In the contemporary world, we are surrounded by satire, from cartoons like Family Guy and South Park to fake news sources like The Onion to political satire like The Colbert Report and Saturday Night Live. Our mainstream entertainment thrives off of the absurdity and hypocrisy that we are plagued with on a day to day basis, and almost nothing is off limits to criticize. We live in a vastly uncensored environment, especially when it comes to entertainment; not so with Molière’s world.
None of Molière’s multiple versions of Tartuffe ran for very long. The final revision (our version) in 1669 was only allowed because it copiously stroked King Louis XIV’s ego. The subject matter of his piece, for somewhat obvious reasons, did not sit well with the church, which at the time largely had control over arts censorship in France. The king had the final say, of course, but did receive pressure from the clergy. Despite Molière claiming that the play was a satire on religious hypocrisy and not of religion itself, Tartuffe remained relatively blacklisted during his lifetime.
Zoom back to the year of our Lord 2013. We perform this piece without the slightest risk of censorship due to textual content and search for the modern context in which this satire on religious hypocrisy is still relevant; enter television evangelism and the Lone Star State. The notorious Jimmy Swaggart and his sex scandal provided a rich image from which to spring. From its roots in commedia dell’ arte to its biting satire, in this “enlightened age,” we are free to realize this wonderfully crafted play to the fullest extent,. This production, however, is being directed at the flamboyant religious personas that fall into the same religious hypocrisy as in Molière’s time, including Jimmy and many more.
Regardless of the context in which we place Tartuffe, Molière described satire rather timelessly:
“Satire of this kind is aimed directly at habits, and only hits individuals by rebound.
Let us not apply to ourselves the points of general censure; let us profit by the lesson,
if possible, without assuming that we are spoken against. All the ridiculous
delineations which are drawn on the stage should be looked on by everyone without
annoyance. They are public mirrors, in which we must never pretend to see
With that in mind, please enjoy Tartuffe!
- Dana Anderson, Dramaturg