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his tomb. Æschylus also, in the epitaph he in er. He left nothing to chance, and insisted wrote for himself, forgot his hundred tragedies, that an actor should have counted all his steps but he had fought at Marathon, and this he and decided upon every glance before he recalled proudly; and it is conceivable that stepped upon the stage. We have in the “Imhe should claim this glory in preference to the promptu
a theatrical criticism of his that we other. But the tomb of Shakspere makes no can compare to the theatrical criticism of Shaksimilar claim: it begs that it be left alone, and spere in “Hamlet.” At
ttom they agree: this is not for the sake of “ Hamlet” or of they have the same passion for nature, the “Lear” or of so many masterpieces, but for same aversion from emphasis — but Molière Jesus' sake.
had the advantage in that he practiced what Molière never retired; scarcely even did he he preached. take a vacation: he worked while ill and he It will be objected that he was not good in worked when dying; and he died almost on the tragic characters. That is possible; it is so stage. One of the reasons for this difference human to err! But perhaps we have been too not enough noticed, I think — is that Molière quick to believe his enemies on this point. The was a much better actor than Shakspere. manner of acting tragedy in those days was
Shakspere the actor has left no trace. It is very different from his theories. He may have vaguely known that he played the old Adam disconcerted the public by abstaining from in “ As You Like It," and the Ghost in “Ham- bombastic delivery and by bringing down the let." But it was not he but Burbage who heroes to a more natural level. Notice, how“created” his great parts. Becoming an actor ever, that he played Corneille up to the very by accident, it seems probable that he was last. It seems likely that if the pit had dissuch without passion, and that he ceased to approved of him so strongly in these parts, he play as soon as possible.
would not have been so insistent; then it This was not the case with Molière. There would have affected the receipts- and Mois no doubt that his vocation as an actor was lière was a manager. Finally, it was he who his master-passion. He did not leave the pa- trained Baron; and Baron in tragedy, as in ternal roof for the purpose of writing plays — comedy, was incomparable. This passion of
. but for the purpose of acting them. And we Molière's for his profession as actor was emiknow that these were not comedies — the Il- nently advantageous. It increased his power lustrious Theater had in stock at first nothing of observation. The gaze he fixed on man was but tragedies. When he wrote “L'Étourdi,” in some sort a double mirror; he studied first his first work, Molière had been an actor to know, and afterwards so as to reproduce. for nine years, and for fifteen when he wrote What might have escaped him had he only the “ Précieuses Ridicules.” Never could his written the play came to him when he acted great success as an author tempt him to leave it. Then— forgive me the metaphor - the the boards. He not only continued to act in ink became blood. Therefore it is, I think, his own plays, but he acted in the plays of because Molière was a greater actor than Shakothers and did not consider this as lost time. spere that he was a more sure and more comHe acted, as we have said, although cough- plete observer, although in a narrower sphere. ing and spitting blood; and to Boileau, who And to this quality of actor, which was acadvised him to leave the stage, he replied, “ It companied in both by the gift of stage-manis for my honor that I remain so much did agement, they each owed the dramatic force he love his profession, which was killing him. that to-day animates their works. We feel that But then he excelled in it. His contemporaries these were not written coldly in the silence of are unanimous on this point. He was extraor- the closet, but thrown alive upon the stage. dinary — “ Better actor even than author," And it is this too- I think the remark is Sainteone of them goes so far as to say. We can im- Beuve's—that explains the indifference of Shakagine what joy it must have been to see him in spere and Molière to the printing of their works. his great parts — Sganarelle, Orgon, Alceste, They did not recognize these on paper. “TarHarpagon.
tuffe” and “Hamlet” existed for them only He had come to this degree of excellence before the footlights. It was only there that only by dint of hard work, as his appearance they felt their plays bone of their bone and was not pleasing and his voice difficult to flesh of their flesh. manage. It was his voice, above all, that gave It has been possible, after much erudition, him trouble; but, notwithstanding the hiccough to establish the chronological sequence of the that remained, he made it so rich in varied in- works of Shakspere; and through this study flections that it seemed as though he had many. has been evolved the history of his thought. He was particular about the articulation: it is It is at first a period of experiment; Shakspere to him that we owe the right way of pronounc- begins, he feels the need of living, he is the ing certain words; for example, the infinitives Jack-at-all-trades at the Globe; he makes
over old pieces and writes new ones in imita- date of “ Tartuffe " must be that of its compotion of Plautus or the Italians: no originality sition, and not that of its first representation, as as yet, and, oddly enough, no dramatic genius; is generally taken. Then we find in the work he was, above all, the poet of “Venus and of Molière, as in that of Shakspere, four disAdonis,” in whom it was difficult to foresee tinct periods. the writer of “Hamlet.” But the time of grop- The period of groping, first : Molière is likeing ceased: he wrote “Richard III.,” and in wise the Jack-at-all-trades of his company; that he discovered character; he wrote “Romeo he acts in tragedy, tinkers old plays with the and Juliet,” and in that he discovered drama. help of Madeleine Béjart, and writes farces, Still the second part of his career is almost most of them imitated from the Italian, many entirely devoted to comedy. If he attempts of them derived from our old stock of fabliaux. drama, it is through the national history; Then, as success came, he attempts better which gives him the chance of creating Fal-things- writes “L'Étourdi" and the “Lover's staff, perhaps his best rounded comic type. Quarrel.” We have there only his gaiety unThis was the time when he began his fortune failing and full of go; his observation betrays and his glory. He is full of hope and gaiety; itself only in comic touches, and does not rise he takes delight in those adorable composi- as high as character-drawing; but what an tions "A Midsummer Night's Dream,” “The admirable choice of words — lively, alert, and Merchant of Venice,” “Much Ado about full of savor! And he not only finds words Nothing." Fancy is his queen, and if Melan- but scenes, such as the delicious quarrel in the choly seizes him, it is to draw him to that mar- “Dépit.” velous forest of Arden, where so many songs
At last he is in Paris; and as though he are sung that the wickedest become good and became conscious of his genius upon
touching the things that seem the most difficult to his native soil, he throws “Les Précieuses” at arrange end there — as you like it.
the society of the day. No imitation of the To this period of youth succeeds the prime ancients this time, no more Italian comedy; of life. Shakspere is rich and seems happy; he paints the times, but he paints only its abbut his thoughts are more somber. He doubts, surdities. he despairs, “ Man pleases him not," and if he It is a great step forward. No matter. The forgives Woman it is to make her fall under work is brave and alive; it begins the second the injustice of destiny. From 1601 to 1607 period; but strange to relate, although the were written these dramas: "Julius Cæsar," “ Précieuses” was a success, Molière did not
Hamlet,” “ Measure for Measure," “Othello," follow it up; he returned to bolder farce with “Lear,” “Macbeth,” “Antony and Cleopatra," “ Sganarelle," to tragi-comedy with “ Don ‘ “ Timon of Athens ” — masterpieces, all of Garcia de Navarre"; and it is from the anthem, and all disconsolate; it is the triumph cients, from Terence, that he borrows the of evil; the more Hamlet thinks the more he “School for Husbands.” But these still were is discouraged; and it finishes with the anath- but gropings: the last was at all events a real ema of Timon giving society at large over to work, and Molière became more confident. A destruction.
lucky chance brings him to the notice of the But now what happens ? Because he has so king, for whom he acts“ Les Fâcheux," a sparkoften shown Man as the miserable plaything ling improvisation; and then he is in favor, of heredity and chance, Shakspere takes pity sure of himself, sure of the princes; and he on him; and pity engenders serenity. Then writes the “School for Wives.” the last period opens, the period of “A Winter's It is the first of the great masterpieces, it is Tale,” of “Cymbeline,” of “The Tempest,” of the beginning of the third period; Molière has the fragments of “Pericles." Always life and discovered himself. He has the vocabulary, he its troubles; but a dream mingles strangely has the daring and the invention; he creates; with action, and it is Providence that settles Arnolphe, Agnes, are immortal. But there is the end. The drama loses in concentration; still more, and this it is that to my mind charbut, on the other hand, the poetry becomes acterizes this third manner: the “School for wonderful: it attains to the ineffable in “ The Wives" is a social comedy. I beg pardon for Tempest," the most divine poem ever dreamed the word, which is modern, but I could replace by man.
it only by a long periphrase. What I mean Is it now possible to discover in the work of is that the “ School for Wives” shows society Molière, as in that of his rival, a history of his itself; Arnolphe has his own ideas on these private thought ? And does the chronological eternally serious points, woman's education sequence of his comedies reveal to us something and marriage, and he calls religion to the aid of his views on man and of the secret leanings of his ideas. of his genius ?
Molière is there on delicate ground, but it I think so; but only on one condition: the is by his own wish; and it is very valiantly
that he takes part against Arnolphe's theories Heno longer fights—he contemplates. Even and turns them into ridicule. This causes a after “ Tartuffe ” was authorized he persisted in tempest; the bigots discover an enemy. Molière not giving a companion piece to · Tartuffe.” is censured, cast forth, vilified. He does not He will come back to Plautus -“ Amphicare. Ever since the “ Critique of the School tryon,” the “Miser”; he will come back to for Wives” one feels that he will not recede. Italian comedy the “ Tricks of Scapin"; In that play he attacks the marquises, and he will come back to the satire of the provinmore than one anecdote shows that this needed cials — “ Pourceaugnac,” “Georges Dandin"; courage. But what is this skirmish compared and in each of these returns he will create with the battle of “Tartuffe"! Here evidently is masterpieces, for he is absolute master of his comedy as it was dreamed of by the master in art, and not for one instant does his genius full possession of his strength; it turns towards pale. But he never returns to “ Don Juan." satire of society; it makes itself a power, and Twice he approaches the forbidden ground; shows on the stage the secrets of social organ- but the “Would-be Gentleman” is not the ization. What will he respect, this Molière ? whole of the burgher class; and if you would He touches the Church! And it is in the name see how much the new Molière differs from the of nature that he scoffs at the theories of the old, compare the youth, the fierceness, the set mystics. But what happens ? This time he is purpose of the “ School for Wives” with the beaten. “Tartuffe" is forbidden. Well! Mo- serene maturity, impartial and profound, of the lière does not give in. Such is then his ardor “ Learned Ladies." for the fray that, after having attacked false We must say at once that Molière's selfpiety, he combats what next is most danger- denial cost his vivacity nothing; this dazzles ous— false science. He begins his war on the us to the last moment, and it is with one of his physicians. But this is a mere episode: he gayest farces that he ends. It is true that this meditates a revenge; he creates “Don Juan." farce is, upon reflection, one of his strongest This is his most extraordinary work; we are comedies. He is, I repeat, in this last period stupefied by what he has dared to say in the absolute master of his art; I would add that he scene with the Poor Man, and in that with is much more careful of form; to such an exDon Louis, and in the whole of the fifth act. tent that not having time to give to his verses After the Church, it is autocracy which he that degree of perfection which he desired, he shakes. He was never so free, or, as they said wrote no more except in prose. From the in those days, so libertine.
“ Physician in Spite of Himself” to the “ImUnfortunately — others perhaps will say for- aginary Invalid” there are ten plays in prose, tunately—“Don Juan" was not enough of a three in verse, in with which must be counted success, and the piece met much dangerous “Psyche," although “Psyche," it is well known, hostility in high quarters; at the same time was principally by Corneille. But the other the flood of insults increases. Molière ill, per- two are the most finished works of Molière in haps discouraged, and feeling, doubtless, that point of style. We may regret sometimes Rabehe could not go farther on this road, that the laisian freedom of the earlier manner, the large people of his century would not follow him and oily brush marks of “Tartuffe"; but we there- Molière reasons with himself. A con- must render homage to the adorable worktest arises within him: Molière, the indignant, manship of “ Amphitryon” as well as to the protests, wants to combat, and would let loose judicial and sustained grandeur of style of the "the vigorous hatreds"; Molière, the philoso- “Learned Ladies." pher, puts reason first, which wishes that we After all, if he from preference used prose, be wise with sobriety, and which counsels man, it was not that he might be negligent, for now being incorrigible, to accept fate without curs- he cadences it and fills it with blank verse, and ing him, and to observe him as one observes now, as in the “Would-be Gentleman," he the “evil apes" and with “mad wolves.” gives it such a variety of shading that the
This profound mental debate gave birth to author disappears, leaving only his characters “ The Misanthrope,” another masterpiece, that to be heard, each one speaking his own lanbelongs to third manner by Alceste and to the guage, like that good Madame Jourdain, aclast by Philinte. For it is Philinte-who gets the cording to the frankness of their nature. best of it. Certainly Molière does not renounce I will not enter upon the comparisons that the correction of men, but he gives up calling these historical portraits of the minds of the to judgment the powers of society. With more two masters might suggest. I would insist on sharpness than ever he studies character, but but one point. It does not appear that, at any individual character, not the social character. moment of his career, Shakspere thought it posHe avoids the soldier, he leaves the specu- sible to reform society by the stage. Neither lator to Le Sage; while the judge will await in his fantastic, optimistic comedy nor in the Beaumarthaes.
merciless, pitiless drama of the somber period,
nor in the providential drama of the last period, that, and he borrowed from the fabliaux for his did he appear to occupy himself with correct- little pieces, now almost all lost; but for his ing men of their vices. He makes works of great comedies it is Plautus, it is Terence, art that is all. If there be in them a lesson, who are his models and his inspiration. He it is, in a way, unmeant by him, and as there imitated them, one may say, up to his last hour. might be one in the spectacle of human affairs. To this he was predisposed not only by race, Molière, on the contrary, has taken seriously but by education ; we know what vigorous his duty as a comic author. He has, just like training he had received, and that one of his old Corneille, frankly wished to put into prac- pastimes— if he ever had any pastimes - was tice Aristotle's principle of purging mankind translating Lucretius in verse. of its faults. He has accepted comedy as a so- It is the alliance of the Latin and the French cial power. And, even after he was forced to genius that has given to our comedy its charrenounce “Tartuffe,” he renounced neither acter and its superiority. The Frenchman has correcting nor instructing; and almost all his inherited from the Celt, at the same time with plays, if not all, have an aim and a moral. the love of combat and the love of speechThis difference is accounted for, I think, by making, an admirable promptness in seizing another, which is to a certain extent primary: the ridiculous and in imitating it. He has Molière was a Latin, Shakspere was not found in his Latin heritage the taste for genShakspere very probably received a much bet- eralizations, the sentiment of measure, and the ter education than Ben Jonson leads us to be- cult of reason. French comedy has been born lieve. He loved and read the ancients much; of all these. It is gay on its Celtic side, and many Latinisms have been found in his style. on its Latin side realistic and practical. In its In his youth he imitated the “ Menächmi” most dizzy flights you would never see it, like of Plautus; and in his maturity he took from the comedy of Shakspere, beat its wings and Plutarch not only the plots of dramas, but fly into pure fantasy and the dream of a midphrases, even whole discourses, to which he summer's night; it would not leave the earth, gave only the rhythm of verse, but which are it would observe, it would keep one shred of absolutely opposed in tone to his poetry. truth, it would wish to be of use, to serve, to Notwithstanding all this he remains free, origi- prove something. nal, and modern. It is with deliberation that Castigat ridendo mores. It has a mission; he rejects the classic rules promulgated and later, we might call it a function. I have said put in use by the Ben Jonsons.
that it is a power, and Beaumarchais is there What connection is there between the spirit to show it. It has not been lost. What is of antiquity and that of “ Venus and Adonis," Augier? What is Dumas? They are reformers! his sensual poem, all sparkling with concetti of What is Labiche ? A moralist ! Sterne has the Italian type ? Has he not gone as far as to said and shows in his way that the French peoparody the“ Iliad” in “Troilus and Cressida”? ple is the most serious of peoples; for he who Finally, in his great Roman drama, are they loved so much to laugh does not care to laugh real Romans that he shows us? The place, the for nothing. He wishes that something should costume, the speech, and the soil — all are con- stay in the mind after even the lightest of vaudetemporary with Shakspere. Romans, no; but villes, and that after having laughed one should men surely! And that is enough. And as for think. Musset went further: he wished us to the people, whom he loved to paint,—though weep. That is too much. And I ask myself not to flatter,— it is the populace that he has if there be not a grain of exaggeration in our known and mingled with, the mob and not the contempt for the useless laugh. To laugh is plebeians, to such an extent that one might good in itself. What is left after a laugh ? the say that “Coriolanus” was one of the most philosophers ask. Ah! what remains of a English of Shakspere's plays.
beautiful day after it has passed? And yet In short, the spirit of the Renaissance breathed happiness is made up of beautiful days. But, upon Shakspere, but did not transform him. to be definite, it is this taste for truth, this reShakspere was in his country, the definite and spect for reason, even this pretension of lifting supreme end of the Middle Ages. In France, up human nature, that makes the force of our on the contrary, the Middle Ages did not end. comedy, and this is why it would be unjust to In the sixteenth century the Latin spirit seized compare the comedies of Shakspere with those the people once more, and instead of finding, of Molière. with Shakspere, their inspiration in the mir- Shakspere's comedies are mostly youthful acle-plays, in the Gesta, in the Round Table, works. We find in them humors rather than in the fabliaux, our authors turned back to characters, and no comedy of situation. They Rome. Thus did Molière. It was not that he are imaginings, often charming; equivoques ; despised our immense repertory of farces and disguises; forest surprises, as in “As You Like moralities; he was too fond of Rabelais for It," where every one becomes good; islands,