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Tartuffe (full title: Tartuffe, or the Impostor, French: ) is a comedy by Molière. It is his most famous play.

As the play begins, the well-off Orgon is convinced that Tartuffe is a man of great religious zeal and fervor. In fact, Tartuffe is a scheming hypocrite. He is interesting as a character in that he gets around Orgon not by telling lies but by allowing him to use his power as the master of the household over everyone else. By the time Tartuffe is exposed and Orgon renounces him, Tartuffe has legal control of his finances and family and is about to steal all of his wealth and marry his daughter ‚ÄĒ all at Orgon's own invitation. At the very last minute, the king intervenes, and Tartuffe is condemned to prison.

It was written and first performed in 1664 at the fêtes held at Versailles and was almost immediately censored by King Louis XIV, probably due to the influence of the archbishop of Paris, Paul Philippe Hardouin de Beaumont de Péréfixe, who was his confessor and had been his tutor.. While the king had little interest in suppressing the play, he eventually did so because, as stated in the official account of the fête: although it was found to be extremelydiverting, the king recognized so much conformity between those that atrue devotion leads on the path to heaven and those that a vainostentation of some good works does not prevent from committing somebad ones, that his extreme delicacy to religious matters can notsuffer this resemblance of vice to virtue, which could be mistaken foreach other; although one does not doubt the good intentions of theauthor, even so he forbids it in public, and deprived himself of thispleasure, in order not to allow it to be abused by others, lesscapable of making a just discernment of it. As a result of Molière's play, the word "tartuffe" is used in contemporary French and English to designate a hypocrite who ostensibly and exaggeratedly feigns virtue, especially religious virtue. The entire play is written in 1,962 twelve-syllable lines (alexandrines) of rhyming couplets.

Main characters

  • Tartuffe, Orgon's houseguest and a hypocrite
  • Madame Pernelle, Orgon's mother
  • Orgon, head of the house and husband of Elmire
  • Elmire, Orgon's wife and object of Tartuffe's lust
  • Dorine, Orgon's housemaid and confidente of Mariane
  • Cleante, Elmire's brother and Orgon's brother-in-law
  • Mariane, Orgon's daughter, in love with Valere
  • Damis, Orgon's son
  • Valere, in love with Mariane
  • Laurent, Tartuffe's servant (either unseen, or present but non-speaking)
  • Argas, friend of Orgon; entrusts Orgon with documents that Tartuffe steals and attempts to use against Orgon (never seen, only spoken of)
  • Flipote, servant of Madame Pernelle (non-speaking)
  • Monsieur Loyal, a bailiff
  • A King's Officer


Plot synopsis

Orgon's family is up in arms because Orgon and his mother have fallen under the influence of Tartuffe, a pious fraud (and a vagrant prior to Orgon's help). Tartuffe pretends to be pious and to speak with divine authority, and Orgon and his mother no longer take any action without first consulting him. One could even say Orgon has a single-minded obsession with Tartuffe, as clearly demonstrated in Act I, Scene 5.

The rest of the family and their friends are not fooled by Tartuffe's antics and detest him. The stakes are raised when Orgon announces that he will marry Tartuffe to his daughter Mariane (already engaged to Valère). Mariane is, of course, very upset at this news and the rest of the family realizes how deeply Tartuffe has embedded himself into the family.

In an effort to show Orgon how awful Tartuffe really is, the family devises a plan to trap Tartuffe into confessing to Elmire his desire for her. As a pious man and a guest, he should have no such feelings for the lady of the house, and the family hopes that after such a confession, Orgon will throw Tartuffe out of the house. Indeed, Tartuffe does try to seduce Elmire, but their interview is interrupted when Orgon's son, Damis, who has been eavesdropping, can't take it anymore and jumps out of his hiding place to denounce Tartuffe.
Frontispiece and titlepage of "Tartuffe or The Imposter" from a 1739 collected edition of his works in French and English, printed by John Watts.
The engraving depicts the amoral Tartuffe being deceitfully seduced by Elmire, the wife of his host, Orgon who hides under a table.


Tartuffe is at first shocked but recovers very well. When Orgon enters the room and Damis triumphantly tells him what happened, Tartuffe uses reverse psychology and accuses himself of being the worst sinner:
(Yes, brother, I am an evildoer, a guilty man,
An unhappy sinner, full of iniquity) (III.vi).
Orgon is convinced that Damis was lying and banishes him from the house. Tartuffe even gets Orgon to order that, to teach Damis a lesson, Tartuffe should be around Elmire more than ever. As a gift to Tartuffe and further punishment to Damis and the rest of his family, Orgon signs over all his worldly possessions to Tartuffe.

In a later scene, Elmire takes up the charge again and challenges Orgon to be witness to a meeting between herself and Tartuffe. Orgon, ever easily convinced, decides to hide under a table in the same room, confident that Elmire is wrong. He overhears, of course, Elmire resisting Tartuffe's very forward advances. When Tartuffe has incriminated himself beyond all help and is dangerously close to violating Elmire, Orgon comes out from under the table and orders Tartuffe out of his house.

But this wily guest means to stay, and Tartuffe finally shows his hand. It's revealed that earlier, before the events of the play, Orgon had admitted to Tartuffe that he was in possession of a box of incriminating letters (written by a friend, not him). Tartuffe had taken care to take this box and now tells Orgon that he must leave the house if he does not want to be exposed. Tartuffe takes his temporary leave and Orgon's family tries to figure out what to do. Very soon, Monsieur Loyal shows up with a message from Tartuffe and the court itself - they must move out from the house because it now belongs to Tartuffe. Dorine makes fun of his name, not aloud, mocking his fake loyalty.

Later that day, Tartuffe returns with a police officer to begin the eviction. But to his surprise, the police officer arrests him instead. The enlightened King Louis XIV (name not mentioned in play) has heard of the injustices happening in the house and decides to arrest Tartuffe instead. Even Madame Pernelle is convinced by this time of Tartuffe's chicanery, and the entire family thanks its lucky stars that it has escaped the mortification of leaving their house to a man with a long criminal history, changing his name often to avoid being caught. The drama ends well, and Orgon announces upcoming Valère and Mariane's wedding.

Controversy surrounding the play

Though Tartuffe was received well by the public and even by Louis XIV, it immediately sparked conflict amongst many different groups who were offended by the play. The factions opposed to Molière's work included part of the hierarchy of the French Roman Catholic Church, members of upper-class French society, and the illegal underground organization called the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement. Tartuffe's popularity was cut short when the Archbishop of Paris issued an edict threatening excommunication for anyone who watched, performed in, or read the play. Molière attempted to assuage church officials by re-writing his play to seem more secular and less critical of religion, but the church could not be budged. The revised version of the play was called L'imposteur and had a main character titled Panulphe instead of Tartuffe. Even throughout Molière's conflict with the church, Louis XIV continued to support the playwright; it is possible that without the King's support, Molière might have been excommunicated. Although public performances of the play were banned, private performances for the French aristocracy were permitted. In 1669, after Molière's detractors lost much of their influence, he was finally allowed to perform the final version of his play. However, due to all the controversy surrounding Tartuffe, Molière mostly refrained from writing such incisive plays as this one again.

Molière responded to criticism of Tartuffe in 1667 with his Lettre sur la comédie de l'Imposteur. He sought to justify his play and his approach to comedy in general by underlining the comedic value of the juxtaposition of good and bad, right and wrong, and wisdom and folly. These humorous elements in turn were intended to highlight what is actually rational. In his Lettre he wrote:

Production history

The play was first staged at the fêtes held at Versailles in 1664.

The seminal Russian theatre practitioner Constantin Stanislavski was working on a production of Tartuffe when he died in 1938. It was completed by Mikhail Kedrov and opened on 4 December 1939.

The first Broadwaymarker production took place at the ANTA Washington Square Theatre in New Yorkmarker and ran from 14 January 1965 to 22 May 1965. The cast included Hal Holbrook as "M. Loyal", John Phillip Law as "King's Officer", Laurence Luckinbill as "Damis" and Tony Lo Bianco as "Sergeant". A production of Richard Wilbur's translation of the play opened at the Circle in the Square Theatremarker in 1977 and was re-staged for television the following year on PBS, with Donald Moffat replacing John Wood as Tartuffe, and co-starring Tammy Grimes and Patricia Elliott. Another production at the Circle in the Square Theatremarker, entitled Tartuffe: Born Again, ran from 7 May to 23 June 1996 (a total of 25 previews and 29 performances). This was set in a religious television studio in Baton Rougemarker where the characters cavort to either prevent or aid Tartuffe in his machinations. Written in modern verse, Tartuffe: Born Again adhered closely to the structure and form of the original. The cast included John Glover as "Tartuffe" (described in the credits as "a deposed televangelist"), Alison Fraser as "Dorine" (described in the credits as "the Floor Manager") and David Schramm as "Orgon" (described in the credits as "the owner of the TV studio"). The most recent Broadway production took place at the American Airlines Theatre and ran from 6 December 2002 until 23 February 2003 (a total of 40 previews and 53 performances). The cast included Brian Bedford as "Orgon", Henry Goodman as "Tartuffe" and Bryce Dallas Howard as "Mariane".

The Royal Lyceum Theatremarker in Edinburghmarker staged a Scots version by Liz Lochhead in 1987, which it revived at on 7 January 2006. The Tara Arts theatre company performed a version at the National Theatremarker in Londonmarker in 1990. Performed in English, the play was treated in the manner of Indian theatre; it was set in the court of Aurangazeb and began with a salam in Urdu. A translation by Ranjit Bolt was staged at the National in 2002. Liverpudlian poet Roger McGough's translation premièred at the Liverpool Playhousemarker in May 2008 and transferred subsequently to the Rose Theatre, Kingstonmarker.

Adaptations

Film



Television



Opera



In Popular Culture

  • A copy of the play, along with Paradise Lost, is shown in an illustration from Charles Dickens' novel Martin Chuzzlewit, in chapter 52, titled "Warm reception of Mr. Pecksniff by his venerable friend," wherein Pecksniff, a great hypocrite, is finally given his due.
  • In the television show King of the Hill, Bobby Hill assumes the identity of a character he calls Tartuffe in the episode "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Clown."


References

  1. Molière et le roi, François Rey & Jean Lacouture, éditions du seuil, 2007
  2. Molière et le roi, François Rey & Jean Lacouture, éditions du seuil, 2007, p76
  3. "Molière: Introduction." Drama Criticism. Ed. Linda Pavlovski, Editor. Vol. 13. Gale Group, Inc., 2001. eNotes.com. 2006. accessed
  4. Benedetti (1999, 389).
  5. Philip Key Tartuffe, Roger McGough, Liverpool Playhouse Liverpool Daily Post ( )


Sources

  • Benedetti, Jean. 1999. Stanislavski: His Life and Art. Revised edition. Original edition published in 1988. London: Methuen. ISBN 0413525201.


External links




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