Molière was one of the three classic French playwrights, along with Racine and Corneille. I recently read Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme , which served as a catalyst to read another classic work of his, which was first produced in 1664. He lived roughly half a century after Shakespeare. The subject quote is taken from Hamlet (Folger Shakespeare Library) , and it certainly seems to be appropriate, in describing the reaction of the “gratin” of French society, particularly the Catholic Church, to this play. The character, Tartuffe, is definitely a bad guy; in fact his name has become synonymous with “hypocrite,” and the play contains at least five different French words for “rogue.” The hierarchy of the Catholic Church threatened to excommunicate anyone who would even watch the play… though interestingly, and perhaps in the spirit of Tartuffe, they did not excommunicate Molière, since he was “in tight” with the King, Louis XIV.
It seems that everyone in the family of Organ, save himself, and his mother, Madame Pernelle, can see Tartuffe as the true cad that he is. But Organ’s fatal flaw of trusting Tartuffe, to the detriment of his family, and even himself, is enough to cause some havoc, and is the central theme of the play. His daughter Mariane is engaged to be married to Valerie, Organ orders her to marry Tartuffe instead, whom he sees as a fine upstanding gentleman. Tartuffe even attempts to seduce Organ’s wife, Elmire. When Organ’s son, Damis, overhears the seduction attempt, and reports it to dad, it is Damis himself who gets into trouble, and is expelled from the household. How Tartuffe slithered out of his attempted efforts to cuckold his host reminded me of the tactics of some televangelists of today; quickly admit that no one is perfect, thank those who will overlook a flaw, and then bitterly denounce those that attempt to impose some accountability for the wrongdoing, while feigning sympathy for them. A classic line that has been used to justify many a war: “to rectify the wrongness of our actions with the purity of our intentions.”
All’s well that ends well, and in this play the classic “deux ex machina” is used. Organ himself overhears another seduction attempt, hears Tartuffe describe him as a “man who could be led by the nose,” and thus wants to throw Tartuffe out, but is blackmailed with some incriminating letters of a treasonous nature, and for a while, Organ even loses his home to Tartuffe. The many “Organs” of a latter day would see Bernie Madoff in Tartuffe. But Molière, playing to his sponsor’s support, has the King himself fulfill the role of the “deux,” comes to the rescue, and has Tartuffe arrested, and the home restored to Organ.
Overall, this classic work should rate 5-stars, but I did have a couple of problems with this Kindle edition. There was no list of characters at the beginning, so that the reader could understand easily their relationships. Also, the text must have been produced by some flawed optical scanner, since on numerous occasions the name of the character who will now be speaking is the last word in the sentence that the previous character has spoken. Thus, with these flaws for this edition, 4-stars.
[Note: unlike the criticism of another reviewer, I did NOT find all the sentences underlined, so they must have corrected that flaw in the intervening two and a half years.]