Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known by his stage name Moliere (1622 – 1673), was a French actor and playwright, the greatest author of French comedy, and one of the best and most innovative comedic writers of all time. His greatest contribution was the development of a new comedic style based on double vision – depicting the normal and abnormal in relation to each other and elevating the genre from slapstick to a more refined and high brow level. He penned a rich body of work during his career, including literary classics such as The School for Wives, The Miser, The Misanthrope, and The Bourgeois Gentleman.
Born into a wealthy family, Moliere was afforded a solid education before taking to the stage as a rich dilettante actor for thirteen years – no starving actor or writer he – during which he honed his comic skills and began writing. He impressed and secured the patronage, of king Louis XIV’s brother, who arranged for Moliere to perform before the Sun King at the Louvre. It was a smashing success, and with the king himself a fan, Moliere’s career took off.
Louis XIV subsidized Moliere and his acting company and made him the official author of court entertainments. Royal favor did not save him from criticism and controversy, however, and some of his biting satire – particularly Tartuffe, which mocked religious hypocrisy – earned the ire and condemnation of the Catholic Church. Other works, such as Don Juan, were banned outright after moralists attacked it for mocking religion and eulogizing a debauched libertine.
His years of hard work took a toll on his health, which was already ailing as a result of a decades-long affliction with tuberculosis. When he took the stage on February 17th, 1673, to perform in his most recently written play, The Imaginary Invalid, he collapsed halfway through the performance in a fit of coughing and hemorrhaging of blood. A true trooper, dedicated to his craft even unto death, Moliere insisted on finishing the performance anyhow. As soon as the curtains came down on the performance, they came down on Moliere as well, who collapsed with an even greater hemorrhage, from which he died a few hours later. Ever since, a stage superstition developed that green, the color worn by Moliere during his last performance, was bad luck for actors.