Jean Francois Regnard - Encyclopedia

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JEAN FRANCOIS REGNARD (1655-1709), French comic dramatist, was born in Paris on the 7th of February 16J5. His father, a rich shopkeeper, died. when Regnard was about twenty, leaving him master of a considerable fortune. He set off at once for Italy, and, after a series of romantic adventures, he journeyed by Holland, Denmark and Sweden to Lapland, and thence by Poland, Turkey, Hungary and Germany back to France. He returned to Paris at the end of 1683, and bought the place of treasurer of France in the Paris district; he had a house at Paris in the Rue Richelieu; and he acquired the small estate of Grillon near Dourdan in the department of Seine-et-Oise, where he hunted, feasted and wrote comedies. This latter amusement he began in 1688 with a piece called Le Divorce, which was performed at the Theatre Italien. In four slight pieces of the same nature he collaborated with Charles Riviere Dufresny. He gained access to the Theatre Frangais on the 19th of May 1694 with a piece called Attendez-moi sous l'orme, and two years later, on the 19th of December 1696, he produced there the masterly comedy of Le Joueur. The idea of the play was evolved in collaboration with Dufresny, but the authors disagreed in carrying it out. Finally they each produced a comedy on the subject, Dufresny in prose, and Regnard in verse. Each accused the other of plagiarism. The plot of Regnard's piece turns on the love of two sisters for Valere, the gambler, who loves one and pretends to love the other, really deceiving them both, because there is no room for any other passion in his character except the love of play. Other of his plays were La Serenade (1694), Le Bourgeois de Falaise (1696), Le Distrait (1697), Democrite (1700), Le Retour imprevu (1700), Les Folies amoureuses (1704), Les Menechmes (1705), a clever following of Plautus, and his masterpiece, Le Legataire universel (1708).

Regnard's death on the 4th of September 1709 renews the doubtful and romantic circumstances of his earlier life. Some hint at poison, but the truth seems to be that his death was hastened by the rate at which he lived.

Besides the plays noticed above and others, Regnard wrote miscellaneous poems, the autobiographical romance of La Provencale, and several short accounts in prose of his travels, published posthumously under the title of Voyages. Regnard had written a reply to the tenth satire of Boileau, Contre les femmes, and Boileau had retorted by putting Regnard among the poets depreciated in his epistle Sur mes vers. After the appearance of Le Joueur the poet altered his opinion and cut out the allusion. The saying attributed to Boileau when some one, thinking to curry favour, remarked that Regnard was only a mediocre poet, "Il n'est pas mediocrement gai," is both true and very appropriate. His French style, especially in his purely prose works, is not considered faultless. He is often unoriginal in his plots, and, whether Dufresny was or was not justified in his complaint about Le Joueur, it seems likely that Regnard owed not a little to him and to others; but he had a thorough grasp of comic situation and incident, and a most amusing faculty of dialogue.

The first edition of Regnard's works was published in 1731 (5 vols., Rouen and Paris). There is a good selection of almost everything important in the Collection Didot (4 vols., 1819), but there is no absolutely complete edition. The best is that published by Crapelet (6 vols., Paris, 1822). A selection by L. Moland appeared in 1893. See also a Bibliographie et iconographie des oeuvres de J. F. Regnard (Paris, Rouquette, 1878); Le Poete J. F. Regnard en son chasteau de Grillon, by J. Guyot (Paris, 1907).

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