Writing about Dom Juanhas been a pleasure. In fact, I received a comment about libertinage in 17th century France.
I read René Pintard’s Le Libertinage érudit dans la première moitié du XVIIe siècle when I was writing my thesis, years ago, but I do not own a copy of this book. Wikipedia FR has an entry on the subject and the book is summarized, by GRIHL FR. But obtaining the material one requires to write a book is truly difficult.
By virtue of his profession, a playwright and an actor, Molière is associated with libertinage érudit. Actors were excommunicated. But libertinage érudit and libertinage are not synonyms. Molière did not lead a dissolute life. However, his Tartuffe (1664) and his Dom Juan (1665) were attacked by la cabale des dévôts. He had to rewrite Tartuffe twice before the play could be performed (1669). As for his Dom Juan, although it was a great success, it closed after 17 performances and was not published until 1682, with passages removed. In 1683, Dom Juan was published in Amsterdam,
La Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement
The most important group of dévots, or faux-dévots, was the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement, Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement, a secret society. Louis XIV himself could not protect Molière fully. Not that impiety went unpunished in Dom Juan, but that devotion is linked to religion and that there were in France genuinely devout persons as well as faux-dévots, persons feigning devotion. Feigned devotion is a powerful mask, and all the more so when it fills the needs of a potentially tyrannical, but frightened pater familias.
It so happens that Orgon needs Tartuffe and is therefore easily blinded by his own needs. He sees what he wishes to see and hears what he wishes to hear. Only Orgon and his mother, Madame Pernelle, see a dévot in Tartuffe. Other members of Orgon’s family can tell that Tartuffe is a hypocrite and a rogue, but they do not have a strong-box, une cassette, containing potentially incriminating evidence. A friend of Orgon was involved in the Fronde and Orgon has his strong-box. So Orgon gives Tartuffe the cassette to breathe easier. However, Tartuffe takes it to the Prince, “our monarch,” endangering Orgon.
Le fourbe, qui longtemps a pu vous imposer, Depuis une heure, au Prince a su vous accuser, Et remettre en ses mains, dans les traits qu’il vous jette, D’un criminel d’État, l’importante cassette, Dont au mépris, dit-il, du devoir d’un sujet, Vous avez conservé le coupable secret. Valère à Orgon (1835-40, V. vi, p. 104) [The villain who so long imposed upon you,
Found means, an hour ago, to see the prince,
And to accuse you (among other things)
By putting in his hands the private strong-box
Of a state-criminal, whose guilty secret,
You, failing in your duty as a subject,
(He says) have kept.] Valère to Orgon (V. 6)
The prince, our monarch, “ennemi de la fraude” (v. 1906, p. 107) sees that Tartuffe is a criminal. Orgon is forgiven. (V. last scene). L’Exempt (an officer) returns the cassette to Orgon as well as the deed to his property.
“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.” (See Tartuffe, Wiki2.org.)
The above could have been taken out of my thesis. I studied the pharmakós in six of Molière’s plays. The thesis was entitled: L’Impossible entreprise: une étude sur le pharmakós dans le théâtre de Molière. (The Impossible endeavour:a study of the pharmakós in Molière’s Theatre). In Molière’s comedies, the society of the play may be powerless, hence the use of a deus ex machina. Doublings, as in L’Avare(The Miser), are another recourse. In L’Avare, a second (real and benevolent) father surfaces. Truth be told, Tartuffe goes to prison, but he took little more than he was given. He was given the cassette by Orgon. The cassette comes back to haunt Orgon (V. i; V. 1), which makes him, to a significant extent, a scapegoat.
Feigned devotion is a mighty mask. Dom Juan fools Dom Louis, his father, and silences Dom Carlos who is ready to fight a duel that will avenge his sister, Done Elvire. There were real dévots in 17th France, but several members of the cabale desdévôts were faux-dévots. In 17th century France, one could also use casuistry, which could legitimize nearly all sins. Tartuffe reassures Elmire using casuistry. Moreover, there were dévots and faux-dévôts in high places. The Prince de Conti and theSieur de Rochemont were aristocratic censeurs.
The Alazṓn: the senex iratus and the miles gloriosus
I did not mention Baroque aesthetics in Dom Juan, but he has been called an homme de vent, windy. Nor did I mention sexuality, except briefly, in another post. Dom Juan would like to be an Alexandre, Alexander the Great. The word to conquer puts an emphasis on numbers. Sganarelle tells the peasant-girls that his master is an “épouseur du genre humain,” (II. iv); “the groom of the entire human race” (II.4, p. 27), but there is no eroticism in Dom Juan.
As for sources, most scholars mention Tirso de Molina’s (24 March 1579 – 12 March 1648) Burlador de Sevilla. He is considered the source in what could be described as the “Don Juan cycle,” but Molière’s source may have been Italian. Two of Molière’s contemporaries wrote a Don Juan: Dorimond (1659) and Villiers (1660).Whether they influenced Molière cannot be ascertained. But if Don Juan is a legendary figure, when Molière wrote his Dom Juan, the story had circulated for several years.
Finally, Dom Juan has been considered a poorly-constructed play, une pièce “assez mal construite.” It takes us from grands seigneurs to Pierrot, a peasant who does not want to lose his fiancée to Dom Juan. The play does seem poorly constructed. For instance, I have mentioned the picaresque nature of Molière’s Dom Juan. Picaresque suggests a horizontal line broken, with each encounter, by a vertical line (see Paradigms and Syntagms). It seems Dom Juan and Sganarelle are walking along, meeting artistocrats and peasants, all the way to the supernatural Statue. The trompeur trompé (deceiver deceived) plot formula is circular.
We must stop here. This is our last post on Dom Juan. I should note that Louis XIV banned secret societies in 1666. I doubt he did so to eliminate the Société du Saint-Sacrement. I suspect absolutism precluded secret societies.
I reread chapters of my thesis on Molière‘s (1622 – 1673), a study of the pharmakósin six of Molière‘ comedies,and my article on L’École des femmes. The article is fine. As for my thesis, its chapter on Le Misanthrope requires a few quotations and should be linked to “Le Misanthrope, ou la comédie éclatée,” a paper I read at an international conference on the Age of Theatre in France. It was held at the University of Toronto, on 14-16 May 1987.
Following are a few comments on the plot of comedies and farces, on jealousy and the dénouement.
All’s well that ends well
Le Blondin berne le barbon
Le Trompeur trompé (the deceiver deceived)
Hoist with his own petard
All’s well that ends well is a play by Shakespeare (baptised 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616), which describes comedy in general. The French use the following formula: Le blondin berne le barbon, or The Young Man fools the Old Man. However, there are times when Molière blends the two formulas. One could say that the School for Wives‘ Arnolphe is “hoisted with his own petard” (Shakespeare’s Hamlet) or that he is le trompeur trompé (the deceiver deceived). He raises his future wife, but she marries a young man.
By keeping Agnès inside his house, Arnoldphe believes he is raising a wife who will not be unfaithful. When Arnolphe learns Agnès loves Horace, he does not speak like a lover. He speaks like an accountant. He brought her up, so she owes him. The matter of her debt is discussed. Arnolphe, the blocking character or alazṓn, senex iratus, Miles gloriosus, etc. alienates Agnès. After meeting Horace, she tells Arnolphe that the young man she loves knows how say what pleases her, which is not the case with Arnolphe, the embodiment of jealousy. The School for Wives was first performed at the Palais Royal theatre on 26 December 1662. Comedies promote marriage and pleasure.
Front page ofL’École des femmes—engraving from the 1719 edition (Wiki2.org.)
Lui, mais à vous parler franchement entre nous, Il est plus pour cela, selon mon goût, que vous ; Chez vous le mariage est fâcheux et pénible, Et vos discours en font une image terrible : Mais las ! il le fait lui si rempli de plaisirs, Que de se marier il donne des désirs.
(Agnès à Arnolphe, 5.iv)
[You did. But, to be frank with you, he is more to my taste for a husband than you. With you, marriage is a trouble and a pain, and your descriptions give a terrible picture of it; but there−he makes it seem so full of joy that I long to marry.]
(Agnès to Arnolphe, V.5, p. 26)
But you ought to have driven away that amorous desire.
(Arnolphe to Agnès, V.5, p. 26)
AGNÈS Le moyen de chasser ce qui fait du plaisir ?
(Agnès à Arnolphe, 5.iv)
[How can we drive away what gives us pleasure?]
(Agnès to Arnolphe, V.5, p. 26)
AGNÈS Vraiment il en sait donc là-dessus plus que vous ; Car à se faire aimer il n’a point eu de peine.
(Agnès à Arnolphe, 5.iv)
[Of a truth then he knows more about it than you; for he had no difficulty in making himself loved.]
(Agnès to Arnolphe, V.5, p. 26)
AGNÈS Que ne vous êtes-vous comme lui fait aimer ?
(Agnès à Arnolphe, 5.iv)
[Heaven! you ought not to blame me. Why did you not make yourself loved, as he has done? I did not prevent you, I fancy.
(Agnès à Arnolphe, V.5, p. 26)
Le Misanthrope’s Alceste is also jealous. Yet Célimène tells him that she loves him:
Mais, moi, que vous blâmez de trop de jalousie, Qu’ai-je de plus qu’eux tous, Madame, je vous prie ?
(Alceste to Célimène, 2.iv)
What have I more than all of them, I pray you?
—I, whom you blame for too much jealousy!]
(Alceste to Célimène, II.1)
Le bonheur de savoir que vous êtes aimé.
Célimène à Alceste, 2.i)
[The happiness of knowing you are loved.]
(Célimène to Alceste, II.1)
The role Philinte plays has often been described as that of the raisonneur. When I studied Molière as an undergraduate, Philinte was the raisonneur. More recent scholarship opposes the alazṓn to the eirôn (as in ironic) in a form of contest called agôn (as in protagonist, antagonist, and agony). Normally, the alazṓn is defeated, but not necessarily ousted. In The Misanthrope(1665), no one is ousted, but all characters leave the stage. I am reading Gabriel Conesa’s Le Dialogue moliéresque, seeking information on the dialogue between Philinte and Alceste (1.i), in Le Misanthrope.
We have a raisonneur in The Misanthrope: Philinte. When Alceste reveals that civility does not allow him to know whether what praise he hears is mere flattery the truth, a mask falls. He is vain and not a raisonneur. The dialogue between Alceste and Philinte allows us to know the real Alceste (I.i.). As for his dialogue with Célimène, (II.1) it reveals insecurity, inquiétude. As we have seen in Portraits of the Misanthrope, Philinte’s flegme (his calmness) allows him to enjoy the world, however flawed. He is the eirôn, but also, a raisonneur. Alceste, as lover, is conflicted. The agôn, the contest opposing the alazṓn and the eirôn, takes place within him. How can there be a dénouement?
The plot of this comedy is circular. I have therefore suggested that although there is a dramatis personæ, comedic functions have been fused, blurring distribution: blocking character, alazṓn, senexiratus (crazy old man) the young lovers and the eirôn (Philinte as raisonneur). This would suggest the total absence in Molière’s Misanthrope of tragedy’s catharsis. No one can be removed.
However, Molière’s Tartuffe (1664-1669), features a pharmakós (as in pharmacy). Tartuffe, the hypocrite, is led to prison by an officer: l’Exempt. (Tartuffe.pdf) He is saved by “un Prince ennemi de la fraude.” (V, Scène dernière), (“Our prince is not a friend to double-dealing[.]” Tartuffe). Yet, Tartuffe was empowered by Orgon who was empowered by Tartuffe. Orgon adopts Tartuffe so he, Orgon, can be a family tyrant with impunity or sin without sinning (casuistry). The dénouement is not a genuine cleansing. Therefore, Tartuffe is a pharmakós, a scapegoat.
You may know that Le Malade imaginaire was first performed on 10 February 1673. Molière suffered from tuberculosis. He collapsed on the stage on 17 February 1673, during the fourth performance of Le Malade imaginaire. He fainted when he was removed from the stage. He was hemorraging. He died a few hours later.
However, let us return to Tartuffe where “all’s well that ends well.” Mariane will marry Valère.
(Notes 1 & 2 refer to material that should be included in a longer text.)
Micheline Bourbeau-Walker, “L’Échec d’Arnolphe: lois du genre, ou faille intérieure?,”Papers on French Seventeenth Century Literature, 11, nº 20 (1984), 79-92. Micheline Bourbeau-Walker, “Le Misanthrope ou la comédie éclatée,” in David Trott & Nicole Boursier, eds, L’Âge du théâtre en France/The Age of Theatre in France (Edmonton: Academic Printing and Publishing, 1988), 53-63. ISBN 0-920980-30-9  Gabriel Conesa, Le Dialogue moliéresque (Paris: CEDES, 1992) (narratives)  Harold Knutson, “Yet another last word on Molière raisonneur,” Theatre Survey, 22, nº1 (1981), 125-140. Micheline Bourbeau-Walker, “Le Misanthrope ou la comédie éclatée.” Casuistry, or how to sin without sinning (michelinewalker.com)
There are indications I will not live eternally, but I have an unfinished project: publishing a book on Molière.
This goal may be unrealistic. However, I will not be given another chance. It will be a short book and I may not have reviewed recent literature on the subject as thoroughly as I would like to. Yet, I wrote a PhD thesis on Molière, and a PhD thesis is a scholarly venture. Moreover, I was expected to “dust it off,” a thesis is a thesis, and publish it.
Dusting it off is what I plan to do. In other words, it will not sound too scholarly. I will quote fellow moliéristes, but will focus on my findings.
Tartuffe, 1664 – 1669
Dom Juan, 1665
Le Misanthrope, 1666
Were it not for the intervention of a second father, the young couples in L’Avare(The Miser), 1668, could not marry. They would be at the mercy of Harpagon’s greed.
Matters are worse in Tartuffe, 1664 -1669. Were it not for the intervention of the king, not only would the young lovers not marry, but Orgon’s family would be ruined. In The Misanthrope,1666, Alceste is his own worst enemy. In Dom Juan, 1665, Dom Juan is removed by a deus ex machinaand he has left Elvira, his wife.
Chapters may resemble Molière’s “L’Avare:” Doublings, a post. This post is informative, but not too scholarly. It also illustrates my main finding. In Molière’s plays, the young lovers cannot marry without an intervention, or putting on a play (Le Bourgeois gentilhomme). In L’Avare, they are saved by a second father: doublings. Molière uses stage devices, such as a deus ex machina, to save the society of the play.
Therefore, if a blocking character is removed, he is apharmakos (a scapegoat).
MADAME PERNELLE, mother of Orgon ORGON, husband of Elmire ELMIRE, wife of Orgon DAMIS, son of Orgon MARIANE, daughter of Orgon, in love with Valère CLÉANTE, brother-in-law (beau-frère) of Orgon TARTUFFE, a hypocrite DORINE, Mariane’s maid M. LOYAL, a bailiff (l’huissier) A Police Officer (l’Exempt) FLIPOTTE, Madame Pernelle’s servant
Le Tartuffe is a five-act comedy in verse. It was first performed in 1664 and banned. It was rewritten and performed in 1667, but remained banned until 1669.
In the Misanthrope, Molière combines in one character, Alceste, the blondin and the barbon, or the young man who wishes to marry and the person(s) who oppose(s) the blondin‘s marriage. In other words, in Le Tartuffe, the eirôn and the alazṓn, or the blondin andthe barbon,are separate characters, but Molière seems to have doubled his alazṓn, or barbon. Both Orgon and Tartuffe are blocking characters, or the alazṓn. They are so close to one another that one could suggest a symbiosis.
ORGON to CLÉANTE, Tartuffe (I, 5)
Dear brother, you’d be charmed to know him;
Your raptures over him would have no end.
He is a man … who … ah! … in fact … a man
Whoever does his will, knows perfect peace,
And counts the whole world else, as so much dung.
His converse has transformed me quite; he weans
My heart from every friendship, teaches me
To have no love for anything on earth;
And I could see my brother, children, mother,
And wife, all die, and never care—a snap.
Your feelings are humane, I must say, brother!
This is how the plot unfolds. Orgon has taken into his home a man feigning devotion, Tartuffe. Tartuffe is also a casuiste, a person who can take sin out of sinning. Because Tartuffe is a deft casuiste, he allows Orgon to act as a tyrannical father, and to do so with impunity. Orgon is so delighted he cannot see that he is being fooled. Yet, without Tartuffe, Orgon could not be a tyrannical father. For instance, when Orgon’s daughter Mariane begs her father to be spared a marriage to Tartuffe, Orgon has to brace himself, because he is at heart a compassionate individual:
MARIANE to ORGON, Tartuffe (IV, 3)
(…) I beg you Upon my knees, oh, save me from the torment Of being possessed by one whom I abhor!
ORGON to himself, Tartuffe (IV, 3)
Allons, ferme, mon cœur point de faiblesse humaine !
[Come, come, my heart, be firm! no human weakness!]
Mariane then asks to be allowed to enter a convent
MARIANE, Tartuffe (IV, 3) Oh, rather let a convent’s rigid rule Wear out the wretched days that Heaven allots me.
But Orgon has a good directeur de conscience under whose guidance, he is learning to turn inhumanity into a virtue, which it is not. Knowing the role Tartuffe teaches, Orgon preaches mortification:
ORGON to MARIANE, Tartuffe (IV, 3) So, mortify your senses by this marriage, And don’t vex me about it anymore.
Orgon is therefore beguiled. With the exception of his mother, Madame Pernelle, Orgon is the only member of the society of the play not to see that Tartuffe is a faux dévot who does not mortify his senses. However, Orgon so needs Tartuffe, who fits him like a glove, that he cannot see what everyone sees, which is both a recipe for disaster (Orgon is blind) and a source of comic relief (everyone knows and laughs).
‘Gros et gras, le teint et la bouche vermeille’
[stout, fat, fair, rosy-lipped]
Gaston Hall writes that “‘Gros et gras, le teint et la bouche vermeille’ [stout, fat, fair, rosy-lipped], Tartuffe is quite unfitted to play the part of the saintly ascetic. No rascal with the slightest talent for hypocrisy would have dared sit down to dine upon ‘… deux perdrix Avec une moitié de gigot en hachis’ [two partridges, As well as half a leg o’ mutton, deviled]” (Gaston Hall, p. 14).
For instance, in Act 1, Scene 4, Orgon has just returned from a trip to the country and wants to know what has happened during his absence. However, he is so “tartuffié” that he cannot hear that his wife Elmire has been sick. He asks “Et Tartuffe” [And what about Tartuffe?] four times, and says “Le pauvre homme” [The poor man] four times, whatever he hears.
This scene also contains a second source of comic relief: the word “tartuffié” instead of possessed. Given the devastation visited upon Orgon’s family, the word “tartuffié” is incongruous but it minimizes the degree to which Tartuffe has seduced Orgon. In fact, Orgon is besotted and has begun to twist reality as did 17th-century casuists. Casuistry constitutes a form of moral jurisprudence, a practice that led Blaise Pascal (19 June 1623 – 19 August 1662) to write his famous Lettres Provinciales (1656-57) and also exerted influence on Molière who mocked it in Tartuffe.
In short, in Molière’s Tartuffe, the character who opposes Mariane’s marriage to Valère is not Tartuffe, it is Orgon, the pater familias of most comedies.
However, as Orgon enjoys threatening his daughter into a mésalliance, which is the normal plot of comedies, Tartuffe is coveting Orgon’s wife and appropriating all of Orgon’s belongings, including a cassette containing incriminating documents. Tartuffe knows about the cassette and urges Orgon not to keep it in his, Orgon’s, possession. If Orgon gives the cassette to Tartuffe, he will be able to deny having this cassette if asked about it, which frees him. He would not have to sin. One of the methods of casuistry is restriction mentale. One says: “I don’t have it.” It may be an incomplete statement, but it isn’t an outright lie. Orgon does not want to sin.
CLÉANTE to ORGON, Tartuffe (V, 1) How could you trust them to another’s hands?
ORGON By reason of a conscientious scruple. I went straight to my traitor, to confide In him; his sophistry made me believe That I must give the box to him to keep, So that, in case of search, I might deny My having it at all, and still, by favour Of this evasion, keep my conscience clear Even in taking oath against the truth.
The above is information we are not given until late in the play, but Dorine mentions “late unpleasantness” at the very beginning of the play (I, 2). Dorine, Mariane’s maid, creates tension. Dorine is our zanni, the astute servant of thecommedia dell’arte.
DORINE to CLÉANTE, Tartuffe (I, 2) His conduct in our late unpleasantness Had won him much esteem, and proved his courage In service of his king; but now he’s like A man besotted, since he’s been so taken With this Tartuffe. He calls him brother, loves him A hundred times as much as mother, son, Daughter, and wife…
At any rate, it seems we have two alazṓn: a reticent pater familias and a man who can make arrangements with heaven.
The truth as lie
At this point, Act III, matters start to turn around. Molière however treats us to a confession that is a truth as lie.
Hidden in a closet (III, 3), Damis, Orgon’s son, has seen Tartuffe attempting to seduce Elmire, Orgon’s wife, and tells his father. Although he is “tartuffié,” Orgon nevertheless confronts Tartuffe, but no sooner does he address him than the faux dévot confesses. Il s’accuse pour s’excuser.
TARTUFFE to ORGON, Tartuffe (III, 6) Oui mon frère, je suis un méchant, un coupable, Un malheureux pécheur, tout pain d’iniquité, Le plus grand scélérat qui jamais ait été.
[Yes, brother, I am wicked, I am guilty,
A miserable sinner, steeped in evil,
The greatest criminal that ever lived.]
Such defence is consistent with devotion and it is, therefore, very effective. In the Catholic Church, the devout confess. After confession, the sinner may have to make amends, but he or she is absolved. However, blind as he is, Orgon does not see a swindler in Tartuffe, but a genuinely devout man. In fact, Orgon is the one who makes amends (penance). To show to what extent he believes him, Orgon asks Tartuffe to keep his wife company at all times (III, 7).
However, the plot has thickened. Elmire had asked Damis not to tell Orgon (III, 5). This warming was prudent on her part as Tartuffe’s confession only serves to convince Orgon that Tartuffe is a holy man, which he isn’t. So the results are catastrophic. As quoted above (IV, 6), Orgon presses the marriage of Mariane to Tartuffe and he disinherits his son Damis.
All else having failed, members of Orgon’s family resort to a somewhat disputably theatrical device: a-play-within-a-play. Elmire tells her husband to crouch underneath a table behind a tablecloth, a form of curtain (IV, 4). From an actor Orgon is transformed into a spectator. He will see and seeing is believing.
According to Molière scholar Georges Forestier, the play-within-a-play is not a mise en abyme (see Related Articles). It is part of the action dramatique, the plot. In the present case, Professor Forestier is absolutely right. Orgon is a doubting Thomas and so tartuffié, possessed, that his family has little choice but to conceal him under a table, which may not be a play-within-a-play, but constitutes a theatrical recourse. Orgon is stunned and slow to come to Elmire’s rescue. She has coughed repeatedly, as arranged, without Orgon emerging from under the table.
Yet Tartuffe does not take from Orgon much more than Orgon gives him. However, there is a difference. Tartuffe is an extortionist and Orgon, a potential family tyrant, but un hommede bien (a good man) at heart. He has truly been besotted. Orgon so needs Tartuffe, a casuist, that not only does he give his daughter to Tartuffe, disinherit his son Damis, foolishly sign himself away to Tartuffe, but he also entrusts to Tartuffe a cassette that contains incriminating papers and which we do not hear about until Act V.
La Fronde: uprisings
We will not discuss la Fronde except to note that under Italian-born Cardinal Mazarin, ChiefMinister of the French King from 1642 until his death, there were uprisings called La Fronde. These occurred between 1648 – 1653 and consisted in two campaigns: the Fronde of the parlementsand the Fronde of the nobles. Absolutism gave no voice to France’s parlements and it’s aristocrats, including princes of the blood, possible heirs to the Kingdom of France who played no role in governing France. Moreover, the nobles refused to pay a tax. The war against Spain was costing a fortune. In the end, peasants and members of the bourgeoisie had to foot the bill.
Both Orgon and Argas were involved in these uprisings. When finally, Orgon realizes that he’s been a fool, he tells Cléante, the raisonneur, and starts running upstairs in the hope of retrieving the cassette, but it’s too late. Monsieur Loyal, the bailiff, is already at the door to collect all of Orgon’s possessions. We soon learn from Valère, who must have friends in high places and is in love with Mariane, Orgon’s daughter, that Tartuffe has already used the cassette alleging, later, that his first duty is to serve the king: “Mais l’intérêt du Prince est mon premier devoir” (V, scène dernière).
ORGON to TARTUFFE, Tartuffe (V, scène dernière)
Ungrateful wretch, do you forget ’twas I
That rescued you from utter misery?
[I’ve not forgot some help you may have given;
But my first duty now is toward my prince.
The higher power of that most sacred claim
Must stifle in my heart all gratitude;
And to such puissant ties I’d sacrifice
My friend, my wife, my kindred, and myself.]
How ironic. However Valère has made arrangements for the family to flee (V, 6) because Orgon will be arrested, but in true comic fashion, Tartuffe is arrested.
The tendency of comedy is to include as many people as possible in its final society: the blocking characters are form often reconciled or converted than simply repudiated. (Frye, p. 165)
In Act V, scene 3, Cléante remains optimistic. Tartuffe may prove more merciful than we expect.
CLÉANTE to ORGON, Tartuffe(V, 3) Je voudrais de bon cœur, qu’on pût entre vous deux De quelque ombre de paix raccommoder les nœuds.
[I wish with all my heart that some pretence
Of peace could be patched up between you two.]
Yet, in both Dom Juan and Tartuffe, salvation does not come from a ruse on the part of the society of the play. In Dom Juan a machine engulfs le méchanthomme. In Tartuffe, unPrince ennemi de la fraude saves the family. Molière uses a deus ex machina. We have reached what Northrop Frye calls the “point of ritual death” (p. 179). The eirôn cannot recover.
As noted above, Tartuffe takes little more than what he has been given by Orgon, but Orgon has given everything, which was foolish. Moreover, Tartuffe does not have to accept marrying Mariane. Nor does he have to take possession of what Orgon has handed over to him. Moreover, were Tartuffe humane, he would not run to the Prince carrying the incriminating cassette.
Therefore, although Orgon is forcing Mariane to marry Tartuffe and gives all he has to Tartuffe, including the incriminating cassette, “[t]he pharmakós is neither innocent nor guilty,” writes Frye (p. 41). By doubling the alazṓn (the blocking character), Molière has allowed, on the one hand, greater vilification of Tartuffe, who becomes the pharmakós, and, on the other hand, he has facilitated Orgon’s rehabilitation, as comedy wills. Tartuffe is Molière’s most convincing pharmakós.
Moreover, Tartuffe is the classic alazṓn: a miles gloriosus (Plautus, c. 254–184 BCE; Latin comedy), in which he resembles Dom Juan. (See Alazṓn, Wikipedia.) Elmire resists Tartuffe’s advances by telling him that she may offend heaven: le Ciel. However,in Tartuffe’s eyes, the eyes of a casuist, it is possible to sin without sinning, which is preposterous and leads Tartuffe to hoist his own petard. There is a farcical element in Tartuffe, just as there is a farcical element in the Misanthrope. Let us hear Tartuffe impersonating God, which is casuistry.
TARTUFFE à ELMIRE, Tartuffe (IV, 4) Si ce n’est que le Ciel qu’à mes vœux on oppose, Lever un tel obstacle est à moi peu de chose, Et cela ne doit pas retenir votre cœur.
[If Heaven is all that stands now in my way,
I’ll easily remove that little hindrance;
Your heart need not hold back for such a trifle.]
Comedy is a forgiving. By virtue of comedy’s ancient laws, there will be a happy ending, which, in the case of Molière’s Tartuffe, is brought about by the timely intervention of “un Prince ennemi de la fraude,” a “deus ex machina.” At the end of the play, as we are sitting on the edge of our seats, expecting the Exempt (a police officer) to arrest Orgon, the Exempt arrests Tartuffe.
Tartuffe is made into the guilty and punished half, the scapegoat, or pharmakós, of a doubled alazṓn. Doubling the alazṓn benefits the play. Orgon is part of the play’s final society, which he must deserve, or Elmire would not be his wife and his family so loyal. Nor would a servant, Dorine, speak to Orgon so openly. Orgon cannot re-enter society without redeemable features. We are not in fairyland.
The Truth as Truth
As for Tartuffe, he is as he describes himself when Damis, Orgon’s son, tells his father that he saw Tartuffe trying to seduce Elmire. His confession “gets him off the hook:” il se tire d’affaire. As Will Moore writes, “Tartuffe is sure of Orgon, and Molière is sure of his public” (Will G. Moore, p. 64). But the truth as lie is a reprieve. The truth as lie turns out to be the truth, which is comic irony.
TARTUFFE to ORGON, Tartuffe (III, 6) Non, non, vous vous laissez tromper à l’apparence, Et je ne suis rien moins, hélas, que ce qu’on pense. Tout le monde me prend pour un homme de bien; Mais la vérité pure est que je ne vaux rien.
[No, no; you let appearances deceive you;
I’m anything but what I’m thought to be,
Alas! and though all men believe me godly,
The simple truth is, I’m a worthless creature.]
As the curtain falls, all are on their way to the wedding of Valère and Mariane.
All’s well that ends well.
(Tout est bien qui finit bien.)
Love to everyone ♥
Gouache (XVIIIe siècle) de Fesch et Whirsker. (Photo credit: Larousse)
I have already written that Tartuffe is the punished half of a blocking character. In this post, I have taken this thought further by suggesting a doubling of the alazṓn.
Micheline Bourbeau-Walker, “Tartuffe: masques, machines et machinations,” in Clive Thomson (ed), Proceedings of the 1981 Meeting of the Canadian Association of University and College Teachers of French (Kingston: Signum, 1981), p. 491-509.
My PhD dissertation was a study of the pharmakós in Molière:
Micheline Walker, “L’Impossible Entreprise : une étude sur le pharmakós dans le théâtre de Molière,” DAI, 36 (1976) 8103A (Université de la Colombie britannique).
 H. Gaston Hall, Tartuffe, Molière (W. G. Moore, General Editor, Barron’s Studies in French Literature: 1960).  Georges Forestier, Le Théâtre dans le théâtre (Genève: Droz, 1996).  Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, Four Essays (Princeton University Press, 1973) (online)  W. G. Moore, Molière, A New Criticism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949).
GEORG MATTHIAS MONN (1717-1750)
Concerto for cello, strings and basso continuo in G minor (2. Adagio)
Performed by the Freiburger Barockorchester
Featuring Jean-Guihen Queyras, cello
Conducted by Petra Mullejans
Molière wrote several enigmatic comedies, but Tartuffe,Dom Juan, and Le Misanthropeare the better known. All three feature masks and all three could be described as incongruous. They present daring juxtapositions.
Tartuffe is our first case. Tartuffe feigns devotions to ruin a (barely) recoverable, but recoverable, father, Orgon, and his family. In Reynard the Fox, Reynard escapes a death sentence by claiming he has converted and will go to the Crusades. Feigned devotion is not a new mask. However, given Jansenism, Casuistry and Protestantism, in 17th-century France, devotion was too sensitive a subject, which imperiled Molière’s play. Tartuffe is a faux dévot and a casuiste.
Tartuffe was first performed in the summer of 1664 during Les Plaisirs de l’Isle enchantée, multi-day festivities held at the newly built Versailles. The play was banned by Louis XIV and Molière had to revise his comedy twice, in 1667 and in 1669, before it was considered as acceptable.
Our second play is Molière’s Dom Juan, which premièred the following year, on 15 February 1665 and was promptly censored. Dom Juan’s valet, Sganarelle, describes his master as a “grand seigneur méchant homme,” (“a great lord but a bad man”) and “un épouseur à toutes mains,” (“one who’ll marry anyone”) (I, 1). Given his rank, it seems unfitting on the part of Dom Juan to stoop to infidelities with peasant girls. Molière’s Dom Juan does not seduce Charlotte and Mathurine, but he has left his home and his wife, Done Elvire, and there was already a Dom Juan of legend. Tirso de Molina‘s (24 March 1579 – 12 March 1648)El Burlador de Sevilla lingered in the mind of spectators.
Most importantly, however, Dom Juan is calling for the wrath of God by trivializing unacceptable, sinful, behaviour. Molière’s Dom Juan will therefore suffer the fate awaiting the trompeur of all farces. The traditional plot of farces is that of the “deceiver deceived,” or “trompeur trompé,” (a reversal) and, in Dom Juan’s case, the trompé is heaven itself. Consequently, although Molière’s Dom Juan is less of a seducer than the audience might expect, he is engulfed into the earth, by a “machine,” a theatrical device, to which he is led by the hand of the dead-yet-alive stone guest, the commandeur he has killed.
Dom Juan’s father reminds his son that “noblesse oblige.” In other words, there is incongruity in Dom Juan’s behaviour and although he is a “grand seigneur,” it is arrogant on his part to ignore the commandments of a greater lord, our Lord.
Our third case is TheMisanthrope (4 June 1666). The play was not banned. However, in a letter to d’Alembert,a letter on theatre, Lettre à Monsieur d’Alembert sur les spectacles (1758),Jean-Jacques Rousseau (28 June 1712 – 2 July 1778), who was an admirer of Molière, criticized the Misanthrope (4 June 1666) because Molière had ridiculed Alceste who is a good man. In Rousseau’s opinion, “l’homme de bien” should not be subjected to ridicule. Such a juxtaposition is incongruous, not to mention discourteous.
Where Alceste is concerned, gallantry is a factor. Alceste lives in the beau monde. However, no sooner does the curtain lift than Alceste pounces on gallants. In a world where everybody praises everybody, galanterie, good persons and scoundrels, “l’honnête et le fat,” how can he, Alceste, believe those who praise him and whose praise he needs?
“Quel avantage a-t-on qu’un homme vous caresse, Vous jure amitié, foi, zèle, estime, tendresse, Et vous fasse de vous un éloge éclatant, Lorsqu’au premier faquin il court en faire autant ?” Le Misanthrope, I. i, 49-52, p. 3
“But what advantage is it to you if a man courts you, swears friendship, faith, zeal, honor, tenderness, makes you some fulsome compliment, and than turn round to the first rascal he meets, and does the same.” The Misanthrope, Internet Archive (pp. 4-5)
Alceste likes compliments and must be praised. He disgraces himself irredeemably.
Je veux qu’on me distingue, et pour le trancher net, L’ami du genre humain n’est point du tout mon fait. I. i, 61-62 (www.toutmolière.net)
[I must be singled out; to put it flatly,
The friend of all mankind’s no friend for me.] I. 1, Wikisource
We are in Célimène’s home, the young widow with whom Alceste has fallen in love and who loves Alceste. In other words, we’re at court with the individuals, courtiers and gallants, Alceste despises, threatening to find a refuge in one of the many “deserts” of French 17th-century literature. They are the very people Célimène entertains by depicting their faults gracefully: “Les rieurs sont pour vous, Madame…” (“The laughers are on your side, Madam…”) Yet, Célimène’s “portraits” match Alceste’s depictions of others. She makes fun of the very people Alceste criticizes. In short, the misanthrope and the mondaine are the opposite sides of the very same coin.
Alceste and Célimène differ however in that Célimène can survive at court. She is twenty, pretty and witty. He’s older, he growls, and he demands frankness, not on moral grounds, but because he wishes to be certain that compliments addressed to him are true. Alceste is not a misanthrope; he is vain and insecure.
Ironically, a little gallantry would benefit Alceste, morally and esthetically. As Philinte exclaims, one does not tell a woman that she is too old to wear the makeup she uses. Moreover, would that Alceste had not criticized Oronte’s poem (I, 2) but simply changed the subject while escorting him to the door.
Alceste does combine, in himself, not only “l’homme de bien” (the good man) and “le personnage ridicule,” (the ridiculous character) but also the young lover of comedy, le blondin, barely out of boyhood, but whose marriage is awaited, and the barbon, the bearded older man who opposes the blondin‘s legitimate wishes. Alceste combines two functions, a most incongruous juxtaposition.
Célimène doesn’t feel she can follow Alceste into a “desert,” not at the age of twenty, but she will marry him.
Moi, renoncer au monde, avant que de vieillir! Et dans votre désert aller m’ensevelir!
Célimène à Alceste, V. scène dernière, p. 69
La solitude effraye une âme de vingt ans; Je ne sens point la mienne assez grande, assez forte, Pour me résoudre à prendre un dessein de la sorte. Si le don de ma main peut contenter vos vœux, Je pourrai me résoudre à serrer de tels nœuds: Et l’hymen . . .
Célimène à Alceste, V, scène dernière,
But solitude has terrors for a soul
Of twenty; mine’s not great and firm enough,
I fear, to let me take that high resolve.
But if my hand can satisfy your wishes,
I’ll bring myself to suffer such a bond,
And marriage . . .
Célimène to Alceste, V, last scene, The Misanthrope
Célimène to Alceste, V, last scene, The Misanthrope)
However, he insists on taking her to a “desert” and rejects her because she can’t follow him:
“Non ; mon cœur à présent vous déteste, Et ce refus lui seul fait plus que tout le reste. ”
(Alceste to Célimène, V, scène dernière. vv 1777-78, p. 70)
No; my heart detests you now.
This one rebuff does more than all the rest.
(Alceste to Célimène, V, last scene, The Misanthrope)
The above-mentioned plays may seem and are problematical, but Molière is writing comedies. In comedies, the Shakespearean “all’s well that ends well” prevails. God punishes Dom Juan. As for Tartuffe, a prince who hates fraudulent activities, “un prince ennemi de la fraude,” sees that Tartuffe is in the process of defrauding Orgon and strikes. Monsieur Loyal, the bailiff pictured above, is about to take Orgon’s belongings away, when an “Exempt” arrives and arrests the faux dévot.
But it’s a close call, too close a call. A comedy ends well, but a prince, a “deus ex machina,” should not have to intervene so that Orgon’s family is freed of its faux dévot. Nor should Molière have to use une machine. Dom Juan is led to eternal perdition by the dead-yet-alive commandeur whom he has killed. The earth rises and swallows him.
Such remedies are too drastic. A guilty finger is therefore pointed at society. It cannot remove Dom Juan, but should do so. In Tartuffe’s case, Orgon, the pater familias, has empowered Tartuffe. Therefore, Tartuffe seems a scapegoat, the pharmakós of ancient Greek comedy.
In TheMisanthrope, no machine is required. Alceste is precisely as Célimène describes him in the portrait scene (II, 4): “Il prend contre lui-même assez souvent les armes[.]” (“He often takes up arms against himself[.]”).
(see Wikisource, The Misanthrope)
In an insightful analysis of Dom Juan and The Misanthrope, Professor Jules Brody described, as follows, the problematic of both plays. In Dom Juan and, especially, the Misanthrope, we witness the victory of the esthetically right over the morally wrong. Célimène makes people laugh by mocking them in her portraits, which is esthetically right, but morally wrong. Alceste’s behaviour, he gets angry, is esthetically wrong, but morally right. As for Dom Juan, he is un grand seigneur.
I will simply add that, in Dom Juan and Le Misanthrope, Molière pushes comedy as a genre to its very limits. In the Misanthrope, by virtue of the play’s structure, le blondin (the young lover) is le barbon (the blocking character, or the eirôn) is the alazṓn (Greek comedy). In The Misanthrope, Molière may have replaced the forgiving “All’s well that ends well” by comedy’s other schéma: the farcical deceiver deceived.
 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Du Contrat social (Paris : Classiques Garnier, 1962), p. 150.
 Jules Brody, “Don Juan” and “Le Misanthrope,” or The Esthetics of Individualism in Molière,” PMLA, 84 (May 1969), p. 559 – 575.
 Micheline Bourbeau-Walker, “Le Misanthrope, ou la comédie éclatée,” in ed. David Trott & Nicole Boursier. L’Âge du Théâtre en France /The Age of Theater in France (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: Academic Printing and Publishing, 1988), p. 53 – 61.
The archetype of the Creator is a familiar image in Blake’s work. Here, the demiurgic figure Urizen prays before the world he has forged. The Song of Los is the third in a series of illuminated books painted by Blake and his wife, collectively known as the Continental Prophecies. (Caption and Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In the area of literary criticism, few books have inspired me as much as Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism.[i]
Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays was published by Northrop Frye in 1957. In his Polemical Introduction, Frye notes the importance of approaching literature with “a conceptual framework,”[ii] so one can uncover a literary work’s organizing principles. In this regard, he refers to Aristotle’s Poetics.
“A Conceptual framework”
Of course! So I started examining how archetypes were used in the various works of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, or Molière, France’s foremost comic dramatist.
Comedy: the characters as archetypes
Frye describes comedy as a genre where a young couple, or young couples, have to overcome obstacles, in order to marry. They are usually opposed by a pater familias, a descendent of the heavy father of Roman New Comedy (Plautus [c. 254–184 BCE] and Terence [195/185–159 BCE]) to the more buffoon-like stock characters of the commedia dell’arte. Usually the young lovers are helped by servants, suivant-e-s, valets, confident-e-s, friends, and, at times, a mother or an avuncular (good uncle) figure.
The Plot: all’s well that ends well
Comedy has its archetypal figures and it is an “all’s-well-that-ends-well” narrative, but theories can be reductive. We require “a conceptual framework,” but must also acquire a degree of eclecticism and develop personal theories. In the case of Molière, one has to analyze if and how he uses the “all’s-well-that-ends-well,” rather than simply state that he does or does not use customary narrative and archetypal characters.
Molière’s Tartuffe: the hypocrite
For instance, in Molière’s Tartuffe, Tartuffe who feigns piety, has so bewitched a vulnerable Orgon, the heavy father, that members of his family have to put on a little play-within-the-play to show Orgon that Tartuffe is a hypocrite and that, far from turning his back on the pleasures of the flesh, he in fact covets Orgon’s wife Elmire.
Hidden under a table, Orgon, the pater familias is made to see his “friend” trying to seduce his wife and realizes, too late, that he has been fooled. Orgon’s daughter will not have to marry Tartuffe, but Orgon cannot get rid of the impostor, because Tartuffe is privy to knowledge that could cause Orgon to be thrown in jail.
The Deus ex machina or divine intervention
Fortunately, an exempt or deus ex machina arrives just in time, an instance of kairos as in fairy tales, to tell the family that Tartuffe is a villain and save Orgon. So, here is a play, where characters opposing the traditional marriage of comedy have very little power. It is therefore a problematical play because it stretches the “all’s-well-that-ends-well” to its limits. Molière’s problematical plays are the ones I analyzed.
I am thankful to Northrop Frye because he gave me my starting-point: “The pharmakos is neither innocent nor guilty.”[iii]Pharmakos is the Greek word for scapegoat, the characters who are vilified but somewhat unjustly, which is, to a certain extent, Tartuffe’s case.
Herman (“Norrie”) Northrop Frye, CC, FRSC (14 July 1912 – 23January 1991) was born in Sherbrooke, Quebec, my hometown. He was raised in New Brunswick, studied in Toronto (Victoria College, University of Toronto) and at Oxford (Merton College), became a minister in the United Church, and then spent most of his life teaching at the University of Toronto (Victoria College), where he was an inspiration to his students as he had been to me.
Frye is the author of The Anatomy of Criticism.[i]
He wrote his thesis on William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827), one of English literature’s most fascinating figures. Entitled Fearful Symmetry, Frye’s thesis was published in 1947, but he has published numerous other studies, all of which are listed in Wikipedia’s entry on Northrop Frye.
Needless to say, literary critics often find their own personal path to analysing a work of literature. In my own humble writings, I have strayed from early mentors, but I would still recommend Anatomy of Criticism as compulsory reading to students of literature. Where Canadian literature is concerned, Frye’s Bush Garden, a short book, is an excellent way to enter the domain, particularly if one also reads Margaret Atwood‘s Survival, another short book.