Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known as "Molière" (15 January 1622 17 February 1673), was one of the many children of a French royal tapestry-maker.
He tried to follow his father's footsteps and later, to become a lawyer, but his heart wasn't in it, and he ended up as one of the greatest French playwrights, and a protégé of King Louis XIV. He's so big in French culture that the language itself is nicknamed "La langue de Molière". In many ways, he's a rough French equivalent to Shakespeare, though his stature isn't quite as towering, since unlike Shakespeare, Molière wrote more or less only comedies, while the Bard wrote comedies, tragedies, histories, romances, "problem plays" and standalone poems.
Legend has it he died on the stage, in 1673, playing the main role in The Imaginary Invalid.note
Heavily influenced by Commedia dell'Arte, his plays are full of slapstick, snark, misunderstandings, and thwarted lovers.
The most prestigious French theatre awards, the Molière Awards, are named after him.
Among his works are:
- The Flying Doctor (Le Médecin volant)
- The Blunderer, or The Mishaps (L'Étourdi, ou Les Contretempss)
- The Doctor in Love (Le Docteur amoureux)
- The Affected Young Ladies (Les Précieuses ridicules)
- Sganarelle, or the Imaginary Cuckold (Sganarelle, ou Le Cocu imaginaire)
- Don Garcia of Navarre, or the Jealous Prince (Dom Garcie de Navarre, ou Le Prince jaloux)
- The School for Husbands (L'École des maris)
- The Pests (Les Fâcheux)
- The School for Wives (L'École des femmes)
- Critique of the School for Wives (La Critique de l'école des femmes)
- The Forced Marriage (Le Mariage forcé)
- The Princess of Elid (La Princesse d'Élide)
- Tartuffe, or The Hypocrite (Tartuffe, ou L'Imposteur)
- Don Juan, or The Feast with the Statue (Dom Juan, ou Le Festin de pierre)
- Doctor Love (L'Amour médecin)
- The Misanthrope, or The Malcontent in Love (Le Misanthrope, ou L'Atrabilaire amoureux)
- The Doctor in Spite of Himself (Le Médecin malgré lui)
- The Sicilian, or Love the Artist (Le Sicilien, ou L'Amour peintre)
- George Dandin, or the Husband Abashed (George Dandin, ou Le Mari confondu)
- The Miser, or The School for Lying (L'Avare, ou L'École du mensonge)
- Monsieur de Pourceaugnac
- The Magnificent Lovers (Les Amants magnifiques)
- The Bourgeois Gentleman (Le Bourgeois gentilhomme)
- The Schemes of Scapin (Les Fourberies de Scapin)
- The Countess of Escarbagnas (La Comtesse d'Escarbagnas)
- The Learned Ladies (Les Femmes savantes)
- The Imaginary Invalid (Le Malade imaginaire)
Molière's works provide examples of the following tropes:
- Aerith and Bob: In Molière's plays, there is a mix of real names and fictional names, like Argan/Orgon, Cléante/Cléonte, Harpagon, Dorimène...
- Arranged Marriage: Always thwarted by the lovers.
- As Long as It Sounds Foreign: In Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, M. Jourdain is tricked into believing that the son of the Great Turk (actually his daughter's boyfriend, whom M. Jourdain considers beneath them) wants to marry his daughter and is made to undergo a ceremony under the pretext of ennobling him Turkish-style. The Mufti and his assistants perform most of the ceremony, not in actual Turkish, but in "Sabir" or "Lingua Franca", a largely romance pidgin that was once used to facilitate communication in the Mediterranean Basin. Justified as the ceremony is a sham meant to trick M. Jourdain and may have involved locals speaking the foreign language they knew rather than actual Turks.
- Author Tract: Molière really, really hated doctors and the clergy, and had very snarky comments on bourgeois. He let everyone know about it. Why'd you think that Tartuffe was banned for several years?
- Catchphrase: One of Molière's favourite source of comedy involves a character repeating the same line over and over again in one scene. In some cases they became proverbial (e.g., "What the devil was he doing on that galley?" (« Que diable allait-il faire dans cette galère? ») from Les Fourberies de Scapin, and "Poor man!" (« Le pauvre homme! ») from Tartuffe)
- Celebrity Paradox: In The Imaginary Invalid, which satirizes the medicine of the era, the brother of Argan (the hypochondriac main character) asks him if he would like to see a Molière play. Argan angrily berates Molière for making fun of doctors.
- Child Marriage Veto: Les Précieuses ridicules starts with the protagonists, two fashionable young ladies, rejecting the offer of marriage made to them by two young men that Gorgibus, their father and uncle, had chosen for them, and that are more or less unknown to them, because they don't like the notion of their relationship beginning with marriage as opposed to a protracted courtship.
- The Dandy: Mascarille and Jodelet in Les Précieuses ridicules are played for laughs as two period fops. They are actually the rejected suitors' valets, sent by their masters to fool the young ladies who rejected the latter into thinking they are suitors more to their taste.
- French Maid: The soubrette found in several of his plays; Dorine in Tartuffe is perhaps the clearest example.
- Gold Digger: Beline, Argan's second wife in The Hypochondriac (also translated as The Imaginary Invalid), is a two-faced woman: she flatters and pampers her husband, but schemes all the time, trying to figure out how to get all his money after his death, and she wants to deprive his two daughters of their share.
- Grande Dame: Mme. Pernelle; Arsinoé has some affinities with the type.
- Left Hanging: The ending of Les Précieuses ridicules leaves the protagonists' situation unresolved. Gorgibus furiously chases Magdelon and Cathos away with the injunction: "Out of my sight and hide yourselves, you jades; go and hide yourselves forever." Will he kick his daughter and niece out of the house? Force them into a convent like he had threatened earlier? Or will he calm down and will everything go back to normal? Have Magdelon and Cathos changed their opinion about the fashionable manners that informed their behavior throughout the play? It's anyone's guess.
- Long Lost Sibling
- Orphan's Plot Trinket: In Les Fourberies de Scapin, Zerbine's bracelet.
- Parental Marriage Veto: In Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, M. Jourdain, a wealthy bourgeois who has become uppity due to his aspirations to join the ranks of the nobility, refuses to let an otherwise perfectly eligible young man, who is not a nobleman himself, marry his daughter. Circumventing that veto for the young couple becomes the main plot of the rest of the play.
- Reluctant Gift: In Les Fourberies de Scapin, Géronte (a rich merchant) is being conned by Scapin into paying a ransom of 500 gold pieces for his son (in fact, the son needs the money for various living expenses). His paternal love finally shining through after much effort, he gives Scapin the purse... but forgets to let go, and even puts it back in his pocket before Scapin reminds him that he still needs the money.
- Rhymes on a Dime: Much of Molière's dialogue rhymes, as per the conventions of his day.
- The Scrooge: Harpagon from The Miser.
- Self-Plagiarism: He reused some dialogues in his plays.
- Servile Snarker: There's one in every one of his plays.
- Smug Snake: Don Juan
- Straw Hypocrite: Tartuffe
- Taking the Veil: In Les Précieuses ridicules, Gorgibus threatens Magdelon and Cathos that if they are not married soon, "you shall be nuns", I.E. he will dispose of his daughter and niece in a convent.
- Thinks Like a Romance Novel: Magdelon and Cathos, the two cousins in Les Précieuses ridicules imagine that their courtship with their future husbands should play out according to a formula lifted from romance novels. This is diametrally opposite to their father/uncle's resolve that they accept what amounts to an Arranged Marriage as the right and proper thing to do.
- World of Snark
Molière appears in the following works:
- L'Impromptu du Palais-Royal, 1962 theatre play by Jean Cocteau.
- La Petite Molière, theatre play by Jean Anouilh and Roland Laudenbach.
- Molière, 1978 French film. Played by Philippe Caubère.
- Molierissimo, 1989 French animated series. Voiced by Claude Giraud in French.
- Molière, 2007 French film. Played by Romain Duris.