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Molière’s Strategies

Timely Reflections on his Art of Comedy

Series:

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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Acknowledgements

Extract

The book would not have been seen through to publication without the considerable help of friends and colleagues, in particular, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Lucey, Marie-Hélène Huet, Jack Undank, Anthony Newcomb, Philip Koch, Leonard Johnson, Ann Smock and Denis Hollier. William Smock, Travis Wilds and William Heidenfeldt formatted and delivered the manuscript to the publisher. These friends and colleagues would consider its publication as Rex’s valedictory work, a memorial Festschrift, in which the author is the dedicatee. Preface: Choosing an Author in Old Age Actually, this book was supposed to be about Montaigne. Having reached the end of life, long familiarity with the Essais had assured me that the sage of Bordeaux would be the perfect companion for the last part of the journey, that no one was more astute about the human condition, better attuned to nature, open to experience, varied in moods, provocative, erudite, engag- ing, and such an accomplished writer. Who else could better serve as solace for the scandalous decrepitudes of a person past eighty years? Nor could anyone have been more surprised when the consolation started coming, not at all from the sensible author I had chosen, but from a farceur, from Molière – for a host of reasons I had not anticipated. Perhaps it was the infinite nuances of Montaigne’s way of thinking, so famously ondoyant et divers, that strained, in the long run, my aging intel- lectual capacities. But still more significant for the change of allegiance, I suspect, was the initial...

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