Inventing Modern Comedy: Molière and His Time

117A :  17th Century Literature
Spring 2023
Class No: 30865
33 Dwinelle
Déborah Blocker
9:30 - 11:00 AM

Molière was France’s most prominent comical actor, playwright and stage director during the Classical Age and his plays remain central to the French imaginary to this day. This class provides an introduction to Molière’s works and times. We study a selection of his plays, ranging from his Italianate farces and the comédies-ballets (or musicals) he produced for the Court, to the high-flying social critiques he wrote and staged for his Parisian audiences. We also explore Molière’s role in the social and political institution of the theater at a time when playwriting and acting were first codified and legitimized. We give particular attention, in this respect, to Molière’s relationship to Louis XIV, and to the ways in which the King’s patronage impacted Molière’s theater. We also enquire into the history of early modern performance, studying both how Molière’s texts were pronounced, and how they might have been staged, in his time. Modern filmic reconstitutions, from Ariane Mnouchkine to Vincent Dumestre, serve as a point of departure for this investigation into the history of performance. Finally, we examine the canonization of Molière’s oeuvre, by studying examples of the publication of his works in modern times, as well as a selection of modern and contemporary performances, ranging from recent Comédie Française video productions to excerpts of historic performances made available on the site of the French INA (Institut National de l’Audiovisuel).


Les Précieuses ridicules (1659), excerpts from La Critique de l’Ecole des Femmes and L’Impromptu de Versailles (1663), Le Misanthrope (1666), L’Avare (1668), Le Tartuffe (1669), Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (1670), Les Fourberies de Scapin (1671) and Le Malade Imaginaire (1673).

Ariane Mnouchkine, Molière (1978) and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, staged by Vincent Dumestre and Le Poème Harmonique (2008).