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Satire in the French Court of Moliere

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Satire in the French Court

After performing for King Louis XIV at the Louvre in 1658 and introducing his first farcical play, Le Docteur Amoureux, Moliere was subsequently granted use of the Petit-Bourbon room in the Lourve and awarded the patronage of the king's brother with the ensuing title, "Troupe de Monsieur." This royal patronage would be important to the playwright throughout his career as he satirized many different aspects of society and as a result faced derision from religious leaders and conventional thinkers in particular. But although there were factions who despised Moliere and the ridiculing approach that he took to comedy, the large majority of the courters enjoyed this new style of playwriting that left their guts aching from laughter after each show. It could be, as Ravel suggests in The Would Be Commoner, simply that the courters were "weary of the rigid formality of court etiquette and welcomed the release provided by the low comedies...." But I also think that their acceptance of Moliere's and other similar comedies was largely dependent on a few important pillars that governed satirical playwriting in the 17th century.

First and foremost, these plays were written to entertain and please audiences at court. Social satire was certainly a driving force, but Moliere was much more concerned with getting good receptions from the audience than he was in making poignant points about the faults in their society. Another important mechanism used in satire was the use of a single, one-dimensional character to represent a much larger section of society. These characters had all of the characteristics of the group they were representing but to such a ridiculous degree that they were alienated from these groups and therefore the satire did not hit as close to home. Moliere would then take theses stereotypical characters and place them the situations that would emphasize their absurdities the most, often creating a bizarre end result that rarely failed to induce gales of laughter from the audience. By tipping the scales towards the absurd, Moliere reduced the poignancy of some of his satirical remarks and created a level of detachment between the audience and the characters meant to represent them that made sure his remarks resonated with the audience but did not overly offend them. This detachment was important because it allowed Moliere to stay out of trouble and continue satirizing different types of people within the French society so that he touched nearly all his bases by the end of his career without overly-inducing the wrath of a particular group.

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