Girish Mahajan (Editor)

Molière authorship question

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The Molière authorship question is a controversy started in 1919 when Pierre Louÿs, in two articles titled "Corneille est-il l'auteur d'Amphitryon ?" ("Is Corneille the author of Amphitryon?") and "Molière est un chef-d'œuvre de Corneille" ("Molière is a masterpiece by Corneille"), claimed that he had uncovered a literary hoax. According to him, Molière had not written his own plays and had had Pierre Corneille for a ghostwriter; or, more precisely, Molière was a proxy for Corneille, following a practice which Louÿs believed was common but which one in fact does not encounter in 17th Century literature except for pamphlets and some collections of scholarly jokes around the turn of the century.

Louÿs therefore wrote in line with two recent publications by Abel Lefranc, a professor at the Collège de France, who had contributed to discussion of the Shakespeare authorship question by publishing one by one in 1918 and 1919 the two volumes of a book titled Sous le masque de William Shakespeare : William Stanley, VIe comte de Derby, propounding the Derbyite theory of Shakespeare authorship. Louÿs, who had himself, throughout his career, published a number of works under different pseudonyms—he had even made his name by passing off his The Songs of Bilitis as an original collection of Greek poems translated by him—but had not in his vast correspondence suggested any possible link between Molière and Corneille, jumped at the chance to transpose onto Molière the doubt that some English-speaking authors (well before Abel Lefranc) had expressed about Shakespeare and to lend thus to Corneille the same taste for pseudonymity.

This controversy, which attracted interest from time to time through the 20th Century after the splash made by Louÿs, has been renewed at the beginning of the 2000s, notably with the publication in a scientific journal of two articles attempting to use stylometric analysis to show the closeness of vocabulary and syntax between Corneille and Molière; but, in both cases, the inquiry was not expanded to other authors of comedies in the 17th Century to verify whether the similarity between Corneille and Molière is any greater than with their other contemporaries. As in the case of Shakespeare, this theory is rejected by all experts on Corneille and Molière, as well as historians of literature and French drama generally, who do not even mention it.

References

Molière authorship question Wikipedia


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