Literary Accomplishments & Contributions of Moliere

Instructor: Lucy Barnhouse
This lesson discusses the works and influence of Molière, the seventeenth-century playwright who is as iconic in the history of French literature as Shakespeare is in that of English. The lesson discusses both his literary context and some of his most enduring characters.

Molière

Molière was an active writer in the late seventeenth century, one of the most productive periods in French literature. Even in the exalted company of playwrights like Corneille and Racine, stylists like Bossuet, and poets like De La Fontaine, Molière stands out. Many of these other authors were themselves innovative, but Molière's popularity has endured in a distinctive way.

Performed for the king, printed for a broad audience
frontispiece

In a time of rapid social change, Molière commented on the society around him with both precision and wit. Patronized by the king during his lifetime, Molière has been embraced as an icon by diverse readers and audiences from that day to this. French itself is known as la langue de Molière, the language of Molière (English, in French, is known as the language of Shakespeare.) Molière's elegant rhyming couplets simultaneously celebrated and expanded the possibilities of the French language. Let's take a closer look at the works that made his reputation.

Themes and Style of Molière

Several factors distinguish Molière from his contemporaries. Whereas classical dramas, with characters from ancient history or mythology, were traditionally preferred, Molière devoted himself to contemporary subjects. While the subjects of his dramas were rooted in the realities of the seventeenth century, his themes have proved enduringly relevant. Moreover, Molière is genuinely and enduringly hilarious. Translator Richard Wilbur has aptly described his works as 'serious comedies.' Molière's keen eye for the foibles of human nature helps to keep his works popular on the stage, as well as in the classroom.

Famous Plays and Characters

Let's explore some of Molière's famous plays and characters.

Le Tartuffe

Le Tartuffe, also known as 'The Imposter,' or 'The Hypocrite,' is arguably Molière's most iconic work. Mercilessly skewering religious hypocrisy, as well as gullibility, the play was censored shortly after its first performance. Tartuffe, posing as a spiritual guide, insinuates himself into a prosperous household, but is eventually unmasked as a would-be seducer and blackmailer. In following Tartuffe's rise and fall, the play also depicts intergenerational conflict arising from differing expectations of conduct. Le Tartuffe portrays the dangers of mistaking slick rhetoric - or contemporary manners - for timeless moral truth.

Illustration of Tartuffe
tartuffe

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create An Account
Support