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​Tartuffe or not Tartuffe?

Theatre | February 14th, 2018

Tartuffe - photograph by Justin Eiler, NDSU photographerBy Nathan Roy
bardsdream@gmail.com

You are absolutely right. The title is not “To be or not to be” from the famous Shakespeare soliloquy in "Hamlet." I won’t be talking about Shakespeare particularly. I will expound the relevance of this silly wordplay, if I may.

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, the man known by his stage name, Molière, was born six years after Shakespeare’s death. He wrote plays such as "The Misanthrope," "The Miser," and "The Doctor in Spite of Himself," but his best-known work is "Tartuffe." During Molière’s era, the piece was considered to be controversial, making "Tartuffe" a very notorious play, the satire of religion and high society being two factors making it so.

It truly was an amazing time for theatre from the late 16th century onward. Late Medieval theatre had been transitioning to Renaissance, when avant-garde creativity was the mood for that age. Shakespeare would single-handedly lead the way with his flowing use of iambic pentameter, while other new types of theatre emanated. This included commedia dell’arte, a style Molière mastered and adapted.

"Tartuffe," with the second version’s premiering title "The Impostor," started a social revolution of sorts. I say version due to censure that occurred. Molière had to revise this work to appease the piety (a theme in the play) of the clergy. They were not at all amused by his making fun of them.

"Tartuffe" started a conversation about comedy’s importance and influence. Comedy was often expressed in theatre since ancient Greece. Molière believed comedy had its origins, with respect to the ancients, in religion, and made his case on the usefulness of comedy.

He ended by having to petition Louis XIV to have public performances of "Tartuffe." This is how "Tartuffe" became synonymous with hypocrite. In a sense, Molière was exposing the clergy’s actions against him, as he defended his writing as innocent enough. He administered due care in his revisions, so as to not confuse the public between that which is right and wrong, and tried his best not to entirely offend.

The eponymous character is deliberately depicted as a hypocrite, a man who takes advantage of his surroundings, using something he really couldn't care less for. In doing so, he causes chaos in a family. He seems thoroughly villainous in all he says and does, yet somehow imposes himself to be favored by the head of the household.

“To be or not to be” is relevant in this manner. A fuller question: who a person ought or ought not to be and whether they should live in hypocrisy, a demanding exploration of human nature and nurture.

In this classic comedy, the father believes Tartuffe is a holy man, but the family sees a charlatan. The more the family strives to convince the father that Tartuffe is false, the more power accrues to the hypocrite.

What will it take to change the father's mind? In this sparkling performance, the most gullible father, the purest wife, the craftiest scammer, the cleverest maid, the fiercest young hothead, and the most ridiculous young couple, all come together in a delightful, and thought-provoking contest of faith and reason.

IF YOU GO

Concordia College Theatre Presents Molière’s "Tartuffe"

February 15-17, 8pm; matinée February 18, 2pm

Frances Frazier Comstock Theatre - main stage

Box office, (218) 299-3314

IF YOU GO:

Theatre NDSU presents “Tartuffe”

February 22 nd – 24 th , February 28 th , and March 1-3, 7:30 p.m.

Walsh Studio Theatre in Askanase Hall.

Box Office at (701) 231-7969 or online at www.ndsu.edu/performingarts.

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