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Tartuffe, by Moliere
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
I often taught Moliere's "Tartuffe" as an example of the neoclassical form of comedy in contrast to the romantic comedy represented by Shakespeare. We would read "Twelfth Night," a play set in a faraway exotic land where the point was simply romance, and then turn to "Tartuffe," where the contemporary society becomes one of the primary concerns of the comic dramatist. During the neoclassical period society was concerned with norms of behavior, and in a Moliere play you usually find a eccentric individual, out of step with the rest of society, who is laughed back to the right position. Moliere was concerned with social problems, which was while this particular play, dealing with the issue of hypocrisy, was banned for years. Keep in mind that originally hypocrisy was specific to religion, although today it can be used with regards to politics, sex, or even uncontroversial subjects.
The central character in "Tartuffe" is not the title character, but Orgon, a reasonably well to do man of Paris who is married to his second wife, Elmire, and has a song, Damis, and a daughter, Mariane, from his first marriage. He also has the misfortune of living with his mother, Madame Pernelle. Tartuffe is a religious hypocrite who worms his way into Orgon's confidence in order to take him for everything he is worth. Orgon is completely duped, and disinherits his son when Damis tries to prove Tartuffe is fraud. The other key character in the play is Dorine, who is Mariane's maid and the smartest person in the house, which allows her to both manipulate the action and comment on the play.
There are three crucial scenes in the play that readers should appreciate, even if it will not be covered on a future exam. The first is the opening scene (in Moliere's comedies the scene changes every time a character enters or exits) where we are introduced to Madame Pernelle, who promptly proceeds to criticize everybody in Orgon's household while praising Tartuffe. The result is that because she is so obnoxious, we have a low opinion of Tartuffe before he ever appears on stage. So, in addition to being a funny scene, it serves an important function in terms of the play. The second key scene comes when Orgon realizes he has been duped, and instead of continuing to ridicule his central character, Moliere turns him into a sympathetic figure. We laugh at Orgon while he does not have a clue as to his culpability in his coming demise, but once he starts to lose everything we stop laughing.
The final scene of interest, for mostly reasons external to the story, is the conclusion, where Moliere pulls what could only be called a "roi ex machina." This is because instead of dropping a god out of the sky in the manner of Euripides, Moliere has a representatative of the King arrive to set everything to rights. Tartuffe might pull the wool over the eyes of ordinary folk, but the King--in this case, King Louis XIV--is not fooled. The play "Tartuffe" was banned by the clergy after its first performance because it was seen as a thinly veiled attack against the Jansenists (a rather puritanical Catholic sect), and Moliere literally spent years rewriting it before the King gave his approval. It is not surprising that the playwright makes his patron the hero at the end of the play.
If you are only going to read (or teach) one Moliere play, then my choice would be "Tartuffe," even over "The Misanthrope," "The Imaginary Invalid," or "The Bourgeois Gentleman." I would argue that "Tartuffe" is the paradigmatic Moliere play, which best represents his comic techniques while also having a historical context that speaks to the tenor of the times in which he wrote. I also think it is the funniest of his plays.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2007
Format: Paperback
Intriguing and entertaining, the play Tartuffe is a satire displaying the scandalous truths and facades of the seventeenth century. Although initially written for the people of King Louis the XIV, the book can be read by an every day high school student or adult. Through reading the play the audience is able to see the deception of people and that we can not always judge by what we see. Moliere brings about this concept through his witty play, and in such a manner that you can't put it down. In Tartuffe, Moliere uses the characterization, rhyme scheme, setting, and irony to effectively inform an every day audience about the distinction between appearances versus reality.

Characterization of Tartuffe

The perfect example of a hypocritical facade is displayed in the characterization of Tartuffe; in fact the name can be defined as one resembling false piety of religion. Tartuffe's character doesn't appear until nearly the middle of the play and the first image the audience receives is of him demanding his servant to, "hang up my hair-shirt, put my scourge in place, and pray Laurent for Heaven's perpetual grace. I'm going to prison now, to share my last few coins with the poor wretches there." (Tartuffe 3.2). The scourge and hair-shirt are used as a means of penance and chastisement. Religious ascetics will operate these items in private, showing their true devotion to God and to no one else. Tartuffe, however, made it obvious to the entire household what he was doing. Cleante, the character of reason, expounds upon Tartuffe's character, "those whose hearts are truly pure and lowly, don't make a flashy show of being holy. There is a vast difference it seems to me, between true piety and hypocrisy." (Tartuffe 1.5). If Tartuffe was truly pious, he wouldn't need ratification from others for his good deeds, self-satisfaction would suffice. Although Tartuffe appears holy and raves about his goodness, in reality it is just for show.

Another example of Tartuffe's hypocrisy occurs with Dorine. He tells Dorine to "cover that bosom, girl. The flesh is weak; such sights as that can undermine the soul." (Tartuffe 3.2). Tartuffe might appear offended by the act of seeing a women's chest, however, he doesn't have a problem with sleeping with another man's wife. In the next scene Tartuffe's counterfeit façade is dissolved with Elmire and he offers her "love without scandal, and pleasure without fear" if she will commit adultery with him. To Tartuffe "it is no sin to sin in confidence" and though "some joys are wrong in heaven's eyes, heaven is not averse to compromise." (Tartuffe 4.5). In the scriptures, committing adultery is the third worst sin to commit in God's eyes. Moliere uses this example of Tartuffe's character to expose the many scandals occurring in the seventeenth century with the priests and their inability to remain celibate. Despite the fact priests and those who act pious [such as Tartuffe] appear holy, in reality they sometimes use young girls, committed adultery, and partake in many other scandals.

Not only does Tartuffe aspire to sleep with another man's wife, but also he indulges in the seven deadly sins. While Orgon is away from the house, Tartuffe ate "a leg of mutton and a brace of pheasants," "snored away until the break of day," and "drank four beakers full of port." (Tartuffe 1.4) Tartuffe is supposed to be a devout follower of the son of God. Nonetheless he overstuffs himself, eats too much meat, drinks and oversleeps. Orgon tries defend Tartuffe by saying he "gave him gifts, but in his humbleness he'd beg me every time to give me less." What Orgon doesn't understand is that a Christ-like figure would not accept gifts, and Tartuffe still takes them in, along with wishing to overtake Orgon's household. Tartuffe's sanctimonious display allows the audience to effectively see that he is a hypocrite. Moliere makes it a point to the audience that just because someone appears holy, it does not always hold true and in reality they could be hypocrites.

Characterization of Orgon

Moliere uses the characterization of Orgon to portray a father attempting to control his household when in reality Orgon is gullible and Tartuffe is running the household. Orgon enforces his "fatherly role" upon Mariane telling her Tartuffe is "to be your husband, is that clear" because "it's a father's privilege." (Tartuffe 2.1). He also repeatedly orders the other members in the family around, announcing he is the one giving the orders in the household. (Tartuffe 3.6). Although Orgon attempts to be the one giving the orders in the house, Tartuffe depicts Orgon as growing "more gullible by the day" and that he "could lead him by the nose." (Tartuffe 4.5) Tartuffe is able to get Orgon to sign papers to make him Orgon's only son and heir and eventually Tartuffe takes over Orgon's household. Moliere uses this example to effectively inform his audience that even though we appear to be in control of situations, giving someone too much power and being gullible can lead to a reversal of fortune.

Rhyme Scheme

Another tool Moliere uses to show the difference between appearance and reality is through the rhyme scheme. Moliere employs rhymed couplets to amplify the reading tempo. A rhymed couplet is two lines where the ending syllable of each line rhymes. For example: "there is nothing that I more cherish and admire than honest zeal and true religious fire." (Tartuffe 1.5). The prompt reading symbolizes the frantic disorder of Orgon's household. Although the family tries to put on a façade that they are a perfect aristocratic family of the time, in reality turmoil and conflict subsist throughout the household. This example was true of many families of the time and is also true today.

Setting

The setting also portrays the turmoil of the home and augments the pace of the play. The whole play takes place in the same room in Orgon's home and the characters are constantly entering and exiting the room. This causes chaos and confusion resembling the situation of the family. Moliere efficiently informs the audience that although households [in the 1600s or today] may appear to be perfect on the outside, if you dig a little deeper into the reality, they can be muddled.

Dramatic Irony

Moliere also utilizes irony to expose the difference between demeanor and veracity to the audience. On two occasions the play uses the dramatic irony of Damis or Orgon hiding in a closet or under the table while a conversation between Elmire and Tartuffe is occurring. The first instance has Damis hidden in a closet and the audience gets a whim of Tatuffe's true character. Although Tartuffe "may be pious, he is human too." (Tartuffe 3.3). Tartuffe starts touching Elmire and proclaiming his lusts for her and his pious mask becomes undone. It is not until the second occurrence of dramatic irony that Tartuffe's façade is completely gone and the reality of his lasciviousness is unveiled. Tartuffe tells Elmire "to be his pupil" and he will show her "how to conquer scruple." (Tartuffe 4.5). Once again the audience can see the hypocrisy of Tartuffe. Moliere uses this tool of dramatic irony to show the audience that we can not always believe what we see because, once we truly get to know someone they can be a completely different person than they appeared.

I would highly recommend this book to all people fifteen and over because not only does Moliere give you insights on life, but also he is very entertaining and satirical. Due to the rhymed couplets, the book is a very quick read and it is enjoyable because of the irony and witty diction used throughout. Tartuffe is guaranteed to make you laugh and it will institute deep thinking for those wanting to read an academic work.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
Fast-paced and oft hilarious; Moliere's "Tartuffe" was one of the most controversial plays of its day. However, I myself do not believe it to be so much a satire on religion (contrary to what was believed at the time) as a satire on religious hypocrisy. Not once in the play is a specific religion or religious belief eluded to, and Cleante (who serves as the play's voice of reason) praises piety (so long as it is honest) in the beginning of the fifth act. What the play is satirizing is how easily people follow and accept what they are told by their leaders, whether religious, political, or otherwise.
In the play Orgon places so much faith in the mischevious Tartuffe that he nearly gives away everything (including his own daughter) to him. Both the strong-willed, weak-minded Orgon and the devious Tartuffe (of whom one could say "thinks with the wrong head") as well as the quick-tempered Damis, the clear-minded Cleante, and the wise-cracking maid Dorine are memorable characters all of whom are wonderfully developed despite the brevity of the play. The rhyme scheme makes for a quick and enjoyable read as well. A classic!
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 1999
Format: Paperback
The most amazing thing about this play is the skill of its author. The story is original and interesting. The actual writing is what captivated me. So witty is the dialogue, so humorous it is at times, that I laughed out loud. It is quite amazing that such ancient text sounds like something you would hear on a sitcom. This is not boring or confusing speech, like in Shakespeare; this is very down-to-earth. Aside from the alluring rhyme, Moliere has an incredible ability to take a page-long theme and express it perfectly and succinctly in one sentence, and with poignancy. If I were given the task of writing dialogue about the theme of hypocrisy, I would write page after page of ineffective, watered-down, wordy dialogue that repeatedly misses the mark of expressing the point well. Moliere's lines, however, are so well-crafted that the ideas are ingeniously short and accurate. He fits so many good points into one entertaining, rhythmic, memorable sentence. Tartuffe is my favorite play of all!
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I often taught Moliere's "Tartuffe" as an example of the neoclassical form of comedy in contrast to the romantic comedy represented by Shakespeare. We would read "Twelfth Night," a play set in a faraway exotic land where the point was simply romance, and then turn to "Tartuffe," where the contemporary society becomes one of the primary concerns of the comic dramatist. During the neoclassical period society was concerned with norms of behavior, and in a Moliere play you usually find a eccentric individual, out of step with the rest of society, who is laughed back to the right position. Moliere was concerned with social problems, which was while this particular play, dealing with the issue of hypocrisy, was banned for years. Keep in mind that originally hypocrisy was specific to religion, although today it can be used with regards to politics, sex, or even uncontroversial subjects. Consequently, the idea of characterizing Tartuffe as an imposter, would miss the point; he might be misrepresenting himself, but he is, indeed, Tartuffe.

The central character in "Tartuffe" is not the title character, but Orgon, a reasonably well to do man of Paris who is married to his second wife, Elmire, and has a song, Damis, and a daughter, Mariane, from his first marriage. He also has the misfortune of living with his mother, Madame Pernelle. Tartuffe is a religious hypocrite who worms his way into Orgon's confidence in order to take him for everything he is worth. Orgon is completely duped, and disinherits his son when Damis tries to prove Tartuffe is fraud. The other key character in the play is Dorine, who is Mariane's maid and the smartest person in the house, which allows her to both manipulate the action and comment on the play.

There are three crucial scenes in the play that readers should appreciate, even if it will not be covered on a future exam. The first is the opening scene (in Moliere's comedies the scene changes every time a character enters or exits) where we are introduced to Madame Pernelle, who promptly proceeds to criticize everybody in Orgon's household while praising Tartuffe. The result is that because she is so obnoxious, we have a low opinion of Tartuffe before he ever appears on stage. So, in addition to being a funny scene, it serves an important function in terms of the play. The second key scene comes when Orgon realizes he has been duped, and instead of continuing to ridicule his central character, Moliere turns him into a sympathetic figure. We laugh at Orgon while he does not have a clue as to his culpability in his coming demise, but once he starts to lose everything we stop laughing.

The final scene of interest, for mostly reasons external to the story, is the conclusion, where Moliere pulls what could only be called a "roi ex machina." This is because instead of dropping a god out of the sky in the manner of Euripides, Moliere has a representatative of the King arrive to set everything to rights. Tartuffe might pull the wool over the eyes of ordinary folk, but the King--in this case, King Louis XIV--is not fooled. The play "Tartuffe" was banned by the clergy after its first performance because it was seen as a thinly veiled attack against the Jansenists (a rather puritanical Catholic sect), and Moliere literally spent years rewriting it before the King gave his approval. It is not surprising that the playwright makes his patron the hero at the end of the play.

If you are only going to read (or teach) one Moliere play, then my choice would be "Tartuffe," even over "The Misanthrope," "The Imaginary Invalid," or "The Bourgeois Gentleman." I would argue that "Tartuffe" is the paradigmatic Moliere play, which best represents his comic techniques while also having a historical context that speaks to the tenor of the times in which he wrote. I also think it is the funniest of his plays.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 1999
Format: Paperback
I dropped in here to see how Monsieur Moliere was doing with the online reviewers, and was glad to see that most people are still delighted by this masterpiece -- particularly in Richard Wilbur's supernaturally brilliant translation. I've been using this translation in a dramatic lit course for several years, and all of the best and brightest students LOVE the thing. The plot is insane, the satire is edgy, and the couplets are delicious. Buy it today; read it as soon as it arrives.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2004
Format: Paperback
To whom it may concern;

My name is Shelby, and i am a colege student in IL. I have been doing Theatre all my life, and during my senior year of high school, i was lucky enough to land a role in Tartuffe, By Moliere (the Richard Wilbur translation). upon preparing for my audition for Tartuffe, i had the opportunity to read many other versions of the script. To all directors, teachers, or whom ever is looking for a good laugh, i would choose Tartuffe. This delicious play is perfect for high school students (it has the perfect ammount of Character, and is easy to memorize because of the rhyming couplets) or adult theatre productions. If you are just interested in reading Tartuffe, i would, of course, reccomend it, but i also feel that you will not get the full "feel" of the play because you cannot get the humor or irony of some of the jokes. Much luck to all!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2005
Format: Paperback
This play caused quite a ruckus when it first was performed in 1664 in France. The theatre-goers thought that Moliere was undermining the very basis of religion, and in France at this time, religion and Catholicism were sacrosanct. Instead, Moliere was making an attack on false piety and on hypocrites. The play is a comedy, and a very funny one at that, but the points that Moliere makes in this play are obvious and clear. He does not suffer fools gladly, and has no use for false religious piety. I think that he leaves a number of questions unaswered in this play. For example, who was Tartuffe and was he once pious? Is the play meant only to be a direct hit on religious heretics, or was Moliere pointing fun at all hypocrisy as displayed by politicians and world leaders? I'll leave you to find that out for yourself. Read the play and draw your own conclusions. I must say that I really would like to see this play performed on the stage.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 1999
Format: Paperback
A wonderful book, what more can one say about it? The author has translated it into rhyming couplets that are perfect for the type of play/drama it is. This type of book really gives you insight to the way people think and how easily someone can fall into the hands of the wrong people.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 24, 2005
Format: Paperback
Moliere's Tartuffe has been a great favorite of mine for years. It's just so witty and so truthful. Moliere's satire hits religious hypocrisy harshly, and that's such a valuable message, even several centuries later. Moreover, Moliere's play isn't anti-religious; there is instead an appeal to true religion and toward the development of virtue. So few writers have ever been as witty as Moliere either. There are so many hilarious scenes here, my favorite being the table scene. And the dialogue throughout it just extraordinarily clever as well, particularly during the exchanges between Orgon and either Cleante or Dorine.

Wilbur's masterful translation just enhances the joys of Moliere's classic play. It's a terribly difficult thing to make the couplets of Neoclassical France tenable to a contemporary audience, but of course, Wilbur has made them so. All of the sharpness, the liveliness of the lines is preserved, making Tartuffe accessible, intelligently, to today's audience. Of course, Wilbur's other translations of Moliere are excellent as well.

Wilbur's translation of Tartuffe is really one that can't be missed. The combination of the master French playwright Moliere with Richard Wilbur, a modern poetic master in his own right, is just superb. Wilbur's Tartuffe is a total pleasure.
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