Unusual Deaths #6: Death on the Stage
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin was born into wealth and intellect. Eventually adapting the stage name Molière, he became a playwright famous for his comedies. One-shot productions, they were intended as diversions to cleanse the palate and were staged directly following the conclusion of one of his more serious works. While the dramatic plays were his passion, the comedies made his name.
Money and accolades weren’t always enough, however, and he spent time in debtor’s prison early in his career. He was ultimately released, but historians suspect it was during this time that he contracted tuberculosis, a medical condition that would haunt him for the rest of his life.
During a performance of a play titled Le Malade Imaginaire, translated as The Hypochondriac, Molière fell to his knees in a torrent of deep coughs. Blood was bubbling up from his lungs. Perhaps sensing that there was little life left in him, he demanded that the play continue. Shortly after the play concluded, the coughing started again and even more blood came up. Molière was rushed home and a priest was called.
Upon seeing the incapacitated playwright, the priest refused to preside over the death, as Molière had been an outspoken opponent of the church. The second priest withdrew for the same reason. By the time his entourage located a holy man who would administer the final sacrament, Molière had died.
Though it seems ironic that the playwright should have died of illness during a play titled The Hypochondriac, one senses that Molière knew what would happen to him once he was on the stage; if not beforehand, than certainly once he tasted blood. For all his love for the dramatic, there was a part of him that exalted in putting a wry smirk on his audience’s faces.
By Matt Alberswerth