Molière Biography

Molière Biography

Molière really knew how to tick people off. Born in 1622, he is considered France’s answer to Shakespeare and is arguably the greatest writer of neoclassical comedy. Several of his plays drew the ire of members of the inner circles of French aristocracy. Many were scandalized by his comedy of infidelity, The School for Wives. Not content to accept the rebukes quietly, Molière wrote a short play, The School for Wives Criticized, which defended his writing and poked fun at those who opposed him. The biggest controversy, however, was precipitated by his satire of religious hypocrisy, Tartuffe. Because of the king’s close ties to the church, the play was roundly condemned. After two rewrites, Tartuffe finally debuted in an edited version several years later. It has since become a classic of world literature.

Facts and Trivia

  • The playwright was born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin. He later took Molière as a stage name.
  • At one point, Molière came in close contact with an Italian theatrical troupe. The influence of the troupe’s commedia dell’arte is evident throughout his plays.
  • Molière was an actor as well as a writer. He and his wife often played the principal roles in his plays.
  • Molière collapsed onstage during a performance and died shortly thereafter. Ironically, he was performing the title role in The Imaginary Invalid, which ridiculed doctors and medicine.
  • Because of the lowly status of theater people during his time, Molière was denied a Christian burial.


(History of the World: The 17th and 18th Centuries)
0111201614-Moliere.jpg Molière (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: By grafting character study and social commentary upon traditional farce, Molière became the creator of modern French comedy and continues to be ranked as France’s finest comic playwright.

Early Life

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin was born in Paris, France, and was baptized on January 15, 1622, the eldest child of Marie Cressé Poquelin and Jean Poquelin, who came from well-to-do families, prominent for two generations as merchant upholsterers. Jean-Baptiste was followed by five other children, only three of whom survived. When he was ten years of age, his mother died, and his father remarried and moved to a house in the cultural and social center of Paris. Meanwhile, Poquelin was assuring his son’s future. He sent Jean-Baptiste to the Jesuit College of Clermont, an excellent school which was attended by students of the most prominent families, and then had him begin the study of law in Orléans. In 1641, Jean-Baptiste became a notary.

In a society whose center was the king, anyone who was ambitious needed court connections. In 1631, Jean Poquelin had purchased from his brother the largely honorary office of valet and upholsterer to the king. Six years later, he had obtained hereditary rights to the position for Jean-Baptiste and had him take the oath of office. Given his family background, his education, his profession, and his future court position, Jean-Baptiste’s pathway to prosperity seemed clearly marked.

Jean-Baptiste, however, had fallen under the influence of the actress Madeleine Béjart, and in 1643 he renounced his court position, abandoned his social status, and even risked damnation, according to the clerics of his time, in order to become an actor. Béjart, her brother Joseph, her sister Geneviève, Jean-Baptiste (now calling himself Molière), and nine other actors formed a theatrical company, rented a theater, and, at the beginning of 1644, began to produce their plays. They were, however, unsuccessful. Their financial condition was so poor that Molière, who had become the manager of the troupe, was twice imprisoned for debt and had to be rescued by his father.

In 1646, Molière and the three Béjarts, along with several other actors, began a tour of the provinces. During the next twelve years, Molière learned his craft as an actor, who before long was regularly cast in leading roles; as a producer and financial manager; and as a writer, who practiced his skill in farcical sketches before proceeding to full-length plays. By 1658, Molière and his troupe of seasoned actors were ready once again to attempt the conquest of Paris. With his self-discipline, his energy, and his dedication to the theater, Molière was to prove a brilliant leader. Although his hatred of hypocrisy, which he expressed in telling satire, would earn for him enemies, his genius would bring him friends to defend him, not the least his king. While he was uncompromising in principle, Molière was tolerant in practice and equipped with consistent good humor. It was fortunate that Molière possessed such qualities, for there would be adversities during the last fifteen years of his life that must have made him yearn for the carefree, vagabond days in the provinces.

Life’s Work

On October 24, 1658, Molière and his troupe gave the performance that would determine their future. They appeared at the Louvre before the young King Louis XIV, his brother Philippe, or “Monsieur,” and the court. Although the king was unenthusiastic about their major play, a tragedy by Pierre Corneille, he enjoyed Molière’s farce. As a result, the troupe was granted permission to play at the royal Petit-Bourbon theater, where they shared performance days with the Italian Comedians until the Italians went back to Italy in July, 1659. Because they were under the patronage of Philippe, Molière’s troupe was called the troupe de Monsieur (Monsieur’s troupe).

It is not surprising that the king preferred Molière’s comedies to other plays that the company performed. Although they were based on Italian comedies and farces, Molière’s plays were superior in language, in wit, in the inventiveness of their plots, and, above all, in the realistic depiction of character. Soon the company was reviving Molière’s earlier full-length plays, written when he was in the provinces, L’étourdi: Ou, Les Contretemps (1653; The Blunderer, 1678) and Le Dépit amoureux (1656; The Love-Tiff, 1930). Molière followed them with his first comedy of manners, Les Précieuses ridicules (1659; The Affected Young Ladies, 1732), which satirizes the affectations of Parisian society. This play was then followed by Sganarelle: Ou, Le Cocu imaginaire (1662; Sganarelle, 1755), a complicated story of love and misunderstanding, which became one of Louis’s favorites.

A contemporary portrait of Molière at breakfast with Louis XIV reveals the strength of character which was one of the playwright’s dominant traits. Molière’s sharp features, hawklike nose, and firm chin reflect his determination; barely resting on the chair, he is all nervous energy, a creative artist temporarily restrained only by the presence of his monarch.

Unfortunately, the approval of the king and the adulation of the public aroused the jealousy of rival troupes, who intrigued against him and in 1660 succeeded in having his theater torn down without...

(The entire section is 2249 words.)

Molière Biography

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Molière, the creator of high French comedy, led a theatrical troupe that, after thirteen years touring the provinces, was brought to Paris in 1659 and placed under the patronage of King Louis XIV. Molière soon learned, however, that influential members of the royal court and even Louis himself would not tolerate performances of any play that dealt overtly with religious hypocrisy.

Two of his comic masterpieces, Tartuffe (1664), which was not performed until 1669, and Don Juan (1665), which was not published during Molière’s lifetime, both provoked strongly negative reactions from influential people, including the archbishop of Paris and the head of the Paris Court of Appeals. The play’s opponents believed that any portrayal of religious hypocrisy might diminish public respect for true spirituality.

In a royal edict announced in May, 1664, King Louis condemned Tartuffe as “absolutely injurious to religion and capable of producing very dangerous results.” In order to persuade the king to reverse this edict, Molière made significant revisions, portraying the title character not only as a religious hypocrite but also as a violent criminal who attempts to rape a woman. The 1669 version of Tartuffe points out that the king himself ordered the arrest of this reprehensible criminal, who escaped punishment for many years. In addition to praising the king’s sense of justice, Molière also stressed in a lengthy preface that nothing in this comedy should be interpreted as criticism of true piety.

While Molière was finally successful in obtaining permission to perform and publish Tartuffe, the same cannot be said about Don Juan. The title character in this comedy is not just a seducer of women but also a religious hypocrite. In one scene, he explains that the latter is a “privileged vice,” since people do not dare criticize religious hypocrisy because they might be accused of not showing proper respect for religion. Don Juan was banned after just fifteen performances in early 1665. In 1682 members of Molière’s troupe attempted to publish Don Juan, but the royal censor demanded that all references to religious hypocrisy be eliminated from the published edition. By extraordinary luck, three uncensored copies of the 1682 edition of Don Juan were discovered in the 1830’s, and readers can now appreciate this play for themselves. Molière’s plays have long since come to be regarded as cornerstones of French classical theater.

Molière Biography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Very little is known of the personal life of Molière, born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin. He left no diary, no memoirs, no correspondence, no autobiography. The first biography, J.-L. Le Gallois Grimarest’s Vie de Monsieur de Molière (1705), is interesting, but it was not published until thirty-two years after Molière’s death, and is therefore considered questionable by most modern scholars. Anything written by his contemporaries was polemical in nature.

Molière was baptized January 15, 1622, on the rue Saint-Honoré. He was of a good bourgeois family that had recently come to Paris from Beauvais. His father was a merchant and “upholsterer by appointment of the King,” having received the title from his brother. Molière’s mother died in 1632, and his father soon remarried, only to become a widower again in 1636.

Between 1632 and 1639, Molière attended the Collège de Clermont, studied law in Orléans, and became a lawyer. In addition, in 1637, his father arranged for his son to succeed him in his official charge. Molière was not much interested in the law, however, and his practice was not brisk, nor was he inclined to follow in his father’s footsteps.

It is said that Molière’s grandfather often took him to the Hôtel de Bourgogne to see French tragedy and Italian comedy. Around 1640, Molière probably met Tiberio Fiurelli, known as Scaramouche in the Italian theater, and became closely associated with the Béjart family. Its members were involved in the arts, particularly theater, and were somewhat eccentric, but they lived in the fashionable Marais section of Paris and had some good connections. Their oldest daughter, Madeleine, known as an actress, was the sometime mistress of the Baron de Modène and mother of a child recognized by him. At a time when “actor” and “outlaw” were considered synonymous by many, Molière chose the life of the theater. He was giving up the security and respectability offered him, not only by the right to succeed his father, but also by the legal profession. At first, he chose not to write for the theater, instead pursuing a career as an actor.

The Illustre Théâtre was founded in 1643 by the Béjarts and other actors, including Molière, not for profit at first but simply for their entertainment and that of the bourgeoisie of Paris. The troupe was under the protection of Gaston, the duke of Orléans, brother of Louis XIII, who did not always remember to pay his actors. They rented and appointed a former tennis court as a theater, opened their doors in 1644, and were soon in serious financial difficulty. Marie Hervé, mother of the Béjart girls, helped her children and Molière, who had by then taken this name and was head of the troupe. Despite all measures, matters grew worse. In 1645, Molière was sued by numerous creditors and experienced a brief sojourn in debtors’ prison. He had made many friends among Parisian men of letters and their noble patrons, however, and formulated his philosophy of the theater. He had not wasted his time.

On his release from prison, Molière decided to leave Paris to try his luck in another troupe. Madeleine soon joined him. At the behest of a number of dramatic authors, the duke of Épernon received Molière, Madeleine, and her brother and sister into his troupe. They toured the provinces under the direction of Charles Dufresne until 1650, when the duke withdrew his support and Dufresne left the troupe. Molière assumed leadership during this awkward time, but in 1652 the troupe found a new patron in the prince of Conti. Again, the intercession of men of letters in Paris had been instrumental. The prince was an enlightened man who enjoyed such company, and he came to prize Molière’s intelligence and culture highly. Unfortunately, the prince’s spiritual advisers persuaded him to lead a more austere life, and in 1657 he withdrew his patronage....

(The entire section is 1596 words.)

Molière Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin was born in Paris, France. Although his date of birth is not known, he was baptized on January 15, 1622. Jean-Baptiste was the oldest child of Marie Cresse Poquelin and Jean Poquelin, a prosperous upholsterer who was connected with the court. The boy was educated at the Jesuit College of Clermont, then studied law, becoming a notary in 1641. Meanwhile, his father had arranged for Jean-Baptiste to inherit the court office, which he himself had purchased from his brother. The young man’s future seemed assured.

Jean-Baptiste, however, had fallen under the spell of the theater, in the person of the actress Madeleine Béjart, whose parents were neighbors of the Poquelin family. With Madeleine, her...

(The entire section is 1176 words.)

Molière Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

From the plots and character types familiar to his audience, Molière developed modern comedy. His plays vary from simple to complex, from farce and comedy-ballet to comedy of manners and what might be termed comedy of character. Whatever their nature, they play beautifully. The words, the situations, and the scenes are as funny to twenty-first century audiences as they were in Molière’s time. Furthermore, in the plays that are considered Molière’s masterpieces, such as Tartuffe and The Misanthrope, audiences find something more than humor: a realistic view of the world as the home of fools, along with a belief that good will ordinarily triumph over evil, but only by the narrowest margin.

(The entire section is 117 words.)

Molière Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Not many details of the life of Molière (mawl-yehr) are known, but of his reputation as France’s comic genius there is no doubt. He was a popular and appreciated playwright in his lifetime; since his death his fame has spread, and his plays continue to delight audiences.{$S[A]Poquelin, Jean-Baptiste;Molière}

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin was baptized on January 15, 1622, in the Parisian church of Saint Eustache. In all probability he was born on the same day. His father Jean was a prosperous upholsterer who held a royal commission. His mother was Marie Cressé.

At the age of ten Jean-Baptiste was sent to the Collège de Clermont, a school conducted by the Jesuits. Afterward he studied law and perhaps in 1641...

(The entire section is 955 words.)

Molière Biography

(Drama for Students)

Born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin on January 15, 1622, in Paris, Molière grew up in a wealthy bourgeois family. His maternal grandfather...

(The entire section is 485 words.)

Molière Biography

(Drama for Students)

Moliere, born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, was baptized in Paris, France, on January 15, 1622. His father, Jean Poquelin, was a furniture merchant...

(The entire section is 571 words.)

Molière Biography

(Drama for Students)

Molière, born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, was baptized in Paris, France, on January 15,1622. His father was a furniture merchant who, in 1631,...

(The entire section is 499 words.)