Tartuffe by Moliere
Tartuffe was written by Moliere in France in the 19th century during the reign of King Louis XIV. It shows the Parisian high society, religion and most importantly, religious hypocrisy. In the play a religious fraud, Tartuffe, manages to persuade Orgon, a rich merchant, to stay in his wealthy, happy house by masquerading as a priest and appearing to be pious and wholehearted. During Tartuffe’s stay in the household he nearly manages to trick Orgon into letting him drive away his son, Damis, marrying his daughter, Mariane, seducing his wife and imprisoning Orgon.
This play explores the themes of status, trust, and the betrayal of trust, greed, jealousy, lust and families’ duties and their expectations. It seems that Tartuffe is supposed to represent the people in society who do not live by any morals, but still try to preach religious piety and force upon others what they themselves do not follow, or respect. In the theatre, the stage actually appeared very small at first when there were no actors on it.
It was a very minimalist set which meant that the few features on it, such as the two floral patterned, embroidered chairs and the grand black door gave the feeling of quite an austere, aristocratic house with authentic architecture and powerful, serene, imposing colours such as the deep blue of the gauze curtains and black door and floorboards. The way that the floorboards were placed, going toward the audience felt very inviting and made it feel very intimate because the stage was so close to the audiences’ seats.
The seriousness of the set seemed to contrast with the continual humour throughout the play. This is similar to Tartuffe’s character because he appears on the outside to be very solemn and proper but then he actually has a rather rude and arrogant character on the inside. I think that the director’s interpretation was very important in this play as it made it its own, without loosing any of the important themes.
Although the director, Jonathan Munby, decided to keep the authentic costume and performance technique he did change a few details to give it more of a modern feel. For example, the actors did not wear any of the old fashioned wigs that would have done in the time it was written, and they used more contemporary speeches to keep up with the today’s, modern, audience. Another great example of the way Munby adapted the script was at the beginning of Act Four. In the script it just states that it should open with, “A room in Ogon’s house.
A table, with a bottle of wine on it. ” Munby managed to turn that into a very amusing scene in which Tartuffe seems to be almost preparing for a communion, setting up wine glasses very carefully, but then you realise that in fact he was preparing to indulge himself with food, profiteroles – which are very indulgent, rich treats, wine and lust. When Cleante, Elmie’s brother, comes into the Tartuffe’s room during this scene Tartuffe says to him, “If I have a vice, it isn’t greed” after eating four profiteroles all at once!
The when Tartuffe leaves to go upstairs he picks up the huge silver platter of profiteroles and says to Cleante, “I must go upstairs for some more chastisement and prayers”. During this scene Tartuffe’s acolyte, Laurent carries the dress of Elmire, Orgon’s wife who Tartuffe likes, on his hand like a puppet. This puppet then pretends to flirt with Tartuffe and he obviously enjoys this very much. The puppet really helps in enhance the action here because it is physically showing the audience exactly what Tartuffe is thinking of in his head, it also gives the piece a lot of humour and helps the scene to keep flowing.
I found that Orgon’s character was quite different to the light hearted Dorine. When Orgon first arrives Dorine, being the maid, informs him on everything that has happened in his absence. During his time away in the countryside his wife, Emire, got very ill but all he wants to know about is how Tartuff is. For example, Dorine tells Orgon how Tartuffe has been, “Once he satisfied his appetite, he went to bed and slept as soundly as the dead. ” All Orgon can say in response to that, and all the other tales of what he got up to is, “Poor man! Orgon has a rather monotonic voice which is only varied in power when speaking about Tartuffe or getting angry with Dorine! He has very closed up, serious body language which looks like he is almost trying to imitate Tartuffe, who is his idol. Near the end of the play when Orgon discovers what Tartuffe is really like by hiding under a table and listening to his wife’s conversation with him, Orgo gets very confused. At first he blames his wife for showing him, “The man’s a monster! You’ve destroyed my world! What’s left?
A gaping void! ” Then the next thing he says is, “No. He’s a fiend. Straight out of Hell. ” It is not surprising that he is confused because earlier on he had so much trust in Tartuffe and now he has just been shown the real Tartuffe, and there is no way that he can deny it. At the end of the play when Tartuffe has been captured Orgon sees this as an opportunity to get angry with Tartuffe, while he can not defend himself, for disrupting their lives so much. Orgon tries to lunge out Tartuffe and yells, “Yooouuu – devious, treacherous… However Elmire’s brother stops him from being angry and makes him see that it is best just be thankful for Louis XIV wisdom in spotting Tartuffe’s trickery. This meant that the final movement of Orgon was that of gratefulness and love towards everyone in his family. This left us feeling happy that Orgon had finally managed to see sense, however, throughout the play we see how quickly he reaches judgements and so we can only hope that, like a child, he will learn from his mistakes. During the performance, lighting had a big impact on how we, the audience, interpreted certain situations.
Throughout the play, until Tartuffe was captured, there always seemed to be a slight touch of steel wash mixed into the straw wash which gave the feeling of uneasiness and never quiet as a happy atmosphere as there could be. During the scene when Dorine ties to use reverse psychology on Marian by telling her that she must marry Tartuffe, when actually she should not, steel wash was used. By using a steel wash it gave the scene a feeling of entrapment and made everything that Dorine did seem even more cold and mean.
At the beginning of Act Four, when Tartuffe sets out his food and wine to look like a communion, candles are also used on the table. The candles gave the stage a lot of atmosphere and made everything slightly more eerie. It also made what Tartuffe was doing seem much more like a religious service, rather than an indulgent feast! It also makes the contrast between the holiness of his surrounding and the greediness o himself much more apparent. Light is used brilliantly at the end of the play when the big golden sun of King Louis XIV appears on the back wall.
Finally, a true sense of warmth and happiness is brought onto the stage and the audience is able to relax knowing that everything is going to work out well. To go with the lighting at some points, such as right at the beginning before anyone had entered onto the stage, two violinists played behind the gauze curtain, with light shinning from behind them. The effect of this was that we could see the shape of them on the curtain, but no detail. This, combined with the violin music made the house that the family lived in seem rather grand, solemn and quite empty, like there was no fun left anymore.
When the family entered just after the music had been played it also made them seem much more important than they would have seemed otherwise. It was a bit like they had their own fanfare. Costume was very important in this play because it primarily shows the period it was set in, the late 17th century. I found that each individual costume seemed to reflect the person’s character as much as possible. Obviously this was hardy for Dorine, the maid, as she simply had to wear a maids uniform of black and white, but her gestures and face expressions were so good anyway that the clothes did not matter as much.
Tartuffe had a very modest costume which basically consisted of a black cloak, white shirt with a neckerchief and black trousers. He will have worn this so as to appear very priestly and quite poor. Mme Pernelle also wore an entirely black outfit which made her appear to be extremely strict and cold, she was sat in a wheel chair as well though so that it showed she was very old, and I also gave her an excuse to have everyone’s attention in order to take her everywhere. On the other hand, Elmire wore a very beautiful, flowing red dress which showed her daring, confident character later on in the play when she goes to meet Tartuffe.
When the officer of the court enters at the end of the play he wears a massive, grand costume which is gold and white. The gold obviously reflects the ‘Sun King’ image and is very warm and happy. His character is shown to e good and pure, just like his costume. The other men in the play all war similar, costumes except for a slight change in colour and the odd frilly accessory, such as Valere’s bright, big shoes. Moliere had originally been a lawyer but he gave up this well paid job to become a playwright, even though actors at that time had no respect.
After constantly being in financial trouble, Moliere decided to run away with a couple to begin their own theatre company. During this time though he had an affair with the women, Madeline. Moliere theatre company went to perform in front of King Louis XIV and they started off with a tragedy. However, the play went extremely badly and at the last minute Moliere decided to show one of his own plays with himself acting as the lead role. This play was a tremendous success and because it was so good Louis XIV decided to pay Moliere an annual fee to support his company. Moliere then got married to a woman who was 20 years his junior.
He did not know this at the time but she was actually Madeline’s younger sister, although she could have also been their daughter! This gives us the impression that he was quite a sleazy character. In order to stay on the King’s side Moliere had to earn his trust. Moliere named his first child Louis and also made him the Godfather. Moliere also included the Kings greatness into many of his plays, such as the end of Tartuffe. When Moliere first wrote Tartuffe, although the King loved the play, the Church, who wee extremely powerful, banned it for five years because of the religious hypocrisy.
In Tartuffe Moliere is satirising religion. He did this in many other plays and also mocked the medical profession at that time. Other examples of these plays are, “The Hypochondriac” and “The School for Wives”. Tartuffe was very cleverly adapted to be made relevant to a modern audience by using unexpected comedy and colloquial language For example, Dorine seemed to use the most modern day language coming out unexpectedly with phrases such as, “you talk a load of crap”, “blabbermouth! “, and “kiss my arse”.
This caught the attention of the audience because it was such a contrast from the rest of the words in the script. Also the words pious and hypocrite were used a lot of the time. I think that many of the themes used in Tartuffe were still very relevant today. For example, we still have outcasts who try to worm their way into our society. We also are still concerned with the status of people in the world and the betrayal of trust, greed, jealousy and lust. All these themes are entwined into our current everyday lives, even if we do not realise it.