Moliere after 400 years still talks about us

(by Paolo Petroni) (ANSA) – ROME, 12 JAN – The imaginary patient, the misanthrope, the precious ridiculous, the hypocrite and many men who become selfish and arrogant as they get older so as not to feel weaker, these are the human types he recounted Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known to history under the pseudonym of Moliere, whose 400th anniversary will fall on 15 January from his birth in 1622. Prolific author, comedian and great actor until to the last day, having died on stage February 17, 1673, he is comparable in work and life only to Shakespeare, who died six years earlier, in 1616.

On the other hand, the two are very different, with the English Bard attracted by characters who, for better or for worse, live on great passions and free entrepreneurs and the Frenchman who ends up being a court theater actor who puts behaviors, weaknesses, more daily defects of bourgeois and aristocrats, under the protection of the Sun King, Louis XIV, who also opened a theater for him, Petit-Bourbon, and then had him transferred to the hall of the Palais Royal.

However, the beginnings had been very different for Poquelin-Moliere who, after studying law, was linked to the Béjart family of actors and in particular to the young Madeleine (whose daughter he later married), creating the Illustre Théâtre company at the age of 21 , which failed after two years, while he ended up in prison at the Chatelet. So he moved to acting for over ten years in the provinces and it was his fortune, thanks to the meeting in Lyon with the Italian companies of the Commedia dell’Arte from which, back in Paris in 1658 under the protection of the King’s brother, they derived his first farces, from ”Imaginary cuckold” to ”Il medico per forza” preceded by ”The precious ridiculous” of 1659, in which the characters already acquire more depth than the general satirical design which, with its success caused quite a scandal. Confident of his art and of the strength of comedy, seen as a critic of morals and corrector of men’s vices (as he underlines in the introduction to ”Tartufo”), he defends his freedom by referring directly to the King, who has fun with him, and for which, passionate about dance, he creates the Comédie-ballet, or rather finds a way to insert dance interludes in his works, but always linked to the development of the action.

To understand Moliere’s character, royal protection, and the independence of his writing, there is the story linked to ”The school of wives”, his first major text which aroused applause but also attacks and parodies, to which the author replied for his part with the ”The critique of the School of wives” and ”The improvisation of Versailles”. But the real problem was then in 1664 ”Tartufo”, a comedy that ”wanting to tear off the mask, risked skinning the face”, as it was written, centered on the hypocrisy of false courtiers, so that it met with violent opposition that Moliere it suffered a lot and was only able to go on stage after five years, at which point with an exceptional success for the time, reaching 44 performances. Certainly one of his masterpieces, with that game that stages a hypocrite, who etymologically is an actor, who shamelessly plays his social role, focusing on action, comic gestures, enhanced by a word used artfully and with depth of excavation. With the ”Misanthrope” are the peaks of his art, of the comedy of character capable of becoming existential, of grasping the most intimate and delicate aspects in which to insinuate the comic tear, the mockery that bares, during an excited action like in discovering instead of a soul and a feeling, the vanity of power, the lust for money, but above all always love, with its transports, its sufferings, its jealousies. After all, the best theater of him thrives on the fallacious (almost Pirandellian) illusion and the gap between the image that everyone has of himself and the one he wants to give to others. All brought on stage, highlighted by the ways of being, the words and actions of the characters, without schemes or superstructures.

Many of his titles, despite having died quite young, at 51, but with at least thirty years of intense activity behind him.

We can still mention ”Don Giovanni”, which marked the fortune of that character, then the subtle and elegant ”Amphitryon” and the raw incisiveness of the ridiculous ”George Dandin” followed by the powerful portrait up to the threshold of tragedy of ”L’avaro” and the happy portrait of the vain and neo-rich merchant of the ”Borghese gentiluomo” of 1670. Other titles followed and another masterpiece, ”Le saccenti”, until 1973 and the last tasty, funny and painful work, ”The imaginary patient”, at the fourth replica of which Moliere, who had long been afflicted with an incurable disease, was taken ill and died.

With him the farcical comedy of masks and characters acquires complexity, becomes a study of behavior and an in-depth study of human feelings, weaknesses and miseries, those of yesterday and always, of which he still makes us laugh today, always a little bitter, implacable but with a thread of pity, for that existential malaise that becomes lacking, physical illness in a process of psychosomatic, theatrical highlighting, for which the comic is only one of the possible representations of the drama of living.

For the official celebrations, a series of universities in France and around the world, from Yale to that of Turin, have gone online, having just concluded a conference at the Sorbonne and at the Comédie-Française entitled “Retours sur Molière”. Other conferences will be held in New York and Yale (April 14-16) and in Turin (May 6-7), while the major exhibition ”Molière, la fabrique d’une gloire nationale (1622-2022)” will open January 15 in Versailles, which will be added in Paris from May 26 ”Molière en costumes” and on September 27 ”Molière, le jeu du vrai et du faux”. (HANDLE).

Moliere after 400 years still talks about us – ViaggiArt