The Spanish Golden Age, an inspiration for Molière

Direct or not, the influence of the Spanish theater is indisputable in Molière. Witness to his intellectual fascination for this country, he anchored several of his stories there, including The School for Husbands Where Don Juan.

A contemporary of the Spanish Golden Age (1492-1681), a period which saw Spain shine in Europe, Molière drew part of his inspiration from some of these theatrical productions, seeing there a “raw material” for his own creations.

“Molière lived at a time when Spanish literature of the Golden Age was exported enormously, explains to AFP Christophe Couderc, professor of Spanish literature and civilization of the Golden Age at the University of Paris-Nanterre. It was present everywhere in Europe and therefore in France..

More than 30,000 repertoire works were created during this period. A unique abundance in Europe. “People in Spanish towns went to the theater every day, which was not the case in other European countries”, adds Mr. Couderc.

Conversely, in the France of Cardinal Richelieu (Prime Minister of Louis XIII, Ed) “literature and theater were political subjects”, and not entertainment for the population, he adds.

Spanish models

Known in France at this time, the playwrights Calderón de la Barca, Tirso de Molina or even Lope de Vega – today among the most illustrious names in Spanish theater – will become models for many aspiring playwrights.

Thereby, The Cid by Corneille (1637), a masterpiece of classical French literature, is directly inspired by a play by the Spaniard Guillén de Castro. The Golden Age theater was a source of inspiration “direct and indirect”, underlines with AFP Georges Forestier, author of a biography of Molière and specialist in the playwright.

“Direct as in the case of Corneille which is an adaptation of a Spanish work and indirect through the troops of Italian actors who shine throughout Europe”, he continues.

Sign of the intellectual fascination around Spain, Molière anchored several of his stories in this country among which, school for husbands, or Don Juan, whose version remains one of the most popular in the world.

“Molière had such a knowledge of Spanish that he was probably able to write in that language”, assures a research article by Ernest Martinenche dating from 1906, based on Spanish verses present in The Bourgeois Gentleman (1670).

“Raw material”

In 1646, he began a tour with his company in the south of France, where he attended the performance of a local author Guérin de Bouscal, inspired by the masterpiece of Miguel de Cervantès, Don Quixote.

The work The government of Sancho Panza de Bouscal ended up integrating the repertoire of Molière’s troupe and was thus performed more than 30 times between 1659 and 1665, assures Mr. Couderc.

To date, no document attests that Molière was able to play a character created by Cervantes. But according to experts and researchers, Molière’s work is full of references to the Spanish repertoire of the Golden Age, at a time when the notion of intellectual property did not exist.

“Spanish comedy has never been a structure for him but a raw material”, wrote in 1983 one of the finest connoisseurs of his work, Alexandre Cioranescu.

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