Historical Figures

Molière (Jean Baptiste Poquelin) - Short biography

Short biography - Jean Baptiste Poquelin, known as Molière , is a 17th century French author and actor whose name alone evokes the greatest hours of French theatre. First influenced by Italian comedies, Molière affirms an original style in a succession of comedies which ironically address the mores of his time. If, through his gifts as an author and actor, he gave life to tasty comic “types”, Molière remains above all famous for his reflection on the failings of society and the weaknesses of man. Creator, actor and troupe leader, the most performed playwright in France knew how to renew moralistic and comic theatre, inventing typical characters whom he takes pleasure in ridiculing.

Jean Baptiste Poquelin, an early passion for the theater

Born in 1622, Jean Baptiste Poquelin is certainly not a child of the ball. His father Jean is indeed a wealthy merchant who has acceded to the prestigious position of Upholsterer to the King. Thus the young man received an education of the most careful within the famous College of Clermont (the current Louis the Great) run by Jesuits. Although he was a diligent and gifted student, he was nonetheless passionate about the theater that his grandfather introduced him to.

The future Molière is thus particularly impressed by comic farces and Italian genres. Custom would have him exercise the charge of his father, which he took over at the end of 1637. However, this was without counting on the young man's passion for the theater. Thus in 1643, after having continued his studies both at university and the theater, Jean-Baptiste broke with his father and took part in the founding of the Illustre Théâtre.

Molière's difficult artistic beginnings

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin's artistic beginnings were difficult. Taking the stage name:Molière, he performed in the provinces and then in Paris, but his financial troubles earned him imprisonment in 1645. Released, he subsequently led a life of wanderings, subject to the goodwill of the Great, like the Prince of Conti. Associated with the Béjarts, a brotherhood of actors, he criss-crossed the kingdom for more than ten years. Between 1653 and 1655, the troupe created its first comedy in Lyon, L’Etourdi ou les contretemps, of Italian inspiration.

The notoriety acquired in the provinces enabled him to return to Paris with the support of Monsieur, brother of the king. Gradually abandoning his pretensions as a tragedian, Molière eventually distinguished himself in the comic register. After the performance at the Louvre in front of the king and queen of Doctor in love (1658), Molière will perform Le Dépit in love (1659) in the theater of the Petit-Bourbon.

The comic turn and the success of Molière

In 1658 it was his comic talent that earned him the attention of King Louis XIV, who was tired of Corneille's tragedies. Soon Molière's troupe, which had become the king's troupe, enjoyed unprecedented success. It was the era of the greatest successes for the playwright and actor, who even had the signal honor of having Louis XIV act in person in one of his plays.

Abandoning the Italian style, Molière asserts himself in a succession of comedies which ironically address the mores of his time:The Ridiculous Precious (1659), Sganarelle (1660), The School for Women (1662), which caused a scandal in well-meaning circles. It won't be the last. He then tried his hand at the genre of ballet comedies (George Dandin or le Mari confuse 1668), then provoked his detractors with Tartuffe, staged in 1664 and which was performed before the king, before being banned until 1669 .

Molière was not discouraged, however, and continued to produce satirical works such as the Misanthrope and the Doctor in spite of himself (1666), the Miser (1668), then the Bourgeois gentilhomme (1670) and the Fourberies de Scapin (1670). He triumphed with Les Femmes savantes (1672).

A not-so-imaginary patient...

In 1662, Molière married Armande Béjart, a pretty actress twenty years his junior. At the end of 1665, he discovered a lung disease, probably tuberculosis. A year later, separated from his wife, the famous playwright began to suffer the horrors of censorship more and more frequently. His last years will certainly be marked by some successes, but above all by the deterioration of his state of health and by the loss of the King's favor.

On February 17, 1673, a few hours after starting the fourth performance of Le Malade Imaginaire, Molière was carried home by a final congestion of the lungs. He who will have bequeathed to the French theater some of his finest works will be buried at night, almost clandestinely, because of his profession as an actor, immoral for the Church. His troupe will join the Comédie Française founded by royal decree in 1680 and commonly called the Maison de Molière...


- Molière, biography of Georges Forestier. Gallimard, 2018.

- Reading Molière:The Man and His Time – The Writer and His Work, by Emile Faguet. Mono, 2019.

- Molière by Roger Duchêne, biography. Fayard, 2006.