By Rebecca Smith
In carrying out our Molière Festival, we are stepping into some grandes chaussures.
Reportedly, France’s first-ever literary centennial celebration was in 1773 to celebrate
Molière’s death 100 years before. Several milestones are associated with the launch
of that historic inaugural event: the emergence of the “cult of great men”; a
newfound recognition of a 100-year period as significant; a national desire to
highlight French literary tradition; and, significantly, a need to vie with
England and its Shakespeare Jubilee earlier in 1769 ( muse.jhu.edu). Many consider the centennial event to have been most influential in the establishment of France’s national identity.
The French centennial in 1773 comprised a couple of weeks in which two original
plays, as well as some of Molière’s works, were performed at the renowned Comédie-Française in Paris. A bust of Molière was crowned at the end of the shows and appreciation of Molière was fanned. Indeed, the Comédie-Française, formed after his death by the joining of his company with two others, is often called “The House of Molière.”
Since 1996, the entire month of June in Versailles is celebrated as Le Mois Molière. The theatre and music festival enliven the city’s parks, streets, theatres and historical sites. It was created by Françoise de Mazières, then mayor of Versailles, who wished to
reinvigorate popular theatre, empower new companies and offer free performances
to the public. “The will to get out into the neighborhoods, the free aspect, the festive side and the will to perform great texts: all that is part of the festival’s genetic code”, she championed ( moismoliere.com). (In Kansas City we will be adhering to that same genetic code.)
Also every year in June, Molière is honored at the theatre festival in Pézenas. It
was there in 1650 that Molière’s career really began, when he met with the
Prince of Conti, the third highest official in the country. Molière’s “L’illustre Théâtre” entertained the Prince and his entourage, and Molière’s future was advanced. Now the town rejoices with offerings “inspired” by those origins with Conti’s court. In 2012 the theatre, built in the 16th century and closed since 1947, was reopened to great fanfare.
Beginning in 1987, the annual live theatre awards ceremony in France has been the Nuit des Molières in Paris. Put on by the Association Professionnelle et Artistique du Théâtre and
the French Ministry of Culture, it is the French equivalent of our Tony Awards.
The winners take home a “Molière”, a little golden bust of the French icon.
But then, we all win with Moliere. Almost 400 years old -- but timeless. If there’s
any doubt, just consider this (very partial) list of Moliére quotes:
The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.
The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.
It is not only for what we do that we are held responsible, but also for what we do not do.
Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money.
One should eat to live, not live to eat.
A learned fool is more a fool than an ignorant fool.
The duty of comedy is to correct men by amusing them.
A wise man is superior to any insults which can be put upon him, and the best reply to unseemly behavior is patience and moderation.
One dies only once, and then for such a long time!
That last one may be the only one to question. Because Molière lives on. And on.