By Rebecca Smith
This mural is found in the town of Béziers at l’Ancienne Comedie (just behind the building where this fresco is painted). A plaque explains:
“Monsieur Poquelin and his troupe have had some setbacks. But the protection of the Duke of Orleans, brother of the king and governor of Languedoc, established very comfortably in Pézenas, allows Molière and his family to create, play, entertain and attract a growing public. Thus, in 1656, a year before definitively leaving Languedoc, Molière created in Bélziers a play in 5 acts, Le dépit amoureux.”
Le dépit amoureux, reportedly copied from an Italian comedy, l’interesse (Self-Interest), by Niccolo Secchi, is a comedy in verse and is the story of two young men courting the same young woman amidst a case of mistaken identity. It was first performed in Béziers in December 1656, debuted in Paris at the Théâtre du Petit-Bourbon in June 1659 and was revived in July 1679 with opening music by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. One of Molière’s best loved quotes, “You only die once and it’s for so long”, comes from the play.
The ancient southern French town of Béziers, located in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, welcomes fewer tourists than its neighbors, even with the set of 17 murals, which include this Molière gem. Nearby Pézenas generally proves to be more popular. The town capitalizes on its association with Molière, with streets and businesses using Molière-themed names.
During his 14 years of touring the provinces, Molière returned periodically to Pézenas, because it was the home of the Prince de Conti, the company’s patron from 1653 to 1656, who hosted their performances at his chateau. The prince abruptly broke with the company in 1656 after he came under the influence of a Tartuffe-like director of conscience who turned him against theatre.
“Pézenas has the feel of a small town with plenty of charm. Take a walk around the back streets and you will wander through medieval alleyways and squares bordered by tall elegant individualized houses replete with charm. There is a beautifully preserved Jewish ghetto settlement dating back to the middle ages, and the town is famed for being the dwelling place of French writer Molière.”
“Pézenas sits on the plains between the Haut (“Upper”) Languedoc National Park and the Mediterranean coastline. It is a mere twenty minutes from the clean sandy beaches of the Hérault, half an hour from the beautiful rugged hill country inland and half an hour from what is surely one of the world’s most attractive cities – Montpellier. Add to that the charm of a beautifully preserved town centre with its narrow streets, individually stylised architecture, alleys and squares where Molière famously spent his days, and you begin to have the ingredients for a beautifully positioned location for that maison secondaire.”
Promotional material for Pézenas claims a number of writers live and work there. Will any reach the status and longevity of Molière?
Perhaps more murals will be added to the 17.
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