Molieres Tartuffe a Masterpiece of French Literature
Moliére's Tartuffe has long been considered a masterpiece of French Literature for its powerful social commentary, finely sculptured characters and its presentation of moral theme. While Tartuffe stands soundly on its own merits, its curiosity and impact for audiences both within its own period and for contemporary productions are heightened by the history surrounding its original presentation.
Tartuffe was written and produced in a sensitive time for a sensitive audience. King Louis XIV sat upon a throne made uneasy with the plotting and dissent of multiple and powerful factions. The self-styled "Sun King", King Louis XIV inherited a throne at five that he would not truly rule until he was 22 when, after the death of his Prime Minister, Cardinal Mazarin, he announced the formation of a Council of Ministers to advise him. Even after the formation of this council, King Louis XIV still found himself forced into constant appeasement of the factions surrounding him. Those factions, especially those factions controlled by the Queen Mother and the ministers of his Council, would prove a near insurmountable obstacle in the efforts of Moliére to produce Tartuffe.
Clustered around King Louis XIV were religious and political alliances, the seeds of which were sown during the reign of King Louis XIII. In various corners sat the aforementioned Catholic Advocacy (including the Society of the Holy Sacrament and the Jansenists of Port Royal), the Queen Mother, and the Protestant population at large. As the "Most Christian King", Louis struggled to balance the needs of the Church with what he thought to be in the best interests of France. Unfortunately for Moliére, when it came to theatre, the needs of the Church under Archbishop Hardouin de Péréfixe were quite limited.
The first three acts of Tartuffe were presented to Louis XIV on May 12, 1664 and before the play had even ended the Society of the Holy Sacrament, with the support of the Queen Mother, had obtained an interdiction against its future performance. Despite appeals to King Louis, Moliére was refused permission to stage the play for the general public.
For the next three years Moliére continued to present Tartuffe at private gatherings hoping to garner the support he needed to reverse the interdiction against the play's performance. Late in 1664 Moliére was able to get the approval of the legate Chili for the performance of Tartuffe. This approval gave Moliére grounds to submit a new petition to the King. The King, again, denied the petition.
Adding insult to injury, Moliére's one time sponsor the Prince de Conti wrote a treatise against the stage in which he accused Moliére of being an atheist. Given the renewed campaign against him, Moliére's hopes for producing Tartuffe in 1666 were dashed.
On August 5, 1667, operating on a secret agreement with the King, Moliére presented The Imposter (A milder version of...