Last night, I saw the opening night debut of our school’s new play. UMW put on Molière’s Tartuffe, a French play first performed in 1664. This is the last play in UMW’s 15′ to 16′ season and I’m glad they ended on a lighter note after Frozen. Upon a little bit of research I learned that the play’s title is actually French for “the imposter” or “the hypocrite”, which is very fitting for the plot of this play. However, I found myself interested much more in the Marxist commentary this play seemed to subscribe to. The dialogue about religion and monarchy is deeply embedded within all the slapstick physical comedy and lines of clever, rhyming couplets and brings more to this light-hearted comedy than meets the eye.
It seem almost strange that only two centuries divided this play’s opening and Karl Marx’s teachings because his infamous comment that religion is an “opiate of the masses” applies directly to this play. When Orgon, the father and master of the house, falls too far into religion and begins worshiping the seemingly pious Tartuffe, he loses his mind and almost all his material wealth. His brother-in-law, Cléante, warns him in the beginning of the trappings of organized religion. Basically, he sees religion as the idiocratic convention that tells people: if you do not see the world as they do or believe what they do, your soul is condemned for eternity. Also, that people go crazy just trying to keep up with this idea of being “pious” or “holy” enough to fit this conception, like hamsters on a treadmill. The character of Tartuffe represents how even those who participate in organized religion and are high in the religious hierarchy can lead a life opposite of the teachings they preach to their followers. Tartuffe is a religious con-artist who uses religion to distract his victims and indoctrinate them into rebuking everything and everyone else in their life for the sake of eternal life. Those who are not wary (Orgon in this play) fall headfirst into their trap and learn valuable lessons. I must add the actor who played Tartuffe was amazing in this production and did a great job playing the slimy and treacherous villain.
Now I should mention when I researched this play before I saw it, there were numerous mentions to the play’s first performance at the Palace of Versailles. This is an important detail because during the final scene of this play, when The Exempt (played by I.J. Diakité) comes forward as the King’s Officer, he points directly to the audience when he mentions the king. It is as if we, the audience, are the monarchy. The lines The Exempt is addressing to the King are basically flattering praise of how the King always sees through imposters and those who claim to preach true religion but only seek to deceive. It is interesting how the director or actor made that choice to stay true to the context of this play. Before this gesture, the audience would have no clue that the commentary or moral take-away from this scene is almost directed to the monarchy. The King is spoken about like he is the lord of final judgement and the wise monarch who sees and knows all in his infinite wisdom. Pretty much just kissing up to the King watching the original play.
This play was so good! I hope everyone can get a chance to go see it because I promise you will find something to laugh at and our fellow UMW students did a great job on this production. If anyone does see it, did The Exempt make the same gesture to the king? Did it make you view the play differently after knowing who they were pandering to? What did you think about the commentary on religion.
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