Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Intelligent Mischief

The Misanthrope / Tartuffe


“Beauty without intelligence is like a hook without bait.”   ― Molière, Tartuffe

One of the most divisive comedies ever written, Tartuffe was the focus of the biggest censorship dispute of the 17th century. Molière's remarkably beautiful drama concerning religious belief fundamentally altered the purposes and goals of comedy. It was extremely brave, if not foolish, of Molière to humorously tackle such a subject in a religiously sensitive era that still dealt with heresy at the stake. Tartuffe may have struck a nerve when his detractors interpreted the play's portrayal of religious hypocrisy and fake piety as an assault on religion in general. Still raw from Tartuffe's sting, it is easy to criticize the prejudice and blindness of his contemporaries. At the time of his passing, Molière's fellow clergymen were still resentful of Tartuffe. But the drama still manages to jolt and move spectators in tender places, and the urgency of being able to discern genuine devotion from fakery is as great now as it was in 17th-century France.

Moliere demonstrated that the caricatures of farce facilitated rather than hindered the investigation of human nature and social experience, and that both comedy and tragedy could delve into profound psychological depths and fundamental human concerns. His was a unique character comedy that drew laughs heartily at the mistakes and pretenses of human nature while portraying modern manners in a lifelike manner. Not everyone found it funny.


Stephen said...

I read this twenty years ago in a literature course. All I remember thinking, at the time, is that it had no sympathetic characters whatsoever. I should revisit it and see how my response has changed!

James said...

My first reading of this was in college more than fifty years ago. I attended a local theatre production several years ago, but rereading it reminded me of the power of Moliere's satire.