From our regional correspondent
“Jean-Baptiste Poquelin was born in Paris in the year 1622, but it was in Pézenas, in 1650, that Molière was born. By pronouncing this sentence in 1947, the writer Marcel Pagnol permanently sealed the destiny of Pézenas, ensuring a most precious tourist impact for this small town in Hérault.
Since then, it is not uncommon to come across tourists looking for Molière’s house, when none exists. “We know that he passed through Pézenas several times but he never lived there”, recalls Georges Forestier, professor at the Sorbonne, author of the Molière biography, published in 2018 by Gallimard.
On the outskirts of the city, near the vineyards, the castle of La Grange des Près stands its turret in front of a large wooded park. Although the current building was completely rebuilt in the 19th century, it was here that the Prince of Conti gave his confidence to the actor in 1653. “The two men were very close. The Prince of Conti was extremely cultured and found in Molière an interesting interlocutor, and not just a good actor”, specifies Georges Forestier. Under the protection of His Royal Highness, Molière and his troupe thus become the official comedians of the States of Languedoc.
If Jean-Baptiste Poquelin had decided to call himself Molière long before arriving in Pézenas, his qualities as an author would have been born here, according to Olivier Cabassut, actor and author of the Molière comic strip, L’Impromptu de Pézenas ( with Benoît Lacou, Ed. Aldacom). “The southern is often truculent. His characters have undoubtedly inherited a few traits from it, ”says the child of the country. “We know that he staged behaviors, rather than the people he would have met, adds Georges Forestier. His brilliant idea was to move, in 1659, from a conventional theater to a caricature theater. “
Performed for the first time in Paris that same year, Les Précieuses Ridicules opens this new era. For Olivier Cabassut, the influence of Pézenas in this piece is not in doubt. “The Precious are provincial marquises, who want to be more precious than the Parisians”, assures the actor.
The stays made by Molière in 1650 and 1657 have left traces in the alleys of the Languedoc city, but also many legends. It is enough to survey the alleys to imagine the sketches played with the hat. Place Gambetta, where the consular office and the shop of the barber Gély known as “Molière’s friend” are located, plunges the walker into this theatrical atmosphere. “The barber had a certain banter, it is said, which Molière liked very much”, says Olivier Cabassut.
On another square, an arch has replaced the old tennis court where Molière played comedy and where “the expression ‘entertaining the gallery’ took on its full meaning”. Further on, rue Conti hides the Hôtel d’Alfonce which is said to have housed the first performance of the Flying Doctor. In the courtyard, “Molière probably twirled from arcade to arcade”, before going to eat, just next door, in the Bât d’Argent inn, “with his friend Dassoucy, poet, musician and free-thinker” , supposes Olivier Cabassut. In Pézenas, the soul of Molière lingers between the walls, as Wladimir d’Ormesson, delegate of the French Academy, had declaimed in the enclosure of the Grange des Près in 1957: “When one finds oneself in the courtyard From the Hôtel d’Alfonce or on the Place Consulaire, in the wigmaker Gely’s shop, an unspeakable emotion invades you, you startle. It is that Molière is much more than a French genius, he is a part of the genius of France. “