Molière’s classic comedy of religious fakery.
a prose translation by David Nicholson ©
6 men; 4 women
(with 2 small roles doubled)
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In 1664, powerful church figures in France were scandalized by public laughter at a fraudulent, oversexed holy man on stage – and banned Molière’s first version of Tartuffe. Over the next few years, Molière’s influence and that of his protector, the young Louis XIV, grew strong enough that his revised 1669 version could be staged.
Three and a half centuries later, this dynamic, funny play retains its relevance and edge – it has been produced more times than any other (over 3000 performances) at the classic Comédie-Française theatre in Paris – and on every continent.
Rich, powerful but curiously lacking in judgment, Orgon has invited Tartuffe, a self-professed man of God, into his house. Unsurprisingly, Orgon’s family is appalled. Orgon grows increasingly infatuated with Tartuffe, going so far as to offer marriage to his daughter. When Tartuffe makes his long-awaited entrance half way through the play, he is clearly less interested in Orgon’s daughter than his wife, Elmire – and not the kind of interest normally considered appropriate for a man of the Lord.
Tartuffe contains some of the best physical comedy and wit ever put on stage, and still retains its relevance and edge after almost 350 years.
My translation is faithful to the original save in one respect: it is written in prose instead of verse – a “robust prose translation” one reviewer called it. It’s an elevated level of language that avoids colloquialisms of any period. My goal was to allow a director the widest possible scope to create his or her own Tartuffe. I couldn’t be more pleased with how well it has worked in both modern and period dress:
“After getting hit with the first zinger of the night, I didn’t stop laughing till the curtains fell. It doesn’t matter that it was written four hundred years ago.” [Review of East Side Players (Toronto) production in period dress, winner of 6 THEA awards for southern Ontario.]
“. . . staged in modern day and the cast wears modern clothes. It proves when a theatre company interprets this show well, the time period isn’t relevant in this timeless and humour-filled tale of hypocrisy and greed.” [review of Village Players (Toronto) production]
“The translator David Nicholson, whom I had the pleasure of meeting on opening night, offered us a prose translation that placed us right at the centre of this upper-class, God-fearing French household … a fabulous funny evening.” [review of Scarborough Guild Theatre (Toronto) production]
Also produced at Hunter’s Hill Theatre (Sydney, Australia)]
- For more Tartuffe production photos, click HERE.
- To see non-traditional costumes in recent French-language Molière productions, click HERE.
Excerpt from ACT V:
Strange indeed, Mother. I have seen with my own eyes how I am repaid for my charity: I take a poor, struggling man into my house and treat him as I would my brother; every day I lavish him with gifts; I even go so far as to offer him my daughter’s hand in marriage and title to all my worldly goods besides. And how does he reward me? By seducing my wife . . . or trying to. And now he threatens to ruin me, using what I myself gave him. If he gets his way, he’ll evict me from my own house, leaving me in the same miserable state I saved him from.
No, no, no, my son, he could not have done that; he is not that kind of man.
(bewildered by what she is saying for the next few lines)
You know how men of god are always a target for envious tongues.
What do you mean by that, Mother?
I mean that you can expect anything from the inhabitants of this house. I am only too aware of the scurrilous things they say about him.
And what does that have to do with what I just said?
I have been telling you since you were a little boy: in this world, virtue is always persecuted. The envious may die; but envy, never.
I still don’t see how this is relevant to today’s events.
I am sure they’ve made up a hundred sordid tales about him.
(now he understands)
I told you that I saw this happen with my own eyes!
Those nasty gossips will stop at nothing.
Help me, blessed Saint-Jude, patron saint of lost causes. Did I not say I personally saw this happen?
Wagging tongues dipped in venom . . . nothing here on earth is proof against them.
Mother, have you heard a single word I said? I saw it happen, I said. “Saw it, with my own eyes.” Saw it – can you see – saw? Oh, what’s the use of knocking when no one’s home?