Moliere, the assumed name of Jean Bap-tiste Poquelin, a French dramatist, born in Paris, Jan. 15, 1(522, died there, Feb. 17, 1673. He was both the son and grandson of valets de chambre tapissiers to the king, and was himself destined for this trade. His grandfather occasionally took him to the hotel de Bourgogne, where Bellerose then acted in genteel comedy, and Gauthier-Garguille and Turlupin in farce. Obtaining permission to engage in study, he went in 1637 to the Jesuit college of Clermont in Paris, where he remained five years. He enjoyed the private lessons of Gassendi, and was associated with the prince of Conti, afterward his patron and friend, Bernier, Ilesnault, and Chapelle. He studied law at Orleans, and was admitted an advocate in 1645; but his taste for the stage caused his return to Paris. The attractions of the actress Madeleine Bejart were reported also to have influenced his judgment. The example of Richelieu had created a general interest in the drama, and Poquelin became the head of a troupe of amateur comedians, which was soon transformed into a regular professional travelling company, known as Villustre theatre.
He then assumed the name of Moliere. Little is known of his life in the provinces from 1046 to 1658, when he returned to Paris. He composed numerous imitations of Italian farces, some of which were the first sketches of his future comedies. At Bordeaux he was welcomed by the duke d'fipernon; at Lyons he obtained the accession of Mme. Duparc and Mine, de Brie to his company, which already included the brothers and sister Bejart; and at Pezenas he was accustomed to sit every Saturday in a barber's shop to study the faces and conversation of the visitors. His first regular comedy was L'Etourdi, represented at Lyons in 1653, which by its success induced the principal members of a rival company to join his troupe. After visiting the chief cities of the south, he entered the capital under the protection of Monsieur, duke of Orleans. His performance of his own Docteur amoureux before the court and the comedians of the hotel de Bourgogne was so satisfactory that his company was permitted to establish itself in Paris under the name of the troupe de Monsieur. It became the trovpe du roi in 1665, and subsequently was united with that of the hotel de Bourgogne to form the Theatre Francais. During the last 15 years of his life he produced more than 30 plays, half of which are masterpieces.
He opened a new path in 1659 by his Precieuses ridicules, abandoning the traditions of the Italian and Spanish stage, and assailing the affectations encouraged in literature and society by coteries that ridiculously adopted the tone of the hotel de Rarnbouillet. The play had a run of four months. At brief intervals followed Sganarelle, ou le cocu imaginaire (1660), a somewhat scandalous farce; Don Garde de Navarre (1661), which failed; L'Ecole des maris (1661), in which the leading idea is borrowed from the Adelphi of Terence, and the character of Sganarelle attains its fullest development; and Les fdcheux (1661), the first and one of the finest examples of a come-die a tiroirs, designed to be acted in the intervals of a ballet. In 1662 he married Ar-mande Bejart (a sister of the actress in his company), whom the slanders of the time charged with being a daughter of his former mistress. This has been completely disproved by legal documents brought to light in 1821. His three next plays, L'Ecole desfemmes (1662), La critique de l'Ecole desfemmes (1663), and L'Impromptu de Versailles (1663), increased the animosity against him.
The first and second aroused the suspicions of the religious party, and the third drew upon him the unscrupulous assaults of the rival troupe at the hotel de Bourgogne. In 1664, at the brilliant fetes of Versailles, Moliere and his company contributed to the gayeties on four of the seven days. He presented La princesse d"Elide, a romantic and gorgeous play, and the first three acts of Tartufe, a satire on hypocrites, the success of which when completed was greatly increased by the king's forbidding its representation in Paris. He treated a kindred topic in' the comedy of Le festin de pierre (1665), which portrays the multiple character of Don Juan. This was preceded by Le mariage force, directed against the theologians of the Sorbonne, and followed by VAmour rnedecin, which began the war with the medical faculty continued by Moliere through life. Within the next three years followed Le misanthrope, which Frenchmen pronounce his chef d'aeuvre, partly from its faultlessness of style, and partly from its portraitures of Al-ceste, who runs counter to the conventional hypocrisies of social intercourse, and of Celi-mene the coquette and Arisnoe the prude; Le rnedecin malgre lui, a rollicking farce, which had the greatest success; Amphitryon, an imitation of Plautus; L'Avare, exhibiting in the character of Harpagon the comical relations of avarice; and Georges Dandin, designed to expose the mischief resulting from ill-assorted marriages.
His Tartufe, the greatest effort of his genius, was also once acted with signal applause at the Palais Royal, but its second representation was immediately forbidden, and within a week the archbishop had threatened excommunication against all who should act, read, or listen to it. In the period between the performance of Tartufe in Paris and the death of Moliere, the less important pieces which he successively produced were the farce of Monsieur de Pourceaugnac; the Amants magnifques, in which astrology is satirized; the Fourueries de Scapin; and La comtesse oVEscarbagnas. To this period belong Le bourgeois gentilhomme (1670) and Les femmes sa-vantes (1672), the former displaying the absurd conceit of plebeians in seeking the culture, manners, and acquaintance of the nobility, the latter aimed against pretenders to taste and science. Moliere's dramatic career terminated with the Malade imaginaire. He acted in its fourth representation, and returned to his chamber to die within an hour. A multitude of anecdotes indicate his nobility, truthfulness, unostentatious kindness, and generosity. As an actor he attained high success by his tact and finesse, by dint of study and effort, despite physical disadvantages.
He excelled in the most difficult parts, in those of Arnolphe, Or-gon, and Harpagon, and in the original and typical characters of Mascarille and Sganarelle. Though the most inventive of comic poets, few writers have borrowed so freely from others. His imitations of Italian, Spanish, and Latin comedies are constant and undisguised, and are to be attributed to the occasional character of many of his pieces, written in the exigency of the moment at the command and for the entertainment of the court. More than a century after his death, the French academy, which would have received him if he had consented to abandon his profession as a comedian, decided to admit his bust into its chamber with the inscription proposed by Sau-rin: Rien ne manque d sa gloire; il manquait a la notre. - Among the best editions of Moliere are those of Auger (9 vols., 1819-'2o), Aime-Martin (8 vols., 1833-'6), Moland (Paris, 1871), and Despois (Paris, 1874 et seq.). The best biographies are by Taschereau (Paris, 1825; with supplement, 1827) and Bazin (1851). See also Moland, Moliere et la comedie italienne (1867), and Lindau, Moliere (Leipsic, 1872).