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  • The Cambridge Companion to Molière
  • Paul Scott
David Bradby and Andrew Calder, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Molière. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. xix + 242. $29.95.

Companion guides too often venture over all too familiar ground, or, worse still, print contributions that flirt with obscurity. Thankfully, this collection fits into neither of these categories, offering a compact and wide-ranging volume that covers a gamut of performative, generic, and interpretative issues. Jan Clarke, in her discussion of "The Material Conditions of Molière's Stage," looks at [End Page 533] documentation including attendance statistics, pricing, and lighting, to provide a concise visualization of the practicalities of contemporary staging of the comedies. Charles Mazouer's "Comédies-Ballets" views the genre as essentially upbeat: "[an] affirmation of joy carries with it at a conviction, or at least a longing: that the world could be a better place and that humankind could be happy" (119). Nonetheless, the hybrid form died with him, never to be re-created in like manner. Two contributors explore the dramatist's manipulation of the comic genre. Larry F. Norman, "Molière as Satirist," examines the somewhat precarious nature of satire, a vehicle in which Molière "constantly negotiated the pleasure and pain provoked by [the audience's] recognition of the models he satirised" (60). Norman sees the writer as skillfully negotiating a delicate balance of satire that was indirect enough to be considered attacking general types and vices, yet at the same time hovering close to recognizable personalities; this technique is fittingly described as a "delightfully acid dialogue" handled with "surgical precision" (64). Richard Parish similarly sees an intimate engagement between the author and his public: "How (and Why) Not to Take Molière too Seriously" is an overview arguing that it is not so much comedy's function in underlining human frailty which should concern us, but rather that Molière prompts us to be proactive in "learning to take on board, lucidly, the implications of universal folly" (81).

A number of essays deal with particular plays. In "L'Avare or Harpagon's Masterclass in Comedy," Robert McBride turns his attention to the playwright's significant use of Plautus as a source. Andrew Calder's "Laughter and Irony in Le Misanthrope" insists on the play's importance, teasing out comparisons with and allusions to Horace, Shakespeare, as well as "a strong Montaignian vein running through the play" (105). While the comedy raises fundamental questions relating to satire and the use of humor, Calder cautions that, in the end, "we cannot be sure what (if any) were his conclusions" (105). John S. Powell moves from theoretical to musical analysis in "Le Bourgeois gentilhomme: Molière and Music," whereas Julia Prest, in "Medicine and Entertainment in Le Malade imaginaire," convincingly claims that the comedy's medical ceremony is less a satire on doctors than it is "a reminder of the therapeutic properties of theatre and specifically of Molière's comédie-ballet genre" (146). Roxanne Lalande, "L'École des femmes: Matrimony and the Laws of Chance," argues that the apparent subversion of the refusal of Agnès to be subject to Arnolphe is tempered by the denouement "founded on the subservience of feminine chance to masculine reason" (175). Noël Peacock, "Molière Nationalised: Tartuffe on the British Stage from the Restoration to the Present Day," concludes that the polemical impact of the original version is paradoxically being restored through works which seek to distance the play from its original context. In a similar vein, Jim Carmody, "Landmark Twentieth-Century Productions of Molière: A Transatlantic Perspective on Molière: mise en scène and Its Historiography," [End Page 534] has an interesting subject, though his classification of Robert Falls' staging of The Misanthrope in 1989 at La Jolla as landmark on the basis that it was a translation carried out by someone other than the ubiquitous Richard Wilbur is as dubious as it is subjective. David Brady's, "Modern Experimental Theatre and Molière" nicely rounds off the volume. In "The Career Strategy of an Actor Turned Playwright," Marie-Claude Canova-Green summarizes the writer's life in an approachable...


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