2 Molière’s life1622: Born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, to a wealthy middle-class family in Parisc. 1643: Joined Madeline Béjart and 8 others to found the Illustre Théâtre: Toured France with the Illustre Théâtre1658: Returned to Paris under the protection of Monsieur, the brother of Louis XIV; performed for the King and granted a share of the Petit Bourbon theatre1661: Company rehoused in the Palais Royal1664: Tartuffe performed in its 3-act version for the King at Versailles, and subsequently banned1667: One performance of L’Imposteur (revised version of Tartuffe), also banned1669: Ban on Tartuffe finally lifted; became one of Molière’s most popular plays both during and after his life1673: Molière’s death
3 Louis XIV (1638-1715) Patron of the arts Louis XIV was godfather to Molière’s sonLouis’ ambiguous position on ban:‘Although the suppression of this work was a severe blow, nevertheless my misfortune was softened by your Majesty’s explanation of this matter; and I believed, Sire, that you relieved me of all grounds for complaint by your kindness in saying that your Majesty found nothing to criticize in the play that you forbade me to present in public.’ (Molière, First Petition, August 1664)Molière’s company became ‘la Troupe du Roi’ in 1665; Molière became responsible for court entertainments
4 The FrondeLouis XIV crowned at the age of 4 in 1643; did not assume full personal power until 1660State ruled in the interim by the queen mother, Anne of Austria, and her chief minister, Cardinal Mazarin.Battles between provincial legislatures and the aristocracy,Victory in these wars established the monarchy as absolute and autocraticOrgon and the Fronde: ‘In the recent disturbances, he may have been / Reliable, brave, loyal to the Crown, / But now he’s fallen for Tartuffe…’ (p. 9)
5 Theatrical context Theatre buildings: Usually former tennis courts Only one purpose-built theatre in all France in 1640s: the Hôtel de Bourgogne, built in 1548 for religious drama.Molière’s theatre from 1661: the Palais-Royal…
6 The Palais-Royal Physical features: Audience capacity: parterre amphithéâtretwo galleries of 17 boxes on three sides (third gallery constructed in 1671)scenic spaceaudience on stage (highly priced, prestigious)Audience capacity:40 on stage136 in first-row boxes120 in amphithéâtre136 in second-row boxes136 in third-row boxes (after 1671)500 in the parterre
10 Molière’s theatre Organisation of Molière’s theatre company: all shareholderslargely democratic, though not everyone had an equal number of sharesfinancial and programming decisions made communallysexual equality (for the most part)older female roles like Mme Pernelle played by menno director as such, but Molière probably took charge
11 Molière’s style Alexandrines: heightened, artificial Stock types Intertextual castingMolière specialised in the role of Sganarelle, a character who is ‘prone to self-delusion’ and often tries to impose his deluded world-view on those around him (Howarth 1995: 235); he appears as:Arnolphe in L’École des femmes (The School for Wives, 1662),Orgon in Tartuffe (1664),Alceste in Le Misanthrope (1666),Harpagon in L’Avare (The Miser, 1668),Monsieur Jordain in Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (The Would-be Nobleman, 1970),Argan in Le Malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid, 1673).
12 Molière as actorA contemporary spectator describing Molière as Sganarelle:‘You never heard such a simpleton, or saw such a foolish face; and one doesn’t know whether to admire the author more for the way he has written the play, or the player for the way he acts it. There was never an actor with such control over his facial expression…’(La Neufvillenaine, Arguments, quoted in Molière, Oeuvres, ed. Despois & Mesnard, II, p. 189)
13 Commedia dell’arteItalian commedia dell’arte companies performed in Paris from 1570s onwards.Popular farce at the Hôtel de Bourgogne:Turlupin, the braggart (Henri Legrand)Gros-Guillaume, the fat man (Robert Guerin)Gaultier-Garguille, the old man (Hugues Guéru)Tiberio Fiorilli (Scaramouche) and his company resident in Paris and then again from 1660 (as the Troupe de la Comédie Italienne) at the Palais-Royal, which they shared with Molière.From the commedia dell’arte, Molière learned ‘how to improvise on stock situations according to the nature of each audience; like them he often performed with a mask or floured face’ (Maland 1970: 173)
14 Abraham Bosse, Comedians at the theatre of Hotel de Bourgogne, c. 1634: Turlupin, Gaultier-Garguille & Gros-Guillaume
15 Italian and French Comedians Playing in Farces, 1670 (detail)
16 Neo-classical comedy Conventions: contemporary bourgeois settingfamily focus (rather than historical / heroic)young love vs. parental oppositionPierre Corneille: comedy as ‘a portrait of the manners and conversation of persons of good breeding’:‘The exclusion of what we should call genuinely ‘comic’ material from this definition was entirely in keeping with the firm distinction between comedy and farce established by the Renaissance theorists, for whom the imitation of life, not the arousing of laughter, was to be the comic dramatist’s goal.’ (Howarth 1995: 233)
17 Molière on comedy La Critique de L’École des femmes (1663): URANIE. … Tragedy, no doubt, is something grand when it is rightly handled ; but comedy has many charms; and I think ’tis no less difficult to write than tragedy.DORANTE. You are right, madame; and as for difficulty, you would not be wrong if you should add a little to the scale of comedy. I think myself ’tis easier to be grand over grand sentiments, brave adverse fortune, challenge destiny, and hurl defiance at the gods than to exhibit in a proper spirit the absurdities of men and show their failings pleasantly upon the stage. … ’tis indeed a curious enterprise to make the honest public laugh. (Scene VII, p. 340)
18 Classical comic theory Aristotle:‘Comedy, as we have said, is an imitation of people who are worse than the average.’His ideas were expanded upon by the 4th century AD philosopher Evanthius:‘Comedy is a story treating of various habits and customs of public and private affairs, from which one may learn what is of use in life, on the one hand, and what must be avoided, on the other.’ (quoted in Palmer 1984: 30)
19 Molière as satirist‘Whereas the duty of comedy is to correct men by amusing them, I felt that, being in that profession, I could do no better than to attack, by ludicrous portrayals, the vices of my age.’ (Molière’s First Petition, August 1664)Some of his satirical targets included:French literary fashion (Les Précieuses ridicules),courtiers (Les Fâcheux),middle-class patriarchs (Sganarelle, L’École des maris, L’École des femmes),scholars (Le Mariage forcé),doctors (L’Amour médecin)even his own audience (La Critique de L’École des femmes)
20 Tartuffe as religious satire Depicts an actual social phenomenon: the ‘lay director’Religious/sexual double entendres in Act 3: ‘May He [God] grant you all the joy that I, / His humble servant, also wish for you.’ (p. 42)Even after he has shown his hand, Tartuffe uses language which is both sexually and religiously charged. The following is a parody of the Salve Regina:Can’t you look kindly on this wretch?Can’t you find it in your heartTo pour the balm of consolationOn your unworthy slaveWrithing in agony here at your feet?Oh, you creature from Heaven,Be the temple where I worship! (pp. 45-6)
21 Tartuffe as religious satire Perhaps this satire was precisely targeted:Cléante on religious hypocrites: ‘There’s a lot of them about’ (p. 17)There is a possible reference to the Jesuit ‘direction of intention’ in the following lines: ‘scruples can be got rid of… There’s an established way / Of squaring bad actions with good intentions. I’ll teach you the theology.’ (p. 66)More persuasive is Molière’s loaded use of the term ‘cabale’, both in the play (‘There are powerful cabals and cliques out there’, p. 76) and in his Second Petition (August 1667) – this word was widely used as a derogatory term for the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement…
22 Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement (Company of the Blessed Sacrament)founded 1627Catholic secret societymissionarycharitablereligious policenicknamed la cabale des dévôtsvery powerful in 1664, declined by 1669The Président de Lamoignon, who banned Tartuffe in 1664, was a member.It was also he who had given the order to burn alive the heretical writer Simon Morin, along with all his books, in 1663.
23 Lost versions of the play First performance at Versailles on May 12,1664:only three acts (possibly the current Acts I, III and IV)Mariane and Valère’s plot may not have been so developed (or even present) in this version of the playwell-received by Louis XIVSecond version performed in Paris on August 5, 1667:five actsrenamed Panulpheimpostor no longer dressed as a religious manbanned after just one performanceFinal version performed 5 February 1669
24 Tartuffe as satireMolière’s ‘Preface’ to Tartuffe (23 March 1669) describes the play as ‘a skilful poem which, by agreeable lessons, reprimands men’s defects’:‘If the mission of comedy is to correct men’s vices, I fail to see why some should be privileged. In the State, this one is of an importance much more dangerous than all the others; and we have seen that the theatre is a great force for correction.’‘It is a great blow to vice to expose it to everyone’s laughter. We can easily stand being reprehended, but we cannot stand being mocked. We are willing to be wicked, but we will not be ridiculous.’
25 Henri BergsonFrench philosopher Henri Bergson ( ) published his influential essay ‘Laughter’ in 1900.In it, he argued that humour arises from ‘automatism’ and ‘inelasticity’ in characters.‘In laughter we always find an unavowed intention to humiliate, and consequently correct our neighbour.’ (Sypher 1956: 148)
26 Orgon’s inelasticity ORGON. …my own brother, children, mother, wife, Could die, I wouldn’t lose a moment’s sleep.CLÉANTE. How very human. (p. 14)Orgon as machine:‘And Tartuffe? … Poor man!’Dorine’s asides and Orgon’s mechanical response to them in Act 2Orgon’s alternated lines to Damis and Tartuffe in Act 3His response upon discovering the truthDamis is similarly mechanical – he ruins Elmire’s plan, and almost gets into serious trouble at the endMme. Pernelle (significant that she was played by a male actor?)
27 Tartuffe as farce Structure and kinaesthetics Careful building of hintsCareful signposting of key plot elements (e.g. hiding place, Mariane’s engagement)Building of pace:Physical image of the besieged familyAct 5’s entrances and exits
28 Tartuffe’s structure Constant raising of the stakes: Orgon orders Mariane to marry Tartuffe (Act 2)Orgon brings forward Mariane’s proposed marriage to ‘today’ (Act 3)Orgon disinherits Damis (Act 3)Orgon resolves to put the deeds to the house in Tartuffe’s name ‘today’ (end of Act 3)As Orgon realises Tartuffe’s true nature, Tartuffe orders him out of the house and threatens reprisal (Act 4)The play confirms the existence and contents of Orgon’s strong-box (Act 5)M. Loyal arrives to evict the family (Act 5)Valère arrives with news that Orgon is ‘in mortal danger’ and urges him to flee (Act 5)Tartuffe arrives to arrest Orgon (Act 5)
29 The endingGiven that the play is so brilliantly structured in terms of set-up and pay-off in many other respects, why is no mention made of the crucially-important strong-box before Act 5?Is the final act implausible?(Do each of the last three acts play with implausible climaxes?)How do we read the play’s deus (or rex) ex machina?‘We live in an enlightened age. Our King,Who reads us like a book, hates any fraud; […]To make sure that his judgement’s really fair,He gathers in the facts till they’re complete. […]His expert eyes weren’t fooled; they straightawaySaw the hideous face behind the mask.’ (p. 84)
30 Interpreting behaviour Other characters are impostors of sorts:Elmire and Dorine feign attitudes which are not their own for strategic reasons;M. Loyal’s discourse is radically at odds with his purpose;Mariane and Valère waste time and emotional energy masking their true feelings for one another in Act 2 (while Dorine watches with incredulous amusement);Even Cléante advises deception (‘You were rash to tackle him head on; / More roundabout methods were needed’; p. 72);Valère is the one character in the play to prove his sincerity by his actions (this is emphasised by the play’s final line).
31 Interpreting behaviour Tartuffe tells the truth in order to deceive:‘Yes, brother, I am evil, guilty, / A miserable sinner, full of iniquity, / The vilest wretch that ever trod this earth; / Every second of my criminal life is steeped in filth…’ (p. 49)‘Ah, the pain I suffer / When people try to blacken my name’ (p. 52)‘They want you to doubt me’ (p. 53)
32 Interpreting behaviour Cléante as raisonneur‘I can tell truth from make-believe’ (p. 16)‘The very language of Cléante’s assertion that he can ‘du faux avec le vrai faire la différence’ (354) recalls one of the most influential books of the century, Descartes’ Discours de la Méthode (1637) … In the first paragraph of his Discours Descartes assumes that men are all equally endowed by nature with a common sense which enables them to ‘distinguer le vrai d’avec le faux’.’ (Gaston Hall 1976: 21)Cléante advises Orgon to ‘See the real face behind the mask’ (p. 16) and to ‘Learn to distinguish between virtue, / Real and feigned’ (p. 72).How easy is this?
33 Interpreting behaviour Dorine speaks scathingly of ‘professional prudery’ (p. 8):Those who live in the most fragile glass-housesAlways cast the first stone…They paint people as black as they canTo camouflage their own activities,Put up smoke-screens, play the innocent,Hoping to deflect the criticismComing their way. (p. 7)Molière accuses his own audience of this in La Critique de L’École des femmes:URANIE. I know nothing so ridiculous as this super-sensitive virtue which finds evil everywhere, supposes criminal meaning in the most innocent words, and takes offence at shadows. (Scene III, p. 313)
34 Interpreting behaviour Elsewhere in La Critique, Molière’s raisonneur Dorante praises audience members who judge a play ‘by its effect on them, – not by blind prejudice, or silly complaisance, or foolish prudery.’ (Scene VI, p )La Critique goes on:URANIE. All those ridiculous pictures which the stage presents should be regarded without prejudice by every one. They are public mirrors, in which we never ought to show we see ourselves; to be so scandalized at such reproofs is openly confessing our defects. (Scene VII, p. 335)
35 ReferencesBergson, H. (1900) ‘Laughter’, in Sypher, W. (1956) Comedy, New York: Doubleday Anchor,Gaston Hall, H. (1976) Molière: Tartuffe, Studies in French Literature, London: Edward Arnold.Howarth, William D. (1995) ‘French Renaissance and Neo-Classical Theatre’ in John Russell Brown [ed.] The Oxford Illustrated History of the Theatre, Oxford: OUP, ppMaland, David (1970) Culture & Society in Seventeenth-Century France, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.Molière (1663) La Critique de L’École des Femmes in Molière, trans. Katharine Prescott Wormeley, Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1897, Vol. VI: ppNorman, Larry F. (2006) ‘Molière as satirist’ in David Bradby & Andrew Calder [eds] The Cambridge Companion to Molière, Cambridge: CUP, ppPalmer, D. J [ed.] (1984) Comedy: Developments in Criticism, London: Macmillan.Williford, Christa (2006) Playhouses of 17th-Century Paris,
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