By Polly Johnson
I have been on many stages and performed in many plays during my life. I love the atmosphere behind a show: the camaraderie between the cast and crew and the nervous dread that comes before stepping on stage. Perhaps the greatest part of it all, however, is getting to act out satirical, ridiculous situations as though it is your life, which you would ordinarily not be able to experience in your actual life (while still maintaining your friendships, of course). The best feeling is when a moment happens onstage that is so relatable and humorous, and the audience cannot help but burst out laughing at the antics you have presented them with.
Molière himself is pulling the strings behind many of these magical moments. The playwright’s “peculiar ability to combine irony with common life events makes him a precursor of contemporary theatre,” and thus, a massive influence on situational comedy as we know it today (Mallozzi). The classic trope of exaggerated misunderstandings has been largely popularized by Molière over the years. Molière “changed the direction of modern theatre when he synthesized the popular comic stock forms of commedia dell’arte with contemporary situations and psychologically recognizable characters” (Timmel). The identifiability of characters as relatable is a crucial element of why Molière’s plays retain the interest of the audience. The characters are often 3-dimensional, meaning that they have more than stock complexity in their personalities and actions, which makes them psychologically understandable to the audience. For instance, “Molière ne se contente pas de nous présenter des escarmouches entre personnages raisonnables et protagonistes déraisonnables” (Montbertrand, 32). There must be intertwining elements to make the situations humorous and entertaining.
As a whole, Molière’s plays are well received for a multitude of reasons. His ability to add relatability to situations and characters speaks for itself, but another important factor to consider when watching or reading a play by Molière is the response that the words invoke in you. Behind the irony and misunderstandings are often commentaries on real-world occurrences. Molière tended to use his works as a platform for expressing how he felt about society, poverty, and social class. It is not a stretch to claim that “the whole of mankind is displayed on Molière’s stage, and, like with all great playwrights, bits of his personality are evident in all his characters” (Mallozzi). I have had the pleasure of stepping into the world of Molière in reading l’Avare, Tartuffe, and le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, all of which contained ridiculous comedy as well as the aforementioned social commentary. Molière’s plays are designed “à provoquer une série de réactions organiques et émotionnelles” (Montbertrand, 20). These emotional and organic reactions are the lifeblood of the world of modern theater. I consider myself lucky to have experienced them, and I will forever thank Molière for the irony.
Mallozzi, Illaria. “Fashioning French Theatre: Molière's Coincidence of Opposites.” Culture Trip, The Culture Trip, 25 January 2016, https://theculturetrip.com/europe/france/articles/fashioning-french-theatre-moli-re-s-coincidence-of-opposites/.
Montbertrand, Gérard R.“MOLIÈRE, LA COMÉDIE DE L’INSTINCT.” French Forum, vol. 3, no. 1, University of Nebraska Press, 1978, pp. 20–34, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40550953.
Timmel, Lisa. “Molière, Tartuffe, and the Scandal that Created Modern Comedy.” The Huntington Theatre, https://www.huntingtontheatre.org/articles/tartuffe-articles/gallery/the-scandal-that-created-modern-comedy1/.
Leave a Reply.
Discover the writing of Rockhurst University: essays and criticism on Molière, his times, contemporary impact, and France.