|Setting||Orgon's house in Paris, 1660s|
Tartuffe, or The Impostor, or The Hypocrite (;French: Tartuffe, ou l'Imposteur, pronounced [ta?tyf u lp?stoe?]), first performed in 1664, is one of the most famous theatrical comedies by Molière. The characters of Tartuffe, Elmire, and Orgon are considered among the greatest classical theatre roles.
Molière wrote Tartuffe in 1664. Almost immediately following its first performance that same year at the Versailles fêtes, it was suppressed by King Louis XIV, probably due to the influence of the archbishop of Paris, Paul Philippe Hardouin de Beaumont de Péréfixe, who was the King's confessor and had been his tutor. While the king had little personal interest in suppressing the play, he did so because, as stated in the official account of the fête:
"...although it was found to be extremely diverting, the king recognized so much conformity between those that a true devotion leads on the path to heaven and those that a vain ostentation of some good works does not prevent from committing some bad ones, that his extreme delicacy to religious matters can not suffer this resemblance of vice to virtue, which could be mistaken for each other; although one does not doubt the good intentions of the author, even so he forbids it in public, and deprived himself of this pleasure, in order not to allow it to be abused by others, less capable of making a just discernment of it."
As a result of Molière's play, contemporary French and English both use the word "Tartuffe" to designate a hypocrite who ostensibly and exaggeratedly feigns virtue, especially religious virtue. The play is written entirely in twelve-syllable lines (alexandrines) of rhyming couplets - 1,962 lines in all.
|Orgon||Head of the house and husband of Elmire, he is blinded by admiration for Tartuffe.|
|Tartuffe||Houseguest of Orgon, hypocritical religious devotee who attempts to seduce Elmire|
|Valère||The young romantic lead, who struggles to win the hand of his true love, Orgon's daughter Mariane.|
|Madame Pernelle||Mother of Orgon; grandmother of Damis and Mariane|
|Elmire||Wife of Orgon, step-mother of Damis and Mariane|
|Dorine||Family housemaid, who tries to help expose Tartuffe and help Valère.|
|Cléante||Brother of Elmire, brother-in-law of Orgon|
|Mariane||Daughter of Orgon, the fiancée of Valère and sister of Damis|
|Damis||Son of Orgon; and brother of Mariane|
|Laurent||Servant of Tartuffe (non-speaking character)|
|Argas||Friend of Orgon who was anti-Louis XIV during the Fronde (mentioned but not seen).|
|Flipote||Servant of Madame Pernelle (non-speaking character)|
|Monsieur Loyal||A bailiff|
|A King's Officer/The Exempt||An officer of the king|
Orgon's family is up in arms because Orgon and his mother have fallen under the influence of Tartuffe, a pious fraud (and a vagrant prior to Orgon's help). Tartuffe pretends to be pious and to speak with divine authority, and Orgon and his mother no longer take any action without first consulting him.
Tartuffe's antics do not fool the rest of the family or their friends; they detest him. Orgon raises the stakes when he announces that he will marry Tartuffe to his daughter Mariane (already engaged to Valère). Mariane feels very upset at this news, and the rest of the family realizes how deeply Tartuffe has embedded himself into the family.
In an effort to show Orgon how awful Tartuffe really is, the family devises a scheme to trap Tartuffe into confessing to Elmire (Orgon's wife) his desire for her. As a pious man and a guest, he should have no such feelings for the lady of the house, and the family hopes that after such a confession, Orgon will throw Tartuffe out of the house. Indeed, Tartuffe does try to seduce Elmire, but their interview is interrupted when Orgon's son Damis, who has been eavesdropping, is no longer able to control his boiling indignation and jumps out of his hiding place to denounce Tartuffe.
Tartuffe is at first shocked but recovers very well. When Orgon enters the room and Damis triumphantly tells him what happened, Tartuffe uses reverse psychology and accuses himself of being the worst sinner:
Orgon is convinced that Damis was lying and banishes him from the house. Tartuffe even gets Orgon to order that, to teach Damis a lesson, Tartuffe should be around Elmire more than ever. As a gift to Tartuffe and further punishment to Damis and the rest of his family, Orgon signs over all his worldly possessions to Tartuffe.
In a later scene, Elmire takes up the charge again and challenges Orgon to be witness to a meeting between herself and Tartuffe. Orgon, ever easily convinced, decides to hide under a table in the same room, confident that Elmire is wrong. He overhears Elmire resisting Tartuffe's very forward advances. When Tartuffe has incriminated himself beyond all help and is dangerously close to violating Elmire, Orgon comes out from under the table and orders Tartuffe out of his house.
But this wily guest means to stay, and Tartuffe finally shows his hand. It turns out that earlier, before the events of the play, Orgon had admitted to Tartuffe that he had possession of a box of incriminating letters (written by a friend, not by him). Tartuffe had taken charge and possession of this box, and now tells Orgon that he (Orgon) will be the one to leave. Tartuffe takes his temporary leave and Orgon's family tries to figure out what to do. Very soon, Monsieur Loyal shows up with a message from Tartuffe and the court itself - they must move out from the house because it now belongs to Tartuffe. Dorine makes fun of Monsieur Loyal's name, mocking his fake loyalty. Even Madame Pernelle, who had refused to believe any ill about Tartuffe even in the face of her son's actually seeing it, has become convinced by this time of Tartuffe's duplicity.
No sooner does Monsieur Loyal leave than Valère rushes in with the news that Tartuffe has denounced Orgon for aiding and assisting a traitor by keeping the incriminating letters and that Orgon is about to be arrested. Before Orgon can flee, Tartuffe arrives with an officer, but to his surprise the officer arrests him instead. The officer explains that the enlightened King Louis XIV--who is not mentioned by name--has heard of the injustices happening in the house and, appalled by Tartuffe's treachery towards Orgon, has ordered Tartuffe's arrest instead; it turns out that Tartuffe has a long criminal history and has often changed his name to avoid being caught. As a reward for Orgon's previous good services, the King not only forgives him for keeping the letters but also invalidates the deed that gave Tartuffe possession of the house and all Orgon's possessions. The entire family thanks its lucky stars that it has escaped the mortification of both Orgon's potential disgrace and their dispossession. The drama ends well, and Orgon announces the upcoming wedding of Valère and Mariane. The surprise twist ending, in which everything is set right by the unexpected benevolent intervention of the heretofore unseen King, is considered a notable modern-day example of the classical theatrical plot device deus ex machina.
Though Tartuffe was received well by the public and even by Louis XIV, it immediately sparked conflict amongst many different groups who were offended by the play's portrayal of someone who was outwardly pious but fundamentally mercenary, lecherous and deceitful and who uses their profession of piety to prey on others. The factions opposed to Molière's work included part of the hierarchy of the French Roman Catholic Church, members of upper-class French society, and the illegal underground organization called the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement. Tartuffes popularity was cut short when the Archbishop of Paris issued an edict threatening excommunication for anyone who watched, performed in, or read the play. Molière attempted to assuage church officials by re-writing his play to seem more secular and less critical of religion, but the church could not be budged. The revised version of the play was called L'Imposteur and had a main character titled Panulphe instead of Tartuffe. Even throughout Molière's conflict with the church, Louis XIV continued to support the playwright; it is possible that without the King's support, Molière might have been excommunicated. Although public performances of the play were banned, private performances for the French aristocracy were permitted. In 1669, after Molière's detractors lost much of their influence, he was finally allowed to perform the final version of his play. However, due to all the controversy surrounding Tartuffe, Molière mostly refrained from writing such incisive plays as this one again.
An ally of Molière responded to criticism of Tartuffe in 1669 with a Lettre sur la comédie de l'Imposteur. The anonymous author sought to defend the play to the public by describing the plot in detail and then rebutting two common arguments made for why the play was banned. The first being that religion was not meant to be discussed in theaters; the second being that Tartuffe's actions on stage followed by his pious speech would make the audience think that they were to act as Tartuffe did. This section of letter contradicts the latter by describing how Tartuffe's actions are worthy ridicule, in essence comic, and therefore by no means an endorsement.
The comic is the outward and visible form that nature's bounty has attached to everything unreasonable, so that we should see, and avoid it. To know the comic we must know the rational, of which it denotes the absence and we must see wherein the rational consists . . . incongruity is the heart of the comic . . . it follows that all lying, disguise, cheating, dissimulation, all outward show different from the reality, all contradiction in fact between actions that proceed from a single source, all this is in essence comic.
The original version of the play was in three acts and was first staged on 12 May 1664 as part of festivities known as Les Plaisirs de l'île enchantée held at the Palace of Versailles. Because of the attacks on the play and the ban that was placed on it, this version was never published, and no text has survived, giving rise to much speculation as to whether it was a work in progress or a finished piece. Many writers believe it consisted of the first three acts of the final version, while John Cairncross has proposed that acts 1, 3, and 4 were performed. Although the original version could not be played publicly, it could be given privately, and it was seen on 25 September 1664 in Villers-Cotterêts and 29 November 1664 at the Château du Raincy.
The first revised version, L'Imposteur, was in five acts and was performed only once, on 5 August 1667 in the Théâtre du Palais-Royal. On 11 August, before any additional performances, this version was also banned. The final revised version in five acts, under the title Le Tartuffe, began on 5 February 1669 at the Palais-Royal theatre and was highly successful. This version was published and is the one that is generally performed today.
The first Broadway production took place at the ANTA Washington Square Theatre in New York and ran from 14 January 1965 to 22 May 1965. The cast included Hal Holbrook as M. Loyal, John Phillip Law as King's Officer, Laurence Luckinbill as Damis and Tony Lo Bianco as Sergeant.
The National Theatre Company performed a production in 1967 using the Richard Wilbur translation and featuring Sir John Gielgud as Orgon, Robert Stephens as Tartuffe, Jeremy Brett as Valere, Derek Jacobi as The Officer and Joan Plowright as Dorine.
A production of Richard Wilbur's translation of the play opened at the Circle in the Square Theatre in 1977 and was re-staged for television the following year on PBS, with Donald Moffat replacing John Wood as Tartuffe, and co-starring Tammy Grimes and Patricia Elliott.
Tartuffe has been performed a number of times at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, first in 1968 with a production by the Stratford National Theatre of Canada using the Richard Wilbur translation and directed by Jean Gascon; the cast included Douglas Rain as Orgon and William Hutt as Tartuffe. The play has since been revived at the Festival in 1969, 1983, 1984, 2000, and 2017. The 2017 production used the Ranjit Bolt translation; its cast included Tom Rooney as Tartuffe, Maev Beaty as Elmire, and Graham Abbey as Orgon.
In 1983, a Royal Shakespeare Company production directed by Bill Alexander used the translation by Christopher Hampton. Staged at The Pit in the Barbican Centre, London, the cast included Antony Sher as Tartuffe, Alison Steadman as Elmire, Mark Rylance as Damis and Nigel Hawthorne as Orgon. This production was later videotaped for television.
Another production at the Circle in the Square Theatre, entitled Tartuffe: Born Again, ran from 7 May to 23 June 1996 (a total of 25 previews and 29 performances). This was set in a religious television studio in Baton Rouge where the characters cavort to either prevent or aid Tartuffe in his machinations. Written in modern verse, Tartuffe: Born Again adhered closely to the structure and form of the original. The cast included John Glover as Tartuffe (described in the credits as "a deposed televangelist"), Alison Fraser as Dorine (described in the credits as "the Floor Manager") and David Schramm as Orgon (described in the credits as "the owner of the TV studio").
A Broadway production took place at the American Airlines Theatre and ran from 6 December 2002 until 23 February 2003 (a total of 40 previews and 53 performances). The cast included Brian Bedford as Orgon, Henry Goodman as Tartuffe and Bryce Dallas Howard as Mariane.
The Tara Arts theatre company performed a version at the National Theatre in London in 1990. Performed in English, the play was treated in the manner of Indian theatre; it was set in the court of Aurangazeb and began with a salam in Urdu.
Charles Randolph-Wright staged a production of Tartuffe, July 1999, at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, which was set among affluent African Americans of Durham, N.C., in the '50s. 
A translation by Ranjit Bolt was staged at London's Playhouse Theatre in 1991 with Abigail Cruttenden, Paul Eddington, Jamie Glover, Felicity Kendal, Nicholas Le Prevost, John Sessions and Toby Stephens. Bolt's translation was later staged at the National in 2002 with Margaret Tyzack as Madame Pernelle, Martin Clunes as Tartuffe, Clare Holman as Elmire, Julian Wadham as Cleante and David Threlfall as Orgon.
David Ball adapted Tartuffe for the Theatre de la Jeune Lune in 2006 and Dominique Serrand revived this production in 2015 in a coproduction with Berkeley Repertory Theatre, South Coast Repertory and the Shakespeare Theatre Company.
Gordon C. Bennett and Dana Priest published a new adaptation, Tartuffe--and all that Jazz! in 2013 with www.HeartlandPlays.com, set in 1927 St. Louis, the era of jazz and Prohibition, both of which figure into the plot. The play contains the original characters, plus a few new ones, in keeping with the altered scenario and a surprise ending to the hypocrite's machinations. The authors created their own rhymed verse in the Molière tradition.
In October 2013, the National Arts Centre of Canada put on a performance of Tartuffe set in 1939 Newfoundland. It was adapted by Andy Jones, a Newfoundland playwright and actor who also performed the role of Tartuffe.
In May 2014, the play was performed at the Ateliers Berthier theater in Paris, France.
In July/August 2014, Tartuffe was performed by Bell Shakespeare Company with a modern Australian twist, translated from the original French by Justin Fleming, at the Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre and earlier at the Melbourne Theatre Company in 2008, with uniquely varied rhyming verse forms.