400 years of Molière: 5 anecdotes that you (maybe) don’t know

Author of around thirty plays, performed all over the world and always taught on school benches, Molière is one of the most famous French authors. Besides, do we not speak of the language of Molière to qualify the French language? While next January 15 will be celebrated the 400th anniversary of his birth, do we know everything about this illustrious playwright?

Molière’s life is still surrounded by many gray areas today. If we know that he had a bourgeois childhood, that he lost his mother at the age of ten or that he married Armande Béjart, several mysteries still hang out. Here are five anecdotes you (maybe) didn’t know.

Molière destined for a career as an upholsterer for the king

Eldest son of Jean Poquelin, Molière is destined to take over the paternal responsibility of master upholsterer. As Michel Bouquet explains in his work “Michel Bouquet tells about Molière” (Ed. Philippe Rey), his father even assures him the position of “ordinary valet de chambre upholsterer of the king”. As such, in 1642, at the age of 20, he accompanied Louis XIII and Richelieu to Languedoc, where he was responsible for organizing the transport of the king’s furniture and tapestries. But a few months later, and after having at the same time studied Latin and Greek at the Clermont college – current Louis-le-Grand high school – but also in law, he decided to pursue a career as an actor. A very disrespectful profession at the time. He then gave up his office as upholsterer for the king and a life as a bourgeois to become … Molière.

A stage name of uncertain origin

Born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin on January 15, 1622, the playwright chose to turn to the theater at the age of 21. As was the custom at the time, the actors, whose profession was very frowned upon by the Church and who were moreover doomed to excommunication, then changed their name so as not to cast shame on them. family. Jean-Baptiste Poquelin then adopted the pseudonym of Molière.

Several hypotheses are put forward regarding this assumed name. It could thus be a tribute to the writer François Molière d’Essertine, who was assassinated in 1624, or a nod to several villages in the Gard as reported by Francis Huster in his “Dictionary of Molière’s love. »(Ed. Plon). Unless it was another common use at the time, that of taking a country name like Montfleury, Floridor or Bellerose, as evoked by Michel Bouquet, who also quotes the Furetière’s dictionary for whom the term “molière” refers to stone quarries. The mystery remains unresolved, Molière during his lifetime never having justified his choice.

Molière married his first partner’s daughter

The craziest theories have circulated on the marriage of Molière and Armande Béjart, to the point of saying that he had married his own daughter. It is not so. On the other hand, 20 years his junior, Armande Béjart is indeed the daughter, born out of wedlock, of Madeleine Béjart, a red-haired actress of the Béjart line and first companion of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin. It is besides Madeleine Béjart who could well have diverted Molière of its destiny all traced of upholsterer of the king to turn to a career of author and actor. After having been the lover of Madeleine Béjart, a free woman who had had many relationships, it was therefore the latter’s daughter that he married in January 1662.

Also an actress of her troupe, Armande, born illegitimately since she is the fruit of the relationship between Madeleine Béjart and the Count of Modena, was once considered to be Madeleine Béjart’s little sister.

Molière did not die on stage

In the collective imagination, Molière died on stage on February 17, 1673, at the age of 51. Yet it is at home, very precisely in his bed in the rue de Richelieu, notes Francis Huster in his Dictionary, that Molière breathed his last. On the other hand, a few hours earlier, during the fourth performance of “Malade imaginaire”, Molière, suffering from a pulmonary fluxion, was indeed the victim, during the last act, of a coughing fit, which is not gone unnoticed. While he was playing the role of the most famous of the hypochondriacs – Argan – the weakened actor nevertheless played his play to the end, but died that same evening, giving rise to the myth of a death on stage.

The actor was buried in the middle of the night in secret

How can we imagine that Molière, today an emblematic figure of French arts, was buried without homage? This was however the case in February 1673. While at the time the actors did not have the right to a burial unless they went to confession and deny their profession on their deathbed, something that Molière did not have. could do since several prelates refused to come to administer the last sacraments to him, Molière’s body was doomed to the commute.

This is without counting on his wife, who convinced the king and succeeded in having him buried on February 21, but at night, in secret and without procession in the Saint-Joseph cemetery. In 1817, his remains were moved to Père Lachaise cemetery, but no one is certain to this day that it is indeed Molière’s body that resides there.

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