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Tartuffe by Molière

Tartuffe (1664)

by Molière

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (18)  German (1)  French (1)  Hebrew (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (22)
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
“To be flawlessly monstrous is, thank heaven, not easy.”

“life, happily, will not have it.”

It is a bit surreal reading Tartuffe during the first 100 days of this new administration in the United States. These two lines are from the introduction to the Arion Press Tartuffe by translator Richard Wilbur. They give me hope. I haven’t read Moliere before and just wasn’t expecting it to be so relevant 350 years later. At the same time, it seems strange that the play was censored so strongly back in its day because even with its portrayal of Tartuffe as a religious hypocrite, it would seem a stretch for the French Roman Catholic Church to take enough offense to almost excommunicate the author. Seems pretty innocuous by the standards of our day. But one of the signs of great literature is when parallels can still be drawn and the relevance can still be there so many years later.

The play was an easy and quick read in Wilbur’s translation and the use of verse did not seem forced or awkward as it does in some translations. Wilbur gives some of his reasons for keeping the rhymes (and making his translation task that much harder, no doubt), saying that “... rhyme and verse are required for other good reasons: to pay out the long speeches with clarifying emphasis, and at an assimilable rate; to couple farcical sequences to passages of greater weight and resonance; and to give a purely formal pleasure,...” His summary of the storyline, from which comes the quote above, breaks it down well:

Tartuffe is only incidentally satiric; what we experience in reading or seeing it, as several modern critics have argued, is not a satire but a "deep" comedy in which (1) a knave tries to control life by cold chicanery, (2) a fool tries to oppress life by unconscious misuse of the highest values, and (3) life, happily, will not have it.

Our own personal experiences, inclinations, and interests obviously affect the parallels and relevance we see in the literature we read. Being in the tea business, I always love running across tea references or quotes above and beyond the ones everyone has heard. So Dorine’s two lines here have already been used a couple times and look to have a long future in appropriate places. This exchange occurs while chiding her mistress for her docile compliance to her father’s wish that she marry Tartuffe despite her love for Valere:

DORINE: Tartuffe's your cup of tea, and you shall drink him.
MARIANCE: I've always told you everything, and relied...
DORINE:No. You deserve to be tartuffified.

Then the clash of the patriarchy and the effects of a father’s (misuse of) authority with respect to a daughter’s morals definitely made me think about my own daughter and how she might respond to something of this sort. Again, it’s Dorine who seems to have one of the most reasonable heads in the play, as she berates Orgon about his decision:

A young girl's virtue is imperilled, Sir,
When such a marriage is imposed on her;
For if one's bridegroom isn't to one's taste,
It's hardly an inducement to be chaste,
And many a man with horns upon his brow
Has made his wife the thing that she is now.
It's hard to be faithful wife, in short,
To certain husbands of a certain sort,
And he who gives his daughter to a man she hates
Must answer for her sins at Heaven's gates.
Think, Sir, before you play so risky a role.

Finally, as a yogi and student of yogic philosophy, I was reminded of one definition of yoga as the “middle path”, when Cleante asks his mad brother Orgon

Ah, there you go--extravagant as ever!
Why can you not be rational? You never
Manage to take the middle course, it seems,
But jump, instead, between absurd extremes.

While that question could be made from the standpoint of many a rational philosophic system, I couldn’t help thinking that Cleante (or Moliere) might have a little yogi in them.

Drama is not something I read a lot of but I have discovered that when I do read it, I really like to read it in folio size, like this edition of Tartuffe. The Letterpress Shakespeare from the Folio Society are similarly sized, and I’ve been reading quite a few of those lately. The large page size allows for a large type for easy reading and that is also easy to read aloud while walking or standing, something I find myself doing fairly often with drama as well as verse.

This Arion Press edition is beautifully designed and crafted. The burgundy moiré silk over boards binding is beautiful, creating a wave-like pattern as light hits it. Instead of a slipcase, it is protected by a stiff Mylar(?) cover. The text is printed in two colors, black for the regular dialogue and a rich burgundy for the decorative type, the text below the illustrations, and the undulating rule that divides the character and dialogue on each page. The Arches mould-made paper is very nice to the touch as you read through the play, maybe even more so than usual since the quick reading of the dialogue gives ample opportunity for turning the page.

The illustrations are well fitted to the play, and reminded me of New Yorker or Playboy ink and pen illustrations even before I learned that William Hamilton has done much work for the former. Unlike a good portion of the Arion Press catalogue, where the illustrations fall more in the “Livres de Artiste” style where the artist does not always seem to have an easily seen direct correlation with the author, these illustrations correspond closely with the characters and action of the plot.

All in all, this book would definitely make it on the list of books I would like to own from the press. It’s place in the canon of Western Literature, its applicability and relevance to our world today, and the beautiful design of this edition make it a no-brainer for me.

AVAILABILITY: This 2004 edition is limited to 300 copies and is still available from the press. The price is $600.

NOTE: The Whole Book Experience would like to thank Andrew Hoyem and the Arion Press for the generosity that made this review possible.

For more book reviews, including photos of the physical book and overall reading experience, visit my blog The Whole Book Experience at http://www.thewholebookexperience.com/
1 vote jveezer | Feb 4, 2017 |
This full cast recording of Tartuffe was excellent! A great way to finish the digital audiobook of "The Moliere Collection" (I listened to this 5th play last knowing that it is a favorite of mine). ( )
  leslie.98 | Dec 31, 2016 |
Reading the introduction of Moliere’s 1664 “Tartuffe”, I noted several distinctions for this celebrated play.
- It is the most frequently produced play in the French language and considered to be Moliere’s best.
- The play was written entirely in rhymed iambic pentameter (or according to Wiki – in 1,962 twelve-syllable lines [alexandrines] of rhyming couplets).
- The play was so “famous” (or as it turns out - “infamous”) that King Louis XIV refused a private performance request from Queen Christina of Sweden and no public performances were allowed for 5 years, i.e. it opened widely in 1669.

The third bit caught my attention as I pondered (before reading the play) what was so different about this play that the King kept it from the public for 5 years.

“Tartuffe” is the main character and subject of the play where he is a vagrant and a pious fraud, who fooled and influenced the wealthy Orgon and his mother. Much to the chagrin of his other family members, Orgon fell deeply under the spell of Tartuffe, believing all his martyr-like yet self-promoting speeches, so much so that he disowned his son, broke a promise of marriage for his daughter to a loyal young man, and instead offered her to Tartuffe. Believing all of Tartuffe’s preaches and trusting him, Orgon renounced his wealth and contractually signed his possessions to Tartuffe, including a briefcase with confidential and damning information, which is then used against Orgon upon the reveal of the betrayal. The happy ending came when the enlightened King intervened, nullifying the contract, pardoning Orgon, and arresting Tartuffe for fraud.

Moliere was quite explicit with his condemnation of the church. “Who could imagine that devout façade could hide such double-dealing wickedness?... he’s the last religious man I’ll trust; in future I’ll recoil from them in horror.” 1664 is far too early and risky for the arts to openly mock the church. On the other hand, the King was presented as the all-seeing wise and mighty hero who swooped in to save Orgon. In short, it is a (perhaps unintended) bold piece of literature that pitted the King against the Church. Though my book’s introduction didn’t include this, I found articles online that validated my hunch. The French Roman Catholic Church was displeased with the play; the Archbishop of Paris issued an edict banning it with the threat of excommunication. Meanwhile, King Louis XIV got his jollies from the play and protected Moliere from excommunication.

To be honest, with my modern mind, the plot sounded so preposterous that it is laughable. Though putting on a lens of time, I believe that is the intended appeal of this play – mocking the gullibility of the wealthy and the falsehood of piety. Surely, such was a provocative rarity then. Without being able to read it in French, the charm of the alexandrines rhymes is absent. However, there are indentations that mark the pace of lines; these remain to be affective even in English.

Favorite Character: Dorine, the maidservant who was vocal and spoke the truth and obviousness and never held her tongue regardless who she is addressing. You go girl!

3.5 stars for the play
+0.5 star considering the original publication year ( )
  varwenea | Oct 28, 2016 |
I found this modern adaptation of Molière's classic play hilarious! Of course, it helps that I think the original is pretty funny too - especially the Richard Wilbur translation. I was pleased that Thomas kept the rhyming couplets in this translation. It is amazingly true to the original, with only a few things changed, most notably the ending.

I watched the Richard Wilbur version on YouTube as a companion to reading this.


The video is adequate, though the audience noise is sometimes too loud, but the production is pretty good. ( )
  leslie.98 | Jun 15, 2016 |
  kutheatre | Jun 7, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (82 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Molièreprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Baudissin, Wolf GrafTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Caput, Jean-PolIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lloyd, Harold AnthonyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lochhead, LizTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Muscetta, CarloTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tauchmann, DieterAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thomas, FreydaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wendel, W.J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilbur, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0156881802, Paperback)

The translation into English verse of one of Molière’s most masterful and most popular plays. “A continuous delight from beginning to end” (Richard Eberhart). Introduction by Richard Wilbur.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:06 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

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 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 -- all at Orgon's own invitation. At the very last minute, the king intervenes, and Tartuffe is condemned to prison. -- from Wikipedia.… (more)

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