The great variety in Molière's work stems from his being at once actor, director, stage manager, and writer. Influenced by the commedia dell'arte, he wrote farces, comedies, masks, and ballets on short notice for the entertainment of the court. He is best known for the great comedies of character in which he ridicules a vice or a type of excess by caricaturing a person who is its incarnation: Le Tartuffe (1664), on the religious hypocrite; Le Misanthrope (1666), on the antisocial man; L'Avare (1668, tr. The Miser ); and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (1670, tr. The Would-Be Gentleman ), on the parvenu.
Other plays in which vices are personified are Les Femmes savantes (1672, tr. The Learned Women ), on the fashionable, affected intellectuals whom he had already lampooned in Les Précieuses ridicules (1659), often called the first comedy of manners and Le Malade imaginaire (1673), on the hypochondriac. Molière was acting the title role of the latter when he was fatally stricken. Also comedies of character, but depending more on absurdities, are L'École des maris (1661, tr. The School for Husbands ) and L'École des femmes (1662, tr. The School for Wives ), which was followed by a skit against the critics, La Critique de l'École des femmes (1663); and Don Juan (1665), an adaptation of the old story of the libertine.
The playwright's farces are uproarious— Sganarelle (1660), Le Médecin malgré lui (1666, tr. The Doctor in Spite of Himself ), George Dandin (1668), Monsieur de Pourceaugnac (1669), Les Fourberies de Scapin (1671, tr. Scapin, the Trickster ), and La Comtesse d'Escarbagnas (1671). Among Molière's other works are the poetic Amphitryon (1668), after Plautus; L'Étourdi (1653?, tr. The Blunderer ); Le Dépit amoureux (1656, tr. The Amorous Quarrel ); and Le Mariage forcé (1664, tr. The Forced Marriage ).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.