Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (baptised 15 January 1622; died 17 February 1673), known by his stage name Molière (UK: /ˈmɒliɛər, ˈmoʊl-/, US: /moʊlˈjɛər, ˌmoʊliˈɛər/, French: [mɔljɛʁ]), was a French playwright, actor and poet, widely regarded as one of the greatest writers in the French language and universal literature. His extant works include comedies, farces, tragicomedies, comédie-ballets and more. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed at the Comédie-Française more often than those of any other playwright today. His influence is such that the French language itself is often referred to as the “language of Molière”.
Born into a prosperous family and having studied at the Collège de Clermont (now Lycée Louis-le-Grand), Molière was well suited to begin a life in the theatre. Thirteen years as an itinerant actor helped him polish his comic abilities while he began writing, combining Commedia dell’arte elements with the more refined French comedy.
Through the patronage of aristocrats including Philippe I, Duke of Orléans—the brother of Louis XIV—Molière procured a command performance before the King at the Louvre. Performing a classic play by Pierre Corneille and a farce of his own, The Doctor in Love, Molière was granted the use of salle du Petit-Bourbon near the Louvre, a spacious room appointed for theatrical performances. Later, he was granted the use of the theatre in the Palais-Royal. In both locations Molière found success among Parisians with plays such as The Affected Ladies, The School for Husbands and The School for Wives. This royal favour brought a royal pension to his troupe and the title Troupe du Roi (“The King’s Troupe”). Molière continued as the official author of court entertainments.
Despite the adulation of the court and Parisians, Molière’s satires attracted criticism from churchmen. For Tartuffe’s impiety, the Catholic Church denounced this study of religious hypocrisy followed by the Parliament’s ban, while Don Juan was withdrawn and never restaged by Molière. His hard work in so many theatrical capacities took its toll on his health and, by 1667, he was forced to take a break from the stage. In 1673, during a production of his final play, The Imaginary Invalid, Molière, who suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis, was seized by a coughing fit and a haemorrhage while playing the hypochondriac Argan. He finished the performance but collapsed again and died a few hours later.
Molière’s works were translated into English prose by John Ozell in 1714, but the first complete version in English, by Baker and Miller in 1739, remained “influential” and was long reprinted. The first to offer full translations of Molière’s verse plays such as Tartuffe into English verse was Curtis Hidden Page, who produced blank verse versions of three of the plays in his 1908 translation. Since then, notable translations have been made by Richard Wilbur, Donald M. Frame, and many others.