Carrousel des Arts commemorates in this edition the birth of Molière (1622-1673), considered the father of French comedy. In this special program we will discover his contribution to literature and the performing arts. Likewise, we will go to the Comédie Française, heiress and defender of Molière’s repertoire, and to the medieval city of Pézenas, where Molière found inspiration for the creation of picaresque characters and situations.
France commemorates in 2022 one of its most illustrious authors, the actor and playwright Jean-Batiste Poquelin, better known as Molière, who invented in the 17th century an unprecedented type of comedy based on the parody of customs and the reflection of vices of his time.
Under the patronage of Louis XIV, the Sun King, Molière became the “entertainer of the court”. He wrote a total of 35 works that have been translated into many languages and that have crossed the centuries to form part of a classical repertoire and to be the subject of thousands of stagings throughout the world.
“Molière was a great reformer of the way of acting for the theater. He was a formidable actor, who championed “natural acting.” He left behind the conventions to dedicate himself to reproducing and parodying society. It is often said that he painted the main social archetypes in the theater. He was also a brilliant writer, who invented modern comedy, in verse and in prose”, explained historian Martial Poirson, one of the most renowned specialists in Moliere’s work.
The Comédie Française in Paris, the “House of Molière”
Molière founded his own company in 1643, the “Illustrious Theater” for which he performed and wrote his plays. After the author’s death, the “Illustrious Theater” associated with another company to found the Comédie Française, in 1680.
Currently, the Comédie Francaise unfolds in three theaters in Paris and has a repertoire of 3,000 works, although those of Molière are present in each season.
“Molière is a genius who left artists the freedom to interpret his pieces, each in their own way. Each piece, each character accepts thousands of possible readings. His humor also has many layers. Sometimes, Molière is an absolute drama, but to understand that, it takes time. And when you get to that point, Moliere is sublime,” said Jérémy Lopez, one of the actors at the Comédie Française.
The Comedie Française also has an important collection of objects. But one in particular is protected as a relic: Molière’s armchair.
“In this armchair, Molière played the last role of his life, that of Argán, in The Imaginary Sick. Molière acted three times and in the fourth performance he had a coughing fit that forced the performance to be suspended. Shortly after he died of tuberculosis. The armchair then went down in history and, in fact, was used for almost 200 years, until 1879. Then it was decided to place it in a display case so that viewers could see it every night”, said the curator of the House of Molière, Agatha Sanjuan .
Pézenas, the cradle of “Molierism”
Paris, the Louvre or Versailles are places where Molière achieved great success and left an indelible mark. But in the south of France, a small medieval town can flaunt its link to the great playwright. This is Pézenas, in the Hérault department, where another illustrious chair by Molière is preserved.
Initially, Molière’s work was not very successful in Paris, so the young playwright left the city and traveled throughout France for 13 years. He lived in Pézenas, a small town in the Occitan region of Languedoc, three times. The first in 1650.
“We know that Molière came to Pézenas in 1650 because in the departmental archives we have an account receipt that certifies it. We know that he used to frequent a shop, that of the barber Gély, a very popular trade in the town of Pézenas. That barber had an armchair and it is said that Molière sat in that chair to look at the people, at the town of Pézenas. It is said that this greatly influenced the creation of some famous characters in his works. Molière evoked the city of Pézenas in a work called The Lord of Pourceaugniac, where he describes the environment and the people who lived at that time”, commented Murielle Dambreville, who is a guide and lecturer in Pézenas.
Molière died in 1673, a few days after collapsing onstage while performing The Imaginary Invalid, a tragic death that fueled the Molière legend.
Today, the highest awards in French theater are called the “Molière”, prizes that have been awarded since 1987.
The commemorations for the 400 years of the great French playwright began on January 15, the day of the registration of his baptism, in 1622. Throughout the year, tribute will be paid to Molière with dozens of performances of his works, new publications, exhibitions and colloquiums.