Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière (15 January 1622 – 17 February 1673), was a French playwright and actor who is considered to be one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature. Among Molière’s best known works are The Misanthrope, The School for Wives, Tartuffe, The Miser, The Imaginary Invalid, and The Bourgeois Gentleman.
Born into a prosperous family and having studied at the Collège de Clermont (now Lycée Louis-le-Grand), Molière was well suited to begin a life in the theatre. Thirteen years as an itinerant actor helped him polish his comic abilities while he began writing, combining Commedia dell’arte elements with the more refined French comedy.
Through the patronage of aristocrats including Philippe I, Duke of Orléans—the brother of Louis XIV—Molière procured a command performance before the King at the Louvre. Performing a classic play by Pierre Corneille and a farce of his own, The Doctor in Love, Molière was granted the use of salle du Petit-Bourbon near the Louvre, a spacious room appointed for theatrical performances. Later, Molière was granted the use of the theatre in the Palais-Royal. In both locations he found success among Parisians with plays such as The Affected Ladies, The School for Husbands and The School for Wives. This royal favour brought a royal pension to his troupe and the title Troupe du Roi (“The King’s Troupe”). Molière continued as the official author of court entertainments.
Though he received the adulation of the court and Parisians, Molière’s satires attracted criticism from moralists and the Catholic Church. Tartuffe and its attack on perceived religious hypocrisy roundly received condemnations from the Church, while Don Juan was banned from performance. Molière’s hard work in so many theatrical capacities took its toll on his health and, by 1667, he was forced to take a break from the stage. In 1673, during a production of his final play, The Imaginary Invalid, Molière, who suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis, was seized by a coughing fit and a haemorrhage while playing the hypochondriac Argan. He finished the performance but collapsed again and died a few hours later.