Who shouted: “I am lost, I am murdered; they cut my throat: they stole my money! Who whispered: “To be devout, I am no less a man!” Who wondered: “What the hell was he going to do in this mess? Who confessed: “The little cat is dead”? You have no idea? Quickly re-read Molière. In order, Harpagon, in L’Avare, Tartuffe, in the eponymous play, Géronte, in Les Fourberies de Scapin, and the charming Agnès in L’École des femmes. But also read Le Bourgeois gentilhomme for the delirium of Mr. Jourdain who dreams of being a Grand Mamamouchi.
Don’t live without Molière: he is funny, invigorating and profound. Since the 17th century, with or without a wig, he has enchanted us, and if today we celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of his birth with pomp, in France and abroad, it is because he is unavoidable.
The secrets of a genius. Because who knows what a man he was? He left no personal papers. His life is a mystery. The biography that we learn at school? A fabric of legends. Molière was not a poor rebellious poet, harassed by the bad guys and deceived by his wife, a pretty bitch. He did not die on stage playing The Imaginary Invalid. Nonsense as that, said Boileau, who had long been his friend. Fake news, we will say today.
The truth? Molière was during his lifetime a huge star, rich, adored (and therefore much criticized), and a seducer whose marital life we know nothing about, except that he had at least four children by the beautiful Armande. As for the reasons for his death, between tuberculosis which destroys slowly and chest inflammation which ends in a few hours, historians debate. One thing is certain: he knew and wanted to please Louis XIV, the best condition for success, but this good courtier, more judoka than sumo wrestler, also knew how to defend his values: the rejection of intolerance, respect for women, contempt for appearances, etc. A chance for him? We will quickly forget his dripping flatteries in honor of the monarch to retain only his “rebellious” side.
But how to read it today? Like a contemporary, tells us Denis Podalydès, of the Comédie Française, who is currently playing the 1664 version of Tartuffe, reconstituted by Georges Forestier. Alceste, Orgon, Arnolphe, Tartuffe, but also Agnès or Célimène, would they be people like us? Can we consider, like Jean de Kersvadoué, that today’s overconfident ecologists are yesterday’s Molière doctors? Would Molière be the author of today to think about feminism, the migration crisis, global warming or social problems?
“To each his own truth”? Ouch, it’s not by Molière, it’s by Pirandello. No matter, the real questions are always the same, universal, timeless. Hence their topicality, and that of Molière. That warranted a Great Biography, right?