BÉJART, the name of several French actors, children of Marie Hervé and Joseph Béjart (d. 1643), the holder of a small government post. The family--there were eleven children--was very poor and lived in the Marais, then the theatrical quarter of Paris. One of the sons, JOSEPH BÉJART (c. 1617-1659), was a strolling player and later a member of Molière's first company (l'Illustre Théâtre), accompanied him in his theatrical wanderings, and was with him when he returned permanently to Paris, dying soon after. He created the parts of Lélie in L'Étourdie, and Eraste in Le Dépit amoureux. His brother LOUIS BÉJART (c. 1630-1678) was also in Molière's company during the last years of his travels. He created many parts in his brother-in-law's plays--Valère in Le Dépit amoureux, Dubois in Le Misanthrope, Alcantor in Le Mariage forcé, and Don Luis in Le Festin de Pierre--and was an actor of varied talents. In consequence of a wound received when interfering in a street brawl, he became lame and retired with a pension--the first ever granted by the company to a comedian--in 1670.
The more famous members of the family were two sisters.
MADELEINE BÉJART (1618-1672) was at the head of the travelling company to which her sister Geneviève (1631-1675)--who played as Mlle Hervé--and her brothers belonged, before they joined Molière in forming l'Illustre Théâtre (1643). With Molière she remained until her death on the 17th of February 1672. She had had an illegitimate daughter (1638) by an Italian count, and her conduct on her early travels had not been exemplary, but whatever her private relations with Molière may have been, however acrimonious and violent her temper, she and her family remained faithful to his fortunes. She was a tall, handsome blonde, and an excellent actress, particularly in soubrette parts, a number of which Molière wrote for her. Among her creations were Marotte in Les Précieuses ridicules, Lisette in L'École des maris, Dorine in Tartuffe.
Her sister, ARMANDE GRÉSINDE CLAIRE ELIZABETH BÉJART (1645-1700), seems first to have joined the company at Lyons in 1653. Molière directed her education and she grew up under his eye. In 1662, he being then forty and she seventeen, they were married. Neither was happy; the wife was a flirt, the husband jealous. On the strength of a scurrilous anonymous pamphlet, La Fameuse Comédienne, ou histoire de la Guérin (1688), her character has been held perhaps unduly low. She was certainly guilty of indifference and ingratitude, possibly of infidelity; they separated after the birth of a daughter in 1665 and met only at the theatre until 1671. But the charm and grace which fascinated others, Molière too could not resist, and they were reconciled. Her portrait is given in a well-known scene (Act iii, sc. 9) in Le Bourgeois gentilhomme. Mme Molière's first appearance on the stage was in 1663, as Élise in the Critique de l'école des femmes. She was out of the cast for a short time in 1664, when she bore Molière a son--Louis XIV and Henrietta of England standing sponsors. But in the spring, beginning with the fêtes given at Versailles by the king to Anne of Austria and Maria Theresa, she started her long list of important rôles. She was at her best as Celimène--really her own highly finished portrait--in Le Misanthrope, and hardly less admirable as Angélique in Le Malade imaginaire. She was the Elmire at the first performance of Tartuffe, and the Lucile of Le Bourgeois gentilhomme. All these parts were written by her husband to display her talents to the best advantage and she made the most of her opportunities. The death of Molière, the secession of Baron and several other actors, the rivalry of the Hôtel de Bourgogne and the development of the Palais Royal, by royal patent, into the home of French opera, brought matters to a crisis with the comédiens du roi. Well advised by La Grange (Charles Varlet, 1639-1692), Armande leased the Théâtre Guénégaud , and by royal ordinance the residue of her company were combined with the players from the Théâtre du Marais, the fortunes of which were at a low ebb. The combination, known as the troupe du roi, at first was unfortunate, but in 1679 they secured Mlle du Champmeslé, later absorbed the company of the Hôtel de Bourgogne, and in 1680 the Comédie Française was born. Mme Molière in 1677 had married Eustache François Guérin (1636-1728), an actor, and by him she had one son (1678-1708). She continued her successes at the theatre until she retired in 1694, and she died on November 30, 1700.
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