffe ou l'imposteur; Tartuffe or the Impostor) (1664), originally a 3-act play, banned and later reissued in 5-acts in 1667 (also banned) and 1669 (current version); about a religious hypocrite and scoundrel who deceives the gullible Orgon, tries to seduce his wife, and takes possession of his house and property.

  • The Misanthrope (Le Misanthrope) (1666), Alceste (originally played by Molière) has very high standards and finds fault with everyone but is in love with Célimène, a witty and worldly society lady.

  • The Imaginary Invalid (Le Malade imaginaire) (1673), Molière's last play; about a hypochondriac afraid of death and of doctors; Molière died shortly after playing the title role in the fourth performance of this play.


Louis XIII (1601-1643, reigned 1610-1643), ruled with the help of his chief minister Cardinal de Richelieu.

Cardinal de Richelieu (1585-1642), minister of Louis XIII, chief minister since 1624, in full control of France since 1630; founder of French Academy and protector of artists and writers; at times instigated anti-protestant policies.

Marie de Medici (1573-1642) mother of Louis XIII, Regent (1610-1614), initially supported Richelieu, eventually became enemy of Richeliu and was exiled in 1631.

Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), struggle of German Protestant princes in alliance with France, Sweden, England, Denmark and others against Holy Roman Empire (Hapsburgs) and Catholic German nobility; Peace of Prague (1635); hostility of Richelieu toward Hapsburgs; French offensive (1635); Peace of Westphalia (1648); France emerged as dominant power.

Louis XIV, Le Roi Soleil ("The Sun King") (1638-1715, reigned 1643-1715), married Spanish princess Marie Therese (1660); absolutism; profoundly anti-Protestant; 1685 revocation of Edict of Nantes which was originally issued in 1598 by Henry IV in protection of Protestant rights of worship.

Cardinal Jules Mazarin (1602-1661), chief minister to Anne of Austria (1643) and her son, Louis XIV; participated in negotiation of Peace of Westphalia (1648); forced into exile in 1651 by Fronde Revolt but returned victorious in 1653; negotiated peace with Spain, Peace of the Pyrenees (1659).

Anne of Austria (1601-1666) mother of Louis XIV and Regent of France (1643-1651), perhaps secretly married to minister Jules Mazarin.

The Fronde Revolt (1648-1653), series of anti-royal, anti-absolutist, anti-taxation, anti-Mazarin rebellions instigated by Parlement de Paris, French nobility, spread to popular classes.

Palace of Versailles, built by Louis XIV as place of entertainment, major expansion after 1668, seat of government moved to Versailles in 1682.

Selected Quotations

"I wonder if it is not better to try to correct and moderate men's passions than to try to suppress them altogether" (Molière)

"the function of comedy is to correct men's vices"; "[a comedy is] a clever poem which corrects men's faults by means of agreeable lessons" (Molière)



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