Saturday, 22 November 2008


Went to the theatre to see Molière's 'Malade Imaginaire' Thursday evening. The tickets were La Belle Belle-Fille's birthday present to her father and I got to go too.

There were several groups of schoolchildren some only about ten years old in the audience. Now we know what is on the French syllabus this year. There was much door clacking, jumping up and down and giggling the rest of the audience could have done without, but they were generally well-behaved given that it was not as interactive as the new WoW. They asked questions of their teachers during the interval and led the applause and cheering at the end: in short they evidently enjoyed themselves.

Shakespeare had been dead for six years when Molière, real name Jean Baptiste Poquelin, was born in 1622, but the pair are widely regarded as contemporaries. The plays, plots and characters they created still resonate centuries on: unrequieted love; sibling jealousy; greed; ambition; more greed; wayward children; unreasonable parents, internecine warfare. It's all wicked stepmothers, ugly sisters, bonkers royals, ruthless politicians, avaricious bankers, foreigners - even a few Scots for heaven's sake - and various forms of idiocy from one end of the Complete Works to the other. How much more relevant could it be?

The 'Malade Imaginaire' (Imaginary Invalid) is about a hypochondriac (how French) who arranges for his elder daughter to marry a doctor to have a physician in the family. I even learned the French for "enema" - un lavement. I hope it will never come in useful but you never know. Molière was dying of pulmonary disease when the play was first staged on February 10, 1673. He played the lead role himself and managed four performances before coughing so hard he burst a vein in one of his lungs and shuffled off the mortal coil. His scorn for the clergy and medical profession meant neither priest nor doctor was prepared to attend his deathbed. No chance of a home call in those days either, it seems: fascinating stuff for current exam papers. Shakespeare and Molière came up with some cracking stories. I once saw King Lear (bonkers royal) in modern costume complete with machine guns (internecine warfare) and a gum-chewing, leather-jacketed Goneril (wayward daughter). Great stuff. And if you've never seen actors dressed as trees make Burnham Wood come to Dunsinane, (bonkers and Scottish) well, you haven't really lived.

Perhaps those who decide the content of Britain's school syllabus and judge Shakespeare too elitist or exclusive and the language too difficult, might like to visit Paris and see how French children appreciate classic literature. I don't speak 17th century French, any more than I do 16th century English verse. I had no idea what 'un lavement' was before Thursday evening. Nor, I suspect, did the 10-year-olds, but we had all worked it out by the end thanks to numerous references to "derrières". Anyone who thinks this is elitist and exclusive is, in my humble opinion, talking out of the same region.


Dumdad said...

I did Molière for French A level and I found him quite "modern". I think I'd need to read the play first before sitting with a crowd of kids in a theatre to watch it though.

Meanwhile, my bit of French culture was taking my son to watch Mesrine last night. It was a mix of mega-violence and sex and swear words; in other words, brilliant.

Fida said...

THAT is really something I miss here in rural Canada. Unless you visit the bigger cities (which, in my case, is at least a 2 day affair), there’s no chance to enjoy a play like that. And I am particularly glad that it’s still part of the education children get in Europe; it’s so important for them to hear these stories! I enjoyed reading your report – now I am on the lookout to see a modern day adoption. I never had that pleasure!

Mike said...

Yep, arguing that such performances are elitist is often the sign of subjects being dumbed down. A good production is a good production.

Parisgirl said...

Dumdad, not much sex in Shakespeare that I can remember off the top of my head but loads of mega-violence and 16th century swearing plus the sort of double-entendre jokes and anatomical references that schoolchildren love.
Fida, thanks. I'm ashamed to say we are surrounded by theatres and probably go as often as you do!
Mike, couldn't agree more. Talk of dumbing down reminds me of the story (probably apocryphal) of the American actress who turned down the role of Lady Macbeth because she "didn't like the script"!

bonnie-ann black said...

well, there was a fair bit of sex -- at least implied, well more than implied -- in the RSC productions of both Love's Labour's Lost and Hamlet that i saw this past sept/oct. very bawdy. as a matter of fact, i was surprised, and impressed, at how many children in the 8 - 12 age range, were at both performances. they certainly got an eye and earful during LLL of Costard and the Milkmaid (wow!) and of DT's delivery of Hamlet's line to Ophelia "Did you think I meant country matters?" and no mother or father clapped their hands over the eyes and ears of their little darlings!

sex, and love, and loss and illness are facts of life, the sooner we learn to accept them and laugh at them the better!