Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name


Department (Legacy)

Department of Romance Languages


Molière; 1622-1673


To gain a true appreciation of the works of any author, we must first be familiar with his race, his environment, and the period in which and of which he wrote. The Paris of the early seventeenth century was far different from the modern metropolis of today. It was the Paris of ill-paved, badly lighted streets where beggar and peasant starved and marquises rolled by in their emblazoned coaches, where d’Artagnan and the King’s musketeers spread romance and challenged authority and where conspiracy brewed and criminals died upon the pillory. It was a pleasure-loving and pleasure-seeking, merry, carefree populace in spite of the iron rule of Richelieu, the crimes of the Fronde and the wars of Louis XIV. In the heart of this Paris lived Moliere; for it was just around the corner from the market place that his father, Jean Poquelin, kept his shop where the young Jean Baptiste served his apprenticeship as valet de chamber tapissier, an honorable and lucrative office. Moliere, or rather Jean Baptiste Poquelin – the name of Moliere was not adopted until the formation of his l’Illustre Theatre – had but to turn the corner to see richly dressed merchants barter their merchandise, and to hear market women cry their wares. Quite near was the Pont Neuf, the main artery of the city, athrong with people of all sorts. Hurried business men justled leisurely valets and grisettes, while to one side quacks exhibited their drugs or their mountebanks aided them to get customers by their queer antics, and acrobats, clowns, and ballad singers displayed their talents. Here it was that Moliere first acquired a taste for comedy. Every Sunday, Jean Baptiste was wont to spend with his maternal grandfather, Louis Cresse, at his fine country home. Like all good bourgeois, Louise Cresse was fond of the theatre; so it is highly probable that he was often accompanied by his grandson to see the first night performances of the actors of the Hotel de Bourgogne. Gros-Guillaume was chied fun-maker there, and Guillet-Gorju, wearing an enormous peruke and a bump on his nose showed the boy Poquelin the ridiculous side of medicine by his portrayal of a doctor. At the celebrated fair of Saint Germain des Pres, two booths of which grandfather Cresse owned, mountebanks performed upon improvised stages. And at the Hotel du Petit Bourbon a different kind of farce, the comedy-of-masks, was presented by Scaramouche and his Italian companions. All of these influences together with his training in rhetoric and in the reading and acting of the Latin poets, Terence and Plautus, at the College de Clermont provided a good foundation upon which to build a stage to be set for a more refined farce and to attain its zenith of decoration in high comedy.