- Series: Harvest Book
- Paperback: 332 pages
- Publisher: Mariner Books; First edition (October 20, 1965)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0156605171
- ISBN-13: 978-0156605175
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 7.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 30 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #32,426 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Misanthrope and Tartuffe Paperback – October 20, 1965
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About the Author
RICHARD WILBUR, one of America’s most beloved poets, has served as poet laureate of the United States. He has received the National Book Award, two Pulitzer Prizes, the National Arts Club medal of honor for literature, and a number of translation prizes, including two Bollingen Prizes and two awards from PEN.
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First up is "The Misanthrope" which is a joy to read, if for no other reason than the witty and razor sharp wordplay of its leading characters. This play focuses on Alceste a man who hates all forms of hypocrisy and social niceties. I read a critic who once referred to his character as "a man in the world, but not of the world." It is an apt description. Alceste hates when people are ever less than 100% honest, in all matters, yet he is in love with a women named Celimene who is an incurable gossip, two faced, dishonest social climber. Alceste coming to terms with who he has chosen to love is really the crux of the play, with Moliere throwing in some sharp criticism of the courtly life of the French upper class, and some barbed commentary on when one should prize the truth above all others. A definitive answer is never given, and Moliere seems to be saying that there is a middle ground between dishonesty and 100% fidelity to the truth that most reasonable people occupy. A quick and delightful read, but be warned. Only see this play in performance with a good cast and stellar director. Otherwise it can quickly descend in performance to people just spitting out aphorisms and philosophy. The play is much more than that and the characters are real, but onstage it would be easy for weak performers to slip into caricature.
As for "Tartuffe", it is a more enjoyable play in performance than "The Misanthrope". I have seen professional productions of both, but "Tartuffe" has a scam artist and sex, and that does make good theater. Of these two plays "Tartuffe" is the more accessible to the casual reader, and it has a lot to say about the extremes of religious piety and religious hypocrisy. Moliere seems to be encouraging the reader to be somewhere in the middle of the two, and personally I agree with his even handed views. Although some have argued that this play is an attack on religion, and I readily admit that the most "religious" characters in the play are the biggest fools, I don't feel Moliere is attacking the institution as much as he is attacking how it is practiced. I argue this because the character of Cleante often speaks very highly of morality, when it is practiced with sincerity and regard for others.
All in all, both plays are worth reading, and adding to your library, and this handy volume fills the bill nicely. Neither piece will disappoint, and each is relevant to the modern reader. Moliere was indeed a writer for all times.
I would love to see these plays made into modern movies. With a little adjustment to the script, these characters fit into any time and place, including the 21st century when royalty is mostly an amusement park ride for the rest of us.
In comparison to prose translations in the past, Wilbur, past US Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner, truly gives the reader the real feeling of Moliere's "Balletic Comedy" style, as Moliere used his poetry and comedy to make complex and serious points about life of "regular" people, as opposed to royalty such as Shakespeare concentrated on, and so many other playwrites of the past.
In reading Wilbur's translations, one can virtually imagine the cast prancing and mincing across the stage as they humorously render these rhyming couplets at each other, and the audience. The true genius of both Moliere and Wilbur is illustrated most profoundly and strikingly in these translations. Any true lover of Moliere, and even those who have never read him before, should treat themselves to Wilbur's translations for a Moliere experience, that is unparalleled in any other versions previously published.