Molière remains without rival as the French national playwright. He ranks too as one of the greatest comic dramatists of any nation. He single-handedly made comedy a respectable genre in France, for in his hands laughter and satire became the eq uals of the deepest tragedy. Indeed, many of his most profound comic creations have a tragic spirit buried within them, the result of the author’s close observations of our human foibles and failings. Famed French actor Jean-Louis Barrault, one of this century’s premiere performers of Molière, observed that he always found in the plays ‘a triple injunction of need, of desire, and of liberty. Molière, finally, is human life itself.’
Never a stranger to adversity or controversy, Molière earned both when he composed Tartuffe. For in the play’s deftly rhyming couplets and intricately twisted maze of affections and allegiances, he offered a sharp lampoon of most of what society held dear–particularly its own self-righteous sense of worth. In a play the author hoped could gently correct abuses while inducing pleasant mirth, the critics of his day found a work dangerous to the very foundations of the state. Warnings about hypoc risy were taken as ungodly attacks on piety itself.
Triumphing at last over these objections, the play gained for Molière a devoted following among the theater-going public and the nobility, as well as an equally passionate coterie of enemies among the clergy–enemies who would hound him even after his death. In recent times, the play has often been a favorite of those seeking to turn its satire upon specific subjects, recognizing in this classic text prescient parallels to contemporary psychology or modern frauds.
Since 1963, the play’s richness, wit, and scathing satire have found fitting theatrical vitality in the impeccable translation by poet Richard Wilbur, whose version of The Misanthrope was seen at Court in 1995. This season, Court Theatre is proud to present another shining instance of the award-winning artistic collaboration between the seventeenth-century French playwright and the twentieth-century American poet. Together they bring to life the complex and hilarious world of Tartuffe.
In Rotating Repertory with The Philadelphia Story