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The theory

Concerning Moliere, the particularity of the théorie Corneille invented by Pierre Louÿs and promoted by his followers consists in the application of three complementary approches:

1 claiming that all of the contemporaries that affirmed or thought that Moliere was an author were victims of a plot hatched by Corneille, Moliere and no doubt Louis XIV, a situation which prevented them from knowing about the secret or, if they were of aware of it, speaking out (for fear of the royal despote)

2 dismissing as untrustworthy, suspicious or tendentious all evidence or testimony that presents or even describes Moliere as an author, as well as testimony and evidence that underlines the heavy degree of hostility that separated Moliere and Corneille for many years

3 putting together various elements which, when deftly presented and linked together, can appear to function as “évidence”,

•The first element, is that no document in Moliere's hand remains with the exception of a few signatures on legal documents and other contracts. There are neither letters nor manuscripts. We will explain below that this is not surprising for a man who lived in the 17th century, but we understand that one might take advantage of this almost complete disappearance to create a mystery and thus suspicion (what is this disappearance hiding?).

•The second element, is that here or there a word, a figure of speech or of versification can be found in plays by Corneille and Moliere. We shall see, in our section on lexicometry, that if we found our argumentation on such superficial similarities, we obliged to attribute most of the comedies and tragedies of the 17th century to Corneille; but we understand that it is easy, by isolating a handful of similarities between Corneille and Moliere and forgetting to mention the similarities between their other contemporaries, to create a sensation of perplexity.

•The third element, is that Moliere and his troupe performed, on numerous occasions, plays by Corneille and even created two of his new works, Attila in 1667 and Tite et Bérénice in 1670. We will see that Moliere and his troupe sought to have the same type of dramatic offerings as the other Parisian theatres and that in this context of exacerbated competition, it was common to “steal” authors and actors from other theatres, with all the alliances, breakups and reconciliation that such a game could entail. In other words, Moliere's troupe played fewer of Corneille's plays (and created far fewer of his new plays) than other troupes, but we understand that it is tempting to ignore the practices of other troupes in order to give the impression of a special bond between Moliere and Corneille.

•The fourth element, is that in 1671, a tragédie-ballet by Moliere entitled Psyché, on which Corneille officially collaborated, was performed and published. More precisely, in the published volume, a note to the reader specified that, given the rush in which the project had been carried out in order to satisfy Louis XIV's impatience, Moliere, after having drafted the entire play, had only had time to versify the first act, the first scene of act II and of act III. Corneille had thus versified the rest of the play in the space of two weeks (see the real collaboration between Moliere and Corneille). In other words, in order to avoid a situation like the Princesse d’Élide (1664) recurring — at which time Moliere had only had time to versify the first two acts and had had to leave the remainder of the play in prose, to the satisfaction of Louis XIV and the whole court —, Moliere called upon one of the greatest versifiers of his time, Pierre Corneille. There is nothing mysterious in that, as we will see further along: in the years that followed, the younger brother of Pierre, Thomas Corneille, would in his turn versify all or part of plays already drafted and composed in prose by Antoine Montfleury and Donneau de Visé, and he would even versify Moliere's Don Juan (Le Festin de pierre. Mis en vers sur la prose de feu M. de Molière 1) four years after the playwright's death, at the request of his widow, Armande Béjart, and the troupe, a task duly rewarded and recorded in the troupe's accounts. There is nothing mysterious, then, about this sort of collaboration between the author of a play written in prose and a collaborator versifying all or part of the work; but we understand that it was easy for Pierre Louÿs to decide that an official collaboration hid a secret collaboration, and to affirm, wrongly, that Corneille had in essence written Psyché, when he had in fact only versified three quarters of it.

Thus, if one had to summarise the théorie Corneille in a sentence, one might do so in three clauses: 1) a collaboration between Moliere and Corneille is officially documented in 1671 regarding Psyché; 2) one must that conclude that it hides an earlier, secret, collaboration; 3) any pretext to “prove” this deduction must be seize.


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