The Inside Jokes of ‘La Bête’
With its rhyming couplets, sale clever wordplay, door-slamming farce, boors and know-it-alls, David Hirson’s La Bête is a fabulous homage to the writing of 17th century comic playwright Moliére. But the inspiration Hirson drew from Molière doesn’t stop at the verse. While the events depicted in La Bête are entirely fictional, bits and pieces of Molière’s real life are woven into the fabric of the play, with references hidden throughout the script for those in the know. Here are a few:
- The name “Elomire” when unscrambled spells “Molière.” Yet, Elomire is not the real-life Molière. Elomire’s work is praised and criticized for its seriousness and its tragic portent while the name Molière conjures French comedy. Though Molière did aspire to be a great tragic actor, it is hard to imagine the Elomire who leaves the stage at the end of the play being anything other than a career tragedian, much less becoming the funniest and most transgressive writer of 17th century France.
- Molière’s troupe spent 3 years under the patronage of Prince Conti, who met Molière in school. While in residence with the Prince, Molière and his troupe were able to perform at several of his estates and live well. For a company of traveling actors who lived at the lowest end of the class system, this patronage was invaluable, bringing the group respectability and security. It was only made possible by Molière’s middle class upbringing which afforded him connections unavailable to most traveling players. In 1657, Prince Conti had a religious awakening and kicked Molière and his company out as an act of penitence.
- Elmire (not quite Elomire) and Valère (not quite Valere) are both character names in Tartuffe, one of Molière’s best known plays. Though the characters are very different (Elmire is a wife and Valére a young suitor), the names are a link, and the central figure of Tartuffe bears some resemblance to La Bête’s Valere. As in La Bête, the characters in Tartuffe can’t agree about whether Tartuffe is a hypocritical con man or a saintly wise man.
- Dorine is the name of the maid in Tartuffe. Tartuffe’s Dorine is a manipulator and commentator on what happens in the family.
- Both Elomire and Molière’s troupes included the Béjart siblings—Molière had a long-time affair with Madeleine Béjart. Madeleine and her brothers were founding members of Molière’s troupe, traveling around the countryside with him and then later establishing a theatre in Paris. There is no similar hint of a relationship between Elomire and Madeleine Bejart.
- Molière’s real life troupe also included the Du Parcs and the De Bries. Marquis-Therese Du Parc (played by Alex Keiper) was a particular favorite. Her beauty (and her scandalous costumes) won her many admirers, including the French playwrights Corneille and Racine. She was rumored to have had many affairs.