Molière on his 400th Birthday: Still Controversial and Influential
Molière is undoubtedly the most famous French playwright. His work has been played over 35,000 times since 1680 at the Comédie-Française - France’s most prestigious theater, often nicknamed the house of Molière.
This year has a special flavor, as we celebrate the 400th anniversary of Molière’s birth on January 15, 1622. The national glory of this artist and the cultural heritage of his work contributes to "the emergence of a true mythology of the artist"; a mythology that began with his death in 1673 and has continued to grow ever since.
Molière criticizes with a great deal of humor the power struggles and the relationships between men and women in the 1600s. Some of his plays caused a scandal, such as Tartuffe, which denounced the lies of certain religious people. In Le Misanthrope, Molière ridicules rich people and their precious manners.
Molière’s plays remain relevant today, especially his satires such as The Imaginary Invalid. The plot revolves around Argan, the eponymous «imaginary invalid». A widower, married for the second time to Béline, who pretends to care for him, but in reality she is only waiting for her husband's death to inherit... To get them out of trouble, Toinette recommends to Argan to play dead.
The narrative tricks seen in Moliere's plays have influenced all the comedies that have been produced since, first in theater, and in movies. From Lubitsch's To be or not to be to The Good Place’s last episodes, the comedic springs used by Molière have been studied at length by Hollywood screenwriters.
Thrown into a mass grave shortly after his death, Molière was recently the subject of a request for "pantheonization" (burial in the Pantheon, which groups the remains of the greatest celebrities in French history, the latest being Josephine Baker).
According to Francis Huster a former cast member of the Comédie Française, « Molière is France: if you remove his work from French libraries, they’d collapse ». The mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo also requested for Molière to be buried at the Pantheon. But the President turned down the idea: the Pantheon is dedicated to French figures who died after the French Revolution, in 1789.
However this shouldn’t affect the large tribute that Molière will be getting this year. His plays have been translated in English many times, and are frequently played in NYC. Get a seat to a theater near you next time you can!