Translated by: Charles Heron Wall
In search for something light and slightly different to what I usually read, I picked up a collection of Molière’s plays. Having heard that Tartuffe was his most famous and influential play, naturally it was the one that I started with. (Plus it intrigued me even more after I found out it was actually banned from being read or performed for a good five years!).
Tartuffe is a comedic satire on hypocrisy. The play centers around Orgon’s household members and Tartuffe. Orgon is blindly devoted to Tartuffe; a seemingly religiously devoted character whom Orgon found on the streets. The rest of the household hold their own suspicions and believe that Tartuffe is more interested in Orgon’s wealth than the religion. The plot focuses on Orgon’s family trying to convince Orgon of Tartuffe’s true nature and the aftermath of Orgon’s realization that Tartuffe is not quite who he professes to be.
“Appearances are oft deceiving, and seeing shouldn’t always be believing.”
The whole play was beautifully written; the dialogue was just incredibly amazing, making the interactions between the characters enjoyable and interesting. Humour had been brilliantly injected throughout the play. (So much so that I chuckled out loud occasionally much to the amusement of others). Although this was a light comedic play, there is still a hint of darker undertones such as hypocrisy and the battle between emotion and reason.
It was fascinating to see how the play revolves around the theme of hypocrisy. Tartuffe is obviously the main hypocrite – he asserts that he is pious and holy but in reality he is seen to be lustful and greedy. It was even more remarkable to see that those who believe and hang on to every word start to become hypocrites themselves. The biggest example being Orgon himself, who goes on to commit sins against his family (most notably against his daughter and son). The ideas conveyed in the play about hypocrisy are both timeless and universal.
“How do you fail to see it, may I ask?
Is not a face quite different than a mask?
Cannot sincerity and cunning art,
Reality and semblance, be told apart?”
Another theme that crops out throughout the play (though probably not as prominently as hypocrisy) is the idea of emotion vs. reason. Tartuffe uses emotion through his words throughout the play, in order to fool the other characters. On the other hand, both Dorine and Clement employ reason and logic to combat Tartuffe. However, it is seen that logic and reason only cause Orgon to make a host of reckless decisions that can be argued as being emotional. Furthermore, Molière hints at the dangers of emotion through Mariane and Valère’s subplot in the play. Seeing the context of when the play was written (The Enlightenment) actually seeping in to the play made it even more delightful to read.
“But he’s quite lost his senses since he fell
Beneath Tartuffe’s infatuating spell…”
The ending for me was slightly abrupt. Even though everything had been tied up, the way the issue had been resolved made me a little dubious – it felt too miraculous. In short, it felt like a solution had literally appeared out of thin air. Having said that, I’m sure there was a reason as to why it was written the way it was.
I would definitely want to watch this play being performed on stage at some point in the future. In the meantime, I shall be dipping in to more of Molière’s works and hope you do the same!