I read this play when I took my Survey of World Literature class as a freshman in college, and I don’t recall being overly impressed by it. But I knew it was one of those “important” works, so when I found out that a local theater troupe would be performing Tartuffe, I figured I would read it again before going to see it on stage. I have to confess that I found it much more entertaining this time around than I did as a college student.
Tartuffe is a hypocrite, someone who professes to be spiritual and holy, but is really just a scheister. He dupes Orgon, who is kind of gullible and hard to sympathize with, into promising him his young daughter Mariane for marriage and bequeathing him his worldly possessions. He then turns around and makes sexual advances on Orgon’s wife Elmire and when he gets caught, attempts to have them evicted from their home. To sum it up, Tartuffe is a total asshole with no redeeming qualities.
I view this play as a critique against the abuses of the church. In fact, there is a lot about Tartuffe that reminds me of modern televangelists. Tartuffe tries to justify his acceptance of Orgon’s estate by asserting that he is doing it for Orgon’s good and for the good of God.
No one who knows me, sir, can have the thought
That I am acting from a selfish motive.
The goods of this world have no charms for me;
I am not dazzled by their treacherous glamour;
And if I bring myself to take the gift
Which he insists on giving me, I do so,
To tell the truth, only because I fear
This whole estate may fall into bad hands,
And those to whom it comes may use it ill
And not employ it, as is my design,
For Heaven’s glory and my neighbours’ good.
(Act IV: scene i)
My favorite lines in this play occur when Elmire is playing along with Tartuffe’s advances while Orgon is hiding so he can see just how despicable Tartuffe really is. Tartuffe claims that a sin is not really a sin unless it becomes public knowledge.
In any case, your scruple’s easily
Removed. With me you’re sure of secrecy,
And there’s no harm unless a thing is known.
The public scandal is what brings offence,
And secret sinning is not sin at all.
(Act IV: scene v)
Overall, I found the play to be very witty and funny, and I anticipate that it will be even funnier when acted out on stage. I’m really looking forward to seeing it performed.