12 of the Most Unbelievably Strange Deaths of the Renaissance
12 of the Most Unbelievably Strange Deaths of the Renaissance

12 of the Most Unbelievably Strange Deaths of the Renaissance

Khalid Elhassan - November 9, 2017

12 of the Most Unbelievably Strange Deaths of the Renaissance
Moliere, by Charles Antoine Coypel. Fabricio Mueller


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.

12 of the Most Unbelievably Strange Deaths of the Renaissance
Jean Baptiste Lully. Study

Jean Baptiste Lully

Master of French baroque and the most successful musician of his era, the Italian-born Jean Baptiste Lully (1632 – 1687) was a French court and opera composer, instrumentalist, and dancer who spent most of his career in the court of King Louis XIV of France. From 1662, he completely dominated French court music, and such prominence in the Sun King’s court, Europe’s most splendid, led to widespread imitation of Lully’s style throughout Europe.

Born in Florence as Giovanni Battista Lulli, which he later gallicized upon naturalization as a French subject, a 14-year-old Lully was clowning with a violin on the street when he attracted the attention of a visiting French duke, who took him back with him to France so his niece could have someone to converse within Italian. He honed his musical skills in the lady’s household, and soon gained renown as a violinist, guitarist, and dancer of genius.

In 1653, he attracted the attention of a then 14-year-old King Louis XIV, with whom he danced at a ball, and soon thereafter was appointed royal composer for instrumental music. He became one of the king’s closest lifelong companions and friends and spent the remainder of his career and life at court. There, he earned a reputation as a libertine, with a long trail of romantic and sexual relationships with both men and women.

By 1686, Louis had started souring on Lully and his increasingly dissolute lifestyle and homosexual escapades. On March 22nd, 1687, while conducting a Te Deum to celebrate the king’s recovery from surgery, Lully, perhaps trying too hard to regain Louis’ good graces with a fervent display of happiness at his royal patron’s return to health, got carried away, and while enthusiastically keeping the beat by banging a long staff on the floor, accidentally smashed it hard on his big toe. The toe became infected and turned gangrenous, which spread to his leg. Not wishing to give up on dancing, he refused to have the leg amputated, and the gangrene spread into his body and killed him.