Shakespeare for Everyone


by Molière• directed by Joseph Small, assisted by Bev Lacy • May 4, 2003
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The last decade in the life of Molière (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, 1622-1673) was full of tragedy and scandal, but produced some of the best theatre the world has ever known.

On January 23, 1662, Molière married Armande Béjart, “age 20 or there about,” who was widely believed to be his daughter by Madeleine Béjart, his life-long collaborator and founder of the “Illustrious Theatre,” which Molière was named head of in 1644.  Legal papers and members of the troupe diplomatically referred to Armande and Madeleine as sisters or cousins.

 On January 19, 1664, Armande gave birth to their son, Louis, who was named after Louis XIV.  The king agreed to serve as the child’s godfather.  Eleven months later, the baby died.

 In 1665, Molière became embattled with Racine over a production by his troupe of Racine’s Alexandre and the rift was never mended.  By 1666, Molière was seriously ill with tuberculosis.  Not surprisingly, The Misanthrope and The Doctor In Spite of Himself premiered in June and August of that year.

 Over the next three years, he was embroiled in controversy surrounding Tartuffe (a satire on religious hyprocrisy), which had one performance in August of 1667 and was then banned, rewritten, revived, banned again, rewritten and finally officially opened in February, 1669 to great success.  Three weeks later his father died.  During this period many of Molière’s patrons and defenders also died, many at the hands of the doctors engaged to ease their suffering or prevent their deaths.

 In 1670, a skit entitled Élomire the Hypochondriac was published and performed, authored by Le Boulanger de Chalussay, a rival, who was well-informed, but venomous.  Élomire was an anagram for Molière and the skit viciously skewered Molière’s personal life, what was then perceived to be his fictive illness and the suspicions surrounding his marriage.

 The deaths continued.  In February, 1672, Madeleine Béjart died.  Yet Molière finished The Learned Women, which he had been working on for three or four years.  It debuted in March, again followed by an uproar.  Women were shown onstage reading books and discussing scientific theories (however foolishly) and the men came off even worse.  The young heroines in the piece were deciding for themselves what kind of life they wanted rather than letting their father choose.  In September, Armande gave birth to another son, Pierre-Jean-Baptiste-Armand.  He died a month later.

 Lully (or Lulli), who had composed for several of Molière’s early plays, had, by 1673, become the king’s secretary of music.  He obtained an edict which gave him a monopoly on all music for the theatre.  Molière ignored the edict and continued using his current composer, Charpentier.

 Molière wanted to produce a satire on the universities and professors.  A friend, Boileau, published a “burlesque” against the theologians and scholars in 1671.  Molière decided to attack the medical profession, which he judged perhaps the most retrograde.  There was also the burgeoning debate among scientifics, the “Ancients” and the “Moderns,” which had been festering for decades since the discovery of the body’s circulatory system by the English physician William Harvey in 1619 and further fueled by Harvey’s report of embryo development in 1651.

 On February 17, 1673, during the last interlude of the fourth performance of The Imaginary Invalid,  Molière began coughing blood.  He finished the performance and was taken home, where he refused a doctor or a priest.  He died later that night.  Four days later, his coffin was covered with rugs (his father had been the king’s carpet-maker) and clandestinely taken to St. Joseph’s (now St. Eustache) cemetery, the church deeming actors unfit for proper Christian burial.

 Armande refused to have the The Imaginary Invalid published, although plagiarized performances written from memory appeared in Paris, Amsterdam and Cologne.

 The following month, Lully was relieved of his duties and given a theatre and money by the king to start a music school.

 In 1677, Armande married Guérin d’Estriché, an actor in the company.

 In 1680, all the theatrical troupes under the king’s aegis were merged into the Comédie-Française.  To this day, the chair Molière took ill in is encased in glass in the lobby. Molière’s complete works were published in 1682.  His remains were moved in 1817 to a small wall overlooking a foot path in Père Lachaise cemetery.

 On August 3, 1665, Armande and Molière had a daughter, Esprit- (spirit) Magdeleine.  Baby girls were not given the same medical attention as boys.  She lived until 1723.




Kym Ward


Giselle Jones*


Ben Patch


Vicki Hirsch*


Dayle Vander Sande


Dan Snow*


Deborah Wright Houston*


Nicole Potter*


Evan Franca


Paul Obedzinski


Michael Gnat*


Michael Gnat*

Special thanks to Nöelle Maire and Nicolas Boyon.

*Member of Actors' Equity Association (AEA)

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