Paris’s ‘House of Molière’ wishes happy 400th birthday to French theatre legend | Theatre

French theatre is gearing up to pay tribute to one of its founding fathers: Molière, the Seventeenth-century playwright whose biting comedies nonetheless type many French schoolchildren’s introduction to drama. On 15 January, 400 years after his baptism (the precise date of his beginning is unknown), the venerable Comédie-Française firm will open this anniversary yr with the play that got here perilously shut to sinking Molière’s profession: Tartuffe.

Whereas the primary model of the play bought the approval of Louis XIV himself in 1664, its satire of Catholic zealots drew the ire of the Catholic church. On the time, accusations of impiety might ship a playwright to the stake, and Tartuffe was swiftly forbidden. But Molière endured, switching gears and rewriting the play to recommend that his goal wasn’t faith or true believers – however relatively the hypocrisy of those that feign advantage. (The phrase “tartuffe” got here to describe such characters in life, too.)

It labored. By 1669, a brand new, longer model of the play – in 5 relatively than three acts – was allowed and met with acclaim, and researchers now see Molière’s political and social acumen as a key consider his rise to basic standing, even earlier than his dying. “Molière was sensible at this: he had this sense of alternative, a present for improvisation,” says Georges Forestier, a Molière specialist and professor emeritus at Sorbonne Université in Paris.

Molière in the role of Caesar in Corneille’s La Mort de Pompée, painted by Nicolas Mignard.
Molière within the position of Caesar in Corneille’s La Mort de Pompée, painted by Nicolas Mignard. {Photograph}: Granger Historic Image Archive/Alamy

And this month, thanks to Forestier and his colleague Isabelle Grellet, the Comédie-Française’s viewers will probably be in a position to expertise the unique Tartuffe once more – or at the least a textual content as shut to it as doable. Whereas the 1664 play didn’t survive, the duo used a way that Forestier calls “theatrical genetics” to recreate it. It depends on sources the period’s playwrights drew closely on, corresponding to commedia dell’arte situations and present quick tales, to piece collectively a play’s authentic plot.


The result’s a tighter, extra streamlined Tartuffe, centered on the eponymous antihero – a non secular beggar who’s welcomed right into a well-to-do household – and his hosts, Orgon and his spouse Elmire. Some characters, such because the younger beau Valère, have disappeared solely together with the second and fifth acts, recognized as later additions.

The distinguished Belgian director Ivo van Hove will direct what is about to be a curious occasion – a “new” Molière play on the Home of Molière, because the Comédie-Française has lengthy been identified. The opening night time will probably be relayed reside in cinemas in seven international locations, and marks the beginning of a yearlong celebration for the French firm, which was born of the fusion of Molière’s troupe and one other, in 1680: its complete 2022 lineup will probably be devoted to Molière.

Van Hove initially thought of tackling Tartuffe years in the past, after staging Molière’s The Misanthrope and The Miser in different international locations, however he was discouraged by the usual five-act model. “It’s so artificially made up, due to the stress from the church,” he says between rehearsals. “I by no means preferred it, and I didn’t understand how to clear up it.”

Forestier and Grellet’s three-act model satisfied him. “It’s what he supposed it to be,” Van Hove says of this old-new Tartuffe, offered below its authentic title (Tartuffe or the Hypocrite, modified in 1669 to The Impostor). The director has added a prologue and epilogue to set the scene, and sees the play as a “social drama”.

“This Tartuffe is invited into their dwelling, after which the entire household, each particular person, begins to change,” he says. Forestier stresses, nevertheless, that whereas Van Hove sees Tartuffe’s relationship with Elmire, the woman of the home, as a love story, the textual content doesn’t essentially help this concept.

Ever the pragmatist, Molière knew when to again down – and when to take dangers, too. As Tartuffe and the following controversy exhibit, he was the primary comedian playwright in France to depart inventory comedy characters behind and faucet into zeitgeisty themes, together with the schooling of girls, freedom inside marriage, fanaticism and vogue. And whereas conservatives disapproved, he discovered an keen viewers in Louis XIV and his courtroom. “When his profession takes off, the king is in his 20s,” says Marine Souchier, a postdoctoral researcher who studied the playwright’s profession trajectory. “Molière speaks to a reasonably younger crowd at courtroom and among the many bourgeoisie, and is relatively progressive for this period.”

‘It’s what he intended it to be’ … Ivo van Hove.
‘It’s what he supposed it to be’ … Ivo van Hove. {Photograph}: Jean-Marc Zaorski/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Pictures

And Molière, who was additionally identified for his progressive appearing, wasn’t averse to stoking controversy so as to generate curiosity. When his 1662 play The Faculty for Wives got here in for comparatively gentle criticism from some quarters, he seized the chance to publicise his work with the assistance of a good friend, Donneau de Visé, who purposefully stoked the flames in articles. Then Molière himself mentioned he would reply – and did do with a brand new play, The Critique of the Faculty for Wives, by which he ridiculed his detractors.

“He saved the excitement going,” Forestier says with a chuckle. In accordance to Souchier, it was a wholly acutely aware profession transfer – and it paid off: “Thanks to this technique and his logic of fixed innovation, he achieved a stage of success that was actually uncommon on the time, and it cemented the legend after his dying.”

When Tartuffe returned to the stage in 1669, Molière even anticipated that there was cash to be made out of what had change into a trigger célèbre. “The box-office takings have been large,” Souchier mentioned. “We surmise that Molière’s firm set increased costs as a result of they knew it will be offered out.” 4 centuries later, anticipate Van Hove’s Tartuffe, and the numerous extra Molière productions scheduled this yr, to pack playhouses once more.

  • Tartuffe or the Hypocrite is on the Comédie-Française, Paris, 15 January-24 April and screened by Pathé Live in chosen European cinemas on 15 January.


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