Molière is the stage name of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, one of the most important dramatists in French history. His plays have been delighting and intriguing audiences since they were first performed in seventeenth-century France, at which time they pleased King Louis XIV and changed the face of French comic drama. A subtle and profound satirist, actor, philosopher, and master of character, Molière combined all of these elements into his plays, drawing heavily from tradition but also incorporating his own unique insights. Skillfully combining his acting and writing skills, he was also an incisive social critic, ridiculing institutions from organized religion to medicine, and poking fun at the Parisian bourgeoisie (the middle class made up of prosperous tradesmen).
Le Malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid) was Molière’s final play, first performed in February 1673 in Paris. A satire of the medical profession and a comedy-ballet, or a comedy combined with song and dance, the play contains a good deal of farce and was written to amuse King Louis XIV. It is also a superb character study of a hypochondriac, or a patient obsessed with being ill, and it contains a brilliant social and political commentary on Paris in the 1670s. Many critics have even found a subtle but powerful philosophical strain in the work, and it is an excellent example of the stylized comedy-ballet popular in Louis XIV’s courtly theater. Molière himself played the main role of the hypochondriac Argan, and famously coughed up blood during his fourth performance, dying later that evening in what came to be known as a bitter irony, given the play’s subject of imaginary illness. The play is now widely available in collections such as the 2000 Penguin Classics edition of The Miser and Other Plays: A New Selection, in which it is translated as The Hypochondriac.