Actor and playwright
1622-1673

Stendhal’s description of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin as “Molière, the great painter of man as he is” is undoubtedly the most accurate. A keen-eyed observer of his contemporaries and avid chronicler of all their ways and works, Molière was skilled in all aspects of drama, appealing to both the public and the Court. Today, Molière’s work is considered one of the highlights of world literature.

Full name
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known as Molière

Titles 
Actor, playwright, director of Philippe, the Duke of Orléans’ Troupe from 1658 and then director of the King’s Troupe from 1665.

Dates  
January 15th, 1622 - February 17th, 1673 

Residency at Versailles 
1663-1673
Under the reign of Louis XIV

Versailles in his work 
The Versailles Impromptu 
The Princess of Elid
Tartuffe (The Impostor)
The Hypochondriac

Having turned his back on a career in the law, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin decided to become an actor instead and founded the Illustre-Théâtre in 1643. The troupe failed to become established in Paris, so Molière and his fellow actors decided to join Charles Dufresne’s travelling company. Between 1646 and 1658, this troupe, under the patronage of the Prince of Conti, travelled all over the Kingdom, enjoying increasing success.

 His stage name 

It is thought that Molière adopted his stage name in homage to the novelist François de Molière d’Essertines, a notorious libertine, who was assassinated in 1624.

 

On his return to Paris, Molière was taken under the wing of Monsieur, the king’s brother. He appeared at the Louvre for the first time in 1658, performing The Doctor in Love for the young Louis XIV. The sovereign enjoyed the play so much that he subsequently granted the troupe the right to share the great hall of the Petit-Bourbon with the Commedia dell’arte. That is how Molière met Neapolitan actor Tiberio Fiorilli, whom he admired greatly.

Tiberio Fiorilli as Scaramouche

© Château de Versailles, Dist. RMN / © Christophe Fouin

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On 14 October 1663, in the royal residence itself, the playwright staged The Versailles Impromptu, which starred Molière as the director of one of his own works to be performed before the king.

Between 7 and 13 May 1664, Molière took part in The Pleasures of the Enchanted Island.  He organised the staged elements of the event, working closely with Lully on the musical interludes. It was on this occasion that he put on The Forced Marriage, The Princess of Elid and Tartuffe. In 1670, he wrote The Bourgeois Gentleman – a comedy ballet for which Lully composed the music, including the well-known Marche pour la cérémonie des Turcs (March for the ceremony of the Turks).

 A scandalous play 

Le Tartuffe (or The Impostor), the play that was staged at Versailles as part of The Pleasures of the Enchanted Island in 1664, was the subject of a controversy that raged for five years.

 

 

Molière died on 17 February 1673, following a performance of The Hypochondriac, in which he played the role of Argan. In 1680, the king ordered Molière’s troupe to merge with that its rival of the Hôtel de Bourgogne, thus establishing the Comédie-Française.

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Feasts of 1674, third day: "The imaginary patient", comedy represented in the garden of Versailles in front of the cave

© Château de Versailles

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The Pleasures of the Enchanted Island: 2nd day, May 7, 1664: representation of the ballet comedy of Molière and Lulli "The Princess of Elis" on the green theater set up in the middle of the royal alley

© Château de Versailles, Dist. RMN / © Christophe Fouin

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“My argument is that there exists something admirable in man, whatever you may say, that all the philosophers cannot explain.”

Dom Juan, Act III, scene 1

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