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JEAN BAPTISTE POQUELIN (Molière is an assumed name) was born at Paris in January 1622. His father was a well-to-do upholsterer. Molière was educated at the Jesuit college of Clermont, attended law-lectures and was called to the Bar. In 1643 he gave up his prospect of succeeding his father in the charge of “Tapissier du Roi' and took to the stage, whither an irresistible inclination impelled him.
After unsuccessful attempts at theatrical management, Molière, with the relics of his troupe, left Paris for the Provinces (1646). After a nomad existence of twelve years he obtained permission to play before the Court. His success was complete (24th October 1658), and the companywere authorised to settle at Paris under royal patronage. In the following year was acted the Précieuses Ridicules, Molière's first great work. In 1661 he took the title of Groom of the Bedchamber to King Louis XIV., whose friendship and favour he continued to enjoy till his death. In 1662 he married Armande Béjart, an actress in his company, his junior by more than twenty years. The union was not happy. Meanwhile he put upon the stage a series of masterpieces. Among others, the Ecole des Femmes appeared in 1661 ; the three first acts of the Tartuffe were privately acted in 1664, in 1665 he gave Don Juan ; in 1666 the Misanthrope and the Médecin malgré lui ; in 1670 the Bourgeois Gentilhomme ; in 1671 the Fourberies de Scapin. His last piece was the Malade Imaginaire. On the day of the fourth performance of this play he was taken ill on the stage and carried home. There he burst a bloodvessel and died (17th February 1673). His delicate constitution had been worn out by work, excitement, and domestic unhappiness. He was buried in the cemetery of St. Joseph, the burial-place of persons who had committed suicide and of unbaptized infants. His interment was conducted with maimed rites,' and his widow
had to petition the king and the Archbishop of Paris before ecclesiastical rules could be relaxed and a religious funeral granted to the remains of the great comédien.' He had died in harness. The most striking point in his personal character was a thoughtful and unselfish earnestness, which left its mark upon his work and upon his life.
II.—THE 'BOURGEOIS GENTILHOMME. First notice. —The Bourgeois Gentilhomme was acted for the first time before the Court at Chambord on the 13th of October 1670. A correspondent of the Gazette, writing from that place on the 14th, says : “Their majesties had yesterday for the first time the “divertissement of a ballet with six entries, which opened with a wonderfully fine symphony, followed by a most charming musical dialogue.' Another account appeared in verse, dated the 18th October :
• Mardi, ballet et comédie
Pour divertir notre grand roi.' These notices are significant. Indeed we should hardly recognise them, especially the first, as referring to the play at all. It is clear, therefore, that the comedy itself, to us the most important part, was by the first spectators considered as subsidiary to the music of Lulli and the antics of Biancolelli.
Structure.—With this fact in view it is easy to realise that the play, though divided at first into three acts in the official libretto, and then into the customary five, is really a piece in one act, divided by entries of the ballet. And this peculiarity of structure, this medley of music, dancing, and dialogue, is not without effect on the play as a work of art. The first three acts are admitted by the most eminent critics to be some of the best work Molière ever did. But they consider that the farcical element in the last two acts becomes too predominant, and mars the artistic effect of the whole.
The Bourgeois Gentilhomme is a play followed by a Harlequinade, and intersected by music and dancing. It does not belong to the haute comédie,' as represented by the Tartuffe, the Misanthrope, or the Femmes Savantes. The first three acts at any rate are
vigorous and spontaneous work. The whole is sparkling with verve' and humour to the very end. M. Jourdain and his lackeys, the squabble between the professors, the lesson in philology, the scenes with the tailor and his assistants, the fencing bout with Nicole, 'Dorante's new way of paying old debts, Cléonte's passion re-echoed by Covielle, M. Jourdain with the Marquise, the whole of the riotous buffoonery of the Turkish ceremony, form a series of happy situations in which the fun never flags.
Style.—The style is skilfully varied with each speaker. M. Jourdain is plain-spoken, and occasionally ungrammatical ; his attempts at eloquence are ludicrous failures. Both Mme. Jourdain and Nicole speak a racy vernacular garnished with proverbs. The latter keeps the peasant pronunciation of her country home. Dorante is a fluent speaker ; Dorimène speaks as a 'marquise should do, in well-chosen, lady-like language. Cléonte is outspoken and clear; Covielle's language is less dignified, but as expressive as his master's. The dancing-master affects the dialect of the Précieuses, the 'cultured' people of the day. The philosopher is sententious and pedantic. The fencing-master, with his 'raison démonstrative,' reminds one of the pompous phraseology of the modern French 'troupier.'
First reception. —Yet the play was not very favourably received at its first performance. The king, it seems, betrayed no sign of satisfaction, and at his supper did not say a single word to Molière. The monarch's silence seemed to the courtiers a sure sign of displeasure, and they treated the poet as a man out of favour. Molière must surely take us for a lot of gabies, if he thinks to amuse us with such trash as that,' said the Duke of
- What does he mean with his Halaba, bala chou ?' added his Grace of ...-The poor man is wandering. He is used up. If some other author does not take up the stage it will be done for. The fellow is going in for Italian farce.' Five or six days passed before the second performance, and during these five days (in reality three) Molière, deeply hurt, kept hidden in his room. He dreaded the gibes of the prejudiced courtiers. All he did was to send out Baron for news. He brought none but evil tidings. The whole Court was up against him. However, the piece was played a second time. After the performance the king, who had not yet given his judgment, had the kindness to say to Molière, ‘I did not speak to you about your piece at the first performance because I was afraid of being unduly fascinated by the manner in which it was acted ; but indeed, Molière, you have never yet done anything which has amused me more, and your piece is excellent.' Molière breathed once more at his Majesty's judgment, and was immediately overwhelmed with praises by the courtiers, who with