Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library
  PREVIOUSNEXT  

CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · QUICK INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHIES
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · PORTRAITS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Molière (1622–1673)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Brander Matthews (1852–1929)
 
MOLIÈRE, the greatest of modern comic dramatists, was a Parisian by birth,—like those other typical Frenchmen, Villon and Voltaire, Boileau and Regnard. He was born in 1622, probably in the house now No. 96 Rue St. Honoré, and probably on January 15th or a day or two earlier. His real name was Jean Baptiste Poquelin, “Molière” being a stage name assumed when he left his father’s house. His father was a prosperous tradesman, an upholsterer,—one of the eight of that craft holding a royal appointment (valet de chambre tapissier du roi), which required him to be in attendance on the King three months of the year to see that his Majesty’s furniture was always in fit condition. His mother, apparently a woman of both character and culture, died when Molière was but ten; and the next year his father married again, only to lose this second wife before Molière was fifteen.  1
  As the son of a flourishing burgher, Molière received an excellent education. In 1636, being then fourteen, he was sent to the Collège de Clermont, one of the leading educational institutions of Paris, conducted by the Jesuits and attended by the youth of the best families of France. He seems to have stayed there five years, acquiring the humanities and getting well schooled in philosophy. He may or may not have been a pupil of Gassendi; and he may or may not have attempted a translation of the great poem of Lucretius: many of the legends of his life that have come down to us will not withstand skeptical scrutiny. That he studied law is certain; and it is possible even that he was admitted to the bar.  2
  In the mean time he had been assured of the succession to his father in the royal appointment; and it is more than probable that he was in attendance on Louis XIII., as his father’s substitute, in June 1642, when Cinq-Mars was arrested. Before the end of the next year, however, the son of the royal upholsterer had left his paternal home, had thrown in his lot with a group of strolling actors, and had assumed the stage name of “Molière,” which he was to render forever illustrious. The French drama was beginning its most glorious period,—Corneille’s ‘Cinna’ and ‘Horace’ and ‘Le Menteur’ (The Liar) having followed one another in rapid succession. The influence of the Spanish theatre was making itself felt; and even more potent perhaps was the example set by the brisk and bustling performances of the Italian comedians; while the robust farces of the French themselves lost nothing of their comic force when represented by the broadly humorous followers of Gros Guillaume and Gautier Garguille.  3
  At the head of the company that Molière joined was Madeleine Béjart, a charming woman and a capable actress. For two or three years the “Illustre Théâtre” (as the troupe called itself) made ineffectual efforts to get a foothold in Paris. At last, in 1646, it gave up the fight in the capital and betook itself to the provinces, where it remained for twelve years. The record of Molière’s wanderings is fragmentary, but it is known that in 1648 he was at Nantes, Limoges, Bordeaux, and Toulouse; in 1650 at Narbonne; in 1653 at Lyons; in 1654 at Montpellier; in 1657 at Dijon and Avignon; and in 1658 at Rouen. From Scarron’s ‘Roman Comique’ we can get some idea of the life of the vagabond comedians in those days, and of the kind of adventure likely to befall them.  4
  From Rouen the journey to Paris was easy; and Molière was at last able to secure the patronage of Monsieur, the younger brother of the young King, Louis XIV. He had left the city of his birth little more than a raw recruit of the stage. He returned to the capital the most accomplished comedian of his time, a dramatist whose earlier comic plays had already met with warm popular appreciation, and a manager surrounded by a homogeneous company of skilled comedians, all devoted to him and all having high confidence in his ability. As a writer of plays Molière had begun modestly with farces on the Italian model, but with a fuller flavor of humor, more like that in the old French folk-tales. Most of these ’prentice trifles are lost, although the author probably worked into his more mature pieces all that was valuable in them. The strongest of the plays produced in the provinces was ‘L’Étourdi’ (The Blunderer), brought out in Lyons in 1653, and still often acted in Paris to-day after two centuries and a half.  5
  At this time Molière was only thirty-six, and he was unusually well equipped for the comic drama. He had begun with a solid training in philosophy; and he had gained a thorough knowledge of the theatre and a wide acquaintance with mankind. It is fair to assume that through his father he had had an insight into the middle class; that through his father’s workmen he had been able to get an understanding of the artisan; and that through his father’s royal appointment he had had opportunities of observing the courtiers. In the course of his wanderings he had been brought in contact with the peasants and also with the inhabitants of the provincial towns. On his return to the capital he was to become intimate with Boileau, Chapelle, and other men of letters; and he was to have occasion for closer observation of the court.  6
  The long years of strolling in the provinces had not only trained the company to an incomparable perfection in comedy, but had also brought financial prosperity. The actors of the troupe owned in common rich costumes, scenery, and properties; and some of them had severally money out at interest. Molière returned to the capital almost a rich man; and he was able to enlarge his fortune by his successful management in Paris. As it happened, the first appearance of the company before the King, in a theatre erected in the Louvre, was almost a failure (October 24th, 1658). The play was Corneille’s ‘Nicomède,’ a tragedy; and Molière and his companions were more at home in comedy. Moreover, Molière was natural in his histrionic method; and the custom of the day required that tragedy should be interpreted in toplofty fashion. At the conclusion of the serious play, Molière, who was an easy and adroit speaker, came forward with a neatly turned compliment to the King, and asked permission to add to the programme one of the little farces they had often acted in the country. This little farce was ‘Le Docteur Amoureux’ (The Doctor in Love), and it made the King laugh heartily.  7
  The royal permission was given for the company to establish itself in Paris; and Molière was at first allowed the use of a theatre in the Petit Bourbon, where he and his companions appeared on the nights not already reserved for the Italian comedians. There were then two other theatres in Paris: one at the Hôtel de Bourgogne, where was the company specially patronized by the King, and the other in the Marais. Molière seems to have tried to establish his company as a rival in tragedy of the actors of the Hôtel de Bourgogne; but he met with no popular approval till he returned to comedy, in the acting of which he and his comrades were really superior. In November 1658 he brought out the ‘Étourdi,’ already successful at Lyons and elsewhere, and at once equally successful in Paris. The ‘Étourdi’ is a long farce on the Italian model, with traditional characters, but having a vivacity and a verve all Molière’s own. It was followed by another comic play, also already performed in the provinces,—the ‘Dépit Amoureux’ (The Lovers’ Quarrel), which became instantly as popular as its predecessor; in a condensed form it still holds the stage in France.  8
  It is doubtful whether his next piece was absolutely new, or whether it also had been tried during his wanderings outside of the capital. It is not doubtful that this little one-act comedy was made of richer material than any of its predecessors, and that it contained a promise of the finer works to follow it shortly. The ‘Précieuses Ridicules’ (November 18th, 1659) was the title of the little play (The Affected Ladies); and it was a piquant and telling satire upon the affectations of literary culture then prevalent. Although somewhat farcical in its plot and in its details, it was truly a picture of life. There is a legend that an aged spectator at its final performance cried out, “Take courage, Molière, this is good comedy!” And yet one of those satirized had influence enough to have the new play interdicted; but the interdiction was soon lifted, and the second performance took place a fortnight after the first. When the King returned to Paris the play was acted before him to his great satisfaction; and it helped to establish Molière in the royal favor,—a point of great importance in those days, when the King arrogated to himself all the functions of government.  9
  The good-will of the monarch was doubly valuable to a man like Molière, who was going to speak his mind freely on the stage in one play after another, boldly to assault hypocrisy and vice, and unhesitatingly to make many enemies. His next piece, however, ‘Sganarelle’ (May 28th, 1660), had no ulterior purpose; its object was merely to make the spectators laugh. Molière was shrewd always in the management of his theatre, ever ready to give his audiences another play of a kind they had already approved. But a few months after the production of ‘Sganarelle,’ it looked for a little while as though Molière might have no theatre to manage. Without notice the theatre in the Petit Bourbon was maliciously demolished, and the company was left without a stage on which to act. Then the King assigned to Molière and his comrades the large theatre in the Palais Royal which Richelieu had built for the performance of a play of his own.  10
  This theatre had to be repaired: and not until January 1661 was it that Molière was able to begin his season there. His first new play on this new stage was a failure. ‘Don Garcie de Navarre’ (February 4th, 1661) is the dullest of Molière’s works,—the one in which he is seen to least advantage. It was a heroic comedy on the Spanish model; and the artificial plot gave small scope to Molière’s humor or to his knowledge of his fellow-man. He took the defeat hard; he acted the play more than once before the King; and he ventured to revive it two years later. But the appeal was decided against him, and he never repeated the blunder.  11
  The earlier pieces which had pleased the Parisian public were but humorous trifles when compared with the best of his later works; and now with his next play he entered on a second stage of his development as a dramatist. ‘L’École des Maris’ (The School for Husbands), June 24th, 1661, was not dependent chiefly upon its intrigue as the others had been: it was essentially a study of character,—a little hard, it may be, but unfailingly amusing and not without sympathy. Not long after, Molière improvised in a fortnight’s time a comedy-ballet, ‘Les Fâcheux’ (The Bores), August 17th, 1661, prepared especially for the series of magnificent entertainments with which Fouquet splendidly feasted the King at Vaux only a few days before the downfall of the superintendent. It is told that the King himself suggested to Molière the original of one type of bore neglected by the author; and that this royal hint was instantly seized, a new character being added to the play before it was next performed.  12
  Molière availed himself of his father’s place as valet de chambre tapissier of the King to keep in closer contact with the court than would ordinarily be possible to an actor or a dramatist. He insisted on performing the duties of the office, in spite of the protest of those of his fellow officials who did not wish to associate with a comedian. There is little or no warrant for the legend that Louis XIV. himself once rebuked these contemners of the actor by inviting Molière to share his own supper; and yet the picturesque scene has been painted both by Ingres and by Gérome. There is no doubt, however, that Louis XIV. did esteem Molière highly, certainly finding him most ingenious in the invention of the ballets in which the young King liked to figure, and possibly even appreciating dimly the abiding merits of the great dramatist. Louis XIV. had many faults, but a lack of discernment was not among them. It is recorded that the King once asked Boileau who was the rarest of the literary geniuses illuminating his reign, and that Boileau responded by naming Molière,—a little to the monarch’s surprise, it may be, but without eliciting a royal contradiction.  13
  In February 1662, Molière married Armande Béjart, a younger sister of the leading lady of the company. Molière was then forty years of age; as author, actor, manager, he was a very busy man, with incessant demands on his time; he had the fits of abstraction and the occasional moodiness and melancholy which are often characteristic of genius. His wife was scant twenty; she was beautiful, charming, and fond of admiration; she became a brilliant actress; she seems to have had rather a narrow intelligence. That such a marriage should be happy would have been little short of a miracle. That there were in time disagreements between husband and wife is indisputable; and it is undeniable that Molière was intensely jealous. No passion occurs and reoccurs in his plays more often than jealousy; and none is more feelingly analyzed. That the most of the brutal charges brought against the young wife are but slanders, is highly probable. When she bore him a son, Louis XIV. accepted to be godfather.  14
  The first play produced by Molière after his marriage was ‘L’École des Femmes’ (The School for Wives), December 26th, 1662; a companion to ‘L’École des Maris,’ somewhat more careless in its structure but distinctly deeper in its insight. His enemies pretended prudishly to be shocked at one or two of the scenes of this delicate comedy, and even to discover in one speech a parody of a sermon. Most wittily did the author defend himself. He brought out on the stage ‘La Critique de L’École des Femmes’ (The Criticism of the School for Wives), June 1st, 1663; a comedy in one act which is little more than a conversation in a drawing-room, and in which certain foolish characters bring forward all the charges made against the piece, only to be answered completely by certain clever characters. The King sided with Molière; conferring upon him a pension of a thousand livres annually as “an excellent comic poet,” and inviting him to appear again before the court. In a week, Molière improvised ‘L’Impromptu de Versailles’ (The Impromptu of Versailles), October 14th, 1663, taking the spectators behind the curtain and showing them a rehearsal of his own company, in the course of which he found occasion to mimic the actors of the Hôtel de Bourgogne who had attacked him, and to hit back sharply at others of his enemies.  15
  For the King’s pleasure once more Molière wrote the lively comedy-ballet of ‘Le Mariage Forcé’ (The Forced Marriage), January 29th, 1664; with a farcical plot interrupted adroitly by eight dances, in one of which the young monarch himself figured as an Egyptian. When a series of sumptuous entertainments were given at Versailles in the spring, Molière was again ready not only with ‘La Princesse d’Élide’ (May 8th, 1664), one of the less interesting of his comedies, but also with the first three acts of ‘Tartuffe’ (May 12th, 1664), the strong five-act comedy which is perhaps his masterpiece. The somewhat somber theme might have made ‘Tartuffe’ seem a little out of place in so gay a festivity; but the earlier acts were frankly amusing, and the monarch’s guests found pleasure in the performance even if they could not suspect the serious purpose of the whole work, which is the most powerful onslaught on religious hypocrisy ever attempted on the stage. Those whom the play assaulted were able to prevent its being produced in Paris for several years; and Molière set out to make friends for his work by reading it aloud in the drawing-rooms of leading members of the court, and even by acting it again and again at the houses of the princes of the blood.  16
  In the mean while he returned to the attack; and in ‘Le Festin de Pierre’ (The Stone Guest), February 16th, 1665, he gave to the legendary figure of Don Juan a meaning and a power not to be found in the preceding plays on the same subject in Spanish, in Italian, and in French. Perhaps he was attracted to the subject because the spectacular element in the story was certain to prove effective on the stage; perhaps he thought that under cover of the spectacular he might the more easily let fly his burning shafts of irony and satire. The supernatural element in ‘Don Juan,’ as in ‘Hamlet’ and in ‘Faust,’ is kept subordinate to the philosophical. In Molière’s hands the gallant and graceful hero is not only a type of the eternal lover, but also a rival of Iago in cynical villainy. The play is founded upon a Spanish drama, and yet it might be called the most original of Molière’s works,—the most vigorous, the boldest. Those who had chosen to take offense at ‘L’École des Femmes,’ and who had been indignant at ‘Tartuffe,’ were up in arms at once against ‘Don Juan.’ The King was besought to interdict the dangerous drama; and again Louis XIV. stood Molière’s friend. He refused the interdiction, and took Molière and his company under the royal patronage, allotting them an annual pension of six thousand livres.  17
  Not content with having the prudes and the hypocrites against him, Molière now took for his target the abuses of the contemporary practice of medicine. In a little comedy ‘L’Amour Médecin’ (Love as a Physician), September 15th, 1665,—a return to his earlier and more farcical manner,—he put on the stage five types of the doctor of that time, suggested each of them more or less by a living practitioner of the art. The author was then ill himself, worn and harassed, with difficulties at home and disputes abroad. Yet there was no falling-off in the next play, ‘Le Misanthrope’ (The Misanthrope), June 4th, 1666, which indeed French critics have generally held to be his masterpiece, but which has never pleased the playgoing public so much as others of his comedies. Its movement is slow, and its action is barely adequate to sustain its five acts. In subject it has a fundamental resemblance to ‘Timon of Athens,’ not one of Shakespeare’s most highly esteemed plays. It is a manly protest against the empty conventionalities of civilization,—the shams, the gauds, the trifles, the insincerities of which modern society so often seems to be made up. Its tone is lofty and its morality is austere. But there is some truth in the charge that the observer and the philosopher in Molière had got the better of the dramatist when he wrote ‘Le Misanthrope.’ The dramatist came promptly to the rescue of the philosopher; and a brisk and rollicking farce, ‘Le Médecin malgré Lui’ (The Physician in Spite of Himself), August 6th, 1666, was added to the bill to increase the drawing power of the more serious comedy.  18
  Like Shakespeare, Molière was an excellent man of business; and he felt it to be his duty always to keep his company supplied with plays of a kind already proved to be popular. So although he had begun by imitating the lively farces of the Italians (‘L’Étourdi,’ for example), and had then risen to the comedy of character (‘L’École des Femmes’), and finally had attained to the sublime height of ‘Le Misanthrope,’ he went back unhesitatingly to his earlier manner again and again; and no more thought it unworthy of himself to write frank farces like ‘Le Médecin malgré Lui’ after ‘Tartuffe’ than Shakespeare did to compose the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’ after the ‘Merchant of Venice.’ It was one of these lighter plays,—not a farce this time, but an airily comic love tale—that he next brought forth: ‘Le Sicilien’ (The Sicilian), February 1667. Then a single performance of ‘Tartuffe’ took place (August 5th, 1667); but further performances were promptly forbidden by the authorities, the King being then with the army in Flanders. Nothing daunted, Molière bided his time. A very free version of a comedy of Plautus, ‘Amphitryon’ (January 13th, 1668), came next; followed by another broad farce, though with a tragic suggestion if we choose so to take it, ‘Georges Dandin’ (July 10th, 1668); and in rapid succession a second comedy, more or less derived from Plautus, ‘L’Avare’ (The Miser), September 9th, 1668. The royal permission was finally granted for the public performance in Paris of ‘Tartuffe’ (February 5th, 1669); and that great comedy-drama achieved a triumph which endures to this day. Like ‘Hamlet’ in England, ‘Tartuffe’ in France is the most effective of theatrical masterpieces, repaying the best efforts of the best actors, and yet so dramatic in itself that it satisfies a large audience even when done by a scratch company anywhere and anyhow. A little later in the year came one of the briskest and most bustling of his farces, ‘M. de Pourceaugnac’ (September 17th, 1669).  19
  Molière continued to vary his style; and no dramatist was ever more versatile or more fertile in inventing new forms. He devised for the court a comedy-ballet, ‘Les Amants Magnifiques’ (The Magnificent Lovers), February 10th, 1670; and toward the end of the year he brought out ‘Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme’ (The Tradesman Turned Gentleman), October 23d, 1670; one of the best of his comedies, full of fresh fun, and inspired by the wholesome common-sense which was always one of Molière’s most marked characteristics. With ‘Les Fourberies de Scapin’ (The Tricks of Scapin), May 24th, 1671, there was again a return to the more primitive farce, boisterous perhaps, but indisputably laughter-provoking. A little earlier in the year he had collaborated with Corneille in the dialogue of ‘Psyché’ (January, 1671), Quinault writing the lyrics which Lulli set to music. And before the twelve months were out he was ready with yet another comedy-farce, ‘La Comtesse d’Escarbagnas’ (The Countess of Escarbagnas), December 2d, 1671, rich with his ample knowledge of provincial characteristics.  20
  He was coming now to the close of his career; and he rose again to the level of high comedy in ‘Les Femmes Savantes’ (The Learned Ladies), March 11th, 1672, which disputes with ‘Tartuffe,’ ‘Don Juan,’ and ‘Le Misanthrope’ the honor of being considered his finest and sanest work. In its theme, this, the last of his great plays, is very like the ‘Précieuses Ridicules,’ in which he first revealed the power of social satire; affectation of every sort was abhorrent to him always—affectation and insincerity and hypocrisy. When he beheld these things his scorn burned hot within him, and he delighted in scourging them.  21
  The last months of Molière’s life were saddened by the death of his old companion and sister-in-law, Madeleine Béjart, and by the death of his only son. His health, never strong, became feebler; and in the summer of 1672 the theatre had to be closed unexpectedly more than once, because Molière was not well enough to act. And yet through all these trials he kept his good-humor and his gentle serenity, although he—like most other great humorists—was essentially melancholy. It was under these conditions that he wrote his last play, ‘Le Malade Imaginaire’ (The Imaginary Invalid), February 10th, 1673. He himself, of course, was the imaginary invalid, being then worn out with his own illness. The fourth performance of the new play took place on the 17th; and Molière was seized with a fit of coughing on the stage, and burst a blood-vessel. They conveyed him to his own house in the Rue de Richelieu, on the site of the building now numbered 38 and 40; and here he died “not more than half an hour or three quarters after the bursting of the said vessel,”—so his faithful friend and fellow actor, Lagrange, recorded in the register or private diary, which is an invaluable document for the details of Molière’s life.  22
  The bitter hostility which had long delayed the performance of ‘Tartuffe,’ and which had unceasingly pursued Molière during the last years of his life, not shrinking from obtrusion into his family relations, was not relaxed after his death. Permission for Christian burial was at first denied. It is told that the widow threw herself at the King’s feet and implored a royal mandate, overruling the ecclesiastical authorities. At last the funeral was authorized; and it took place on the evening of the fourth day. The procession was very simple, the priests not intoning the usual psalms. The interment took place in the cemetery which was behind the chapel of St. Joseph, in the Rue de Montmartre.  23
  The inventory taken after his demise gives the list of Molière’s stage costumes and of the books that composed his library. Among these was a Bible, a Plutarch, a Montaigne (but no Rabelais, oddly enough), a Terence (but no Plautus), a Lucian, a Horace, a Juvenal, and two hundred and forty volumes of unnamed French, Italian, and Spanish plays. He left a fortune of about forty thousand livres. Four years after his death his widow married an obscure actor named Guérin. The only child of Molière to survive him was a daughter, who married a M. de Montalant, and who died without issue in 1723, half a century after her illustrious father.  24
  Molière was only fifty-one when he died, and all of his more important plays had been written during the final fourteen years of his life. He had served a long apprenticeship in the provinces, mastering all the mysteries of his art, and heaping up a store of observations of human nature; and after his return to Paris, his genius ripened swiftly. While the novelists have often flowered late in life, the dramatists have usually begun young; but Molière was forty-two when he wrote ‘Tartuffe,’ forty-three when he followed it with ‘Don Juan,’ forty-four when he produced ‘Le Misanthrope,’ forty-eight when he brought forth ‘Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme,’ and fifty when he made fun of the ‘Femmes Savantes.’ Perhaps a part of the deeper insight and the wider vision of these plays, when compared with those of all other comic dramatists, is due to the relative maturity of Molière when he composed them. The personal and poetic burlesques of Aristophanes do not belong in the same category; and the belauded comedies of Menander are lost to us. Some of the comic plays of Plautus and of Terence survive for purposes of comparison,—as a result of which the best criticism of to-day is in accord with La Fontaine’s declaration on the morrow of Molière’s death, that the great French comic dramatist had surpassed both of the great Latin comic dramatists.  25
  For us who speak English, and who hold Shakespeare as a standard by which the men of every other language must be measured, it is impossible not to set the author of ‘Hamlet’ over against the author of ‘Tartuffe.’ In many ways the two men were alike. Dramatists, they were both actors, Shakespeare being probably not prominent in that profession, while Molière certainly excelled all his contemporaries. They were both managers; and both of them were shrewd men of affairs, governing their private fortunes with skill. Legend relates that Shakespeare wrote the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’ on a hint of Queen Elizabeth’s, and that Molière augmented the ‘Fâcheux’ on a hint of King Louis’s. Each of them kept the most of his plays in manuscript while he was alive; and after they were dead, the plays of each were published by the pious care of surviving comrades. They were both of them surpassingly original; and yet neither often took the trouble to invent a plot, preferring to adopt this ready-made, more or less, and rather to expend his strength upon the analysis of emotion and the creation of character. Some of these resemblances are merely fortuitous; but some also are strangely significant.  26
  To push the comparison too far would be unfair to Molière; for Shakespeare is the master mind of all literature. He soared to heights, and he explored depths, and he had a range, to which Molière could not pretend. His is the spirit of soul-searching tragedy, of romantic comedy, of dramatic history; and in no one of these is Molière his rival. But in the comedy of real life, he is not Molière’s rival. In every variety of the comic drama Molière is unequaled,—in farce, in the comedy of situation, in the comedy of character, and in the comedy which is almost stiffened into drama, yet without ceasing to be comedy. Shakespeare is the greatest of dramatists, no doubt, but Molière is indubitably the greatest of comic dramatists. In sheer comic force the Frenchman is stronger than the Englishman, or at least more abundant; and also in the compelling power of humor. The influence of Shakespeare upon the comedy of the nineteenth century is almost negligible; for Musset seems to be the only modern poet who has modeled his plays upon ‘As You Like It’ and ‘Twelfth Night.’ The influence of Molière upon the comedy of the nineteenth century is overwhelming; and the author of the ‘Demi-Monde,’ the authors of the ‘Gendre de M. Poirier,’ the author of the ‘Doll’s House,’ and the author of the ‘Second Mrs. Tanqueray,’ are all followers of the author of ‘Tartuffe’ and ‘Les Femmes Savantes.’  27
  It is to be said also that Shakespeare, though essentially an Englishman, is in a wide sense cosmopolitan and universal; he rises superior to race and to time. Molière, on the other hand, despite his philosophical grasp of human nature, is typically French. He has the robust humor of Rabelais, and Montaigne’s genial common-sense, and Voltaire’s eagerness to abolish frauds. He has his full share of Gallic salt; and he inherits also the Latin tradition of reserve, of order, and of symmetry. He was able to unite humor and truth,—fun and an exact observation of life,—satire and sincerity sustained by pity. Like Rabelais and like Montaigne, Molière is a moralist; he has an ethical code of his own; the total effect of his plays is wholesome. He is on the side of the angels, although he recognizes the existence of many an evil demon. Like Shakespeare, he can pierce almost to the center of things, even if his penetration is not so profound as Shakespeare’s. The moral is never tagged to the end or paraded or vaunted; but he is a shallow student who cannot discover the ethical richness of the soil in which Molière’s plays were grown.  28
  Certain authors there are that we outgrow as we wax in years and in wisdom. There are books that we once liked, and that now remain behind us as milestones marking the road traveled. Though we came up to them with pleasure, yet without regret we leave them in the distance. We have not tarried with them long, and unless we turn back we never pass them again. Molière is not one of these: he is for all ages of man. In youth we may enjoy him unthinkingly, amused by his comic invention, his drollery, his frank fun. As we grow older his charm over us grows also; and we see the finer qualities of his work,—his insight into human motives, and his marvelous skill in exhibiting these on the stage. And in old age we may refresh ourselves once again with his unfailing and unfading humor, and with the true wisdom which underlies it. At one time the ‘Bourgeois Gentilhomme’ may please us, and at another ‘Le Misanthrope’; but at all times a man who takes interest in the comedy of human endeavor may find in Molière what he needs.  29
 
 
CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUSNEXT  
 

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.