Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Review: Le Tartuffe by Molière
Over the next week or so, I'll be posting short reviews of some of what I've been reading for school. They are mainly novellas, and plus I'm sick of discussing them in class (though I loved them all), so that's why they are "quick" reviews. Today's review isn't really all that short, but it's much shorter than it could be.
The first play I got to read in my Molière class is Le Tartuffe, sometimes called L'Imposteur (or The Imposter in English). I have a whole long post planned just on Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, aka Molière, so I'm not going to get in depth into his life right now. I will say that after Le Tartuffe was first played in 1664 at Louis XIV's "fête des plaisirs de l'île enchantée", it was banned from being played publicly. This first version contained just 3 acts. Molière later revised it to the 5 acts we know today. Why was it banned? Because of it's subject matter. Le Tartuffe is about a "faux dévot", or someone who pretends to be very religious and charitable when really she is just greedy and only cares about herself. The faux dévot in this play is named Tartuffe, and I could do a whole blog post just on the different reasons why Molière may have chosen that as his name, but I won't, because it's really not important. Tartuffe uses his disguise as a pious man of the Church to get ahead in life. Molière basically based Tartuffe's character off of many prestigious men who were members of a secret religious society. Long story short, the vast majority of these people acted charitably and religiously, but only so that they could benefit and get ahead. Le Tartuffe was finally unbanned in 1669 after Louis XIV finally was able to dismantle the society, and the play became an instand and huge success.
So that was a lot of background dumbed down. It's hard to talk about the play without the background info, and I hope you thought it to be as interesting as I did :)
I think I mentioned at the start of this semester how I much I HATE reading plays. I take that back. I LOVED Le Tartuffe! It was hilarious. It is about a man, Orgon, who is blind to the lies that Tartuffe tells him. He thinks the world of Tartuffe, and Tartuffe knows it. In fact, Orgon even takes Tartuffe's word over those of his own family members. Most of Orgon's family and servants can't stand Tartuffe and know he's a fake, but Orgon doesn't listen to them. He decides to marry off his daughter to Tartuffe and after banishing his son Damis (because Damis tried telling him the truth about Tartuffe), Orgon decides that Tartuffe will become his inheriter. Orgon's daughter Mariane is devestated because she loves a man named Valère. However, Mariane refuses to speak up against her father. So her servant Dorine (my favorite character-she is SO funny) hatches up a plan to make Orgon rethink the marriage. Tartuffe hits on Elmire, Orgon's wife, and basically says he wants to sleep with her. Orgon of course doesn't believe what he hears. His family and servants keep speaking up about the problem. Will Orgon listen? What will happyen to Tartuffe? And will Mariane get to be with Valère, her lover? All these questions and more are answered with the surprise ending! But you'll have to read it or see it yourself because I'm not giving anymore away.
So if you can't tell, I definitely recommend Le Tartuffe. I read it in French, but it's easy to find in English. I laughed so much my stomach hurt when I read it. Molière definitely has a way with words, and I can't wait to read the next play for my class, Le Misanthrope.
Molière definitely gets you thinking both during and after reading this play. One questino in particular that I'm pondering is this: does Molière say anything about speaking up vs. being quiet in Le Tartuffe? Do those who speak up and tell the truth get out ahead of those who keep their mouths shut? Or is it the other way around? It's something to think about, especially because I have a paper due on the topic in a week.
If you don't love Le Tartuffe for its humor, you'll probably love it for the way Molière creates strong female characters who aren't afraid to speak their minds (and yes, I'm talking to you Dorine!), something that wasn't super common in plays back in the 17th Century.
A fave passage, though it's in French (sorry in advance!):
Page 54: Dorine: "Le soir, elle eut un grand dégout, et ne peut au souper toucher a rien du tout, tant sa douleur de tête était encore cruelle!"
Orgon: "Et Tartuffe?"
Dorine: "It soupa, lui tout seul, devant elle, et fort dévotement il mangea deux perdrix, avec une moitié de gigot en hachis."
Orgon: "Le pauvre homme!"
The scene goes on like that for a while, with Dorine explaining how Orgon's wife was sick while he was away. Everytime she says something about Elmire, Orgon asks how Tartuffe was. Dorine responds with something about how he is doing well and eating and drinking a lot and is happy, and Orgon will just be like, "Oh, the poor man!" Hilarious. I need to see this play on the stage!
Title: Le Tartuffe
Date of Publication: Originally 1669 with 5 acts, but my copy was published in 2008 by Flammarion
Number of Pages: 147
Genre: comedy (a play)
Source: Personal Copy