Somehow missed out on reading Tartuffe when I was a younger cheese, since I managed to escape high school without it landing on a required reading list. So, when I encountered the chance to read not one, but eight of this famous Frenchman’s most revered works, I went for it.
In order, the eight plays were:
- The Precious Damsels
- The School for Wives
- The Critique of The School for Wives
- The Versailles Impromptu
- The Misanthrope
- The Physician in Spite of Himself
- The Would-Be Gentleman
Before I get into the nitty-gritty of my review, Morris Bishop deserves a bit of a shout-out. Although the plays were originally penned in French, Bishop’s translation was so flawless that I felt as if I was reading the plays as they were written, rather than looking at them through the veil that obscures most translated works.
Furthermore, both the introduction for the whole book and the individual introductions before each play were illuminating, and made reading Molière’s text all the easier. For example, Bishop points out that stage productions in Molière’s time were almost entirely dialogue; the scenery remains the same for the entirety of the play, and much of the action takes place off-stage, since there was no way to perform the necessary stunts on-stage, or if the action took place in another location the characters would only talk about it. Bishop also points out that several of Molière’s plays were written specifically to be spectacles presented for royalty, which explains why characters so often break into spontaneous song/dance.
The bountiful dialogue and the awkward shifts into unnecessary song and dance are probably to blame for the fact that Molière is rarely performed today. Frankly put, the stuff is boring. Anytime one is reading plays it’s important to remember that you’re not enjoying the work in its original format, but even keeping this in mind Molière is dull, since not much happens and his characters are so fantastical and ridiculous.
Surprisingly, of the eight plays, Tartuffe was one of my least favorites (in the interest of honesty, this might be because it was one of the last ones. If you read this yourself, don’t read them all in a row. Take a break. Go outside. Read something else). My favorite was The Critique of the School for Wives, since it’s Molière responding to his critics in the most basic and petty way ever and it amazing for just those reasons. The School For Wives itself also has some pretty funny scenes, although the overall message isn’t great.
In summary, Morris Bishop did a fantastic job with occasionally funny but mainly boring source material. And I’ve finally read Tartuffe, so cross that off the list of classics I’ve avoided.
AND WHAT ABOUT THE MOVIE? There have been plenty of movies based on Molière’s works (most of them Don Juan related), but even better is that the plays themselves have been performed and filmed. So if you prefer watching to reading, here’s two of them*:
*(Neither of these videos belong to me).