Moliere: France’s Shakespeare
Visiting the old town of Lannion, where my brothers’ favorite toy shop is and mum’s coveted decor store, (La Maison du Mode), we found ourselves walking past a bookshop sunken below street level on our way to a creperie for lunch. There was a sign on the locked door which mum translated to ‘back in 5 minutes’. We vowed to return to the bookstore after eating at the Moulin Vert Creperie which was beside this ancient shop.
The bookshop was called Livres Anciens and was filled with 300 year old leather bound tomes, 100 year old paperbacks, and victorian illustrated encyclopedias. After a brief conversation with the two shop keepers, explaining that we were Australians residing in Brittany, they were very eager to sell us something. We were happy to oblige! With a lot of smiles, speedy French chatter and gentle head shaking, I got the feeling that they honestly couldn’t comprehend a family of Australians seriously owned a holiday home in Brittany, may be so passionate about ancient books and had even found their unobscure shop.
When in second hand bookstores in Australia I am lost; I don’t where to start looking and have no idea what I’m looking for. So a second hand bookstore with all the titles and categorisation labels in French was like being given a guide on how to get to Mars. “Alexandre Dumas?” I asked. They pointed to ancient and expensive volumes of The Three Musketeers. I said I already had a copy back home!
I grazed across the rows of spines and spotted two very stout embossed spines: Oeuvres de Moliere. I couldn’t believe it. Moliere was the title character of a french film I had recently watched. I learnt that the Moliere of the film was not a fictional character but rather the Shakespeare of France, whose comedies were even performed for Louis XIV in the Louvre. I bought the two volumes published in 1875, complete with marbled paper and an advertisement card for the l’Exposition Universelle Paris 1878.
Written in classic French I knew I would not be able to read the comedies for quite some time but relished the feel of the leather and the smell of yellowed paper.
The 2007 film ‘Moliere’ draws from a number of his plays, including: Tartuffe, Le Misanthrope, The Imaginary Invalid and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. A black comedie in itself, the film explores the life of Moliere and the characters from his plays, intertwining stories of passion, career ambition, court politics, and the fool. I recommend this film as an insight into 17th Century France and as a historical comparison for the Elizabethan Rose Theatre in London. For background on the Rose Theatre and an equally entertaining fictional film exploration of the life of Shakespeare, ‘Shakespeare in Love’ is the movie for you.
The Dk Eyewitness Travel Paris guide book mentions Moliere’s seminal contribution to the French language and theatre: “French has been dubbed ‘the language of Moliere’, after playwright Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, alias Moliere, (1623-73) who helped create the Comédie-Française, France’s national theatre. The Company has its roots partly in Moliere’s 17th C players. In the foyer is the armchair in which Moliere collapsed, dying, on stage in 1673 (ironically while he was performing Le Malade Imaginaire – The Hypochondriac).”
The Comédie-Française or as it is also known, the Théâtre-Français, is one of the few state theatres in France and is considered the oldest still-active theatre in the world. It is the only state theatre to have its own troupe of actors. Their primary venue is the Salle Richelieu. The theatre is part of the Palais-Royal complex and located at 2 rue de Richelieu on the Place André-Malraux in the 1st arrondissement of Paris.
The theatre has over time also been known as the Théâtre de la République and La maison de Molière. Molière was considered the patron of French actors who died (1673) seven years before “La maison de Molière” was rechristened the “Comédie-Française”.
I recommend watching the films ‘Moliere’ and ‘Shakespeare in Love’ for historical reference if planning a visit to the Comédie-Française, Paris or the City of London.
If you are in Lannion and want to check out the antique bookstore, following are the details: The Livres Anciens, 13 rue du Guesclin 22300 Lannion.
If you love hanging out in bookstores like our family, then a bookstore to visit whilst in Paris is Shakespeare and Company. Skakespeare and Company is an English language bookstore on the Left Bank which stocks books by its namesake, new and secondhand books and is the spot for many literary functions. Read our travel tips on visiting Shakespeare and Company and check out the view of the top floor window here.
Did you know Shakespeare and his work is celebrated every year in England on the 23rd of April. The famous writer and poet died on 23 April 1616 and whilst the day is not a national holiday it is accepted as a day of observance. Celebrations include Shakespearean plays at the Globe Theatre on the Bankside, London; and a Stratford-upon-Avon birthday procession which is on the Saturday closest to Shakespeare’s birthday. The procession finishes with an offering of flowers on Shakespeare’s grave at the Holy Trinity Church. Have you visited the Shakespeare Museum at his Birthplace in Henley Street or the Comédie Française in Paris, the home of Moliere? Share your thoughts in the comments section on these famous places.
A post by Emily xx
(Many thanks to Emily our guest writer for this lovely article taking us from regional Brittany to Paris and then to London through the journey of ancient books and world famous authors)
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