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Reisman, Rosemary M. Canfield,   “Magill’s Survey of World Literature.” (Book, 2009) [WorldCat.org]. Salem Press, Jan. 2009. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <http://www.worldcat.org/title/magills-survey-of-world-literature/oclc/244068734>.

The Work

With Tartuffe, Molière moved further away from the simple structure derived from French farce. In this play, there is again a middle-aged man, Orgon, who can be tricked because of his obsession. Yet, although the trickster, Tartuffe, is a person outside the power structure, in this case he is a vicious hypocrite who must be stripped of his power over Orgon if poetic justice is to prevail. Therefore, there is another pair of tricksters — Orgon’s wife Elmire and his servant Dorine — who must set things right and aid the usual young lovers.

 

The structure of this play is also unusual in that the title character does not appear until the third act. In the first two acts, the characters voice their opinions of Tartuffe, this mysterious, seemingly pious man whom Orgon, the head of a prosperous Parisian household, has taken into his home as an honored guest. Except for Madame Pernelle, Orgon’s mother, the family members are unanimous in voicing their dislike of the man. Orgon’s young wife, Elmire, her stepson Damis, her stepdaughter Mariane, and her brother Cléante, the raisonneur, as well as the impertinent servant Dorine, all see Tartuffe for the hypocrite that he is.

 

After this preparation has been made, Orgon enters, and Molière begins to substantiate the fact that he is indeed besotted by this stranger. In a hilarious dialogue, Dorine attempts to report on the family, only to be answered over and over again by Orgon’s anxious inquiry, “And Tartuffe?” followed by a heartfelt “poor fellow.” Since Tartuffe’s activities involve gluttonous eating and a good deal of sleeping, Orgon’s concern about the man is ridiculous. The fact that Orgon’s infatuation could have serious results is soon made clear, when he reveals his plan to make Tartuffe a member of the family by giving him his daughter in marriage. It is at this point that Elmire and Dorine begin to formulate plans to deceive the deceiver by attacking his own weaknesses.

 

Tartuffe’s susceptibility to lust is revealed as soon as he makes his long-awaited entrance in the third act, when he begs Dorine to cover her bosom, so as not to tempt him to sin. Elmire’s plan seems foolproof: She will lead him to make his designs upon her explicit and then threaten to tell Orgon unless Tartuffe relinquishes his claims on Mariane. The plan fails, however, and Tartuffe plays upon Orgon’s emotions so skillfully that he manages to get Damis disinherited and himself made Orgon’s heir. Now both of Orgon’s children are powerless, and, of course, the raisonneur is still being ignored. Somehow, Elmire and Dorine must expose Tartuffe’s perfidy so that even Orgon cannot deny it. They do have an ally, Tartuffe’s own weakness.

 

Actors, directors, and critics agree that the nature of that weakness is the central issue of Tartuffe. There is no doubt that Tartuffe is bent on having his way with Elmire. Yet even in the scenes where he attempts to seduce her, he can be seen as dominated by the desire for power. Whether his later arrogance is the result of his humiliation by Elmire or merely his true nature, Tartuffe viciously seeks to deprive his former patron of his property, his freedom, perhaps even of his life, and he is stopped only by the intervention of the godlike King, who Molière says cannot be deceived.

 

This graceful compliment was not only politic but also probably expressed Mohere’s gratitude to Louis XIV, who had supported the playwright through his various attempts to stage this play. For some time, Molière had been suspect in the eyes of an influential group at court, which considered itself the guardian of public morals. This group managed to have two versions of Tartuffe suppressed, first in 1664, then in 1667. Only after Louis XIV obtained the opinion of a theologian who was too prominent to be refuted was the final version of Tartuffe presented. Within its first year, it was performed fifty-five times. It has continued to be one of Molière’s most popular plays, and it is considered one of his greatest masterpieces.

 

Essay by: Rosemary M. Canfield Reisman

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Sobczak, A. J., Janet Alice. Long, and Frank N. Magill. “Tartuffe.” Cyclopedia of Literary Characters. Pasadena, CA: Salem, 1998. 1-2. Print.

 

Tartuffe Tartuffe (tahr-TEWF), a religious hypocrite and impostor who uses religious cant and practices to impose on the credulity of a wealthy man who befriends him. To acquire money and cover deceit, he talks of his hair shirt and scourge, prayers, and distributing alms. He also disapproves of immodest dress. Before his first appearance, he is reported by some to be a good man of highest worth and by others to be a glutton, a winebibber, and a hypocrite. Deciding that he wants his patron’s daughter as his wife, he uses his seeming piety to convince his host to break his daughter’s marriage plans. He then endeavors to seduce his host’s wife by holding her hand, patting her knee, fingering her lace collar, and making declarations of love to her. When his conduct is reported to the husband by his wife and their son, the foolish man forgives Tartuffe and gives the hypocrite all his property. Another attempted seduction fails when the husband, hidden, overhears all that happens and orders Tartuffe out of the house. Tartuffe, boasting that the entire property is now his, has an eviction order served on his former patron. When a police officer arrives to carry out the eviction order, the tables are turned. Tartuffe is arrested at the order of the king, who declares him to be a notorious rogue.

 

Orgon Orgon (ohr-GOH[N]), a credulous, wealthy man taken in by Tartuffe, whom he befriends, invites into his home, and proposes as a husband for his daughter, who already is promised to another. Defending Tartuffe against the accusations of his family and servants, he refuses to believe charges that the scoundrel has attempted to seduce his wife. He then disowns his children and signs over all his property to Tartuffe. Only later, when he hides under the table, at the urging of his wife, and overhears Tartuffe’s second attempt at seduction, is he convinced that he is harboring a hypocrite and scheming rascal. Orgon is saved from arrest and eviction when Tartuffe is taken away by police officers.

 

Elmire Elmire (ehl-MEER), Orgon’s wife. Aware of the wickedness of Tartuffe, she is unable to reveal the hypocrite’s true nature to her husband. When she finds herself the object of Tartuffe’s wooing, she urges the son not to make the story public, for she believes a discreet and cold denial to be more effective than violent cries of deceit. Finally, by a planned deception of Tartuffe, she convinces her husband of that scoundrel’s wickedness.

 

Dorine Dorine (doh-REEN), a maid, a shrewd, outspoken, and witty girl who takes an active part in exposing Tartuffe and assisting the lovers in their plot against him. Much of the humor of the play results from her impertinence. She objects straightforwardly to the forced marriage of Tartuffe to Mariane, and she prevents a misunderstanding between the true lovers.

 

Mariane Mariane (mah-ree-AHN), Orgon’s daughter, regarded as a prude by her grandmother. Because she is in love with Valère, she is unhappy over the marriage to Tartuffe proposed by her father. Because of her timidity, her only action at the time is to fall at Orgon’s feet and implore him to change his mind.

 

Damis Damis (dah-MEE), Orgon’s son, regarded as a fool by his grandmother. His temper and indiscretion lead him to upset carefully laid plans, as when he suddenly comes out of the closet in which he has listened to Tartuffe’s wooing of Elmire and reports the story naïvely to his father. He is outwitted by Tartuffe’s calm admission of the charge and his father’s belief in Tartuffe’s innocence, despite the confession.

 

Valère Valère (vah-LEHR), Mariane’s betrothed. He quarrels with her, after hearing that Orgon intends to marry the young woman to Tartuffe, because she seems not to object to the proposal with sufficient force. In a comedy scene, the maid, running alternately between the lovers, reconciles the pair, and Valère determines that they will be married. He loyally offers to help Orgon flee after the eviction order is served on him by the court.

 

Madame Pernelle Madame Pernelle (pehr-NEHL), Orgon’s mother, an outspoken old woman. Like her son, she believes in the honesty and piety of Tartuffe, and she hopes that his attitude and teachings may reclaim her grandchildren and brother-in-law from their social frivolity. She defends Tartuffe even after Orgon turns against him. She admits her mistake only after the eviction order is delivered.

 

Cléante Cléante (klay-AH[N]T), Orgon’s brother-in-law. He talks in pompous maxims and makes long, tiresome speeches of advice to Orgon and Tartuffe. Both disregard him.

 

M. Loyal M. Loyal (lwah-YAHL), a tipstaff of the court. He serves the eviction order on Orgon.

 

A police officer A police officer, brought in by Tartuffe to arrest Orgon. Instead, he arrests Tartuffe by order of the king.

 

Filipote Filipote (fee-lee-POHT), Madame Pernelle’s servant

_______________________________________________________________________________

Hadda, Kenneth E. “Tartuffe.” Masterplots. Pasadena, CA: Salem, 2011. 1-3. Print.

Orgon’s home is a happy one. Orgon is married to Elmire, a woman much younger than he, who adores him. His two children by a former marriage are fond of their stepmother, and she of them. Mariane, the daughter, is engaged to be married to Valère, a very eligible young man, and Damis, the son, is in love with Valère’s sister.

 

Then Tartuffe comes to live in the household. Tartuffe is a penniless scoundrel whom the trusting Orgon found praying in church. Taken in by his words and his pretended religious fervor, Orgon has invited the hypocrite into his home. As a consequence, the family is soon thrown into chaos. Once established, Tartuffe proceeds to change their normal, happy mode of life to a very strict one. He sets up a rigid Puritan regimen for the family and persuades Orgon to force his daughter to break her engagement to Valère in order to marry Tartuffe. He says that she needs a pious man to lead her in a righteous life.

 

Valère is determined that Mariane will marry no one but himself, but unfortunately Mariane is too spineless to resist Tartuffe and her father. Confronted by her father’s orders, she remains silent or remonstrates only weakly. As a result, Tartuffe is cordially hated by almost every member of the family, including Dorine, the saucy, outspoken servant, who does everything in her power to break the hold the hypocrite has secured over her master. Dorine hates not only Tartuffe but also his valet, Laurent, for the servant imitates the master in everything. In fact, the only person other than Orgon who likes and approves of Tartuffe is Orgon’s mother, Madame Pernelle, who is the type of Puritan who wishes to withhold from others pleasures in which she herself would not indulge.

 

Madame Pernelle highly disapproves of Elmire, maintaining that in her love for clothes and amusements Orgon’s wife is setting her family a bad example that Tartuffe is trying to correct. Actually, Elmire is merely full of the joy of living, a fact that her mother-in-law is unable to perceive. Orgon himself is little better. When he is informed that Elmire has fallen ill, his sole concern is for the health of Tartuffe. Tartuffe, however, is in fine health, stout and ruddy-cheeked. For his evening meal, he consumes two partridges, half a leg of mutton, and four flasks of wine. He then retires to his warm and comfortable bed and sleeps soundly until morning.

 

Tartuffe’s romantic designs are not really on the daughter, Mariane, but on Elmire herself. One day, after Orgon’s wife has recovered from her illness, Tartuffe appears before her. He compliments Elmire on her beauty and even goes so far as to lay his hand on her knee. Damis, Orgon’s son, observes all that goes on between them from the cabinet where he is hidden. Furious, he reveals to his father what he has seen, but Orgon refuses to believe him. The wily Tartuffe has so completely captivated Orgon that Orgon orders his son to apologize to Tartuffe. When Damis refuses, Orgon, violently angry, drives the young man from the house and disowns him. To show his confidence in Tartuffe’s honesty and piety, Orgon signs a deed of trust turning his estate over to Tartuffe’s management and announces his daughter’s betrothal to Tartuffe.

 

Elmire, embittered by the behavior of this impostor in her house, resolves to unmask him. She persuades Orgon to hide under a cloth-covered table to see and hear for himself the real Tartuffe. Then she entices Tartuffe, disarming him with the assurance that her foolish husband will suspect nothing. Emboldened, Tartuffe pours out his heart to her, leaving no doubt as to his intention of making her his mistress. Disillusioned and outraged when Tartuffe asserts that Orgon is a complete dupe, the husband emerges from his hiding place, denounces the hypocrite, and orders him from the house. Tartuffe defies him, reminding Orgon that according to the deed of trust, the house now belongs to Tartuffe.

 

Another matter makes Orgon even more uneasy than the possible loss of his property. He had been in possession of a box that was given to him by a friend, Argas, a political criminal now in exile. It contains important state secrets, the revelation of which would mean a charge of treason against Orgon and certain death for his friend. Orgon has foolishly entrusted the box to Tartuffe, and he fears the use the villain might make of its contents. Orgon informs his brother-in-law, Cléante, that he will have nothing further to do with pious men and that, in the future, he will shun them like the plague. Cléante, however, points out that such an extreme reaction is the sign of an unbalanced mind. He says that it is not fair to cast aspersions on religion itself simply because a treacherous vagabond is masquerading as a religious man.

 

The next day, Tartuffe follows through on his threat, using his legal right to Orgon’s property to force Orgon and his family from their house. Madame Pernelle cannot believe Tartuffe guilty of such villainy, and she reminds her son that, in this world, virtue is often misjudged and persecuted. When the sheriff’s officer arrives with the notice of eviction, however, even she finally believes that Tartuffe is a villain.

 

The crowning indignity comes when Tartuffe takes to the king the box containing the state secrets and orders are issued for Orgon’s immediate arrest. Fortunately, before the king has a chance to examine the contents of the box, he recognizes Tartuffe as an impostor who has committed crimes in another city. Therefore, because of Orgon’s loyal service in the army, the king annuls the deed that Orgon made turning his property over to Tartuffe and returns the box to Orgon unopened.

 

Critical Evaluation:

Molière wrote Tartuffe not to condemn organized religion or religious people but rather to condemn hypocrisy and to instruct audiences, through the use of humor, on the importance of moderation, common sense, and clear thinking in all areas of life. Although the play was originally condemned as an outright attack on religion and devout people, a proper reading suggests just the opposite. Religion is not the problem; rather, the misuse of religion for personal gain at the expense of innocent, unsuspecting people is Molière’s concern. Works such as Tartuffe in fact help to protect and promote religion by exposing impostors for who they really are and demonstrating the real danger they pose to society when they go unchallenged.

 

The play’s major emphasis is on the silly yet serious results of failing to act with common sense. The reactions of the various characters of the play to the hypocrite, Tartuffe, serve to remind the audience of the importance of clear thinking in a world where some people will take advantage of simple thinking and blind trust. The play reinforces the golden virtue of “moderation in all things.” Excess, even in service of the most sacred faith, leads to ridiculous conclusions and potentially catastrophic actions.

 

The comic way in which the story unfolds, from seemingly harmless simple belief about religious doctrine to eventual trust in the absurd notion that Tartuffe should be in control of the family’s finances and estate, is a warning to all people to avoid letting others take advantage of them through their own lack of careful observation and scrutiny of human behavior. Orgon is unable to see the absurdity of the restrictions that Tartuffe places on his family. Ordinarily a reasonable and capable man, Orgon becomes so enamored of Tartuffe’s manner and so dazzled by his rhetoric that he jeopardizes family, wealth, societal position, and eventually his own faith in the value of religion for the sake of appeasing the manipulative hypocrite. Molière clearly understood the dangers of false piety.

 

The play sets forth the theme of the importance of a well-ordered soul living in a well-ordered society under the virtue of reason. The comical yet serious unraveling of Orgon’s professional and personal life at the hands of Tartuffe is the vehicle for the author’s implicit appeal for reason and order in personal interactions and societal institutions. As Molière shows, when individuals such as Orgon ignore common sense and become infatuated with charismatic figures, the results can be tragic. Orgon’s relationship with Tartuffe leads directly to the breakdown of his relationship with his son, the growth of mistrust between Orgon and his wife, personal embarrassment, and financial problems. These troubles have adverse effects on everyone in Orgon’s life and, by extension, on society as a whole. The dishonest intentions of one man wreak havoc on many lives. Through the comic manner in which he tells the story, the playwright reinforces the idea that Orgon’s difficulties could have been avoided. Tartuffe and his kind have power only when ordinary citizens willfully give up their ability to think for themselves.

 

In the end, the audience sees Orgon as remorseful for foolishly placing his trust in Tartuffe; he is also angry. In his anger, he inappropriately asserts that religion has been the cause of all the calamity that he and his family have undergone. Cléante, however, reminds Orgon that the real problem is not religion but the misuse of religion by impostors. Through Cléante’s final speech, Molière reinforces the validity of appropriate religious expression by the truly devout.

 

Essay by: “Critical Evaluation” by Kenneth E. Hada

 

Mazzara, Richard A. “Moliere.” Critical Survey of Drama. 2nd ed. Pasadena (Calif.): Salem, 2003. 1-9. Print.

Achievements

Molière possessed a brilliant imagination, constantly creating new characters and easily moving from one type of comedy to another. His imagination was, however, carefully controlled through reason, by which he avoided excess. Reality is the point of departure for his wildest creations, and his comedies owe their depth to his keen observation of humanity. When Molière began writing for the theater there was little comedy, except for Pierre Corneille’s first works, and what there was leaned heavily toward the extravagant. Molière soon realized that, more than any other genre, comedy required a basis in truth. Consequently, he was not particularly concerned with original subjects or careful plots, but rather with the portrayal of manners and the study of character.

 

Therefore, Molière made free use of any subject or plot that came his way, borrowing in whole or in part from earlier French works of any genre, or from Latin, Italian, and Spanish sources. Although he was capable of devising clever plots, he believed that simple ones were better if the audience was to concentrate on the substance of the play. As for denouements, any or none would do, once he had said what he intended.

 

Molière was thoroughly familiar with the milieus of his day and represented them all faithfully as settings for his characters and their foibles. What interested Molière more than sociological truth, however, was universal truth. His precious ladies, pedants, and nouveaux riches could be of any era. More important than a wealth of exterior detail was this portrayal of universal types. These were to replace the conventional figures — boastful captains, scheming parasites, sweet ingenues, young lovers, and the like — of traditional comedy. Despite their universality, however, Molière’s characters were not created according to simple formulas. On the contrary, they are complex to an extreme, each possessing the general traits of the type observed and abstracted by Molière from reality, yet endowed with enough of the particulars to make each a real human being. There is no one stock servant in Molière’s work, but a series of individualized servants. His Miser is a lover as well. The Hypocrite is also a lecher. Molière’s dramatic universe is a very real one.

 

Molière made special use of those of his observations that could make the spectator laugh at humanity. Although the comedy almost always contains a serious meaning, its forms are extremely varied, and its tones range from the most farcical to the most subtle, all arranged with the utmost skill during the course of a single play. Thus, the spectator may remain unaware of how disagreeable a subject is until, the performance over, he reflects on it further. Especially telling is Molière’s device of making certain characters repeat words and gestures that reveal the vice or passion that controls each. By this technique, the characters are reduced almost to the status of machines and thus inspire, not sympathy or pity, but ridicule.

 

Molière believed that human nature was basically good and sensible, and he opposed any artificial constraints placed on it. Such constraints came not from society, which is a collection of human natures whose discipline reasonable people accept; rather, they had their source in perverse individuals who conformed neither to human nature nor to society. Molière has been criticized for excessive optimism and conformism, but however conservative his solutions to the problems that he posed, there can be no doubt that he was forthright and courageous in posing them.

 

Biography

Very little is known of the personal life of Molière, born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin. He left no diary, no memoirs, no correspondence, no autobiography. The first biography, J.-L. Le Gallois Grimarest’s Vie de Monsieur de Molière (1705), is interesting, but it was not published until thirty-two years after Molière’s death, and is therefore considered questionable by most modern scholars. Anything written by his contemporaries was polemical in nature.

 

Molière was baptized January 15, 1622, on the rue Saint-Honoré. He was of a good bourgeois family that had recently come to Paris from Beauvais. His father was a merchant and “upholsterer by appointment of the King,” having received the title from his brother. Molière’s mother died in 1632, and his father soon remarried, only to become a widower again in 1636.

 

Between 1632 and 1639, Molière attended the Collège de Clermont, studied law in Orléans, and became a lawyer. In addition, in 1637, his father arranged for his son to succeed him in his official charge. Molière was not much interested in the law, however, and his practice was not brisk, nor was he inclined to follow in his father’s footsteps.

 

It is said that Molière’s grandfather often took him to the Hôtel de Bourgogne to see French tragedy and Italian comedy. Around 1640, Molière probably met Tiberio Fiurelli, known as Scaramouche in the Italian theater, and became closely associated with the Béjart family. Its members were involved in the arts, particularly theater, and were somewhat eccentric, but they lived in the fashionable Marais section of Paris and had some good connections. Their oldest daughter, Madeleine, known as an actress, was the sometime mistress of the Baron de Modène and mother of a child recognized by him. At a time when “actor” and “outlaw” were considered synonymous by many, Molière chose the life of the theater. He was giving up the security and respectability offered him, not only by the right to succeed his father, but also by the legal profession. At first, he chose not to write for the theater, instead pursuing a career as an actor.

 

The Illustre Théâtre was founded in 1643 by the Béjarts and other actors, including Molière, not for profit at first but simply for their entertainment and that of the bourgeoisie of Paris. The troupe was under the protection of Gaston, the duke of Orléans, brother of Louis XIII, who did not always remember to pay his actors. They rented and appointed a former tennis court as a theater, opened their doors in 1644, and were soon in serious financial difficulty. Marie Hervé, mother of the Béjart girls, helped her children and Molière, who had by then taken this name and was head of the troupe. Despite all measures, matters grew worse. In 1645, Molière was sued by numerous creditors and experienced a brief sojourn in debtors’ prison. He had made many friends among Parisian men of letters and their noble patrons, however, and formulated his philosophy of the theater. He had not wasted his time.

 

On his release from prison, Molière decided to leave Paris to try his luck in another troupe. Madeleine soon joined him. At the behest of a number of dramatic authors, the duke of Épernon received Molière, Madeleine, and her brother and sister into his troupe. They toured the provinces under the direction of Charles Dufresne until 1650, when the duke withdrew his support and Dufresne left the troupe. Molière assumed leadership during this awkward time, but in 1652 the troupe found a new patron in the prince of Conti. Again, the intercession of men of letters in Paris had been instrumental. The prince was an enlightened man who enjoyed such company, and he came to prize Molière’s intelligence and culture highly. Unfortunately, the prince’s spiritual advisers persuaded him to lead a more austere life, and in 1657 he withdrew his patronage.

 

By this time, the troupe was doing well artistically and financially. It contained a number of artists who were or would become celebrated. A fine actor, Molière was an equally fine director. He was a hard taskmaster but earned his actors’ respect and affection, and the turnover in his troupe was always remarkably low.

 

The players decided that, after a lengthy sojourn in Rouen, they would spend the winter of 1658 in Paris, which they had revisited sporadically, maintaining numerous contacts. In Paris, they rented the Marais Theatre for eighteen months and were granted the protection of Philippe, duke of Orléans, who paid them no more faithfully than had Gaston. On October 24, 1658, they played Corneille’s Nicomède (pr., pb. 1651; English translation, 1671) and then Molière’s The Love-Tiff before Louis XIV. The king was so pleased with Molière’s work that he accorded the troupe the use of the Petit-Bourbon on the days that the Italians did not play there. They performed in the fine hall there until 1660, when, for unknown reason, they moved to a smaller theater that was badly in need of repairs. Despite all efforts, the theater remained a makeshift affair. The troupe remained there, more or less permanently, until 1671, when it relocated to the Palais-Royal, which was properly remodeled and appointed.

 

The old Corneillean repertoire was no longer successful. Moreover, there was considerable bias on the part of good dramatic authors against offering their works to any troupe until 1667, when Corneille allowed Attila (English translation, 1960) to be mounted at the Petit-Bourbon, and 1670, when he gave Molière Tite et Bérénice to perform. Molière had found it necessary to create his own repertoire, a task that he had already begun in a modest way in the provinces. His comedies were well received, and the troupe seemed firmly established. The players at the Hôtel de Bourgogne and the Marais became increasingly more disgruntled. The triumph of The Affected Young Ladies in 1659 brought its author the active enmity of his rivals as well as the admiration of his public. Molière would never leave Paris again. His most important plays remained to be written. They were to win for him the highest praise, his contemporaries’ and posterity’s, and engage him in the fiercest of polemics with certain factions.

 

Molière was a short, rather ugly man with severe curvature of the spine, and he was by nature serious and somewhat taciturn. Nevertheless, his great art and talent brought him many friends, admirers, and patrons, and he enjoyed their company. He especially enjoyed being received by the notables of his day, whose invitations he insisted on reciprocating rather elegantly. During his life he had several mistresses, usually actresses, beginning with Madeleine Béjart, with whom he had a lifelong association, although he was not the most attentive of lovers.

 

At about the age of forty, Molière married pretty Armande Béjart, then about seventeen years of age and said variously to be Madeleine’s sister or daughter (perhaps by Molière). As was to be expected, their life was not a happy one. He was jealous of her as he had been of no other, and she seems to have given him considerable cause. Three children were born during their marriage, but Esprit-Madeleine was the only one to whom he was greatly attached and perhaps the only one that he fathered. Despite all vicissitudes, he continued to love Armande, and she was with him when he died in 1673.

 

Molière’s had always been a generous nature, emotionally as well as financially. Temperamental, not easy to live with, and always willing to engage in fierce polemic, he was nevertheless very forgiving. He was known not only to reconcile with but also to lend substantial sums of money to former enemies.

 

Louis XIV was Molière’s greatest patron, showering him with money and favors and protecting him from powerful enemies. After 1665, Molière’s group was known as “the King’s troupe,” a name preferred to that of the Hôtel de Bourgogne, and was requested to perform at Versailles, Saint-Germain, and Chambord. For inexplicable reasons, Jean-Baptiste Lully, the Florentine composer and sometime collaborator with Molière, became Louis’s favorite with respect to theatrical entertainment in 1672, only one year before Molière’s death. Although he had protected Molière in some extremely delicate situations, the king now preferred Lully’s frivolous productions to Molière’s masterpieces, and he granted the Italian exclusive rights over all works in which he had had a part. In vain, Molière tried legal means to oppose Louis’s will. Fortunately, he had long had important protectors at court, such as the king’s sister-in-law, Henriette d’Angleterre, and the prince of Conti, as well as numerous influential friends in various Parisian circles, including men of letters such as Nicholas Boileau.

 

After some initial difficulties concerning Lully’s rights and the search for another composer, The Imaginary Invalid, originally created for the court, was a success at the Palais-Royal. Despite his ill health, Molière played the title role. It was during the fourth performance that he fell seriously and visibly ill; however, the show continued because the prince of Conti and other notables were in the audience and the actors needed to work. After the performance, Molière was taken home, where his hemorrhaging grew worse. His wife was called, and his servants tried to find a priest who would come to an actor’s deathbed. When one finally arrived an hour later, Molière was dead.

 

Analysis

Molière’s first comedies were composed of elements borrowed from a variety of comic genres, high and low, ancient and modern, foreign and domestic. In each, he revealed considerable skill in development of character, observation of manners, construction of plot, or a combination of all these laced with much amusing physical activity. There was little original invention until The Affected Young Ladies, which was a petite comédie, a short farce designed to be performed after a longer serious work, but a farce containing satire of the excesses of certain manners of the day. Still specializing in the farce, of which he would remain a master, Molière continued his search for originality. The School for Husbands, in three acts, is the first of his plays to add a social thesis, however disguised by humorous treatment, to the observation of manners and character.

 

The School for Wives The School for Wives, Molière’s first major play, centers on the vain Arnolphe, who has taken the aristocratic name of M. de la Souche. Hoping to acquire the peace and happiness of a conjugal life in his old age, he wishes to marry his young ward, Agnès, who is being reared in solitude and ignorance. He praises the virtues of this unnatural form of education to his friend, Chrysalde, who protests against his plan in the name of common sense. Meanwhile, Horace, the son of Oronte, a great friend of Arnolphe, has fallen in love with Agnès and has even been successful in communicating with her. He confides in Arnolphe himself, whom he does not know by the name of de la Souche, and of whose role as guardian and jailer he is unaware.

 

In act 2, Arnolphe, after scolding his servants, Alain and Georgette, for having allowed Horace to enter the house, questions Agnès. She is innocent and docile and willingly gives him the details of her meeting with Horace, who has moved her, she admits ingenuously. Arnolphe decides to marry Agnès without delay and orders her to throw stones at the suitor if he dares to declare himself. In act 3, Arnolphe lectures Agnès further and makes her read the disagreeable “Maxims on Marriage”; later, Horace reports to Arnolphe the vain precautions taken by the jealous old man: Agnès had thrown Horace a stone, but only after attaching a love note to it.

 

As act 4 reveals, Arnolphe is prepared to fight for Agnès and issues orders to his servants accordingly. Nevertheless, Horace informs him that he has been able to visit Agnès and that he intends to elope with her during the night. Arnolphe calls for the notary to draw up a marriage contract and plans an ambush for Horace. In the fifth and final act, Horace is surprised by Alain and Georgette and severely beaten. Feigning death, he succeeds in abducting Agnès but foolishly entrusts her to Arnolphe, whom he still does not connect with the jealous old man. Arnolphe’s declarations of love do not touch Agnès, however, who now knows what true love is. Agnès’s father, who opportunely returns from America, allows her to marry Horace.

 

In five acts, this grande comédie exemplifies the formula that Molière had developed for his theater through a series of shorter pieces. As in The School for Husbands, the theme is the proper education of young women. The setting is a real one drawn from contemporary society. Arnolphe and Chrysalde are French bourgeois; Alain and Georgette are French peasants. At the same time, all the characters are highly personalized. Agnès is a remarkable portrait of a young woman who, acting on her instincts, becomes aware of her love for Horace and becomes aware of herself as a person. Arnolphe, the principal character, is both ridiculous, because of his obsession to keep Agnès in ignorance and be master of the house, and tragic, because of his unrequited love for Agnès and his despair at losing her, which ennobles him. In part through Chrysalde, one of his numerous mouthpieces, and in part through a conventional denouement, Molière reveals an important tenet of his philosophy: It is stupid and dangerous to try to suppress natural emotion, for it always wins out in the end.

 

The Critique of “The School for Wives” The School for Wives was so successful as to earn for its author additional favors from the king and more polemics from diverse factions. Supported by Louis and the honnêtes gens, Molière responded to his enemies’ attacks in The Critique of “The School for Wives,” a one-act play in prose, by means of a series of caricatures and his definition of art as the portrayal of truth. The setting is Uranie’s salon, where a discussion of Molière’s play is taking place. Célimène, a précieuse, attacks Molière’s immorality and vulgarity, and is in turn attacked by Uranie for her affected prudery. The marquis criticizes the play for having made the common people laugh, whereupon Dorante defends their common sense and good judgment. The pedant Lysidas considers the play an insignificant piece that cannot be compared with serious plays. He casts doubt on the judgment of the court in applauding Molière’s work, for it breaks all the rules of art. Once again, it is Dorante who acts as the author’s spokesman by stating that comedy is as difficult as tragedy to create and more true to life. For him the greatest rule is to please, and he sides with the court in its approbation of The School for Wives. Molière’s enemies were not stilled; they counterattacked with other short plays, accusing him of being too personal, impious, and immoral in his private life.

 

The Versailles Impromptu At the insistence of the king this time, Molière wrote another one-act piece in prose, The Versailles Impromptu, performed for Louis in October of 1663. Molière represents himself as director and actor in the midst of a rehearsal for a play to be given before the king. Having mocked the actors of the Hôtel de Bourgogne, Molière proceeds to give each of his players advice appropriate to his role and defends his theater, whose goal is to depict manners, not personalities. Whatever his enemies may say of his work does not disturb him, but he forbids them to intrude on his privacy. The piece concludes with an announcement from the king postponing the performance of the play under rehearsal.

 

Tartuffe Tartuffe, perhaps the most controversial of Molière’s comedies, was first given in its original version, now lost, as a part of Les Plaisirs de l’île enchantée, a week of the most extravagant entertainment offered by Louis XIV at Versailles in 1664 in honor of Louise de la Vallière. Tartuffe (then titled Tartuffe: Ou, L’Hypocrite) not only gave rise to another fierce polemic, but also was finally banned by the king at the insistence of the Company of the Blessed Sacrament, a secret society dedicated to reforming manners, who were concerned that Molière had them in mind when he presented his hypocrite as a cleric. Molière modified and expanded the play from three to five acts, and Louis authorized its performance (entitled L’Imposteur) at the Palais-Royal in 1667. Although Molière had made the hypocrite a layperson and softened his satire, the police and the Archbishop of Paris took advantage of the king’s trip to Flanders to shut down the successful play. After more efforts by Molière and Louis, the comedy was again authorized in 1669 and performed triumphantly as Tartuffe: Ou, L’Imposteur.

 

As the play begins, Mme Pernelle, pleased that her son, Orgon, has welcomed such a pious man into his household, roundly criticizes each member of the family who accuses Tartuffe of hypocrisy, including the outspoken servant Dorine. Returning from the country, Orgon inquires most solicitously about Tartuffe’s health (not his wife’s) and gives his brother-in-law, Cléante, an evasive answer regarding the proposed marriage of his daughter to Valère.

 

Complications develop in act 2: Despite Mariane’s dislike for Tartuffe, Orgon wants his daughter to marry him rather than the man whom she loves and who loves her. Dorine’s remonstrances are of no avail with Orgon, and she comforts the timid Mariane and settles the lovers’ quarrel that Orgon’s wishes have incited. In act 3, Orgon’s son Damis tries to intervene also, but Dorine makes him promise to leave matters to his stepmother, Elmire. The latter sends for Tartuffe, who finally appears. The young woman begs him to give up Mariane. The hypocrite takes advantage of the situation to try to seduce Elmire, who agrees not to reveal his scandalous behavior if he will favor the marriage of Mariane and Valère, but Damis, who overhears everything from a nearby closet, informs his father. Tartuffe feigns humility and deceives Orgon, who turns against his son and makes Tartuffe his heir.

 

Tartuffe is evasive when, in act 4, Cléante begs him to reconcile Orgon and Damis. Orgon wishes to hasten his daughter’s wedding to Tartuffe despite the protests of Cléante and Mariane. In order to disabuse her husband, Elmire has him hide under a table, summons Tartuffe, and pretends to respond to his passion. Finally understanding that he has been tricked by an impostor, Orgon comes out of his hiding place and orders Tartuffe to leave the house. The hypocrite abandons his mask and threatens Orgon, for the house belongs to him now.

 

The concluding act brings about the anticipated reversal. Orgon regrets having turned all his worldly possessions over to Tartuffe, including a strongbox containing the papers entrusted to him by a friend who is in political trouble. Mme Pernelle continues to have faith in Tartuffe when M. Loyal arrives with a court order to evict Orgon. Valère offers to help Orgon escape, for the incriminating strongbox has been turned over to the king’s officers. Tartuffe appears in person with an officer to have Orgon arrested, but it is Tartuffe who is arrested instead; the king had been alerted to the impostor’s fraudulent activities and knew of Orgon’s services to the royal cause during the rebellion of the Fronde. The deus ex machina ending finds the king praised and Valère and Mariane about to be married.

 

In Tartuffe, Molière claimed to attack hypocrisy only and took pains to have Cléante, his spokesman, distinguish carefully between true and false piety. Despite praise of the former, the only avowed Christians in the work, Orgon and his mother, are depicted as ridiculous, whereas the principal characters shown in a good light, Elmire and Cléante, are not religious persons. The emphasis in Tartuffe is clearly on human rather than divine wisdom, very much in the spirit of the eighteenth century philosophes.

 

Tartuffe’s is a skillful plot that maintains interest in its theme, the rise and fall of a religious hypocrite, from the lively, realistic exposition to the unlikely denouement. It is the perfect model of a comedy of character as well. Although all the characters are complex, drawn from life, it is Tartuffe who stands out, not only for his hypocrisy, but his keen intelligence, strong will, and great powers of dissimulation. For all his cleverness, however, he has a weakness, his sensuality coupled with greed, and this brutal passion causes his downfall.

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