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The Relevance of Tartuffe by Moliere for Modern Day Audiences

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“Tartuffe” is an excellent play written by the playwright Moliere. This paper will be based off of the translated version by Richard Wilbur. In the play “Tartuffe,” Tartuffe is a manipulative man who takes advantage of his host family by using religion and a charming manner to get whatever he wants, or at least attempt to do so. His attempts to manipulate his host family for his own benefits include trying to seduce Orgon’s wife, Elmire, and eventually talking Orgon into giving him the deed to the house and attempting to claim the house as his own and kick his former host family out of the house. Neither of these plans succeed, and Tartuffe is thankfully arrested and his former host family is able to keep their home, but certain aspects of this play have proved to be great for contemporary audiences of today. The theme of corrupted religious folk has existed all through history, both in real life and in different forms of media, and is displayed by Tartuffe and aligns well with the decline of faith and church attendance in modern America. This trend is still popular to this day. The improved involvement of women demonstrated by Elmire in certain parts of the play also lines up with the female empower movement of present times. Modern audiences will also notice the theme of a selfish higher power, either because of the now popular media trend of a corrupt government or because of their views on the government. If the audience notices this trend, they’ll either be entertained because of all the different forms of media that display this corrupt government trend, or they will relate to this because they feel their own governments are corrupt as well.

Churches of all different faiths have seen a recent decline in attendance and a drop in regular members. This is due to multiple factors such as mass media and peer influence. In “Tartuffe,” Tartuffe is a man who claims to follow religion heavily. Orgon found him in a church, praying extensively while weeping and sighing. After revealing to Orgon that he is homeless, Orgon offers him residence at his home, to which Tartuffe accepts. It’s once he’s in the house he begins his plan to seduce Elmire, keeping in good terms with Orgon by pretending to be a good and holy man. When Elmire rejects his advances and his true intentions are revealed to Orgon, he attempts to steal away the house using the deed Orgon gave him previously. “Tartuffe” was one of the first instances of having a central character be a corrupt religious figure, which would later become a popular trope. Corrupt religious leaders aren’t entirely a work of fiction, however. Many who leave their church in modern America are outraged at the behavior of the head of their church or other important figures in the ministry, and that is one of the major factors that drive attendants away. Such corrupted religious leaders can cause public scandals, as is the case with several different important figures in the Catholic Church, but it is not exclusive to the Catholic Church. These scandals are public and make it easier for the news of the unfortunate events to reach to other members of a different church, and even those who don’t attend church or identify with any religion. Ex-members of the church who left their church for this reason can relate to the feelings of being manipulated and then later heartbroken when they realized they were being manipulated by someone they trusted that Orgon goes through in the play. Those who don’t identify with a certain religion also have opinions on scandals that are released to the public. Most of those who aren’t religious and find out about these scandals are angered as well, but also use these scandals to further their point about not being religious or casting shame on those who are deeply religious.

In recent times, a strong movement for women empowerment has been at work in America. People who call for women empowerment can relate and will be pleased somewhat to Elmire within the story of “Tartuffe. ” Elmire is Orgon’s wife and Tartuffe tries to seduce her, knowing that she is a married woman, and obviously without telling Orgon. She rejects him, trying to remain civil with Tartuffe and agreeing to not tell her husband as to not cause trouble in the household. Later on in the play, Orgon’s family is all aware of Tartuffe’s true intentions and start to distrust him, everyone besides Orgon. Orgon continues to believe Tartuffe, standing up for him against his own family. When other family members fail at convincing Orgon of Tartuffe’s dark side, Elmire explains her experience with Tartuffe and comes up with a plan to show Orgon who Tartuffe really is, to which Orgon is forced into going along with. She does this by luring Tartuffe into a room where her husband is hiding, and pretending to be in love with him so that he would confess his love as well, revealing his true nature to Orgon. Elmire’s plan works and is what convinces Orgon to banish Tartuffe from the home. One aspect of the female empowerment movement is to have better female representation in different forms of media, and Elmire is a great example of a strong female character for the time she was written. When put in a new situation, Elmire keeps calm and thinks rationally. She doesn’t let her emotions get out of hand or take over her because she wants to keep the peace in the house, even if she doesn’t agree with what Tartuffe is after. She is also the one who comes up with the plan of revealing Tartuffe’s true self, and is brave enough to play her part within that plan. Elmire does not rely on men to do everything for her, rather she stands her ground and works alongside male characters to reveal Tartuffe’s plan to seduce her and who he truly is. Audience members demanding stronger female characters will be pleased with Elmire’s actions in the play.

Another modern trend that aligns with “Tartuffe” is the idea of a selfish higher power or group. Because of the time period “Tartuffe” is set in, the selfish higher power aligns with the corrupted religious character trend as well. The time period of the play is that in which those high in religious standing were seen as higher in power to the common man. In modern day America, many series of novels and movies such as “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” have become popular and made their fame by telling stories of underdogs or otherwise normal people overthrowing some immoral government or group that is using those normal and innocent people for their own benefits. While this trend is more for entertainment purposes for many audience members, there are some who believe that certain members of their government are corrupted in some way, and that greed within the government above them affects them in one way or another. Contemporary audiences can see this part of “Tartuffe” for entertainment purposes much like other modern franchises or they can relate to the feeling of being manipulated by the people higher in power.

Another reason “Tartuffe” would be enjoyed by modern audiences is how easy it is to follow the story and the dialogue as they watch. Many plays and playwrights from this era and prior have a bad reputation among modern audiences of all ages. These reputations come from how modern audiences find it difficult to follow along with the dialogue and storyline of those plays. Shakespeare’s content is infamous within public school systems because of these things, and many students dread the day when they read Shakespeare in their class. Unlike those plays, however, “Tartuffe” is an easy play to enjoy, both in plot and in language. Writers like Shakespeare write amazing plays, but modern audiences who want to enjoy and understand his writings often need some kind of translator as they read to decipher both the language of what’s being said and also what just happened in the story. When this translator isn’t available, it’s less likely that audiences will follow along and be happy with the play. With “Tartuffe,” however, the English translation is easy enough to read that a translator while you read is not necessary, and the plot is not overly complex. This makes “Tartuffe” more enjoyable to general audiences because it’s not overly complicated at all. The dialogue and storyline of “Tartuffe” is not modified to appeal to general audiences, the story and dialogue is appealing to general audiences as it is, once it is translated into their native language of course.

These are a few of the reasons that the play “Tartuffe” should be performed for modern day audiences, and why those audience members would enjoy the play. “Tartuffe” may not be as famous or well known to the general public who aren’t as familiar with theatre as other plays and musicals, but this play has topics and discusses issues that modern audiences can absolutely either relate to or just find entertaining, maybe even more than some popular modern day theatre performances. If modern day audience members, whether they’re avid theatre lovers or those who may not know much about theatre and are just looking for an enjoyable play to watch, would give this show a chance, they would not be disappointed and would enjoy the show very much. If contemporary theatre audiences were to watch this play, perhaps that would be enough to break the stereotypes held by some that classic plays written or performed during the same time era as “Tartuffe” aren’t as entertaining or relatable as theatre productions written and performed in modern day.

Works Cited

  1. Moliere. Tartuffe. University of Southern Maine, 2018.

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