Molière

1622 (Paris) – 1673 (Paris)

Often regarded as second only to Shakespeare, Molière remains one of the greats of European literature, known particularly for a series of comedies that puncture bourgeois pretension. He collaborated several times with Lully (eventually falling out), with Charpentier, and with his longstanding colleague Corneille. Molière, his close contemporary La Fontaine, and the younger Boileau (both friend and supporter) and Racine, were celebrated as the so-called Quartet of the rue du Vieux Colombier. Having premiered Racine’s first play, Molière’s relations with him went disastrously wrong. He died following an onstage haemorrhage while playing the hypochondriac in his own Le Malade imaginaire.

Molière knew…

Michael McClure

1932 (Marysville, Kans.) –

McClure, announcing himself at a famous beat reading, became a significant player in the San Francisco Renaissance. Conner was a schoolfriend in Kansas. He studied with Duncan, regarded Rexroth as a mentor, and was fictionalised by his good friend Kerouac. He wrote a poem for his correspondent Ashbery and performed with Waldman. An uncritical admirer of Mailer, their acquaintanceship spawned his provocative play ‘The Beard’. Dylan, a friend, gave him an autoharp. Crick said his understanding of science was deep for a poet. Brakhage, a lifelong comrade, was spooked by his black snake.

Jean Racine

1639 (La Ferté-Milon, France) – 1699 (Paris)

Racine, with Molière and Corneille, was one of the three great playwrights of 17th C France; both Racine and Corneille are known for their tragedies, Racine’s elegant language and psychological insight eventually eclipsing Corneille’s more elaborate approach. Racine met La Fontaine as a young man, and not long after, Boileau (a great supporter and then close friend) and Molière. He and Molière had a troubled relationship, the older man producing Racine’s first play to be performed publicly; its success led Racine to quickly take it to a rival company, while also seducing Molière’s leading actress – Molière never spoke to him again.

Harold Pinter

1930 (London) – 2008 (London)

Pinter is generally recognised as the most influential post-war English dramatist, writing to disturb, not to please. Beckett became both friend and mentor, a role Pinter later played for Mamet. Always politicised, he went to Turkey with his friend Miller to investigate the torture of writers, read a defiant lecture of Rushdie’s, and joined Chomsky in berating US foreign policy. He wrote screenplays for Kazan, Schrader, Reisz and (especially – their collaboration was described as ‘perfect’) Losey. Osborne, Mamet and Stoppard were frequent correspondents as well as friends. Pinter underestimated the demands of portraiture, Freud’s painting abandoned after two sittings.

Harold Pinter knew…

Eugène Ionesco

1909 (Slatina, Romania) – 1994 (Paris)

Ionesco’s metaphysical farces made him a leading protagonist of the Theatre of the Absurd. He met Cioran and Eliade at university in Bucharest, both becoming lifelong friends. He greatly admired Breton, who with Buñuel, Queneau and Adamov was an encouragingly supportive friend (although Adamov, once very close, found it hard to take Ionesco’s literary success). Robbe-Grillet, Sarraute and he performed a Virginia Woolf play in New York. He knew and corresponded with Beckett, threw his arms around Trocchi, met with the ‘Pataphysicians on Vian’s roof, visited the aged Brancusi, and got his childhood inspiration Tzara speaking Romanian again.

Arthur Miller

1915 (New York) – 2005 (Roxbury, Conn.)

Miller was one of the U.S’s great playwrights. He never met O’Neill (both wanted to), but corresponded. Kazan had been a close friend and collaborator — Miller never fully forgave him for testifying against his (and others’) socialist sympathies. Steinbeck defended him, while Miller himself persuaded the authorities to allow the communist Neruda in to the U.S. He travelled to Turkey with Pinter, met Havel in Prague, and visited Russian dissident writers including Mandelstam and Brodsky. Huston told him to get Monro off drugs (not realising he’d been trying). He put Hellman’s enmity down to his rebuffing of her advances.

Arthur Miller knew…

Arnold Wesker

1932 (London) – 2016 (Brighton, England)

Wesker was among a small group of writers who rejuvenated British theatre in the 1950’s; his later work did not find the same level of success. He met Lessing through her theatre work, thought her stunningly beautiful, and remained a friend. He admitted a soft spot for fellow-dramatist Osborne, went to jail with Logue, took Lennon bagels, smoked salmon and cream cheese, and met and influenced the young Soyinka through their affiliation with the Royal Court theatre. He visited MacDiarmid (his girlfriend cutting the poet’s hair), but said that hearing him reading his work publicly was the worst experience of his life.

Arnold Wesker knew…

Peter Shaffer

1926 (Liverpool) - 2016 (County Cork, Ireland)

Shaffer’s gift was for writing plays exploring metaphysical themes – and also farces – that became popular hits, and sometimes successful films. Brook, dissatisfied with their efforts to write a script for ‘Lord of the Flies’, filmed without. Shaffer was reluctant to work with Forman, who took two years to convince him a film of a play is in fact a new work; thereafter they worked intensively for four months on the script for ‘Amadeus’. Guare interviewed his fellow-playwright, and shared a taste for Wilkie Collins; Stoppard, a longtime friend, said Shaffer was the only contemporary he was jealous of.

Peter Shaffer knew…

Tennessee Williams

1911 (Columbus, Miss.) – 1983 (New York)

Williams was one of the great 20th-century American playwrights. He was taught by Piscator, corresponded sympathetically with O’Neill, and met Fidel Castro together with Hemingway, whom he admired. He had an intense collaborative relationship with Kazan, strong friendships with McCullers, Albee and Jane Bowles, and had his apartment designed by his close friend Smith. Bernstein introduced him to all-male Saturday night dances in Mexico, Yevtushenko left him to pay his huge wine bill, while Isherwood, who had taken a monastic vow of abstinence, allowed that he (Isherwood) could still be a passive sex partner — thus their friendship was cemented.

Tennessee Williams knew…

Thomas Shadwell

c1640 (Weeting, England) – 1692 (London)

After Dryden, Shadwell is now seen as the leading playwright of his generation, though his reputation suffered for three centuries as a result of their feud. Initially on good terms, friendship spiralled into barely-concealed public hostility as they sided with different political factions. Pepys was a friend, and godfather to Shadwell’s son. Aubrey was a fellow pallbearer at the poet Samuel Butler’s funeral. Shadwell and Wycherley moved in the same circles and addressed verse to one another, though evidence of a direct acquaintance is absent. Behn was a theatre-world associate, Shadwell however disapproving of her open treatment of sexuality.

Thomas Shadwell knew…