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The Genius of Molière

"To make someone’s weakness a laughing-stock is to deal them a mighty blow. People easily endure criticism, but they cannot endure mockery. People are happy to be seen as wicked, but not ridiculous." These are the words of Molière, who is considered by most as worthy to stand with Shakespeare and Sophocles. He used these words to defend his controversial play “Le Tartuffe”, a biting satire which attacked the hypocrisy and weaknesses of so many in Molière’s day. Almost immediately after its performance before Louis XIV, it was banned due to the perceived attack on religion. As Molière explained at the time, it was not an attack on the Church, but on hypocrites and impostors who use religion to their own selfish ends.

𝐁𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐬𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐫𝐞 Molière was in fact his stage name, but he made it so well known that few people outside the francophone world recognise the name Jean-Baptiste Poquelin today. His style was biting satire and he is widely considered to be the father of modern comedy. In English, some comical devices still use their French equivalent, such as malentendu and double entendre.

𝐄𝐧𝐝𝐮𝐫𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐫𝐞𝐥𝐞𝐯𝐚𝐧𝐜𝐞 What Molière did was to turn comedy from something for the less educated masses to something suitable for the royal court and his works are enduring. Usually with a protagonist who has a personality flaw, the plot sees the wool removed from the eyes of the protagonist so that he is purged of his fault. In “The Miser”, however, such a purging is never achieved. Harpagon remains the miser despite everyone’s efforts to convert him. “Harpagon” in French today is used to describe a miser, rather as we refer to someone as a Scrooge after Dickens’s character - who does get purged.

𝐀 𝐝𝐞𝐚𝐭𝐡 𝐦𝐢𝐬𝐫𝐞𝐩𝐨𝐫𝐭𝐞𝐝 Molière’s death is often misreported, with people believing he died on the stage. The fact is that he was playing the part of Argan, the hypochondriac. He suffered a pulmonary embolism in a coughing fit which the audience believed to be part of the action. The lights then went down. The King urged Moilère to go home to rest, but Molière insisted on completing his performance. Once home, three priests were called to administer the last rites. The first two refused, following the scandal of “Le Tartuffe”. The third acquiesced but arrived too late. Because Molière was an actor, he needed to receive the last rites and to reject all the other characters he had portrayed as an actor so he could go to heaven.

𝐁𝐮𝐫𝐢𝐞𝐝 𝐮𝐧𝐜𝐞𝐫𝐞𝐦𝐨𝐧𝐢𝐨𝐮𝐬𝐥𝐲 As he did not receive the sacrament, he was buried unceremoniously in unconsecrated ground. After years of lobbying to the King from his widow Armande, Molière’s remains were exhumed and he was interred at Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. The superstition about wearing green is believed to have come about because of what Molière was wearing when he died.

𝐌𝐢𝐧𝐞𝐫𝐯𝐚 𝐓𝐮𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐨𝐟𝐟𝐞𝐫𝐬 𝐪𝐮𝐚𝐥𝐢𝐭𝐲 𝐭𝐮𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐢𝐧 𝐂𝐨𝐦𝐦𝐨𝐧 𝐄𝐧𝐭𝐫𝐚𝐧𝐜𝐞 (𝐂𝐄), 𝐈𝐆𝐂𝐒𝐄, 𝐀 𝐋𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐥 / 𝐈𝐁𝐃𝐏 𝐟𝐫𝐨𝐦 𝐭𝐞𝐚𝐜𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐬 𝐰𝐡𝐨 𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐟𝐮𝐥𝐥𝐲-𝐪𝐮𝐚𝐥𝐢𝐟𝐢𝐞𝐝 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐡𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐥𝐲 𝐞𝐱𝐩𝐞𝐫𝐢𝐞𝐧𝐜𝐞𝐝. For details of how we can help your child, please contact Valerie Weston on: Email: Phone: +852 6156 5705. We would be delighted to hear from you.

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