Analysis by French academics shows little evidence to support an accepted view that a better educated man wrote the classic plays
Scholars have argued for at least a century that Molière’s supposed lack of education, the French playwright responsible for seminal masterpieces like Tartuffe and Le Misanthrope, means he couldn’t write them.
Now academics state they have resolved the controversy once and for all, using an algorithm to find that Molière was the author of all his plays, born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin in 1622.
Molière’s father was one of the royal household’s appointed furnishers, but his son rejected this career for a life on the stage, touring, performing and writing the searing comics that would change the face of French theatre.
French author Pierre Louÿs claimed in 1919 that Molière’s most popular plays were ghostwritten by the poet Pierre Corneille. Since then, concerns about the education level of Molière, his busy life, and the rareness of surviving manuscripts have kept the discussion going.
At the Université de Paris, Florian Cafiero and Jean-Baptiste Camps at the Université Paris Sciences et Lettres are, by chance, drawn into the discussion.
They wanted to motivate students on their computational philology course, and chose to illustrate their linguistic analysis with the example of Molière and Corneille – “honestly, without much idea about what we would find,” Cafiero stated.
But after using many methods they noticed that their results were radically different from most scholarly opinions and decided to further investigate.
“The late blooming of Molière’s talent, his purported lack of education and culture, his busy agenda, and the lack of manuscripts are among the arguments that triggered a century-long debate. Systematic objections to these assertions have been provided. Yet, the sparsity of available archives has so far prevented the debate from ending,” The pair are writing in their paper Why Molière Most Likely Did Write His Plays, published in the open-access journal Science Advances on Wednesday.
They studied the text of a collection of plays by Molière, Pierre Corneille and his brother Thomas, as well as other major writers of the period, analyzing their use of language, rhyme, grammar and word types.
First, they assumed that Molière could have given Pierre Corneille drafts that the latter then worked on, which could be proved if Molière’s signed plays shared features such as rhymes, words of function, affixes and grammar with Corneille’s ones.
But they find that “all the plays signed by Molière belong to the same cluster,quite distinct from the plays of Corneille, whichever feature form studied … We therefore consider this first hypothesis to be disproved.”
Next, they tackled the hypothesis that neither the plots nor the verses of his plays were written by Moliere, using his reputation as an actor to promote them.
If that were true “then all our measures would indicate that there is no such thing as the vocabulary of Molière or the style of Molière.” But their algorithm found “a clear-cut distinction” in the analysis between the plays of Molière and all the other writers.
“This substantiates the claim that all of the plays signed by Molière have not been written by Pierre Corneille, nor one of the other authors studied here,” they write.
Cafiero and Camps acknowledge that they have not proved that not all of Molière’s plays have been written by another ghostwriter. But their research, they say, shows that the plays are “very likely written by a single individual”.


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