When the French playwright Molière (1622-1673) was twenty-three years old he was forced to leave Paris with his company of actors because of debts they had run up.
They spent thirteen years as an itinerant theater company in different parts of France, for instance in Pézenas, Narbonne, Albi, Carcassonne, Toulouse, Nantes, Poitiers, Bordeaux, Agen, Grenoble and Dijon, among other French cities and towns.
For at least six of these thirteen years they spent their winters in Lyon, and Lyon was where Molière wrote his first play, L’Etourdi ou les contretemps. This was a five-act comedy in verse (known in English as “The Blunderer”) which was first performed in February 1655 at the Tour Rose (Pink Tower) in the rue du Boeuf (Street of the Ox) in what is now known as Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon).
Three and a half years later Molière and his troupe of actors finally returned triumphantly to Paris under the protection and patronage of the king’s brother. L’Etourdi was one of the first plays they performed after returning to Paris, and it was a huge success.
I don’t know L’Etourdi, but I have seen or read four of his later plays, to wit:
- Les Femmes savantes (The Learned Ladies) at the Théâtre des Célestins in Lyon.
- L’Avare (The Miser) at the Odéon in Paris.
- Le Bourgeois gentilhomme at the Royal Opera in Versailles and in a very different staging at the Lucernaire in Paris.
- I’ve never seen Tartuffe, but I once bought a used copy in Paris and promptly read it there. (See my post on the Faubourg Saint-Antoine and scroll down for Tartuffe.)
The building at the base of the Pink Tower is called the Maison du Crible, which means House of the Screen. This is a Renaissance house dating from the seventeenth century, so it might well have been here during Molière’s lifetime.
The elaborate nailed door is also from the seventeenth century. It is now the entrance to the Institut des Sciences Clavologiques. This tongue-in-cheek institute was founded in 1959 by Félix Benoit (1917-1995), a local historian and humorist who called himself the Grand Chancellor of the Order of the Nail and the Rector of the Institute of Clavological Sciences. Clavological seems to be a word that he made up himself, derived from the Latin clavum (meaning ‘nail’). The main principle of Clavology is: Don’t take anything seriously, starting with yourself.
The Old Town of Lyon is reputed to be a very artistic place, so I wasn’t surprised when this young lady suddenly sat down on a doorstep in the rue du Boeuf, whipped out a pencil and drawing pad and started sketching very concentratedly.
I walked around for a while, and when I came back she was still there and still sketching.
This is what she was sketching, not the houses or the people, but the yellow motor scooter.
My photos in this post are from 2011. I revised the text in 2020.