Tartuffe  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Tartuffe is a comedy by Molière, and arguably his most famous play. It was first performed in 1664 at the fêtes held at Versailles, and almost immediately censored by the outcry of the dévots ("devout" [people]), who were very influential in the court of King Louis XIV. While the king had little interest in suppressing the play, he eventually did so because of the dévots. The word dévots referred to those who claimed to be very religious, but as Molière points out in Tartuffe, these same people were often religious hypocrites.

Controversy

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:

"The comic is the outward and visible form that nature's bounty has attached to everything unreasonable, so that we should see, and avoid, it. To know the comic we must know the rational, of which it denotes the absence and we must see wherein the rational consists . . . incongruity is the heart of the comic . . . it follows that all lying, disguise, cheating, dissimulation, all outward show different from the reality, all contradiction in fact between actions that proceed from a single source, all this is in essence comic."





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Tartuffe" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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