We all accept Molière, as a classic, let me remind you why.
In the midst of the 1600s, Molière addresses societal issues with the massive support of The Sun King, which is significant given that his 72 years and 110 days of rule were the longest of any monarch in history.
Let me make you easily visualize how society is structured, and how it is challenging to be an intellectual. Views on Molière and sociology of exchange are briefly outlined.
A class- or order-based society?
Under the Old Regime, this society had a religiously-based system of orders or states, entitled by Latin based terms; oratores, bellatores, and laboratores.
The maintenance of this vision is explained by the fact that it was a natural order established by God, with the clergy naturally occupying the first position due to its intermediary role between men and God, and the others.
Mainly, the clergy, the nobility and the bourgeoisieas as the dominants and on the other side; the people of the countryside; of the cities and the deracinated as the dominated ones.
The first category; the people of the city, have a standard of living close to the petty bourgeoisie. They are small business owners, officers, and heads of workshops, etc. They are communally and religiously protected.
The second category, which is formed by the battalion of employees, is that of the lower classes. It is therefore a population without goods and in debt, easy pickings to loan sharks, they live in poor social conditions and are susceptible to diseases. They are totally analphabetic and are affected by alcoholism and prostitution.
The third category, the uprooted and the deracinated, which are cut off from their original residence, temporarily or permanently. We find peddlers, seasonal workers who are temporarily leaving their province to work in the city, despised traveling artists (such as Molière’s troupe in its early days) and, the nomads that at least we call them chicken thieves. The deracinated, who are hunted from all directions, must band together to form gangs and are frequently brigands. There are also deserters who are expelled from the cities.
So, in a frame like that, the theater provided an environment for simulation, allowing new social behaviors to be tested out fictitiously through trial and error.
In the seventeenth century, however, fiction was still in its formative stages; it was not yet totally free. The double status gave the theater a unique place in social history because it allowed the mourning of old values and the trying out of new values which in traditional terms were judged criminal, the theater thus turned into a testing ground for modernity. Understood in this fashion, the theatrical stage constitutes a first form, simple and archaic, of the field of simulation necessary to modern societies. Simulation came into play as soon as social roles were freed from their religious ties and as soon as society came to think of itself as a functional whole, changes brought about by classical political philosophy. The same holds true for the twentieth century, apart from the enormous difference that today simulation no longer relies on the theater but on technology.
The three domains psychological interiority, market exchange, and literature as a field of free expression-were linked. And, this “spectacle” makes it possible to unite contradictory social practices, both those produced by consumption.
So, Molière started to construct ethical characters, he utilized an ideal person of contrast and balance, with tension as a result of the search for the balance between body and soul; honnête homme. Even in the good, excesses must be avoided. In a nutshell, it is the idea of balance and moderation in the use of all faculties.
In Greek, specialist means the one who limited by the unique knowledge, becoming stupid, but l’honnete homme vice versa, is a generalist who suppose a unified representation of the knowledge.
By being a generalist, an honest man aims to achieve balance instead of an accumulation of knowledge. And here are some statements by intellectuals that support the idea;
“A well-made head than a full one” – Montaigne
“It is no more the duty of an honest man to know Greek or Latin than the Swiss or low Breton language, nor the history of the Romano-Germanic empire, than that of the smallest state that is in Europe; and I think that he must only devote his leisure to good and useful things, and fill his memory only with the most necessary” – Descartes
The dangerous characters of Molière, who are often negligent fathers, rebellious sons, or bachelors whose ambition has turned them into criminals, threaten the security of a new institution, the nuclear family. They are dangerous because they are captivating because they play on social contradictions, moving back and forth from one system of values to another. They act in an unacceptable way, either by exchanging too much or in an unorthodox manner. Therefore, the fragile balance in the model of the honnête homme endangered by excess or default.
To clarify Molière’s vision, he states that tragedy might be heroic, but comedy must hold the mirror up to nature.
The comic is an unreasonable thing that needs to be seen and corrected. To understand the comic, first we must know what is rational. Incongruity is the main idea of the comic.
“Castigat ridendo mores.” is a Latin phrase that generally means “one corrects customs by laughing at them,” or “he corrects customs by ridicule.”
Molière seems here to put his finger on what was new in his notion of what is comic: a comedy, only incidentally funny, that is based on a constant double vision of wise and foolish, right and wrong seen together, side by side. This is his creation and his crowning achievement.
Critical activity is no more innocent than dramatic activity; it is literary judgment, and as such implies competition for legitimacy.
In conclusion, the staging of social deviations or failures of the collectivity takes the form of a denunciation.
- Molière and the Sociology of Exchange by Jean-Marie Apostolides