January 15, 1622 – February 17, 1673: Age 51
Born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, he took Molière as a stage name, possibly drawn from the name of a small village in southern France of the same name. He probably did so to spare his parents the shame of having an actor for a son; they were prosperous bourgeois merchants with ambitions for him that were never to be realized.
Molière was active during the time of Louis XIV. He had all the right stuff for his genius to flower: he was a brilliantly talented actor and dramaturge, and was also a competent administrator and quite capable of moving in society circles, charming people with his wit and warmth. Like Shakespeare, he liked to write tragedy, but was often constrained to churn out comedies to please the public. He targeted the highly affected social customs of the times with deadly accuracy, but he was equally good at conveying he absurdity of universal human qualities such as greed, vanity, and hypocrisy, which is why his plays are still enjoyed today.
Molière suffered from tuberculosis. His last performance was as the lead in Le Malade Imaginaire (The Hypochondriac), where he collapsed on stage in a fit of coughing. The King, who was present, urged him to rest, but Molière insisted on completing his performance. Once he had done so, he collapsed again, coughing up blood. He died a few hours later, unshriven, as two priests refused to visit him and the third arrived too late: they disapproved of the barbs he had directed toward the Church in his lifetime. He was wearing green, which led to the tradition that green brings bad luck to actors.
The laws of the time did not allow actors to be buried on sacred ground, so he was interred in a special corner of a cemetery reserved for unbaptized infants. Although the funeral was supposed to be secret and was held at night, over 800 people showed up. Later his remains were exhumed and transferred to Le Père Lachaise Cemetery.