Jean Mairet Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Jean Mairet was descended from a staunchly Catholic family that had emigrated from Westphalia to Besançon during the Reformation. Baptized on May 10, 1604, he lost both parents at an early age. He began his studies in Besançon, later transferring, following an outbreak of the plague, to the Collège des Grassins in Paris. The plague, this time in Paris, interrupted his studies once again. At this point, Mairet seems to have gone to Fontainebleau to make contacts at court. He quickly won the favor of the duke of Montmorency, an enlightened patron of the arts, who invited him to his château. There Mairet met another of the duke’s protégés, the poet Théophile de Viau, who became his friend and literary mentor. Although Théophile spent most of his final years in prison, Mairet never disguised his admiration for the older poet and even edited a portion of his correspondence. In 1625, Mairet volunteered to join his patron in an expedition against the Protestants of La Rochelle and distinguished himself in two battles. When, upon the capture of the islands of Ré and Oléron, the campaign came to a speedy halt, the duke appointed Mairet his secretary and granted him a pension of fifteen hundred pounds.

It is not clear when Mairet began to write for the stage. In the dedicatory epistle to Les Galanteries du duc d’Ossonne, he claims to have written his first play at the age of sixteen, when barely out of school, and he gives dates for the composition of his other plays, as well. Because he deliberately misled the public about his age, however, claiming to have been born in 1610 (a statement generally accepted until later biographers located and published his baptismal certificate), his chronology must be viewed with suspicion. While trying to appear as more of a child prodigy than he really was, Mairet must have realized that readers of the dedication would remember the dates of the plays’ premieres and the intervals between them. It is thus likely that the chronology he presents is accurate, provided that one adds six years to each of his figures. The resulting dates are closer to conformity with the dates of publication of the plays, for, except in the case of Chryséide et Arimand, which he later disavowed and which was printed without his authorization, there is no apparent reason why Mairet should have waited an average of six or seven years before publishing each successive play.

By the time he wrote his third play, Mairet had been considerably influenced by the duchess of Montmorency and her circle. The duchess, a cultivated patron of the arts like her husband, was a descendant of the powerful Orsini...

(The entire section is 1084 words.)