A Neoclassic Comedy by Molière
UNLIKE SOPHOCLES, who wrote tragedies for festival production in a vast hillside amphitheater, and Shakespeare, who wrote a great variety of dramas for entertainment of the public in playhouses that looked much like innyards open to the sky, Molière wrote farces and comedies for the diversion of the courtly and urbane in what was essentially a modern theater. Though his stage is closer to our own, the fact that he wrote comedy may seem to remove him a bit further from us. For comedy is characteristically time-bound to its period, and it takes a certain consciousness of the social context to enjoy the comedies of yesteryear to the full.
Molière--to use his theatrical name--was born in Paris in 1622,
the son of a respectable upholsterer, Jean Poquelin III, who was soon
after named official upholsterer to the King. The boy, Jean Baptiste
Poquelin, was expected to follow in his father's footsteps. He was
given a good education in the humanities at the Jesuit college of Clermont, among sons of the best families of France, including the
Prince de Conti and perhaps Cyrano de Bergerac. Then he studied law, was probably admitted to the bar at twenty-one. But he became interested in the theater, perhaps the influence of the red-haired actress Madeleine Béjart, a few years his senior, who lived nearby. He threw in his lot, as Molière, with a little theater group, principally members of the Béjart family. The Illustrious Theater struggled for survival in Paris for a couple of years before failing. Then the troupe took to the road and played in the southern provinces of France for the next thirteen years.
Thereafter, in 1658, under the guidance of Molière and Madeleine, the company returned to Paris with great success. The little farces and comedies that Molière had begun writing, with suitable parts for himself and his fellow actors, amused the young King Louis XIV, and Molière was repeatedly called to perform at Court and to