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Molière in the role of Caesar
Portrait by Nicolas Mignard , 1658
Molière's signature

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin alias Molière (baptized January 15, 1622 in Paris ; † February 17, 1673 there) was a French actor , theater director and playwright .

It is one of the great classics and made comedy a genre potentially equal to tragedy . Above all, he raised the theater of his time to a forum for discussion about general human behavior in society.


childhood and adolescence

Molière is a stage name that the actor and later author probably used from 1643, but no later than June 1644. The origin of the name is unclear, perhaps a southern French town of the same name was the inspiration. Molière was born the eldest son of a wealthy Parisian merchant of household textiles (tapissier), who in 1631 bought the office of a tapissier du roi , i. H. of a royal decorator and interior decorator .

The boy lost his mother at the age of ten, and then his stepmother when he was just 15, both of whom died in childbirth . He completed his schooling at the Parisian Collège de Clermont , run by Jesuits , where he received a solid classical education and had some classmates who later played a special role for him. His maternal grandfather, a theater lover, always took him to performances, particularly to the popular fairground theater (théâtre de la foire), where he gained insights into a world that fascinated him from an early age.

At almost 16 he took the oath of office as his father's future successor in the tapestry office and shortly afterwards studied law in Orléans . Back in Paris he was admitted to the bar. It is not known whether he ever worked as such. Around the same time he attended the lectures of the naturalist and philosopher Pierre Gassendi , which gave him a certain detachment from the dogmas of the Church. Apparently he wrote at that time a verse translation of De rerum natura by the Roman philosopher Lucretius , which has been lost.

wandering years

In 1641 or 1642, around the age of 20, he met the actress Madeleine Béjart , who was four years older than him . to accompany him on a longer journey and to set up the changing night quarters for him.

In 1643 Molière handed over the unloved office to his younger brother, had an advance paid on his mother's inheritance and founded, still under the name Poquelin, together with Madeleine Béjart, her siblings Louis and Geneviève and five other comedians with a contract dated June 30, 1643 a theater company, the L'Illustre Théâtre. This went bankrupt in 1645 and Molière was temporarily taken into custody . He then joined the Béjarts in Charles du Fresne 's touring troupe, sponsored by the Duc d'Épernon and performing mainly in western and southern France.

He soon rose to become director of the troupe, and in 1653 gained the governor of the Languedoc as his patron, the Prince de Conti , for a few years . A legend is probably the claim put into the world by La Grange that he attended the Collège de Clermont together with Molière. In addition to tragedies, tragicomedies and comedies by contemporary authors, the troupe's repertoire also included comic farces and funny plays in the style of the Italian commedia dell'arte . From 1655 Molière also included his own works in the program, e.g. Take, for example, the verse comedy L'Étourdi ou Les Contretemps (The Clumsy, or the Shrewds), which stars a witty and shrewd servant and his notoriously clumsy young master.

Return to Paris and first successes

Molière's troop, 1670

After 13 years of travelling, during which he had met people from all walks of life and had learned his trade as an actor, theater director and finally also an author from scratch, Molière made a guest appearance in Rouen in 1658 , where he met the famous playwright Pierre Corneille . Above all, however, he came into contact with "Monsieur", i. H. the younger brother of Louis XIV , Duke Philippe I d'Orléans . He invited the troupe to the court in Paris, where Molière performed the tragedy Nicomede by Corneille and his own farce Le médecin amoureux (The Doctor in Love) . The young king, who was only 20 years old, liked the latter so much that he allowed the troupe to play in the hall of the Hôtel du Petit-Bourbon , which borders the Louvre . However, the Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays there belonged to an Italian troupe led by the comedian Tiberio Fiorilli (1608–1694), who was famous for his iconic role as Scaramouche .

Molière's breakthrough came in November 1659 with his prose comedy Les précieuses ridicules (The Ridiculous Fine Ladies), his first play intended for a predominantly Parisian audience. Using the example of the two protagonists, two somewhat exalted, would-be-noble and educated bourgeois girls, he mocks the artificial way of speaking and the unrealistic ways of thinking of the precious ones , as they were now also found in the bourgeoisie. The success of the play brought him the first envious people, and the theme his first enemies, including the head of the administration of the royal castles, who ordered the demolition of the Petit-Bourbon punctually at the beginning of the 1660/61 season. Molière remained without a venue for three months until he was assigned the hall of the Palais Royal by the king .

Another blow was the complete failure of the tragicomedy Dom Garcie de Navarre in 1661, with which Molière apparently intended to approach the elevated genre of tragedy.

With the central theme of the play, excessive jealousy , he was certainly also working on a personal problem, because at the time the 40-year-old was courting the apparently coquettish 18-year-old Armande Béjart , Madeleine's youngest sister (or daughter?) and also actress in his troupe. The wedding of Armande Béjart and Molière, who was 20 years his senior, took place on February 20, 1662 in the parish church of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois . The couple had three children: Louis (* January 1664), who died at the age of 8 months, Esprit-Madeleine (* August 1665, † without issue 1723) and Pierre-Jean-Baptiste-Armand (* 1672), who was only a few days old. Armande's marriage to Molière was not always a happy one. From 1666 she lived apart from him for a while.

The next major success was L'École des femmes ( The School of Women ), a verse comedy in late 1662 in which Molière (whom Armande had just married) advocates a moderate emancipation of young women and their right to a love marriage. The fierce controversy that he hereby aroused he fueled further in 1663 with the prose plays La Critique de l'École des femmes ( Criticism of the School of Women ) and L'Impromptu de Versailles ( The Impromptu of Versailles ). The king seems to have liked this, for he offered Molière an annual pension of 1,000  livres . In January 1664, the king even became godfather to Molière's first child Louis (although he died soon afterwards), which he probably did in part to refute the rumor that Armande was a child of Madeleine Béjart and Molière and that he had therefore married his own daughter.

Iffland as a sweeping bag and Franz Labes as an arrow in Molière's The Miser , I,3. Lithograph by Friedrich Weise after a Berlin performance around 1810

Moliere and Racine

In the years 1663 to 1665 Molière briefly became the protector of the still unknown up-and-coming dramatist Jean Racine . He commissioned him with a tragedy about the Oedipus story, which he staged in early 1664 with little success under the title La Thébaïde. Ou les frères ennemis (The Thebais. Or the Enemy Brethren). In 1665 he played Racine's tragicomedy Alexandre le Grand with moderate success.

However, Molière experienced that the young author, dissatisfied with the staging, migrated with his play to the troupe of the Hôtel de Bourgogne , which specialized in tragedies. In doing so, Racine took with him one of Molière's most popular actresses, Mademoiselle du Parc , who had become involved with Racine and followed him to the competition. The relationship between the two men was naturally tense after this. Molière took his revenge by frequently reviving older plays by Racine's rival Pierre Corneille or premiering new ones.

The Long Battle for Tartuffe

In May 1664 - in the meantime he had become Louis XIV's entertainment director - Molière organized a multi-day court festival in the newly created park of Versailles . There he first played, with ballet interludes that his younger friend Jean-Baptiste Lully had composed and choreographed , the harmless (own) comedies La Princesse d'Élide (The Princess of Elis), Le Mariage forcé (The Forced Marriage) and Les Fâcheux . On the sixth day, he performed a new three-act verse comedy that became a political issue: Tartuffe .

A number of pious courtiers had already tried to prevent the performance of this play in the run-up to an apparently devout but in fact domineering, greedy and lustful swindler. After the performance, outrage erupted from the entire 'old court', a group of mostly elderly courtiers who rallied around the pious Queen Mother Anne of Austria and mourned the pre-1661 days when she and her minister, Cardinal Mazarin , had ruled. The king initially liked Molière's attack on the bigots, who were also a nuisance to him, but under pressure from the "old court" he thought it advisable to ban the play. Molière's next few years were determined by his fight for Tartuffe and against the intrigues of the "clique of the pious", as he called them. These were partly organized in a bigoted secret society, the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement, to which his former patron Conti, who had become devout after contracting syphilis , belonged.

Molière, meanwhile, pursued the theme of hypocrisy: at the end of 1664, soon after Tartuffe was first banned , he wrote Don Juan , a prose play about a high-ranking marriage swindler, swindler and libertine who, in order to escape the stalks of outraged victims, committed a conversion feigns Christian morality and piety, but ends up going to hell. This piece was also banned after a few performances, presumably because of the not clearly negative portrayal of Don Juan's freethinking.

After all, Molière saw himself supported by the king insofar as he had his annual pension increased from 1000 to 6000 livres in the summer of 1665 and was allowed to accept the title Troupe du roi with his troupe, both shortly after the birth of his daughter Esprit-Madeleine, who was the only child should survive.

In June 1666, Molière published the verse comedy Le Misanthrope ( The Misanthrope ) , a satire on the dishonest flattery at court and the feigned niceness in the Paris salons. The character of the misanthrope Alceste, played by Molière himself, is unusually strongly autobiographical and clearly reflects his own inability and reluctance to behave opportunistically and assimilated on the slippery floor of court society. Alceste's disappointed love for the coquettish young Célimène reflects Molière's disappointment with his wife Armande, who is 20 years his junior and who had just (temporarily) separated from him.

In the summer of 1667 he attempted to include in his program a version of Tartuffe that was lengthened to five acts, revised and retitled L'Imposteur (The Swindler) , renaming the protagonist Panulphe and no longer masquerading as a priest, but costumed as a nobleman. But the president of the Paris Parliament , who exercised police power for the king, who was on a campaign in Flanders, reacted immediately with a ban; the Archbishop of Paris even threatened Molière with excommunication. When he sent two actors to the king with a petition, he signaled his goodwill but did nothing. At least he allowed his brother Philippe and then the Prince de Condé (Conti's older brother) to have the play performed privately in their castles in 1668.

After the second Tartuffe version was also banned, Molière began to criticize his unreliable patron Ludwig in 1668 in the verse comedy Amphitryon , whom he encoded in the role of Iupiter quite unabashedly allowed to pursue his sexual desires. In George Dandin (Prose, also 1668) he denounced the arrogance with which nobles, even when impoverished, believed they could despise and exploit the socially useful bourgeoisie.

It was not until February 5, 1669, after the "old court" was finally disempowered after Anna's death in 1666, the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement was banned and Louis's power after domestic and foreign political successes was so consolidated that he no longer had any regard for Molière's pious opponents had to take, he was able to freely perform the again revised piece, now titled Tartuffe, ou l'Imposteur . The performance was a triumphant success and is considered one of the great events in French theater history.

the last few years

Molière's Works, 1734

Overall, however, after 1667 Molière had begun to focus on more harmless themes. With pleasing pieces, especially so-called ballet comedies to music by Lully, he tried to fill his theater and keep the king happy. Along with a number of other pieces now forgotten, he wrote:

  • 1668 L'Avare ( The Miser ), a prose comedy in which he caricatures the type of citizen who has become rich but has remained narrow-minded and stingy, who almost suffocates his more lively and free-spending children with his stinginess.
  • 1669 Monsieur de Pourceaugnac , a prose comedy in which he lets a dimwitted provincial lose the bride he has practically bought to a wiser rival.
  • 1670 Le Bourgeois gentilhomme ( The bourgeois nobleman ), a prose comedy with song and ballet interludes, in which he satirizes the blind addiction of many bourgeois to noble titles . (music by Lully)
  • 1671 Les fourberies de Scapin ( Scapin's pranks ), a prose comedy in which, in a turbulent plot about the clever servant Scapin, he demonstrates all the means of situation comedy available to the genre of farce.
  • 1672 Les femmes savantes ( The learned women ), a verse comedy in which he caricatures what he considers to be the false consciousness of three pseudo-educated and pseudo-emancipated bourgeois women and contrasts them with a young woman who affirms her role as a bourgeois housewife and wife.
  • 1673 Le Malade imaginaire ( The Imaginary Patient [ie "who only imagines his illness"]), a prose comedy on an old theme that Molière had also worked on himself: the naive belief in medicine of wealthy sick people and, above all, the incompetence of those who knew no self-doubt Doctors – an inability that Molière, who was often ill himself, knew all too well. (Music by Marc-Antoine Charpentier )

These last years of Molière's life were marked by a constantly deteriorating state of health, caused by the stress of work and the long back and forth about the Tartuffe . Frequent marital difficulties also affected him. In 1671, while rehearsing the ballet tragedy Psyché (the last two-thirds of which Corneille had written), he broke with his partner Lully. At the beginning of 1672, his companion of many years, Madeleine Béjart, fell ill and died. At the end of the same year, a third child died soon after birth, and Molière saw Lully become the rival whom the king began to prefer.

In bitter irony, Le Malade imaginaire was to remain his last play and the leading role of the imaginary sick man his last role. During the fourth performance on February 17, 1673, he suffered an attack of weakness, including a haemorrhage , which the audience initially took for an interlude within the comedy. A little later he died in his nearby apartment. It was only with difficulty that his wife Armande managed to break the resistance of the parish priest and, through the king, to get the archbishop of Paris to authorize a reasonably respectable burial in a church cemetery.

Molière's troops initially remained under Armande's leadership. However, when her rival Lully was awarded the hall of the Palais Royal, she soon joined the troupe of the Théâtre du Marais , and Armande married one of their actors. In 1680, on the orders of Louis XIV, the new troupe merged with the troupe of the Hôtel de Bourgogne: the Comédie-Française , which still exists today, was born.

It was not until 1752 that his comedies were translated into German. The outer main belt asteroid (3046) Molière was named after him.

The Corneille-Molière controversy

The authorship of Molière's works is not undisputed. At the heart of this controversy is whether Pierre Corneille , creator of the French tragedy, ghost -wrote some of the works traditionally attributed to Molière.

In the 21st century attempts are being made to decide this issue with the help of mathematical - stylometric methods from computer philology .


In alphabetic order:

The actors troupe Molières

The following comedians were - in the chronological order of their recording - in Molière's troupe:


  • Album Moliere . Iconography chosen and annotated by François Rey. Bibliotheque de la Pleiade. Editions Gallimard, 2010. ISBN 978-2-07-011829-8 .
  • Renate Baader (ed.): Molière (= ways of research. Vol. 261). WBG , Darmstadt 1980, ISBN 3-534-07833-0 .
  • Gabriele Blaikner-Hohenwart: The German Molière. Molière translations into German (= European university publications; Ibero-Romance languages ​​and literatures. Vol. 65). Peter Lang, Frankfurt 2001, ISBN 3-631-36333-8 .
  • Nicola Denis: Tartuffe in Germany. Molière's comedy in translation, in science and on the stage from the 17th to the 20th century (= Literature, Culture, Media. Vol. 2). Munster 2002, ISBN 3-8258-6022-1 .
  • Jean Firges : Molière: The misanthrope. Plea against a mendacious society (= exemplary series of literature and philosophy. Vol. 15). Sonnenberg, Annweiler 2003, ISBN 3-933264-31-6 .
  • Georges Forestier: Molière , [Paris] : Gallimard, [2018], ISBN 978-2-07-013506-6
  • Jürgen Grimm : Moliere. Realien zur Literatur (= Metzler Collection. Vol. 212). 2nd, revised and updated edition. Metzler, Stuttgart/Weimar 2002 [1. edition 1984], ISBN 3-476-12212-3 .
  • Friedrich Hartau: Molière in self-testimonies and pictorial documents (= Rowohlt monographs . 245). Rowohlt, Reinbek 1976, ISBN 3-499-50245-3 .
  • Johannes Hösle: Molière. His life, his work, his time (= series Piper. Vol. 1563). 2nd Edition. Piper, Munich 1992 [1. edition 1987], ISBN 3-492-02781-4 .
  • Thomas A. Keck: Molière in German. A bibliography of German translations and adaptations of Molière's comedies (= Bibliographical Library. Vol. 3). Revonnah Verlag, Hanover 1996, ISBN 3-927715-63-8 .
  • Erich Koehler : Moliere . In: Id.: Lectures on the history of French literature. Edited by Henning Krauss. Vol.: Classic II. Stuttgart [u. a.] 1983, pp. 7–103 ( digital copy, PDF; 743 kB ).
  • Henning Krauss; Till R. Kuhnle; Hanspeter Plocher (ed.): 17. Century. theater . Tübingen 2003, ISBN 3-86057-902-9 [interpretations of Le Misanthrope and Le Tartuffe ].
  • [Entry] Moliere. In: Heinz Ludwig Arnold (ed.): Kindler's Literature Encyclopedia . 3rd, completely revised edition. 18 vols. Metzler, Stuttgart/Weimar 2009, ISBN 978-3-476-04000-8 , vol. 12, pp. 388-402 [biogram, articles on 18 dramas, including L'Avare by Ingrid Peter and Gottfried Schwarz] .
  • Sainte-Beuve : Moliere. In: Ders.: Literary portraits. Translated and explained by Rolf Müller, ex. and in. Katharina Scheinfuss. Dieterich'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung , Leipzig 1958; WBG, Darmstadt 1958, pp. 25-96.
  • Virginia Scott: Moliere. A theatrical life . Cambridge University Press , Cambridge [u. a.] 2001, ISBN 0-521-78281-3 .
  • Jürgen von Stackelberg: Moliere. An Introduction (= RUB . No. 17655). Reclam, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-15-017655-7 [revision of an introduction from 1986].
  • Christian Strich, Rémy Charbon, Gerd Haffmans (eds.): About Molière. Diogenes, Zurich 1973 [reprinted 1998; Anthology with contemporary testimonies and documents on Molière's reception, e.g. by Lessing, Goethe, Thomas Mann and Bulgakov; also contributions by Bertolt Brecht, Friedrich Dürrenmatt and others].
  • Birthe Koch:  Moliere. In: Biographical-Bibliographical Church Lexicon (BBKL). Volume 6, Bautz, Herzberg 1993, ISBN 3-88309-044-1 , cols. 41–43.

web links

Commons : Molière  - Album with images, videos and audio files
Wikiquote: Molière  – Quotations
Wikisource: Molière  - Sources and full texts


  1. Molière at
  2. Henry Trollope, The Life of Moliere . Page 83. ISBN 1-4179-7041-3 Limited Preview on Google Book Search retrieved 30 June 2010
  3. Johannes Hösle: Moliere. His life, his work, his time , Piper Verlag, Munich 1987, ISBN 3-492-02781-4 , p. 12.
  4. Lutz D. Schmadel : Dictionary of Minor Planet Names . Fifth Revised and Enlarged Edition. Editor: Lutz D. Schmadel. 5th edition. Springer Verlag , Berlin , Heidelberg 2003, ISBN 978-3-540-29925-7 , p.  186 (English, 992 p., [ONLINE; accessed September 6, 2020] original title: Dictionary of Minor Planet Names . First edition: Springer Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg 1992): “4120 PL. Discovered 1960 Sept. 24 by CJ van Houten and I. van Houten-Groeneveld at Palomar.”
  5. MOLIÈRE - One does not know , in: DER SPIEGEL 24/1957
  6. Dr. Christof Schöch (Würzburg): Stylometric Experiments, or: Authorship and Genre in Classical French Theater , on the website of the Georg-August University of Göttingen
  7. Inside title: …Plaidoyer… ; Focus: "Le Misanthrope", as well as in general about Molière
  8. after the rev. 1862 edition; in French see web links.
  9. 30 min. Staging: Frédéric Ortiz, Théâtre Off, Marseille; TV director: Jean-Marie Perrochat. Background material and "Methodical Considerations - Possible Learning Objectives" on the website, as well as worksheets and whiteboards. Broadcast also available on data medium