It was not long before fame began to mark Molière for her own. He achieved considerable distinction as an actor. In tragedy, it is true, he was not at home; but a keen sense of humor, aided by experience, study, attention to by-play, and a striking naturalness of recitation and manner, in direct contrast to the style cultivated on the Paris stage, seems to have given life and spirit to all his parts in comedy. "The delicacy with which he embodied a character and expressed a sentiment," says Grimarest, "proved that he was profoundly versed in the art of declamation. He entered into the smallest details of a part, and, unlike those who have no fixed rule or principle for their acting, did not recite at hazard." Fortunately, the applause he won in this way did not satisfy his ambition. He wrote at least eleven farces, of which only Le Médicin Volant and La Jalousie du Barbouille have come down to us, except by name. They belonged to what are known as the baissers du rideau of the Italian school, replete with diverting incident, often lighted up by flashes of wit, and depending in a large degree upon the resources of the players. In Molière's own words, the "procured him some little reputation," though not of a kind to afford him the highest pleasure. He longed to follow up the path opened in the Menteur, which, as he frankly avowed in after years, fixed his ideas on the subject of comedy. It was to be feared that a play of this order would be received with less favor by provincial audiences than one like the Médecin Volant, but the young dramatist was not deterred by the prospect of a little temporary loss from making the experiment. In L'Étourdi, working upon a story taken from L'Innavvertito, he produced a work which, if not entirely free from the rough fun in vogue, was remarkable alike for spirit, truth and the individuality of at least one of the characters. Mascarille, a clever valet, possibly suggested by Davus, devises a variety of schemes to aid his master, Lélie, in a love pursuit. He is foiled at almost every step by the blundering interference of the latter, who, however, among other good qualities, wins our respect by the very straightforwardness that causes his discomfiture. Molière was soon reassured as to the result of his new departure. L'Étourdi evoked extraordinary applause, and the use made of it by Quinault in L'Amant Indiscret would suggest that its fame was not confined to a narrow area.
At Lyons, where this delightful little comedy first appeared, the troupe seems to have been reinforced by five new players--Mdlle. Duparc, Ducroisy, Lagrange and the Debries. The first was a sister of Gros-René, for whom Molière had written at least two of his Italian-like farces. Nothing could have been more queenly than the way in which she filled the most dignified characters, such as the heroines of Corneille. Philibert Gassaud, Sieur Ducroisy, was a gentleman of Beaure, who had long withstood a strong penchant for the stage. In tragedy and anything like serious comedy he proved a valuable recruit. Charles Varlet, Sieur de Lagrange, had come from Amiens. He had rare intelligence and taste, which Molière cultivated to the highest point. Edouard Wilquin, Sieur Debrie, an inveterate drunkard, was engaged on account of his wife, Catherine Leclerc, a woman of finely sympathetic nature, on whom he relied for substinence, but whom he often subjected to brutal ill-treatment. Any affection she may have had for him had long since died away; she lived only for her art, and to that art she proved a distinguished ornament. "Mdlle. Debrie," writes one who saw her, "was tall, slender and graceful; noble in her manner and natural in all her attitudes, with something particularly delicate in her face and features, which rendered her most fitting for the part of ingénue. Her eyes had a peculiar charm of candor and tenderness."
The accession of Mdlle. Duparc and Mdlle. Debrie serves to throw new light on the character of Molière. If tradition may be credited, he fell desperately in love with the former, to whom he made an offer of marriage, but was deliberately refused. Her beauty led her to believe that she might make what the world would deem a good marriage, and in Molière she saw only a moderately successful author and strolling player. Had a presentiment of his future greatness crossed her mind she might have returned a different answer. It was in vain that Molière endeavored to forget his disappointment. He fell prey to melancholy, and ceased for a time to feel any interest in the present or the future. Mdlle. Debrie, who from the outset had understood him better than anyone else, endeavored to dispell his sadness. By degrees she induced him to make her his confidant, to feel that her sympathy was dear to him. "I fear," he said to her one day, "that you have done me a cruel kindness. My malady seems to have left me, but in reality it has only changed its form. I now require a physician to heal the wounds you have yourself caused." No music could have been more grateful to the ear of the long unhappy woman than these words. Considerations which even in that age must have had weight with her--the obligations of a wife, self-respect, her regard for the opinion of others--all were scattered to the four winds. "Those wounds," she said, "have been more fatal to myself than to you."
Mdlle. Debrie may well have been regarded by Molière as a personification of Fortune. From this moment he struck into the current which swept him to his goal. His fellow-pupil at college, the prince de Conti, now at peace with the government, had taken up his quarters at the château of La Grange, near Pézénas, where he wished to be entertained by the players. His secretary, De Cosnac, afterward bishop of Aix, sent for the troupe of Molière, and accompanied by Debrie, who bore the loss of his wife like a man of the world, and did not allow resentment to interfere with his interests, they promptly set forth for Pézénas. In the meantime, however, the prince had impatiently engaged another set of players, headed by one Cormier. Molière arrived, and, being told that his services were not required, asked that the expenses he had incurred by the journey should be defrayed by the prince. The request was reasonable enough, but the prince, who was said to be "obstinate about trifles," would not accede to it. "This injustice," writes Cosnac, "had so much effect upon me that I decided to have a representation by Molière's troupe in the theatre at Pézénas, and to give them 2,000 crowns from my own pocket rather than not to keep faith with them. M. le Prince, touched in his honor by my conduct, also consented that they should play once in the theatre at La Grange," the result being that they were kept there during the whole of his stay.