Tartuffe, an imposter, poses as a member
of the clergy and tried to dupe a wealthy
and naïve man into handing over all his
worldly possessions. A comedy of epic
proportions, Tartuffe is not to be
4. CAST & STAFF
credulous Orgon and his mother Mme. Pernelle, has been taken into Orgon's home.
Both Orgon and his mother believe that Tartuffe's pious example will be good for the
other members of the family. But everyone else in the family, including even the
outspoken servant Dorine, is perceptive enough to see through the impostor.
Despite the protestations of his sensible brother-in-law Cleante and his son Damis,
Orgon determines that his daughter Mariane, who is in love with a young man named
Valere, shall marry Tartuffe. When Orgon's wife Elmire seeks out Tartuffe to beg him to
refuse Mariane's hand, he attempts to seduce her. Damis, who has over heard,
denounces the impostor, but Orgon reacts by banishing his son rather than his guest
and by signing over his entire property to Tartuffe.
Realizing the futility of reasoning with either Tartuffe or her husband, Elmire devises a
way to expose the hypocrite to Orgon. She persuades Orgon to conceal himself under
a table while she speaks to Tartuffe, and her husband is thus a witness to the
impostor's advances to her.
Orgon's eyes are opened a little too late, for he has already assigned all he owns to
Tartuffe. When Tartuffe realizes his hypocrisy has been discovered, he promptly turns
the family out of the house. Then by reporting to the authorities that Orgon possesses a
strongbox containing the papers of an exiled friend, Tartuffe contrives to have his
former host arrested. But by order of the King, the arresting officer apprehends
Tartuffe instead, and the impostor is hauled off to prison for his treacherous behavior
toward his well-meaning if too-credulous host. The play ends as Damis is reconciled
with his father and the wedding of Mariane and Valere is announced.
The Banning of the Play
XIV who, nevertheless, read it aloud to an audience that included high dignitaries of
the Church. 1667: While the King was away in Flanders, the play was given as "The
--1664, France: The first three acts were given repeatedly at court, but Moliere could
not get permission for a public performance. During these years the church called him
"a demon in human flesh," closed his theater, and tore down his posters.
--1667: The theatre was ordered closed by the Chief of Police, and the Archbishop of
Paris laid a ban of excommunication on all who might act in the play, read it, or see it.
--1669: Permission was granted by the King to perform the play in public.
The Life of Molière
worked at the king's court, Molière attended the Jesuit Collège de Clermont. He then
turned his back on a secure future in the position he could have inherited from his
father and became an actor instead. After founding the Illustre Théâtre (Illustrious
Theater Company) in Paris with actors Joseph and Madeleine Béjart, he adopted the
name Molière. Although the company foundered in 1645, he toured the French
provinces in another troupe with the Béjarts from 1645 to 1658. During that time,
Molière began writing short plays, influenced by French farce and the popular form of
Italian theater known as commedia dell'arte.
In October 1658 the traveling company accepted an offer from the king of France,
Louis XIV (known as the "Sun King"), to present plays in the Théâtre du Petit Bourbon,
part of the Louvre palace in Paris. There Molière produced his first major comedy, Les
précieuses ridicules (1659; translated as The Conceited Ladies, 1732), a satire on
the extravagant manners, style, and language of contemporary women who wished to
distinguish themselves through excessively refined taste and behavior.
In 1662 Molière married Armande Béjart, the much younger sister of Madeleine and
also a member of his troupe. The marriage was not a happy one. This misfortune was
reflected in L'école des femmes (1662; School for Wives, 1739). In this play the
character Arnolphe's efforts to shape his much younger prospective bride, Agnès,
through education in a convent and his own tyrannical rules are defeated by Agnès's
natural inclination toward Horace, a man her own age.
Les précieuses ridicules and L'école des femmes were highly successful and
aroused considerable jealousy among Molière's rivals. To answer his critics and
satirize them in the process, Molière wrote and produced two short discussion plays in
1663: La critique de l'école des femmes (The School for Wives Criticized, 1739) and
L'impromptu de Versailles (The Impromptu of Versailles, 1739). The king supported
Molière during these battles and in 1664 became godfather to his son. That same year
Molière wrote the first version of Tartuffe (translated 1670), a play that satirized
religious hypocrisy. It was banned from the stage through the efforts of the Roman
Catholic Church. Molière wrote two more versions of the play, in 1667 and 1669, and
the third version was finally produced. During these years he also wrote seven of his
greatest plays, including the complex Dom Juan (1665; Don Juan, 1739); his
masterpiece, Le misanthrope (1666; The Misanthrope, 1739); L'avare (1668; The
Miser, 1739); and Le bourgeois gentilhomme (1670; The Would-Be Gentleman,
1739), called a comedy-ballet because it included ballet interludes as part of the
narrative. In addition to writing these plays (most of which are in rhyming couplets),
Molière managed the business of his company, directed all the productions, and
played some of the most demanding roles.
Molière's last great plays were Les femmes savantes (1672; The Learned Ladies,
1739) and Le malade imaginaire (1673; The Hypochondriac, 1739). Ironically,
Molière, who had been grievously ill for some time, played the role of the
hypochondriac in his last play, fell mortally ill during the fourth performance, and died
an hour after being taken home. Because of the disapproval of the Roman Catholic
Church, it was only through the intervention of the king that Molière was allowed to be
buried in holy ground, and this only in the dead of night.
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