Molière’s Class Act
By Ellie Henning
17th century France, also known as pre-revolutionary France, was the time period of Molière’s life. This pre-revolutionary France was divided up into a class system of three parts. The three parts can be broken down as such: First Estate, which included the clergy, Second Estate, comprised of the nobility, and the Third Estate, which consisted of the commoners. The strict class distinctions in seventeenth-century France made it very difficult for people to move up into higher classes. What does the French class system have to do with Molière? Well, a lot more than you might think!
The central themes of his most famous works portray the French upper-class characters as dim-witted and extremely ridiculous. These outrageous characters are what put him on the map and made him one of the most beloved playwrights of our time. It is ironic, though, that Molière himself was born into nobility. Molière took inspiration from his everyday encounters with other people of the French nobility and poked fun at their lifestyle. This form of satirical mockery was something unheard of during his lifetime, yet it was something that audiences could resonate with. During pre-revolutionary France was when tensions began to rise over the extremely strict class distinctions. These distinctions made it very difficult for people to move up and make better lives for themselves. This feeling of resentment towards the upper class is what eventually lead to the revolution. How has Molière’s work continued today?
While Molière’s work is still widely celebrated today, it has also been extremely influential in a lot of the comedy we see today. For example, the television show Saturday Night Live often makes satirical jokes about the rich and famous in our society today. We see major use of this form of comedy in sitcoms like Two Broke Girls, as well. Molière’s use of jokes about the nobility was not always well received, though. Many of the critics were those of nobility who thought they were being wrongfully portrayed in his works. He used the class divisions not only to poke fun but also help people be aware of their distinctions. Even today a majority of our society’s comedy focuses on the class divide. It is this familiarity of everyday interactions between the classes that make Molière’s work continuously celebrated and inspiring for the comedy we see on television today.
“France - French Culture in the 17th Century.” Encyclopedia Britannica, www.britannica.com/place/France/French-culture-in-the-17th-century. Accessed 16 Nov. 2021.
Tobin, Ronald W., and Will G. Moore. "Molière". Encyclopedia Britannica, 24 Mar. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Moliere-French-dramatist. Accessed 15 November 2021.
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Discover the writing of Rockhurst University: essays and criticism on Molière, his times, contemporary impact, and France.