During the Fronde revolt the theaters were closed for the 1648-49 season, but Pierre Corneille wrote a commentary for the Triumph of Louis the Just. In 1650 Queen Anne appointed him the chief tax collector for Normandy, and his plays Andromede and Don Sanche d’Aragon supported the Queen and Cardinal Mazarin. However, in 1651 his Nicomede presented a hero similar to the rebellious Prince of Condé, and Corneille lost his position as a tax collector. The next year his Pertharite, King of the Lombards portrayed a usurper who has a change of heart and goes back to being loyal to the king, but this was the worst theatrical failure of his career. He stopped writing plays and translated the Latin work attributed to Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Jesus Christ, and published it with great success in 1656. Corneille returned to the theater with his Oedipus in 1659 and wrote La Conquete de la Toison d’or to celebrate the marriage of Louis XIV in 1660. All his plays were written in rhyming 12-syllable alexandrines with five acts. He usually followed the Aristotelian unities of action, time, and place but sometimes was criticized for not doing so. He would write nine more plays until his pension was revoked in 1675. He got the pension restored in 1683 and died on October 1, 1684.
Corneille’s historical Nicomedes was produced in February 1651 during the Fronde revolt in Paris, and on April 28 the Parlement exonerated the Prince of Condé. The elderly Prusias (d. 182 BC) is King of Bithynia in northwest Asia Minor, and the conflict is between his victorious first son Nicomedes and his son Attalus by his second wife Arsinoe who is allied with Rome through its ambassador Flaminius. Queen Laodice of Armenia is in love with Nicomedes. Corneille based his play on the history by Justin but admitted that he changed some events. His stated purpose is “to depict the policy of the Romans abroad and how imperiously they dealt with their allied kings.”8
In the play Laodice notes that Attalus has just returned from Rome and that his mother Arsinoe is the power behind the throne, but her hand is pledged to Nicomedes, whose latest victory is the conquest of Cappadocia. Attalus offers his heart to Laodice, who rejects him, and he meets his brother Nicomedes for the first time. Nicomedes asks King Prusias for permission to escort Laodice back to Armenia. Flaminius asks that Attalus rule Bithynia, but Nicomedes objects and challenges the Romans. Prusias wants Laodice to marry Attalus and threatens to send her back to Armenia, devastate her country, and make Attalus king there. Nicomedes says Arsinoe sent two assassins against him who have confessed to Prusias. The King summons Nicomedes as Arsinoe plots against him. Prusias offers Nicomedes his choice of four crowns or Laodice, and he selects the latter. Prusias then announces he will crown Attalus and send Nicomedes to Rome as a hostage. Flaminius tells Attalus that Rome opposes his marriage to Laodice, and he decides to help his brother. A rebellion breaks out led by her followers who favor Nicomedes and lynch the two assassins. Prusias wants to throw the head of Nicomedes to them, but Arsinoe advises sending him to Rome with Flaminius. Laodice protects Arsinoe from the mob and asks for Nicomedes, and Attalus reports that his brother has escaped. Nicomedes has calmed the rebels, tells Prusias he is loyal, and offers to crown Attalus. Nicomedes tells Flaminius that they want to be friends with Rome, and Prusias prays for that. This tragicomedy with a happy ending portrays a small country resisting domination by Rome and reflects the mood during the Fronde when French nobles and provinces rebelled against the excessive wars and taxes of the domineering French monarchy.
In 1667 Corneille’s historical play Attila portrayed the end of his life in 453 following conflicts between romantic love, ambition, survival, and honor. The powerful Hun ruler Attila has offered peace to two of his warlike enemies by proposing to marry a princess from each, and he plans to keep the other hostage. Honoria is the sister of the Western Roman Emperor Valentinian III, and Ildione’s brother Meroveus is King of the Franks. Attila is concerned that a beloved wife may sway him from his ambition for greatness. Ostrogoth King Valamir loves Honoria and urges Attila to wed Ildione to gain the Franks as allies while Gepidae King Ardaric, who is in love with Ildione, suggests the tyrant marry the Emperor’s sister Honoria. She tells Valamir that Attila is betrothed to both of them, and she asks him to punish Attila. Ildione tells Ardaric that she will marry Attila and then kill him. Attila informs his captain Octar that he is confused because marrying Honoria will help him take over Rome; but he is in love with beautiful Ildione. He admits to her that she enchants him, but she urges him to follow his ambition and choose Honoria. Attila acknowledges that he is proud, cruel, and violent. Ildione shares Gaul with her brother, and Attila says he will provide for her.
Ildione tells Honoria that she has persuaded Attila to marry her even though he prefers her own charms. Honoria feels insulted and says she would rather wed Valamir. Attila says he rules over such kings, and now that Aetius is dead he expects to take over Rome too. Honoria says that courage in tyrants is repulsive, and he replies he will be her master tomorrow. Octar has fallen in love with Honoria’s maid Flavia, and Honoria says he can marry her if he will help her wed Valamir. Honoria asks Attila to punish Ildione because she loves Ardaric. Attila tells Honoria that she must marry him or Octar. Attila tells Ardaric that he is going to wed Honoria and says Ildione must marry Valamir. Ardaric says he serves Attila and could kill any of three men, but Attila says Ardaric chose his own rivals instead of Attila’s enemies. Attila orders Ardaric to kill Valamir so that he can marry Ildione. This makes her happy, but Ardaric does not want to murder him. Ardaric nobly says,
‘Tis well to die, if need be to shun crime.
Dying for honor’s sake, one lives again
In men’s thoughts,—triumphs o’er the cruelest fate.
By such a death one makes himself immortal.1
Ildione replies that would destroy their love. He says she could avenge his death, but she notes that revenge does not restore life. She sends him to talk to Valamir. Ardaric and Valamir are disarmed. Valamir accuses Attila of having killed his own brother and six kings. Attila says he will give Ildione to whomever kills Ardaric. Ildione urges Attila to marry Honoria, but he goes off with Ildione to wed her. Octar tells Honoria that he has lost all power, but she tells him to kill Attila or die. Valamir comes in and says that Attila is dead from mysterious bleeding. The two couples have been miraculously delivered and can now marry.
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin was baptized on January 15, 1622. His father was a successful upholsterer who gained entrance to court in 1631 for himself and his oldest son Jean-Baptiste, who studied at the Jesuit College de Clermont until about 1640. He traveled with the court to Narbonne in 1642. The next year he, Madeleine Béjart, and nine others founded the acting company Illustre Theatre, and by June 1644 he was using the stage name Molière. The company went broke in 1645, and Molière was imprisoned twice for its debts. In 1646 the young actor and company manager began touring the provinces for twelve years. He wrote The Flying Doctor in 1645 and The Clown’s Jealousy in 1650.
The Blunderer, or The Counterplots (L’Etourdi ou Les Contretemps) is based on Beltrame’s L’Inavvertito and was Molière’s first comedy in verse and was performed at Lyons in 1655 and published at Paris in 1662. The title character Lélie is in love with the gypsy Célie who is enslaved to old Trufaldin, but Pandolph wants his son Lélie to marry Hippolyte. Léandre is engaged to Hippolyte but also desires Célie. The clever valet Mascarille serves Lélie and uses ten different schemes to try to help his master achieve his end. Lélie spoils Mascarille’s efforts by blurting out the truth about a fake gypsy-fortune-teller Andrés and by picking up and returning a purse. Mascarille tries to get Pandolphe to buy Célie for Hippolyte’s father Anselme. Mascarille also pretends to work for Léandre and urges him to buy Célie, but Lélie prevents the sale with a forged letter from Spain and pretends to ransom the girl for her father. Mascarille accepts money from Hippolyte to get Léandre to marry her. However, Léandre tries to abduct Célie, but Trufaldin stops him. Mascarille says Pandolphe is dead and tries to get Hippolyte’s father Anselme to buy Célie so that Lélie will marry Hippolyte; but Anselme persuades Léandre to accept Hippolyte because of her dowry, and Andrés informs them that Célie was stolen by Trufaldin, who is actually her father and approves her marriage to Lélie. Pandolphe is alive and offers his daughter’s hand to Andrés.
Molière’s Dépit amoureux (The Lovers’ Quarrel or Lovers’ Spite) opened at Béziers about 1656 and was published in 1663. This play was mostly adapted from Nicolo Secchi’s 1585 comedy L’Interesse. Albert wants a son for an heir and has bribed women to raise his daughter Ascagne as a boy. Now about sixteen she has fallen in love with Valère after he was rejected by her sister Lucile. Ascagne pretends to be Lucile and secretly marries Valère. His friend Eraste loves Lucile and tries to convince Valère he has no chance with her. Eraste’s valet Gros-René and Lucile’s maid Marinette are the other lovers who quarrel, but they solve their conflicts more easily than Eraste and Lucile. Albert consults the philosopher Métaphraste to find out why his son Ascagne is so effeminate, but his theories are not helpful. Eraste and Lucile argue before they realize their true feelings. Both couples return gifts as they drift apart. Valère’s father Polidore knows the secret, and it is revealed that Ascagne is actually the girl Dorothée.
On October 24, 1658 Molière’s company presented Corneille’s Nicomedes and his lost comedy The Amorous Doctor for Louis XIV. They gained the patronage of the King’s brother Philippe as Les Comédiens de Monsieur. In 1661 they began using the refurbished Palais-Royal theatre. Molière managed the company and starred in all the plays he wrote.
On November 18, 1659 Molière’s Les Précieuses ridicules (The Romantic Ladies or The Affected Young Ladies) was a brief success, but this one-act farce in prose was withdrawn because of complaints. Gorgibus wants his daughter Magdelon and niece Cathos to marry and is concerned about how much they are spending on make-up; but they put off the suitors La Grange and Du Croisy because, having read romantic novels by Madeleine de Scudéry, they desire lengthy courting and found that their dress and behavior do not meet their expectations. Cathos cannot endure the thought of lying next to a naked man. The gentlemen complained the young ladies put on airs with coquetry and affectation, and they want to teach them a lesson and so send their valets dressed as aristocrats. La Grange’s valet Mascarille poses as a marquis and makes all kinds of grandiose claims about his abilities and accomplishments. He says people of quality know everything without learning anything because it all comes naturally to him without study. Magdelon and Cathos are enchanted by this dandy, and then Du Croisy’s valet presents himself as Viscount Jodelet and shows them his war scars. The girls summon musicians, but Mascarille cannot dance and blames the music for being out of time. La Grange and Du Croisy arrive and beat their valets and strip them of the fine clothes so that the young ladies can see them for the poor servants they are. Gorgibus has heard about the scandal and comes in to reprimand the pranksters and expel them as he lectures his daughter and niece and orders them to hide themselves from society.
Molière’s one-act Sganarelle, or the Imaginary Cuckold was in couplets and opened in Paris in December 1658, and after the appearance of a pirated version it was printed in 1660. Célie and Lélie are a happy couple. One day Sganarelle sees that Célie has fainted and carries her home to his house to revive her, but his wife thinks he is being unfaithful. His wife finds a miniature picture of Lélie which causes Sganarelle to accuse her of infidelity. Lélie returns from a trip and asks Sganarelle where he got the portrait, and he replies that his wife gave it to him. Lélie is afraid she married him and faints. They quarrel, and Célie agrees to marry Valère to please her father. Sganarelle believes he is a cuckold and seeks revenge against Lélie; but the maid explains the confusion, and they learn that Valère has secretly married.
Molière’s heroic Don Garcia of Navarre or the Jealous Prince was a failure in February 1661. However, his three-act comedy, The School for Husbands (L'École des maris), opened on June 24 and was very popular. Instead of using the usual octosyllable comic couplets, Molière began using the twelve-syllable alexandrine couplets.
In the first scene of The School for Husbands Sganarelle shows his brother Ariste his contempt for the latest fashions. They are responsible for young wards who are sisters—Sganarelle for Isabelle and Ariste for Léonor, and each plans to marry his ward. Léonor’s maid Lisette learns that Isabelle is not allowed to see anybody, and Léonor pities her sister. Sganarelle criticizes his brother for permitting Léonor to flaunt about at any social gathering she desires to attend while he will not let Isabelle go out without somebody to watch her. He also asks Léonor not to visit them anymore. Léonor’s maid Lisette asks if they are to be locked up like enslaved Turkish women. Ariste believes that women love to enjoy liberty, and he cooperates with their youthful desires. He realizes he is older than Léonor; even though her father ordered her to marry him, he will allow her free choice. Sganarelle expects Ariste to be a cuckold, but Léonor says she would not obey Sganarelle if she were to be his wife. Ariste warns his brother that locking up his wife is wrong. The neighbor Valère adores Isabelle, and he asks Sganarelle if he is going to the celebrations for the birth of the Dauphin. Valère’s valet Ergaste advises his master that a watched woman is half won because jealous husbands promote lovers. Valère has loved her for four months but has not conversed with her. Ergaste says he will find a way.
Isabelle believes that her unjust confinement will be an excuse that considerate persons will understand. Sganarelle informs Valère that Isabelle is destined for his bed and that she has told him that Valère’s passion for her is useless. Then Sganarelle tells Isabelle that Valère will not bother her anymore. She admits that a golden box with a letter was flung into her room, and she asks him to return the unsealed letter to Valère, and he gives the letter to Ergaste. Valère reads her letter that lets him know that she dreads a marriage in six days and is willing to take risks to avoid it and that she depends on him. On the street Valère confesses to Sganarelle that he has foresworn his passion for Isabelle. Sganarelle passes this on to her, and she pretends to be perturbed by his wooing. She says she would not think of running away with him and asks her guardian to protect her from the persecution. Sganarelle takes this message to Valère and brings him to Isabelle, who asks Valère if he can doubt whom she loves and to whom she feels anger and aversion. Her one desire is to be a wife, but she would die rather than marry the other man. She embraces Sganarelle while Valère kisses her hand. He tells her that he will do what she urges and remove the one who disturbs her within three days.
Isabelle tells Sganarelle that her sister Léonor wants to use her room with a secret lover, and Isabelle will send her away. Isabelle meets Valère, but Sganarelle believes that Léonor is with Valère and gets a police commissioner and a notary to have them marry honestly. Then he goes to his brother and persuades him to go there also. When Léonor arrives, she says that she is true to Ariste and will marry him tomorrow. Isabelle explains that heaven did not intend for her to wed Sganarelle because she is not worthy of him. He is shocked at her marrying Valère and renounces the treacherous sex. This brilliant comedy affirming the right of young women to choose their husbands and satirizing tyrannical older men established Molière’s reputation at the same time as Louis XIV was beginning to rule for himself.
Les Fâcheux (The Pests) was performed privately at Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palatial estate of the Superintendent of Finances Fouquet on August 17, 1661 and opened in Paris in November. With this Molière created the first comedy-ballet with music. The idea was suggested by Louis XIV himself, and Molière claimed that he wrote the play in two weeks. Nymphs and satyrs take various roles. Eraste is eager to see his beloved Ophise, but they are interrupted by a series of bores that include Lysandre talking about music and poetry, Alcandre and Filinte dueling with swords, Orante and Clyméne discussing intellectual trivia, political scheming by Caritidés and Ormin, Dorante hunting, and Alcipe gambling. Eraste uses his wit to avoid these situations and has to mediate a jealous quarrel between Orante and Clyméne. Eraste learns that La Rivière and two others are planning an attack on Ophise’s guardian Damis who is then saved by Eraste and consents to let him marry her. A croquet game is performed as a ballet; Swiss guards chase maskers away, and the play concludes with a pastoral ballet. Les Fâcheux was performed 106 times during Molière’s lifetime.
In 1662 Molière married 21-year-old Armande Béjart, the sister of Madeleine who was so much younger that some believed she was her daughter. The School for Wives (L'école des femmes) was first performed on December 26, 1662 at the Palais Royal theatre and was very successful, becoming his most performed play that was played at least sixty times in the first year. Arnolphe tells his friend Chrysalde that he intends to marry his ward Agnes tomorrow. He fears being a cuckold and had her raised by nuns from the age of four and now has ordered her to only say her prayers, love him, spin, and sew. He does not want a beauty or a smart woman but a virtuous one. Arnolphe gives young Horace money and learns of his secret love affair with Agnes, but Horace says a rich fool is guarding her from others. Arnolphe has hired the ignorant peasants Alain and Georgette and instructs them how to keep men away from Agnes. She confesses to Arnolphe that while he was gone, she has been seeing a man who said he loves her. He asks what they did, and she replies he kissed her hands. Arnolphe warns her that they must be married to do any more. He says they will be married, and she is happy until Arnolphe informs her that he himself is to marry her tonight. He advises her that a wife must have austerity of soul and obey her husband as her master because misbehaving wives go to hell. He hands her a book, and she reads the duties of a married woman as keeping to her husband’s bed, not needing fine clothes nor wearing make-up, going out only veiled, admitting only his friends, accepting no gifts, doing no writing nor attending social gatherings, and not gambling. Arnolphe thinks he can mold her like wax.
Horace tells Arnolphe that his servants have kept him out. Agnes threw a brick down upon him, but attached to it was a letter asking his intentions. Horace says her love is awakening and that he will free her from the beast, and he asks Arnolphe who could help him. Arnolphe feels he is going mad and plans defenses. He gets a notary who advises him to obtain a dowry before signing a contract. Arnolphe coaches his servants how to insult Horace no matter what he says, and he keeps Agnes under guard. Horace tells Arnolphe how he signaled Agnes who met him at the gate and took him to her room, and he plans to visit her again tonight. Chrysalde advises Arnolphe to avoid the extremes of allowing scandal or of furious jealousy. Arnolphe instructs his servants to attack Horace when he comes; but later he learns they killed him. Then Horace explains how he pretended to be dead to stop the beating, and Agnes decided to run off with him. They meet with her, and she is disappointed to see Arnolphe. She explains she has done no wrong because Horace, who is more suited to her, is going to marry her. She does not love Arnolphe, and he threatens to send her to a convent. Horace tells Arnolphe that his father Oronte has arrived and has arranged for him to wed the daughter of Enrique, and he asks that the wedding be delayed; but they soon learn that Agnes is Enrique’s long-lost daughter. Chrysalde advises Arnolphe, “Since your chief treasure is a hornless head, the safest course, for you, is not to wed.”2
Some accused The School for Wives of bad taste and immorality, and Molière defended his work in the short discussion play, Critique of the School for Wives on June 1, 1663. Uranie and her cousin Elise liked the play, but Climène was offended, shocked by its nudity, and considered it sleazy and smutty. Uranie replies that she is reading into words that are not improper. A marquis is satirized for his simplistic arrogance, and Dorance defends the play with reasonable arguments. The poet Lysidas is reluctant to criticize another writer but is concerned about the rules of Aristotle and Horace. Uranie intelligently observes that we should not take general criticism of the age personally, and she suggests that we can learn from the lessons portrayed without admitting that it applies to us. People need not feel offended by seeing ridiculous characters. She observes that plays are like public mirrors and suggests that making a fuss over a fault is admitting that one shares that fault. Lysidas complains that great tragedies have empty theatres while Parisians flock to silly comedies. Dorante finds value in both but believes writing comedy is more challenging because making people laugh is difficult. Most feel that the dramatic rules do not matter if people like the play.
In 1663 a quarrel over The School for Wives involved scurrilous attacks on Molière that included incest because they thought his wife was the daughter of his former mistress. Louis XIV asked Molière to put on another play, L'Impromptu de Versailles, which was presented on October 19. In this one-act comedy Molière is trying to conduct a rehearsal for a play requested by the King in eight days. He calls his wife an idiot, and she suggests a play to show the difference between the civil talk of suitors and the rude treatment by husbands. He tells Madeleine Béjart to play a woman who takes refuge in prudishness because she does not have lovers and looks down on others. Molière argues that people who attack a successful play are criticizing the audience for lack of judgment more than the author.
In January 1664 The Forced Marriage, another comedy-ballet, was performed for the King with music by Jean-Baptiste Lully, who also composed for ten other plays by Molière. King Louis danced the part of the Gypsy. The merchant Sganarelle wants to marry young Dorimène, and he appeals to Géronimo, the Aristotelian philosopher Pancrace, the skeptical Marphurius, and two gypsy fortune-tellers. Dorimène insists on having independence including with his money, and Sganarelle changes his mind; but her brother Alcidas beats him until he agrees to marry her.
Tartuffe or the Impostor was first performed as a three-act play on May 12, 1664 during a royal festival. The Company of the Holy Sacrament denounced it as blasphemy. The play was withdrawn until August 5, 1667 when the expanded version The Imposter had only one public performance before it was banned by the Police President and condemned by the Archbishop of Paris. Molière wrote a “Letter on the Comedy of The Impostor” explaining the benefits of humor.
The comic is the outward and visible form
that nature’s bounty has attached to everything unreasonable,
so that we should see and avoid it.
To know the comic we must know the rational,
of which it denotes the absence,
and we must see wherein the rational consists….
All lying, disguise, cheating, dissimulation,
all outward show different from the reality,
all contradiction in fact between actions
that proceed from a single source, all this is in essence comic.3
On February 5, 1669 Tartuffe in five acts re-opened and became a popular triumph with sixty performances. In the first scene Orgon’s mother Madame Pernelle tells Orgon’s wife Elmire, his daughter Mariane, her maid Dorine, his son Damis, and Elmire’s brother Cléante how foolish they all are for not trusting the pious guest Tartuffe who has been invited to live there by Orgon. Damis calls Tartuffe a tyrant and a hypocrite, and Dorine says he is a fraud. Cléante urges them to follow their consciences. Damis is concerned that if his sister Mariane is not allowed to wed Valère, then he will not be able to marry Valère’s sister. Orgon returns from a trip and asks about his family. Dorine says his wife has had a bad fever, but he ignores her and keeps asking about Tartuffe who is fine. Orgon says his tutor has freed him from all human ties even if his family dies. He says that when Tartuffe refused to accept his gifts, he took him in. Cléante warns him about Tartuffe, but Orgon calls Cléante a freethinker. Orgon says he has postponed Valère’s wedding. Then he tells Mariane that she must marry Tartuffe. Dorine objects and asks why he picked a beggar for a son-in-law. Dorine protests and warns that Mariane would find a lover.
Mariane refuses to accept Tartuffe, and Dorine encourages her in that. Valère petulantly tells Mariane she can wed Tartuffe, but Dorine brings them back together and advises Mariane to keep delaying the wedding. Damis hides as Dorine arranges a meeting between Tartuffe and Elmire. Tartuffe tries to woo her, and she removes his hands from her. He promises to avoid scandal by keeping their love secret. She agrees not to tell her husband if he will favor Mariane’s wedding Valère. Damis comes out of the closet and objects. When Orgon comes in, Damis tells him what happened with his wife. Tartuffe admits he is a criminal and offers to leave the house, but Orgon calls Damis a liar. Tartuffe sides with Damis; but Orgon insists on giving his daughter to Tartuffe that night, and he orders Damis to get out of his house and disinherits him. Tartuffe again says he will go, but Orgon gives him title to all he owns.
Cléante asks Tartuffe to forgive Damis. Tartuffe pardons him but says if Damis comes back, he will have to leave. He promises to use the estate for heaven’s glory and to help mankind. Orgon presents Mariane with a marriage contract, and she begs him not to force her to wed Tartuffe and says she would rather enter a convent. Orgon tells Elmire why he does not believe her, and she offers to show him and has him hide under a table. She tells Tartuffe that her husband wants her to spend more time with his guest, and so she reveals her passion. He is eager but suspects a trick and asks for physical proof that she loves him. She asks about the sin, and he explains that he can liberate one’s conscience and prays for the sin to be on his head. As he makes advances, she coughs to alert her husband. She asks Tartuffe to open the door and look for Orgon, and he replies that he is gullible and under his control. As he steps out, Orgon comes forth and stops Tartuffe from proceeding. Elmire apologizes for tricking Tartuffe, and Orgon orders him out of the house; but Tartuffe says he is now the master because the house belongs to him. Orgon goes to look for a strong-box with incriminating papers he entrusted to his guest. He explains that an exiled friend left these with him.
Orgon now hates all religious hypocrites, but Cléante counsels him not to go from one extreme to the other. Damis wants to kill Tartuffe, but Cléante advises against violence. Madame Pernelle returns and blames them all for turning against Tartuffe, holding to her beliefs about him. Monsieur Loyal arrives as Tartuffe’s bailiff and serves them with an eviction writ. He says they can leave in the morning, and his men will help them remove all the furniture. Pernelle is shocked, and Dorine suggests that they have been freed from material things. Cléante says they must act. Valère arrives and reports that turning in the secret papers has led to a warrant for Orgon’s arrest, and he offers to help Orgon flee. Tartuffe bursts in with an officer and asks him to carry out his orders, but the officer arrests Tartuffe and explains that the Prince has discovered that Tartuffe under another name committed many crimes. The Prince has pardoned Orgon for having the exile’s documents. Valère urges Orgon to let Tartuffe find repentance, and Orgon says that now Valère’s wedding can take place. In my view this hilarious farce and satire of how piety can be abused is one of the greatest comedies ever written.
Molière wrote Don Juan, or The Statue at the Feast (Dom Juan ou le Festin de pierre) in prose based on French farces by Villiers and Dorimond from Tirso de Molina’s original The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest. The tragicomedy opened on February 14, 1665 with Molière playing Sganarelle, but after fifteen performances it was banned for the rest of his life. A censored version was published by his widow in 1682, and Thomas Corneille made a verse adaptation that was performed from 1677 until Molière’s text was discovered in 1819.
Don Juan’s valet Sganarelle likes using tobacco as snuff, and Gusman asks him why Don Juan deserted Elvire after taking her away from a convent and marrying her. Sganarelle explains that Don Juan is a scoundrel who believes in nothing but satisfying his passions, and he has married many women. Sganarelle criticizes his master for loving and leaving women, but Don Juan believes their beauty gives him a right to do so. He enjoys falling in love and likes to do it often. Sganarelle warns him that those who mock heaven come to a bad end and asks if he is afraid to have come to the town where he killed the Commander. Don Juan says he was pardoned for that. Elvire arrives and asks Don Juan why he left her. He replies that he repented for having caused her to break her vows, and he has returned her to that life. She advises him that if he does not fear the terrors of Heaven, he should beware of the fury of a woman scorned. The peasants Charlotte and Pierre are in love; but Don Juan’s scheme to follow them at sea fails, though he is rescued from the sea by Pierre. He tries to seduce Charlotte and promises to wed her. He tries to hit Pierre; but he ducks, and Sganarelle is struck. Mathurine arrives and says she is engaged to Don Juan, and she argues with Charlotte. Don Juan tries to reassure each one. La Ramée warns him that a dozen horsemen are after him, and Don Juan wants Sganarelle to put on his clothes; but the valet does not want to die in his place and dresses as a doctor and gives people prescriptions. He believes in the Creator of all things, but Don Juan is not convinced.
Don Juan sees three men fighting one and enters the fight, saving Don Carlos from the three. He is looking for Don Juan to avenge his sister Elvire but does not know what he looks like. Don Juan says he is his friend. Her other brother Don Alonse recognizes Don Juan and wants to kill him, but Don Carlos says he saved his life and persuades him to postpone the revenge. Don Juan and Sganarelle discover a tomb with a life-like statue of the Commander who nods his head. Don Juan tells his valet to stop his idiotic moralizing, or he will whip him. The merchant Dimanche tries to collect a debt from Don Juan who courteously asks him many questions about his family and dog and offers him an escort to get rid of him. Don Juan’s father Don Louis arrives and complains about his son’s crimes and infamy, saying birth has no value without virtue. He hopes the wrath of Heaven will end his disgrace, and then he leaves. Don Juan hopes his father dies soon. Elvire returns and says she has purged her passion and now feels only holy tenderness for Don Juan. She urges him to repent as his only way to save himself. He asks her to stay the night, but she departs. He tells Sganarelle they must mend their ways in twenty years or so.
The statue invites Don Juan to sup with him. Don Juan tells his father that he is a new man and asks him to choose a mentor for him, and Don Louis leaves to tell his wife. Sganarelle is glad also, but Don Juan explains that he did not mean what he said; he only used hypocrisy to get help from his father. Sganarelle says he is not a man of principle; but Don Juan replies that in these times vices pass for virtues, and men of integrity are taken in. Don Juan says he will not give up his pleasures, but he will pretend to serve the Lord in order to harass his enemies. Sganarelle considers this the final abomination and argues that without law men are like animals. Don Carlos comes back and asks Don Juan to recognize Elvire as his wife, but Don Juan says that Heaven has inspired him to renounce earthly ties and that his sister has returned to the convent. They see a veiled woman as a spectre that urges Don Juan to repent. Then it changes into Time with a scythe. He tries to strike it, but it disappears. The statue comes back and says that those who reject Heaven’s mercy will suffer its wrath. Don Juan feels fire consuming him, and the earth opens and takes him. Sganarelle shouts that he wants his wages. This archetypal story portrays the libertine womanizer who is dedicated only to selfish pleasure.
In August 1665 Louis XIV became the patron of Molière’s company and renamed them the Royal Troupe.
As with Tartuffe Molière spent several years writing The Misanthrope which opened in Paris in June 1666, and it may be his best play. After his troubles with Tartuffe and Don Juan he followed all the rules in The Misanthrope and avoided scandalous subjects while portraying an intelligent man who vehemently challenges social hypocrisy.
In The Misanthrope the frank Alceste has a more reasonable and moderate friend in Philinte. Alceste begins by saying he can no longer call Philinte his friend because he has just seen him show affection to another person he hardly knows. Alceste makes it clear he is not a friend to all people while Philinte believes in civility. Alceste urges him to speak from the heart, but Philinte does not want to tell people he dislikes them. The people at court and in the city make Alceste furious because of their flattery, injustice, selfishness, and treachery, but Philinte notes that this attitude makes Alceste a laughing stock. Alceste hates vice. Philinte advises moderation and not taking on the world’s burden, and he has come to accept human frailty. Philinte suggests that Alceste pay attention to his lawsuit and call on the judges; but Alceste insists he is right and refuses even though he may lose his case. Philinte notes that Eliante is sincere, and she and virtuous Arsinoe like Alceste, but he is taken with Célimène who loves coquetry and scandal. Yet Alceste finds her charms irresistible and observes that love is not ruled by reason. Oronte also loves Célimène, but Alceste refuses to consider him a friend yet and criticizes his sonnet about hope so strenuously that Oronte is offended. Alceste refuses to flatter him, and after sarcastic assurances they part.
Alceste tells Célimène he finds her behavior intolerable because she spends time with too many admiring men. She asks if he would be more offended if she bestowed her attention on only one man. She assures Alceste that she loves him, and he wonders if she says that to others too. So she takes it back. He regrets his infatuation and says no one loves like he does. She says he loves people so that he can quarrel with them. Others join them, and Alceste demands that she declare herself. After much conversation Alceste criticizes their flattery and slanderous attacks. Célimène replies that he is often contrary. He argues that true love is to be unsparing in criticism. Célimène disagrees, and Eliante says that lovers are blind to the faults in the loved one. An officer arrives and announces that marshals have summoned Alceste.
The marquises Clitandre and Acaste also love Célimène. Acaste tells her that Eliante is virtuous, but Célimène calls her worldly. Arsinoé arrives and criticizes Célimène for flirting with so many men. Célimène reacts by denouncing Arsinoé for giving sermons and being pious while beating and not paying her servants. Arsinoé feels wounded; but Célimène favors such exchanges, and they continue their verbal battle. When Alceste returns, Célimène goes off to write a note. Arsinoé takes his side in his court case and offers to get her friends to help him. She warns him that the lady he loves is not worthy of him. He asks her why and to prove it, and she says she will.
Philinte and Eliante talk about Alceste and love, and Philinte says Alceste would do well to accept Eliante’s love. She does not oppose his love for Célimène but would accept him if he is rejected. Philinte tells Eliante that he loves her. Alceste comes in and asks Eliante to avenge his injury because Célimène has deceived him. He shows them a letter she wrote to Oronte and asks Eliante to accept his love. She suggests he may get over his lovers’ quarrel, but he insists he won’t. He meets with Célimène and angrily brings up her letter, saying it shows her feeling for Oronte. She asks what if it was written to a woman but then agrees she wrote to Oronte because she delights in him and tells Alceste to stop bothering her. He is infuriated that she is blaming him and asks her to prove her innocence. She declines and says his jealous fits make him undeserving of her love. He says his soul depends on her love, but she says he does not love her as he should. In his jealousy he wishes her misfortune, and she thinks that is strange. His valet comes in and urges Alceste to leave to avoid being arrested; but he left the document on the table, and Alceste goes out.
Alceste tells Philinte that he has decided to withdraw from society. He believes he had justice on his side, but he lost the case. Now people are attributing the authorship of a criminal book to him. Philinte advises that the false charge will fail or that he could appeal, but Alceste says he would rather have the abuse revealed to posterity even if it costs him 20,000 francs. Philinte agrees that injustice is prevalent, but he believes that this brings opportunities for their virtues. Alceste says he cannot control himself and will be better off retiring from the world; but first he must find out if Célimène loves him. Oronte arrives on the same quest, and they insist that she choose one or the other. She would rather give the bad news privately to one, but both demand open rejection. Eliante and Philinte come back, and Eliante says she believes in speaking her mind. Arsinoé comes in with the marquises, and they ask Célimène about other letters she wrote that make fun of them. Then those two men leave. Oronte gives up and goes out also. Arsinoé argues for Alceste; but he says he would not choose her if he were rejected, and she leaves. Célimène apologizes for offending Alceste and admits he was justified. He says he will forget it if she will go with him away from other people; but at the age of twenty she is not ready to renounce the world and declines, though she would marry him. Alceste rejects her and hints that he would accept Eliante, but she says she would rather marry Philinte, who is happy to agree. Alceste wishes them well and says he will escape to a remote place. Philinte says they will try to dissuade him from that foolish idea.
Molière’s three-act prose farce The Doctor in Spite of Himself (Le Médecin malgré lui) opened in August 1666 and was printed that year. Sganarelle is a woodcutter, and his wife Martine nags him for drinking and gambling. He beats her; but when the neighbor M. Robert tries to intervene, she boxes his ears. Géronte wants his daughter Lucinde to marry wealthy Horace; but she is in love with Léandre and pretends she cannot speak. Géronte has summoned physicians to no avail, and he sends his servants Valère and Lucas to find a doctor. They find Martine, and to get back at her husband she tells them that Sganarelle can cure her but that they have to thrash him to make him admit he is a physician. They find him drinking in the woods and beat him with sticks until he agrees to treat the patient. More slapstick occurs as Sganarelle beats Géronte. Lucinde responds with gestures and is diagnosed as having a speech impediment. Sganarelle makes her laugh, says she has morbid humors, and prescribes bread soaked in wine, and he is pleased with the money Géronte gives him. Léandre explains that Lucinde loves him, and to help them elope Sganarelle disguises him as an apothecary. Thibaut has a sick wife, and he and his son Perrin go to Sganarelle and give him gold for a cure. He prescribes cheese mixed with gold, coral, and pearls and advises them that if she dies, they should bury her well. He has noted that dead patients make no fuss. Géronte complains that Lucinde is worse. Sganarelle has Léandre confide with her, and her father overhears her talking to him and believes she is cured. She says she will not marry anyone but Léandre. Her father insists, and she says she would rather die. Sganarelle says she is mad and has the apothecary treat her, and the young lovers escape. Now Géronte intends to hang Sganarelle, and his wife wants to watch. However, Lucinde and Léandre return, and he explains that his uncle died and left him a fortune, persuading Géronte to accept their marriage. Sganarelle is happy to be a doctor in spite of himself and tells his wife she must honor him now.
Molière’s Amphitryon was produced in Paris on January 13, 1668 with Molière playing the role of the servant Sosia. It is based on a comedy by Plautus from 186 BC and Les Sosies in 1636 by Jean Rotrou. In the prologue the messenger god Mercury explains to Night that Jove (Jupiter) has taken the form of the general Amphitryon and wants the night extended for his lovemaking. In Thebes the general’s servant Sosia meets Mercury, who is disguised as Sosia and beats him until he no longer claims that he is Sosia. The servant gives in and agrees to a truce with the mischievous Mercury. This seems more reasonable after Mercury comes up with a diamond gift. Mercury warns Sosia not to compete with him, or he will kill him. Jupiter appears in the form of Amphitryon whose bride Alcmena congratulates him on his recent victory. She takes him for her husband while he accepts that but acts more like a lover. Mercury tells Sosia’s wife Cleanthis he must leave her to serve Amphitryon. Sosia tries to explain to Amphitryon that another Sosia has replaced him whom Alcmena sent to Amphitryon, and that other Sosia would not let him in his house. Alcmena is surprised to see Amphitryon back so soon, but he is expecting a more passionate welcome after his return from the war and becomes suspicious. She says everyone in the house knows that he slept there with her last night, and he is surprised that she has already received the diamonds he intends to give her. He tells Sosia to get the jewelry box, which is found to be empty while she hands the diamond broach to Amphitryon.
Cleanthis and Sosia quarrel over the confusion, and she claims that he told her that he did not mind her taking a lover; but he denies it. Alcmena tells Jupiter to go and then asks him not to follow her. She sees him as a monster and is angry because of how Amphitryon treated her. He works for reconciliation and admits the husband is at fault but says the lover had no part in that. She accuses him of verbal games. He asks for her pardon and threatens to kill himself. She admits she cannot hate him and indicates he is forgiven. He sends Sosia away to invite friends to a dinner. Mercury pretends he does not recognize Amphitryon and says the general is inside with his bride. In the next scene Amphitryon angrily punishes Sosia. Amphitryon with Sosia and Naucrates knocks on his door, and Jupiter explains that one of them must be Amphitryon. Sosia asks Mercury not to beat himself. Amphitryon comes back with others, and Sosia says he was evicted by his other self who serves another Amphitryon. Finally Mercury explains that the king of the gods descended to Alcmena and that he is Mercury. Jupiter arrives in a cloud with thunder and says that Alcmena will give birth to the famous Hercules. This comedic fantasy symbolized the amorous adventures of Louis XIV.
Molière’s three-act comedy Georges Dandin or the Confounded Husband (George Dandin ou le Mari confondu) was presented for the court with a ballet at Versailles on July 18, 1668 and then at the Royal Palace Theatre in Paris in November. As of 1999 the play has been performed 1,262 times. Wealthy George Dandin has married Angelica de Sotenville of noble birth who thinks she is above him and has made his house hateful. Her mother and father arrogantly teach him how to address them with respect and remind him of the difference between him and them. He asks what advantages he has while he has helped them out with his money. He fears he will be a cuckold and says his wife is acting contrary to honor. The courtier Clitandre is offering love to her, and she is welcoming him. George demands satisfaction, and her father says he will get it from them both. Clitandre tells her father that he is a man of honor and that someone is lying. Angelica promises Clitandre that if he comes to her, she will be glad. George tells her parents that she has received a message from Clitandre brought by her maid Claudina. Angelica claims that she has treated her husband too well. Her parents reprimand George, and Claudina says he deserves to have Clitandre make love to his wife. Clitandre demands satisfaction. M. de Sotenville dictates the pardon that George repeats, but he refuses to serve the man who wants to cuckold him.
Clitandre’s valet Lubin loves Claudina and asks to marry her, and she delivers Clitandre’s letter to Angelica. She tells George she will not renounce the world and confine herself to her husband. Angelica says her parents did not consult her and have married him. She gladly receives the letter, and George hopes to catch them and expose them to her parents. She quarrels with Clitandre and tries to hit him with a stick, but if falls on George. At night George sees her and Claudina outside but does not let them in and sends his valet to alert Angelica’s parents. She pleads she will be a good wife, and then they hide by the door. When he goes outside to look around, they go in the house. When her parents arrive, she speaks to them from a window so that they blame him. George asks her to pardon him. Her parents reprimand him again and go home. George left alone thinks that anyone with a wicked wife should jump into a river. Many may have believed that this play warns commoners not to marry aristocrats, but it seems to me that the play satirizes and protests the arrogance of the nobles and shows how unjustly they may treat others.
The Miser (L'Avare) was adapted by Molière from The Pot of Gold (Aulularia) by Plautus and two French comedies, and it opened on September 9, 1668. The prose comedy in five acts takes place in the middle-class home of the avaricious Harpagon. His daughter Elise is in love with Valère, and after having saved her from drowning, he has taken the position as steward to be near her. He feels he has to agree with whatever her father says, and he urges her to get her brother Cléante on their side. He is in love with Mariane, and she lives with her mother who is not well off. He complains that his father gives him so little money that he has to borrow. Cléante wants Elise’s help so that he can marry Mariane, or they will elope. Harpagon quarrels with his servant La Flèche because he is afraid someone will steal from him. He believes a safe will attract robbers, and so he has buried a payment of 15,000 francs in his garden. He does not tell Cléante that he has this money. Harpagon tells his son that he has decided to marry Mariane if she brings a dowry. He informs his daughter Elise that she must marry Seigneur Anselme, and he is planning to give Cléante the hand of a widow. Elise says she does not want to marry, but Harpagon says she must wed him tonight. She would rather die, and he asks Valère to advise her. He feels he has to agree but asks his boss to give her time. Harpagon is glad that Elise will be accepted without a dowry. He runs out to check on his money while she and Valère discuss how they can marry, but then he agrees with Harpagon that money is most important.
Cléante is trying to borrow 15,000 francs, and La Flèche explains he will have to pay 25.5% interest and receive 3,000 of it in assorted junk. Harpagon castigates Cléante for borrowing while he accuses his father of usury. Cléante asks which is worse, borrowing for what one needs or stealing money one cannot use. The matchmaker Frosine persuades Harpagon that Mariane will love him even though he is over sixty, and she says Mariane will save him 12,000 a year by living so frugally. Frosine asks for support on a court case, but he gives her nothing. Harpagon instructs his servants to prepare a small banquet by scrimping and saving because over-eating is bad for people. Master Jacques tells Harpagon that people mock him for his stinginess and gets hit for his honesty. Jacques then quarrels and tussles with Valère. Frosine promises Mariane that she will soon be a widow, but she and Cléante inform Frosine that they oppose the match with Harpagon. Cléante tells his father how he should feel toward Mariane, and he takes a diamond ring from his father’s finger and hands it to her. Harpagon gets angry and says he will disinherit his son.
Cléante discourages his father from marrying, and Harpagon hints he may pass her on to him. Cléante says he might accept her to please him. His father says a marriage should be based on love, and Cléante confesses that he loves her and will not renounce her. Jacques tries to mediate but lets each think he will wed Mariane. After father and son realize they are still in conflict, Harpagon abandons and disinherits his son. La Flèche shows Cléante the money box from the garden, and they go out. Harpagon comes in screaming, “Thief!” He goes to a magistrate and tells him he wants everyone on the case. Jacques says he saw Valère with the money box but cannot describe it correctly. Valère arrives, and Harpagon orders him to confess on his knees. He says he will restore his treasure, meaning his daughter, and Harpagon eventually realizes he is not talking about the money. Valère then says he and Elise are in love and now engaged. Harpagon wants him charged as a thief and a kidnapper, and he orders Elise confined to his house. She begs him on her knees to be humane and says Valère saved her from drowning. Anselme arrives and explains that he is the long lost Dom Thomas d’Alburcy and discovers that he is the father of Valère and Mariane. Harpagon demands the 15,000 francs, and Cléante comes in with La Flèche and says the money will be returned. Anselme persuades Harpagon to let Mariane wed his son and for Elise to marry Cléante, and Anselme offers to pay for the marriage settlements of all four and all the wedding expenses. This satisfies the miser who is overjoyed to get back his beloved box of cash.
Molière’s five-act comedy-ballet in prose The Bourgeois Gentleman was performed at court for Louis XIV on October 14, 1670 and opened in Paris on November 23. Monsieur Jourdain has hired a music master and a dancing master to teach him how to appreciate these cultural arts. Then he gets a lesson from a fencing master so that he can learn to kill without being killed. A philosopher asks if he has read Seneca’s On Anger so that he can control all his actions with reason. He says a wise man rises above insults with patience and moderation. The philosopher shows his contempt for music, dancing, and fencing, and they fight; but the philosopher returns and tells Jourdain that without knowledge life is a shadow of death. Jourdain does not want to study logic or morals, and so the philosopher teaches him pronunciation. Jourdain is surprised to learn that he speaks prose. A tailor brings Jourdain a new suit of clothes fit for a gentleman. The maid Nicole and Madame Jourdain laugh at her husband. The wife suggests he go back to school to be whipped. She says he has gone mad from spending time with the gentry.
Count Dorante arrives, flatters Jourdain, and asks to borrow some more money. He says he gave Jourdain’s diamond to Marchioness Dorimène. Dorante has also arranged for a banquet and a ballet in Jourdain’s house. Cléonte and his valet Covielle cast aside Nicole, and Cléonte says that Jourdain’s daughter Lucile is ungrateful. He asks Covielle to list her faults but admits that he likes them all. She comes in, and he says he will break with her before she jilts him. She tries to tell him why she avoided him; but he refuses to listen to her as Covielle quarrels with Nicole. Lucile explains that her aunt warned her to stay away from men. Madame Jourdain urges Cléonte to propose to Lucile. When Cléonte asks her father, he wants to know if he is a gentleman. Cléonte says he served six years in the army, but he is not a gentleman. Jourdain says no, but his wife points out that Jourdain’s father was a tradesman as was hers. Jourdain wants his daughter to be a marchioness, but his wife advises against marrying above one’s class. Covielle tells Cléonte that Jourdain is mad, but he has a plan to fool him.
Dorante asks Dorimène to marry him, but she says he is spending more than he can afford. This couple attends the banquet at the Jourdains, and singers entertain them. Madame Jourdain accuses Dorimène of letting her husband think he is in love with her, and Dorimène leaves. Jourdain complains that his wife insulted her. Covielle arrives disguised as a Turk and tells Jourdain he knew his father to be a worthy gentleman. He says the Grand Turk’s son has fallen in love with Lucile, and he wants to make Jourdain a Mamamouchi. Cléonte arrives dressed as a Turk with three pages, and Covielle interprets for him that he wants to meet Jourdain’s daughter and wed her. Jourdain goes out with Cléonte. Dorante comes in and recognizes Covielle. The Turks dance and make Jourdain a Muslim. He tells his wife she must respect him now that he is a Mamamouchi or Paladin. She thinks he is crazy, but Dorante persuades her to support Cléonte. Dorimène agrees to marry Dorante in order to curtail his extravagance. Cléonte comes back, and Jourdain urges Lucile to marry the Turk. She will marry no one but Cléonte; but then she sees he is Cléonte, and she agrees to obey her father. Covielle tells Madame Jourdain that the Turk is Cléonte, and she approves the wedding. Jourdain lets Nicole marry the interpreter (Covielle), and he says anyone can have his wife.
Molière’s five-act verse comedy, The Learned Ladies (Les Femmes savants) opened in Paris on March 11, 1672 and was published in December. The Abbé Charles Cotin is satirized as Trissotin, and he wrote the sonnets analyzed by the ladies. This play has been performed more than 1,600 times by La Comédie Française. Henriette informs her sister Armande that she wants to marry and have children, but Armande urges her to follow their mother Philaminte’s interest in learning and develop her mind. Henriette admits she loves Clitandre and notes that Armande has renounced marriage with him for philosophy. Clitandre loves Henriette now and wants to ask her father Chrysale, but she says that her mother governs. Clitandre is concerned that Philaminte esteems Trissotin so much. Chrysale’s sister Belise tries to discourage Clitandre from marrying Henriette so that he will consider her. Ariste tells his brother Chrysale that Clitandre wants to wed Henriette, and Belise says several men love her. Chrysale tells Ariste that their sister is mad, and he agrees to the match and will tell his wife. The servant Martine complains to Chrysale that Philaminte discharged her, and he asks his wife why. She replies that Martine is insolent and makes grammatical errors. Belise notes that Martine used a double negative. Chrysale objects to letting Martine go, but his wife and Belise argue that the mind is more important than the body. He says his wife should not study so many things but should teach her children good manners, watch the servants, and regulate household expenses. He approves Henriette’s wedding, but Philaminte says she should marry Trissotin. Ariste advises his brother that he should not let his wife have so much power. Chrysale replies that he likes peace, but his wife is passionate about philosophy. Ariste says the wife governs because Chrysale is weak. Chrysale asserts that he will take control.
In the third act the ladies sit down with Trissotin and discuss his obscure sonnet with great admiration. Philaminte wants to show that women can have learned assemblies. They find value in the Peripatetics (Aristotle), Platonism, Epicurus, Descartes, and the Stoics. Armande likes studying grammar, history, poetry, morality, politics, and physics. Trissotin introduces the Greek scholar Vadius, who embraces Belise and Armande. He and Trissotin get into an argument, and they plan to fight with writing. Philaminte wants Henriette to learn too, but she has no desire to do so. Philaminte tells her to marry Trissotin, who quickly agrees. Henriette tries to get Armande to wed Trissotin, but she does not want to marry. Chrysale presents Clitandre to Henriette and approves their engagement. Philaminte tells Armande that she is in command. Clitandre overhears them and comes forward. He admits he loved Armande for two years; but she refused to marry, and now he loves her sister. He believes body and soul go together and wants to be a husband. He says they have been praising silly verses. He believes that foolish wit and learning can create great fools in thought and action. He suggests that the Court shows common sense and good taste when flattery is avoided.
Julian brings a letter from his master Vadius warning that Trissotin wants to marry into their family for their wealth, but Philaminte is not convinced. Chrysale tells Clitandre that he will marry Henriette, and she tells Clitandre she will wed no one else. She tries to reason with Trissotin, but he says they have a notary ready. Chrysale assures Clitandre, Henriette, and Martine that he is in charge in his house. They gather, and Philaminte tells the notary that Henriette is to wed Trissotin, but Chrysale says she is to marry Clitandre. Martine argues that men should be in control, and she says scholars are good for nothing. Ariste arrives with two letters, one for Philaminte from his attorney saying she lost her suit and one for Chrysale from Lyons that he has lost his money. Trissotin says he will not be forced into this marriage and leaves. Clitandre wants to marry, and Philaminte approves. Henriette says she does not want to burden Clitandre, but he accepts any destiny with her. Ariste then confesses that he brought false news to test his sister’s philosopher. Finally Chrysale orders the notary to draw up the contract.
Molière’s last play is the three act-farce with music and dance, The Hypochondriac (Le malade imaginaire), which opened in Paris on February 10, 1673. His farewell to the stage has been played 1,500 times by the Comédie-Française. A prologue with pastoral songs and dancing was written in praise of Louis XIV, though the play was not performed at court. A shorter alternate prologue was also written with a shepherdess complaining there are no cures for imaginary ills or her heart’s despair.
Thehypochondriac Argan is adding up his medical bills from his apothecary Fleurant and doctor Purgon, and he notes that the previous month had eight lots of medicine and twelve injections while the month before had twelve lots and twenty injections. He assumes that is why he is not as well now. He rings for his servant Toinette, and she tries to stop his scolding by pretending she bumped her head. She questions his need for so much medicine and purging (bleeding) and suggests they are using him to make money. Argan’s daughter Angélique is in love with Cléante and hopes he will ask her to marry him. When her father tells her that he has received an offer of marriage for her, she is happy until she realizes that he wants her to wed Purgon’s nephew Thomas, who is a doctor and the son of Dr. Diafoirus. Toinette considers this ridiculous, but Argan says he wants to have in his family easy access to remedies for his illness. Toinette suggests that his daughter should marry to suit herself and will never consent. Argan says they will inherit 8,000 a year from childless Purgon. If she won’t agree, he will put her in a convent. Toinette doubts he has the heart to do that to her. They quarrel, and he chases her with a stick. Angélique asks her father not to make himself ill. Argan tells his second wife Béline that Toinette is thwarting him. They discuss it, and Argan throws pillows at Toinette. He tells Béline that he needs medicine and injections. A notary explains to Argan that he cannot leave his wife anything in his will but suggests other ways he can give his estate to her. Argan tells her that he will give her 20,000 francs in gold and 10,000 more owed to him. Toinette warns Angélique that her father is conspiring against her, but she will find a way to help her. In a musical interlude Punchinello serenades his mistress and is punished by archers.
Toinette tells Cléante that Angélique is not allowed to see anyone, but he is disguised as a music teacher. She tells him that Argan has never been worse. Dr. Diafoirus arrives with his son Thomas who is rather clumsy. He hopes that Argan will be his second father, and he tells Angélique he will be her devoted servant and spouse. Diafoirus describes how his son was a very slow learner but by hard work got his bachelor’s degree. Thomas shows his thesis disproving the circulation of blood, and he invites her to attend the dissection of a woman. Diafoirus says he does not treat important people because they insist on being cured. Toinette notes that he merely prescribes remedies and collects fees. Cléante tells a long story about a father who arranged a marriage for his daughter, and then he sings a song with Angélique. Argan comments that the father must be a fool and considers it silly nonsense. He tells his daughter to accept Thomas, but she asks for time and says that marriage should not be compelled. Thomas is glad to accept her, but she says forcing a girl is a poor way to love her. He says in the old days men used to carry off women, but she replies that they live in modern times when marriage is congenial. Béline suggests that Angélique may love someone else. Angélique insists she will marry for love or not at all, though others may marry to escape from their parents or for material advantage. Argan demands that she marry Thomas within four days or go into a convent. Thomas takes Argan’s pulse and says his spleen is not well. Argan says that Purgon diagnosed a liver ailment. Béline reports that she saw a young man with Angélique in her room. Argan finds out from her younger sister that it is the music master and that he kissed her hands before he ran away. Argan tells his brother Béralde that he feels feeble. Béralde says he brought gypsies in Moorish costumes to entertain him, and four girls sing for them.
Béralde tells Toinette that he will help Angélique with her plan. First Béralde talks with Argan and assures him he has a strong constitution to survive so many medicines, and he doubts the efficacy of current drugs, injections, and bleeding, arguing doctors do not know how to cure. He advises leaving it to Nature because most men die of the remedies. He suggests that Molière’s plays would amuse him and show him the error of his ways. He says that only vigorous men can survive a malady and treatment. Béralde urges his brother to let Angélique marry whom she wishes. Fleurant comes in to give Argan an injection; but Béralde objects, and Argan puts him off. Purgon complains that his remedies are being refused, and he tears up the marriage settlement with his nephew. Argan blames his brother and says he will agree. Purgon abandons him and predicts in four days he will suffer from several diseases ending in dysentery, dropsy, and autopsy. Argan says he is finished and feels medicine is taking vengeance on him. Béralde appeals to the living principle within him and says Purgon’s anger is as impotent as his medicines. Toinette disguises herself as a doctor and claims to be ninety years old and that his problem is not spleen or liver but lungs. Béralde asks Argan to consider the young suitor his daughter loves, but he insists she must take the veil. Béralde says this will please his wife. Toinette suggests that Argan pretend to be dead. When his wife Béline learns he died, she rejoices and says he was a nuisance. She intends to get ahold of papers and money and asks for the keys. Argan then notes sarcastically how she loved him, and Béline runs out. When Angélique is told that Argan is dead, she is very sad to have lost her dear father and weeps. She promises to make amends and repents. Argan rises and says he is not dead. She and Cléante plead with him to let them marry, and Argan approves if he will become a doctor. Cléante says he will. Béralde urges Argan to be his own doctor, and he arranges for a ceremony with music and dance to give him a doctor’s degree.
Molière suffered from tuberculosis and died on February 17, 1673 one hour after the fourth performance of in The Hypochondriac, and one year to the day after the death of Madeleine Béjart. In his last 14 years in Paris 31 of the 95 plays produced by their company were by Molière, though he left seven of his plays unpublished.
Jean Racine was baptized on December 22, 1639. By February 1643 both his parents had died, and he was adopted by his paternal grandparents. After the death of his grandfather in 1649 his grandmother joined the convent at Port-Royal des Champs, and young Jean was educated for the next four years at the Port-Royal monastery. There Racine was brought up in the puritanical Jansenist religion which opposed theatre. After two years at the Collège de Beauvais he returned to Port-Royal where he studied Greek and Latin literature. In 1658 Racine went to Paris and studied logic at the Collège d’Harcourt for a year. He became friends with La Fontaine, Boileau, and Molière, and he began writing poetry. He started writing plays in 1661, but his early efforts were rejected or abandoned. Molière suggested that he write a tragedy about Thebes based on The Phoenician Women by Euripides, and his company produced Racine’s La Thébaide ou les frères ennemis on June 20, 1664. Racine wrote eleven tragedies and one comedy in alexandrine couplets, mostly in five acts. The Theban tragedy portrays the conflict between the cursed sons of Oedipus who fight over the throne of Thebes while their mother Jocasta, sister Antigone, and uncle Creon make some attempts to stop the war. In this tragedy they all die except Creon who loses both his sons.
In October 1665 Racine received the first of many gratuities from Louis XIV. On December 4 his tragedy Alexander the Great opened at the Palais-Royal, but ten days later the same play was produced at the Hotel de Bourgogne Theatre, and Racine’s mistress, Mlle. du Parc, left Molière’s company to join them. Racine had the rest of his commercial plays produced at the Hotel de Bourgogne, and Molière never spoke to him again. Racine in his dedication to Louis XIV noted that he at a younger age than Alexander had displayed the sovereignty of Augustus Caesar, and Racine looked forward to his king becoming a conqueror as well as the wisest king. In his two prefaces Racine explained that his tragedy is based mainly on the biography of Alexander by Quintus Curtius who indicated as well as Justinus that Alexander loved Cleophilia. Yet the love Queen Axiana has for the Hindu King Porus seems to have been added by Racine to add romantic interest. Alexander and his army invaded the Punjab in 326 BC, and King Ambhi of Taxila capitulated; but King Poros led the resistance in a large battle against the Macedonians and their Indian allies in which thousands died. Racine’s tragedy portrays that situation and Alexander’s allowing Poros to keep his kingship after his defeat when he asked to be treated as a king.
Cleophilia tells her brother, King Taxiles, that Alexander has destroyed thrones and enslaved people, but now she has won his heart. Taxiles believes he must stay free to protect his state. She urges him to surrender to Alexander so that he may overcome his rival king Porus, but Porus says that Alexander is attacking kings who never harmed him and is pillaging provinces. He asks Taxiles what price he will have to pay for deceptive peace, and he argues that the princes under Alexander are not free. Porus loves Queen Axiana, and she will try to persuade Taxiles to fight with Porus. Ephestion tells Cleophilia that Alexander offers peace to the misguided kings, and he makes one last offer of peace to Taxiles and Porus. Taxiles accepts, but Porus notes that the Hindus enjoyed universal peace before Alexander came. They know that the gods they worship are not tyrants. Porus will not fight for gold but for fame. Axiana complains that Taxiles has imprisoned her, and Cleophilia offers her refuge.
Alexander summons Porus and promises his empire to Taxiles. Cleophilia asks Alexander not to appease her brother’s rival Porus. Axiana asks Alexander why he makes war so far from home, and he replies that he has sought peace with Poros. Now Alexander urges Axiana to join with Taxiles to further her interests. However, she wants Taxiles to love glory and win her with noble deeds; or to let her be if he wishes to serve another. Cleophilia urges her brother to leave that ungrateful queen. Taxiles reports that Porus is not dead, and Cleophilia says that Porus will come to take away his mistress. Alexander says he has Porus surrounded and in his power, and he tells Cleophilia that he wants one more victory before he comes to her. Until then he supports Taxiles. Alexander tells Axiana that he has spared Porus, and he will cease being his enemy. In the final scene Alexander pardons the captured Porus and tells him to give Taxiles what he demands and live; but Porus says that Taxiles is dead. Ephestion confirms that Porus killed Taxiles before he surrendered. When Porus says he would be treated as a king, Alexander gives his kingdom back to him and offers him friendship under his command. Porus accepts and praises Alexander’s virtue and his laws.
Racine’s tragedy Andromache was expanded from Virgil's Aeneid and opened in Paris on November 17, 1667. His prefaces written later explain that he refused to reform the ancients by making them into heroes. He agreed with Aristotle that tragic characters cannot be too good or evil because no one wants to see the entirely good suffer, and they have no pity for scoundrels. Thus Racine’s tragedies leave behind Corneille’s heroism and replace it with realism experienced by his contemporaries.
Orestes, son of Agamemnon, has been reunited with his friend Pylades at Epirus where Pyrrhus, son of Achilles, is king. Orestes has come there because he loves Helen’s daughter Hermione; but he learns that she is now engaged to Pyrrhus. After Troy lost the war, Hector’s widow Andromache and their son Astyanax became slaves of Pyrrhus. Pylades tells Orestes that Pyrrhus has fallen in love with Andromache. This has made Hermione jealous, and she has been calling for the aid of Orestes. Greeks are demanding the death of Hector’s son, but Pyrrhus tells Orestes that he refuses to hand over or kill the young Trojan even if he must risk his own life. Yet Andromache tells Pyrrhus to return to Hermione while she mourns her lost husband, frustrating Pyrrhus. Hermione has been ordered by her father to leave Epirus if Pyrrhus does not let Astyanax be killed. She agrees to see Orestes and tells him that he must make Pyrrhus choose between her and Andromache. If he does not kill Astyanax, Hermione will leave. Pyrrhus tells Orestes that he will hand over the victim, and he will wed Hermione tomorrow. Pylades advises his friend to leave Hermione. Orestes tells Pylades to take the child to the Greeks, and Pylades suggests they abduct Hermione. Orestes asks her if she will marry Pyrrhus, and she says she is promised. Andromache realizes her son is all she has left, and Hermione urges her to persuade Pyrrhus. He meets with Andromache and orders her son delivered to the Greeks because it is too late for her now. She recalls her suffering since the war, and Pyrrhus offers to restore her son if she will marry him. Andromache discusses it with her maid Cephise and decides to save her son by wedding Pyrrhus and then killing herself, and she asks Cephise to live for Hector’s son.
Hermione learns that Pyrrhus is to wed Andromache, and she asks Orestes if he loves her and will avenge her. Orestes is reluctant to murder King Pyrrhus. The guards will be around Astyanax, and Pyrrhus will be vulnerable at the wedding. Hermione says that if Orestes will not kill him, then she will do so and then take her own life. At this Orestes says he will kill him. Pyrrhus visits Hermione who says she consents to his marriage. She tells Cephise that she will kill herself. Orestes arrives and tells Hermione how his men assassinated Pyrrhus at the wedding. She is horrified and asks why he did it, and he states it was her who set him on. She confesses she was made mad by love, and she says she will stay there and renounce Greece. Orestes realizes he is a murderer, and Pylades urges him to defend the palace or flee. He tells how he saw Hermione stab herself to death. Orestes is tormented by the furies. In this tragedy Andromache and Astyanax survive, and the French considered them the ancestors of their kings.
Racine’s only comedy Les Plaideurs (The Litigants) in three acts of alexandrine verse updated The Wasps by Aristophanes from 422 BC with help from his friends and was produced in November 1668. This satire of a judge named Dandin and those involved in lawsuits failed at first, but after a performance for the court at Versailles it became Racine’s most popular play for the next two centuries. He showed Molière and others that he could write a successful comedy with clean humor, but apparently Racine preferred to write tragedies.
On December 13, 1669 Racine’s tragedy Britannicus, based mostly on histories by Tacitus, was not well received with Corneille in the audience; but after the play was read and praised by Louis XIV, the tragedy succeeded. Nero’s mother Agrippine had married Emperor Claudius, father of Britannicus, and had managed to make the older youth Nero emperor. Guided by the wisdom of Seneca and Burrhus, Nero began his reign with beneficial reforms, though dominated by his mother. Racine’s tragedy shows, while Seneca is away, how Nero began to use murder and terror to protect his power.
Agrippine tells her confidante Albine that Nero after trying to make people love him has chosen to make them fear him, and he has turned against Britannicus. Burrhus tells Agrippine that Nero is no longer her son because he has become master of the Roman Empire. Britannicus is in love with Junie, granddaughter of Augustus, and complains that soldiers have taken her to Nero’s palace. Nero believes that Pallas is a bad influence on Britannicus and banishes him. Nero tells Narcisse that he loves and worships Junie. After three long years of virtue Nero says he no longer loves his wife Octavia, and he wants a divorce. Nero tells Junie that she is to marry him as he renounces Octavia. Junie admits that she loves Britannicus. Nero advises her to save the life of Britannicus by dismissing him herself. Britannicus tells her that people and Agrippine have taken their side. Nero overhears this and tells Narcisse to torture Britannicus with suspicions. Burrhus warns Nero that Agrippine is dangerous, and she plans to win over the army and will confess how she used murder to give her son power. Burrhus tells her that Nero’s power is strong, and he will advise him not to let her weaken it. Britannicus and Narcisse meet with Agrippine. Junie advises Britannicus to flee, and she tells him how Nero was listening and made her dissemble. As Britannicus is pleading with her, Nero comes in and tells his rival he must learn to obey or be punished. Junie says she will join the Vestal Virgins; but Nero orders the couple taken away and guarded in separate apartments. Then he tells Burrhus to replace his mother’s guards with his.
In a long speech Agrippine tells Nero how she made him Emperor when Claudius died. Nero complains that under his name she worked for herself and argued that Rome should have a master, not a mistress. She calls him ungrateful, and he asks her to tell him what he should do. She suggests punishing her accusers, letting Junie marry whom she chooses, and he should see her at any time. He tells her he is reconciled and asks her to judge between him and Britannicus. After Agrippine leaves, he tells Burrhus that he is embracing his rival to stifle him and to free himself from his mother for the sake of his reputation, his love, his safety, and his life. Burrhus asks if he realizes he is taking a bloody course, and he urges him to continue his virtuous policies. Killing Britannicus will arouse his friends. Feared by all, he will become afraid as all his subjects become his enemies. Burrhus with tears begs him to give up those who give him murderous advice and be reconciled with his step-brother. When Burrhus goes out, Narcisse comes in and says the poison is ready. Nero tells him to stop that because he is reconciled. Narcisse says his mother is ruling again. Nero asks Narcisse for advice but then says he promised Burrhus. Britannicus tells Junie that Nero is to embrace him and will ratify his pledges, but she is suspicious. Agrippine comes in and sends Britannicus to Nero, and she says all is well now. Burrhus comes in and says Britannicus is dead from drinking poison. When Nero and Narcisse come in, Agrippine tells Nero he is the murderer because he ordered Narcisse to give it to him. Remorse and furies will pursue him. Albine arrives and tells them that Junie has joined the temple of the virgins. When Narcisse tries to stop her, many people killed him. Agrippine and Burrhus hope that this will be the last of Nero’s crimes.
Racine’s next tragedy Bérénice moves ahead in Rome’s imperial history one generation. Emperor Titus (r. 79-81) has succeeded his father Vespasian. Racine’s romantic drama opened on November 21, 1670. One week later Pierre Corneille presented his heroic comedy Tite et Bérénice, which was performed by Molière’s company but was not as well received. In his preface Racine quotes one sentence from Twelve Caesars by Suetonius as the basis for his play. Titus loved Bérénice passionately and had promised to marry her but sent her away from Rome. The Jewish Bérénice of Cilicia was eleven years older than Titus and had had three short marriages. She used her wealth and power to help Vespasian become Emperor in 69 and in 71 went to Rome with Titus. Although Vespasian soon sent her home, according to Racine’s play she was close friends with Titus and King Antiochus of Comagène for five years.
Antiochus loves Bérénice but has kept his passion under the veil of friendship because Titus also loves her. Arsaces tells Antiochus that Bérénice may wed Titus tonight but that she will meet with Antiochus, who had nearly died fighting the Jewish rebellion under Titus. She tells him that Rome has extended its empire from Palestine to Arabia and Syria, and Titus told her that he was not only going to make her Empress but also Queen of those states. Antiochus bids her farewell but confesses that he loves her. She considered him another self of Titus. Antiochus implies he may die without her. Phénice advises Bérénice to make Antiochus stay, but Bérénice replies that Titus has all the power now. Paulinus assures Titus that the Roman people praise Bérénice for her virtues and beauty and that the court will consent to his wishes, though she is a queen, and Rome hates kings. The Senate may ask him to choose another wife. Titus declares he loves seeing her every day, but now he is charged with ruling the Roman world, and he must carry that burden. He is going to ask Antiochus to take her back to Asia. He witnessed bad examples in the court of Nero and fell in love with Bérénice, but now his duty is to tell her to go and not see him anymore. She tells him that after his mourning she wants to see him more often and asks for nothing. He can only mention Rome and the empire before walking out. She is baffled and wonders if the love of Antiochus offends him; but she reasons that if he is jealous, he must be in love.
Titus asks Antiochus why he is leaving Rome, and he tells him to talk to Bérénice on his behalf. Antiochus says she expects him to marry her, but Titus says she must leave with Antiochus tomorrow. The Emperor joins their two kingdoms of Cilicia and Comagène and asks his friend not to desert the Queen. Arsaces urges Antiochus to marry her, but he ponders how his telling her that Titus has abandoned her will affect her. She arrives, and Antiochus breaks it to her that Titus and she must separate forever. She asks him to go with her to see Titus. Then she tells Antiochus to stay out of her sight and goes out. He pities her and feels he must leave. Titus believes he must save Rome by making this sacrifice, choosing empire over love. Bérénice asks Titus if they must part, and he replies it is his duty. She thought when he became Emperor, their problems would be over. Without him she will not know how to live but must reign. She asks if she could stay and just see him, and he does not forbid her. He wonders if he could maintain laws he does not keep himself. She will keep her love with him as her vengeance and says farewell. Titus realizes she wants to die, and he follows her to prevent her death. Antiochus reports that she may be dying. The Senate has summoned Titus, and he sends Antiochus to Bérénice. Arsaces tells Antiochus that the Queen is leaving. Titus confides in Antiochus that he loves Bérénice. He goes to her, and she tells Titus that she is leaving. He asks her to stay and ignore a senseless mob. She reminds him that she leaves by his command. Now he orders her not to go, and he sends for Antiochus. Yet he still feels that being Emperor is incompatible with this marriage. He says his life is in her hands. Antiochus arrives, and Titus tells him to judge between them. Antiochus admits that he loves her too and is his rival; only by death can he avoid this love. Bérénice tells them to stop and admits that Titus loves her but that she will obey his commands and not see him anymore. She tells Antiochus that she cannot leave her love and marry him. All three serve as an example to the world of love. In this tragedy no one dies, but love is sacrificed for imperial politics.
Bérénice was criticized as a tragedy in which no one died, but Racine made up for that in his next tragedy Bajazet set in Istanbul during the reign of Sultan Murad IV (1623-40) which was produced on January 5, 1672. Osmin reports to Grand Vizier Acomat in Istanbul that Sultan Murad IV is going to raise the siege of Baghdad. Murad also orders his favorite Roxane to execute his brother Bajazet. Acomat courts Princess Atalide hoping she will increase his power and so that she will persuade Roxane to work with Bajazet in inciting the Janissaries to revolt. However, Atalide and Bajazet are in love, though Bajazet pretends to love Roxane in order to become king. The Sultan has sent his slave Orcan to make sure that Bajazet is killed. Roxane tells Bajazet she will save his life if he marries her and kills Atalide in front of her. Atalide is glad she saved Bajazet and is ready to die, but Bajazet assures her that he is not really committed to Roxane, who overhears this. Orcan arrives and reports that Sultan Murad captured Baghdad. When Bajazet refuses to kill Atalide, Roxane has him hanged. Orcan then carries out a secret order to kill Roxane. Atalide commits suicide on stage and falls on the corpse of her beloved Bajazet. Acomat’s conspiracy has failed, and he flees in a ship.
Racine was elected to the Académie Française on December 5, 1672. For his tragedy Mithridate (January 1673) he drew from several historians and Plutarch’s Lives to craft his fictional romantic story of the last days of the most powerful ruler of Pontus and much of Asia Minor, Mithridates VI (135-63 BC). Monime was actually his second of six wives for seventeen years until 71 BC.
Mithridate is set at Nymphaeum on the Bosphorus. Mithridate has spent more than forty years fighting the Romans, but his oldest son Pharnaces is allied with Rome while his younger son Xiphares supports his father against the Romans but is secretly in love with Monime who is about to marry King Mithridate. News has arrived that Mithridate was defeated and killed in battle. Monime asks Xiphares to protect her against Pharnaces, and Xiphares declares he has loved her for a long time. Pharnaces recognizes her as queen, but she refuses to marry him. Pharnaces learns that she loves Xiphares, who knows that Romans are coming to support Pharnaces. Phaedime tells them that ships have arrived and that Mithridate is alive. The brothers agree to keep each other’s secrets. Nymphaeum’s governor Arbate informs Mithridate that Pharnaces wanted to marry his queen. Mithridate plans to wed Monime today; but when he sees her crying, he asks Xiphares to persuade her to marry the King. Mithridate plans to march against Rome. Pharnaces refuses to go to the Parthians and argues they should join the Romans, but Xiphares sides with his father. When Mithridate orders Pharnaces imprisoned, that son informs his father that Xiphares and Monime love each other. Mithridate tells Monime he will put her on his throne for vengeance on Pharnaces and that she should wed Xiphares. She then reveals that she has loved Xiphares since before she was engaged to Mithridate. Xiphares says goodbye to Monime, who sends him off to live for her. Arbate reports that Romans have arrived to support a revolt by Pharnaces. Mithridate tells her he is leaving Monime with kingdoms and has pardoned her, but she would rather die than marry him. She has heard that Xiphares was killed, and she blames herself for making all three men jealous. The King’s servant Arcas bring her poison, but Arbate arrives to stop her and throws down the poison. He reports the King is bleeding and dying and that Xiphares is alive. Surrounded Mithridate had stabbed himself. Guards carry him in, and Mithridate gives his empire to Xiphares and then dies. The historical facts are that Pharnaces succeeded Mithridates and allied with Pompey.
The tragedy Iphigénie, based on Iphigenia in Aulis by Euripides, was presented at Versailles on August 18, 1674 and in Paris in December. To make his play more believable Racine found a variant version of the legend in which the hateful Eriphyle, daughter of Helen and Theseus and who had been captured by Achille, is sacrificed instead of the noble Iphigénie, daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestre.
Racine’s tragedy Phèdre et Hippolyte opened on January 1, 1677, but he changed the title to Phèdre in the 1687 edition of his collected works. Starting with Hippolytus by Euripides and Plutarch’s Theseus, Racine made Phaedra’s nurse Oenone rather than the queen the false accuser of Hippolytus, and he added the love of Hippolytus for the forbidden Athenian Aricia. In his preface Racine wrote that in this play he aimed to make virtue more regarded by punishing the least faults including even the very thought of crime; passions are shown to cause problems; and vice is exposed and hated. He commended the ancient Greeks for teaching virtue not only by philosophy but also by portraying it in tragedies. He hoped his tragedies would instruct audiences also.
Hippolytus tells his tutor Theramenes he is leaving Troezen to find his father Theseus who has been gone for six months. Theramenes says that Phaedra’s hatred for her step-son seems to have vanished as she is dying. Hippolytus replies he is also fleeing from Aricia because Theseus has decreed that the daughter of Pallas shall not marry so that his rival family will die out. Hippolytus does not hate her because of her brothers’ crimes, but he loves her. Oenone tells Hippolytus that Phaedra is dying of a secret illness. Oenone persuades Phaedra to share her horrifying secret, and she describes how she fell in love with chaste Hippolytus. They learn that Hippolytus has been told that Theseus is dead and that Athenians want to put Aricia on the throne. Oenone urges Phaedra to live so that her son can become king. Ismene tells Aricia that Hippolytus has become king of Troezen, but she thinks he hates her and scorns all women. Yet Aricia loves his beauty and charm. Hippolytus tells her he is leaving and urges her to revoke the laws against her. He says she rules Attica, and he is going to reunite their votes. He admits that he was a rebel against love but has fallen in love with her. She accepts his gifts and power in Athens. Hippolytus tells Phaedra he understands that a jealous stepmother protects her children’s rights. She tells him how she loved Theseus when he was young like Hippolytus is now. He suspects her passion is now for him and is ashamed to stay in her sight. She admits she loves him even though it is wrong. She aroused his hatred in order to resist him. She begs him to kill her or let her do it as she takes his sword; but Oenone makes her go inside. Hippolytus tells Theramenes they must flee, and the latter says the Athenian tribes voted for Phaedra’s son. He also heard that Theseus may be alive.
Oenone urges Phaedra to reign, but she says her senses have overcome her reason. Now she has hope she could love Hippolytus and wants Oenone to persuade him. She wants her son to regard him as his father. Oenone advises her to repress her passion and return to virtue because Theseus has arrived. Phaedra wants to die because she is dishonored. Oenone suggests she not admit her guilt but accuse Hippolytus of the crime first. Phaedra refuses to slander innocence, but Oenone will tell Theseus and expects he will only exile his son. Phaedra is resigned to let her do what she will. She greets Theseus saying she is unworthy of his caresses and departs with Oenone. Hippolytus asks his father to let him go away and not see Phaedra anymore. Theseus wonders why his family is frightened and fleeing.
Theseus asks Oenone why Phaedra did not punish Hippolytus for his attempted violence against her, and Oenone says she stopped her from killing herself. Theseus castigates Hippolytus for his lust toward his queen and orders the traitor to flee, and he prays to Poseidon to punish his son. Hippolytus is shocked that he accused him of incest, and Theseus blames him for leaving his sword to damn himself. Hippolytus tries to defend himself by explaining this is completely against his character, but he confesses that he did go against his father’s law by loving Aricia after shunning her for six months. Theseus orders him to go away, and he leaves. Phaedra pleads with Theseus for Hippolytus, and Theseus tells her he also admitted to loving Aricia. This arouses her jealousy, and she tells Oenone of her rival. Phaedra wants to destroy Aricia, but she fears being judged by her father Minos in Hades. Phaedra blames Oenone for persuading her to reveal her love. Hippolytus tells Aricia he must leave, and he asks her to go with him. She will not leave her family in dishonor, but he offers to be her husband. They see Theseus coming, and he goes off. Aricia tells Theseus that Hippolytus was saying goodbye to her. She explains that he is innocent and that Theseus should repent of his murderous prayers but that Hippolytus forbade her to say any more. Theseus sends for Oenone, and Panope reports that the nurse drowned herself in the sea. Queen Phaedra is also distressed, and he asks that his son be recalled to defend himself. Theramenes arrives and describes how Hippolytus rode his chariot by the sea and was killed when the horses were driven wild by a raging monster. Guards bring in Phaedra who admits that Hippolytus was innocent because it was her passion and Oenone who blamed him. Phaedra says she has taken poison and is dying. Theseus wishes her memory could die with her. He wants to expiate the madness of his prayer, and he will treat Aricia as his own child.
On May 31, 1677 Racine married Catherine de Romanet, and they had eight children by 1692. On September 30, 1677 Louis XIV appointed him and Boileau royal historiographers, but their histories were later lost in a fire. In 1685 Racine wrote L’Idylle sur la paix with music by Lully, and he published Hymns from the Roman Breviary in 1688. That year Madame de Maintenon persuaded Racine to write Esther in three acts with music by Jean-Baptiste Moreau, and it was performed by the girls of the Saint-Cyr School with a large orchestra and chorus at court on January 26, 1689. The story from the biblical book of Esther written about 400 BC and later expanded in the Greek Septuagint was set in the Persian capital of Shushan (Susa) during the reign of Ahasuerus identified with Artaxerxes I or II by Josephus and other ancient sources but with Xerxes (486-465 BC) by most modern scholars. The exiled James II and his wife saw the second performance, but Esther did not have a public presentation until 1721.
Piety gives the prologue about God who breathes truth and peace. Persia’s King Ahasuerus has crowned Esther queen. She says he drove out proud Vashti whom she succeeded, though he does not know she is a Jew. She has learned of two violent plots of two chamberlains against her uncle Mordecai and their captive people. Mordecai tells her of a cursed decree to destroy Israel by the violent hands of the King’s favorite Haman ten days from now, and he asks her to save the Jews. She sends him to tell all the Jews to pray day and night and to fast with her for three days. She will go to see the King, and the chorus sings that god will make the proud stumble and raise the humble. Hydaspes controls access to King Ahasuerus. Haman brags he has the wealth of a king, but he hates the traitor Mordecai and has turned the King against him and all the Jews. Ahasuerus has received a report of two who wanted to kill him, and he tells Asaph that Mordecai saved him. He orders Haman to lead Mordecai in triumph to honor the Jew.
Esther goes to the King without permission and falls down before him. Ahasuerus says she can ask for half his kingdom and says she breathes innocence and peace. She asks him to invite Haman to a banquet, and then she will speak. The chorus of Israeli maidens sings again asking for peace. The banquet is in Esther’s garden, and Haman asks Hydaspes if Mordecai is invited. Hydaspes has heard of the Jewish plot, and Haman confirms they are dangerous. The maidens sing of God’s justice and charity. Ahasuerus tells Esther he will grant whatever she asks, and she begs for a wretched people who are condemned to die. She admits her father was a Jew, and the King is shocked and unhappy. She says the Jews once had a prosperous land and that God hears the cries of the oppressed poor. Because Jews turned to other gods, they were scattered and captured by Assyrians. Babylon is paying for destroying their temple, but Cyrus restored the laws of the Jews and rebuilt the temple. She warns of a savage who came from Thrace, and Haman objects. The King silences him, and she says he is the false Scythian. She asks why poisonous hatred blames the Jews and accuses the two traitors of plotting to murder the King. Mordecai adopted her as his daughter, but the King’s honoring him will not stop the slaughter of the Jews. Ahasuerus asks heaven to enlighten him. Esther tells Haman that God requites the innocent but will judge him, and he begs her to save him. Ahasuerus gives Haman’s wealth and power to Mordecai and declares that all will reverence Esther’s God and rebuild his temple. Asaph reports that the traitor is dead, and Ahasuerus countermands the murderous orders. The chorus sings praising God’s victory and power.
Louis XIV asked Racine for another religious play. Although he was busy writing the history of the reign, he wrote Athalie for the girls at the Saint-Cyr School; but much moral criticism resulted in only the use of a harpsichord with no costumes or set but a large chorus. Athalie was presented with Moreau’s music on January 5, 1691. There were no public performances during Racine’s lifetime, though it could be read. The story is based on 2 Kings 11 and 2 Chronicles 22-23. Athaliah was the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel and widow of King Jehoram, and she reigned in Judah for six years about 842-36 BC. She tried to establish the worship of Baal; but Jehu believed that God directed him to kill those who worship Baal, and so he assassinated and succeeded Athaliah’s son Ahaziah. Athaliah tried to get revenge by killing her grandchildren. In the play the high priest Joad and his wife Jehoshebath, who is Ahaziah’s sister, seek to replace Athalie with the child Joas. Having seen a child in a dream, Athalie invites Joad and the child to live in her palace. She becomes afraid of Joad and keeps Joas as a hostage. When Joad proclaims Joas King of Judah, priests take over the Temple. Athalie sends soldiers to drive out the rebels and regains the child. Joad explains that the child is Joas; Athalie’s supporters flee; and Joad kills Athalie.
In 1697 Racine was reconciled with Port-Royal and wrote his Mémoire pour les Religeuses de Port-Royal des Champs, and he spent five years working on his Abrégé de l’Histoire de Port-Royal, but left it incomplete when he died of liver cancer on April 21, 1699.
1. Nicomedes “To the Reader” by Pierre Corneille tr. John Cairncross, p.237.
2. The School for Wives tr. Richard Wilbur in Five Plays by Molière, p. 113.
3. Quoted in Encyclopaedia Britannica article “Molière,” volume 12, p. 325.