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Molière’s Strategies

Timely Reflections on his Art of Comedy


Walter E. Rex

Of all the playwrights from the age of Louis XIV, only Molière’s work is still regularly performed in France and beyond. This book analyses certain elements of the plays that may explain Molière’s longevity: a plausible chain of events peppered with shocks and surprises; tensions between opposites; intellectual concerns that had not previously been the province of comedy; and plots founded on situations that are anything but comic. These hallmarks added up to an intense type of comic theatre, meaningful in ways that gave the genre a new dimension. The author of this study does not treat Molière’s plays as variations on a single prototype, but brings a fresh approach to each. The book’s witty, learned and penetrating readings examine critical issues such as the ambiguous anti-feminism of Les Femmes savantes, Molière’s revisions of the myth of Don Juan, ‘conversion’ as the theological starting point of Le Tartuffe, contrariety as the basis of comedies such as George Dandin and Le Misanthrope, and coded satire in the comédie-ballets. Each play is revealed to have a seamless comic design, while at the same time speaking to the wider world. Molière’s works are shown to be entirely and immediately involved in human society, in the social dimension of the human condition.


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Figure 1 Pierre Brissart, George Dandin (1682), Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University 7 Figure 2 François Boucher, Dom Juan (eighteenth century), Bibliothèque Nationale de France 29 Figure 3 Jean-Baptiste Ouvry, Le Loup et l’Agneau (eighteenth century), Bibliothèque Nationale de France 65 Figure 4 François Boucher, Le Misanthrope (eighteenth century), Bibliothèque Nationale de France 77 Figure 5 François Boucher, Les Femmes savantes (eighteenth century), Bibliothèque Nationale de France 109 Figure 6 Pierre Brissart, Le Tartuf fe (1682), Wikimedia Commons 129 Figure 7 Jean-Baptiste Corneille, Frontispiece of the Dictionnaire de l’Académie Françoise (1694), Bibliothèque Nationale de France 167 Figure 8 Jean Lepautre, performance of Le Malade imaginaire (19 July 1674), Bibliothèque Nationale de France 249

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