Born, Paris, France, 1622
Died, Paris, France, 1675

This document was originally published in Minute History of the Drama. Alice B. Fort & Herbert S. Kates. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1935. p. 45.

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"TIS a mighty stroke at any vice to make it the laughing stock of everybody; for men will easily suffer reproof; but they can by no means endure mockery. They will consent to be wicked but not ridiculous." [1]

These are the words of the man who is rated by most critics as the greatest comic dramatist of all times and considered worthy to stand with Sophocles and Shakespeare. They were written in defense of the play, Tartuffe, ranked as his most outstanding and most representative play. For in the 17th century, as in ours, powerful cliques attempted to censor every play that did not happen to coincide with their own views or selfish interests. We can realize the bitterness of the campaign against Tartuffe from the fact that it was not finally licensed for public performance until more than three years after its first performance before Louis XIV.

"Molière" was in reality only the stage name assumed when, as a young man, the embryo genius joined a group of strolling players. So famous did he make it, that few of us today recognize the surname "Poquelin." Molière's father was a prosperous tradesman, upholsterer to the King by appointment. Since this was a hereditary honor, the son shrewdly made use of it to establish and strengthen himself in the King's favor, when, after twelve years in the provinces, he returned to Paris.

These twelve years of trouping and training not only made Molière a comedian of unsurpassed ability; they also gave him that insight into life and character that were to make his later comedies outstanding, perhaps, for all time. He was 36 when he returned to establish himself in Paris. At 40, successful in his profession and in prosperous circumstances, he married the twenty year old sister of Madeleine Bejart, his leading lady. Owing probably to the disparity in their ages and to his own jealousy, the marriage was not wholly a success. This with the death of a favorite son, and the constantly increasing attacks of the various groups who had found themselves and their pretensions the butt of Molière's biting satire, made his later years unhappy. He still wrote and acted his own plays, however, and it was in the midst of a stage performance that he burst a blood vessel in a fit of coughing and died shortly thereafter.

Fit to be ranked with his masterpiece, Tartuffe, are Don Juan, The Misanthrope, and The Learned Ladies, while a host of lesser comedies are still read and revived to this day.


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1 Molière in his preface to the first edition of Tartuffe.

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