The Tartuffe

Annika Elisabeth von Hausswolff, Depression Room, 2015
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By MOLIÈRE*

Preface to the first edition, by 1669

Here is a comedy about which a lot of noise was made, which was pursued for a long time; and the people she represents have shown well that they were more powerful in France than anyone else I have ever put on stage. The marquises, the precious ones, the cuckolds and the doctors discreetly endured that they were represented, and pretended to be amused, with everyone else, by the paintings that were made of them; but the hypocrites did not perceive the mockery; first, they got angry, and thought it strange that I had the audacity to represent the faces they make, criticizing a trade that concerns so many good people.

It's a crime they couldn't forgive me; and all armed themselves against my comedy with a dreadful rage. They were careful not to attack from the side they were hit; they are too political for that, and they know very well how to live to reveal the depths of their souls. According to their praiseworthy custom, they covered their interests in the name of the cause of God; It is The Tartuffe, in their mouths, is a play that offends devotion. It is filled from beginning to end with abominations, and there are only things to be found there that are worthy of fire. All syllables are impious; even gestures are criminal; and the slightest glance, the slightest nod, the slightest step to the right or to the left, conceal mysteries which they find ways of explaining to my disadvantage.

It was in vain that I subjected it to the lights of my friends and the censure of everyone; the corrections I was able to make, the judgment of the king and queen, who saw her; the approval of great princes and ministers who publicly honored her with her presence; the testimony of good people who found it profitable, all this was of no avail. They don't want to give in; and every day, still, they make some zealous indiscreet people cry out in public, who piously insult me ​​and damn me out of charity.

I would care very little about everything they might say, if it weren't for the artifice they have to turn people I respect into my enemies, and to attract real good people to their side, deceiving their good faith, and that , by the effort they put into defending the interests of heaven, they become easy to receive the impressions they wish to give them. It's there because I'm forced to defend myself. It is to true devotees that I want to justify the meaning of my comedy; and I conjure you, with all my heart, not to condemn things before you see them, to throw away all prejudices, and not to serve the passions of those whose grimaces dishonor them.

If one takes care to examine my comedy in good faith, it will be seen, no doubt, that my intentions there are entirely innocent, and that it in no way mocks the things that one should revere; that I treated it with all the precautions that the delicacy of the matter required of me; and that I put all the art and all the care that I could into it, to clearly distinguish the character of the hypocrite from that of the true devotee. For this purpose, I used two entire acts to prepare for the arrival of my criminal. He does not allow the listener to doubt for a single moment; first, we know him by the marks I put on him; and, from beginning to end, he says not a word, does not do one action, which does not paint to spectators the character of a bad man, and does not bring out that of the true good man that I oppose to him.

I know very well that, by way of reply, these gentlemen try to insinuate that it is not for the theater to talk about these matters; but I ask them, with their permission, on what they base this beautiful maxim. It is a proposition which they only suppose, and which they by no means prove; and, doubtless, it would not be difficult to show them that comedy, among the ancients, had its origin in religion, and formed a part of its mysteries; that the Spaniards, our neighbors, almost never fail to celebrate a religious holiday without the comedy not being mixed; and that, even among us, it owes its birth to a confraternity to which the Hôtel de Bourgogne still belongs today; that it is a place that was conceived to represent the most important mysteries of our faith; that even today one sees comedies printed with gothic lyrics, under the authorship of a doctor from the Sorbonne; and without going so far back, that holy plays by mr. Corneille, which were admired throughout France.

If the aim of comedy is to correct men's vices, I don't see why there should be privileged ones. This is, for the State, a far more dangerous consequence than all the others; and we have seen that the theater is of great virtue for correction. The most beautiful traits of a serious moral are less powerful, for the most part, than those of satire; and nothing corrects most men more than painting over their faults. It is a great attack on vices to expose them to everyone's laughter. We easily bear reproaches, but we do not bear mockery at all. We'd rather be mean than ridiculous.

I am accused of having put terms of devotion in the mouth of my impostor. Eh! Could I not do it, to represent the character of a hypocrite? It is enough, it seems to me, that I reveal the criminal motives that make him say these things, and that I have removed the consecrated terms, which it would be difficult to hear him misuse. —But in the fourth act he teaches a pernicious moral. 'But isn't that moral something everyone hasn't heard? Does she say anything new in my comedy? And it may be feared that things so generally detested would make an impression on minds; that I make them dangerous by making them go onstage; do they get any authority out of a rogue's mouth? There is nothing to indicate this; and, or if you approve of the comedy of Truffle, or condemn all comedies in general.

This is what people started doing some time ago; and never has so much been unleashed against the theater. I cannot deny that there are Church Fathers who have condemned comedy; but you cannot deny me either that there were some who treated her a little more leniently. Thus, the authority, on which censorship is intended to rest, is destroyed by this division; and the whole consequence that can be drawn from this diversity of opinions in minds enlightened by the same lights is that they understood comedy differently, and that some considered it in its purity, while others perceived it in its corruption, and confused it with all those detestable spectacles that were right to call them spectacles of filthiness.

And, in fact, since one must talk about things and not about words, and most of the annoyances come from not understanding and involving different things in the same word, it is enough to remove the veil of misunderstanding, and see what it's the comedy itself, to see if it's reprehensible. We will no doubt accept that, being but an ingenious poem, which, by pleasant lessons, corrects men's faults, we could not without injustice censure it; and if we are willing to listen to the testimony of antiquity on this subject, it will tell us that its most celebrated philosophers praised comedy, they who professed such austere wisdom, and who incessantly cried out against the vices of the age to which they belonged.

It will make us see that Aristotle devoted time to the theater, and took care to reduce the art of making comedies to precepts. It will teach us that their greatest men, and most worthy, thought it a glory to write them themselves; that there were others who did not disdain to recite in public those they had composed; that Greece has, for this art, proclaimed its esteem, by the glorious prizes and by the superb theaters with which it wanted to honor it; and that, in Rome, finally, this art received extraordinary honors: I do not mean in that wanton Rome, and under the licentiousness of the emperors, but in disciplined Rome, under the wisdom of the consuls, and in the times of the vigor of Roman virtue.

I confess that there were times when comedy became corrupted. And what in the world does not get corrupted every day? There is nothing so innocent that men cannot turn it into a crime; no art so wholesome that they are not capable of reversing the intentions; there is nothing so good in itself that they cannot put it to bad use.

Medicine is a beneficial art, and everyone reveres it as one of the most excellent things we have; however, there were times when it became hateful, and it was often turned into an art to poison men.

Philosophy is a gift from heaven; it was given to us to bring our spirits to the knowledge of one God, by contemplating the wonders of nature; however, it is not ignored that they often diverted it from its function and led it publicly to support impiety. Even the holiest things are not safe from the corruption of men, and we see villains who, every day, abuse devotion and make it serve the greatest crimes in a malevolent way.

But this does not mean that the necessary distinctions are not made. The goodness of things that are corrupted by the malice of corrupters is not involved in a false consequence. Misuse is always separated from the intentions of art; and as no one thinks of banning medicine, because it was banished from Rome, nor philosophy, because it was publicly condemned in Athens, comedy should not be prohibited because it was censored at a certain time.

This censorship had its reasons, which do not subsist here. She closed in on what she could see; and we must not take it out of the limits it has given itself, enlarge it more than necessary, and bring together the innocent and the guilty. The comedy she set out to attack is by no means the comedy we want to defend. Care must be taken not to confuse the latter with the former. They are two people whose customs are completely opposite. They bear no relation to one another, save the similarity of name; and it would be a horrible injustice to want to condemn Olympia, who is a good woman, because there is an Olympia who was a wanton.

Such decrees would undoubtedly make great disorder in the world. There would be nothing that was not condemned; and since this rigor is not applied to so many things that are abused every day, comedy should be equally graced, and plays approved of in the theater in which instruction and honesty will be seen to be united.

I know that there are spirits whose delicacy does not support any comedy, who say that the most honest are the most dangerous; that the passions painted there are all the more touching as they are full of virtue, and that souls are moved by this type of representation. I don't see what crime there is in being moved at the sight of an honest passion; and it is a high point of virtue, this total insensibility into which they want to elevate our soul. I doubt whether so great a perfection is in the forces of human nature; and I don't know whether it is better to work to correct and soften men's passions than to work to root them out entirely. I confess that there are better places to go than the theater; and, if we want to condemn all things that do not directly refer to God and our salvation, it is certain that comedy must be among them, and I do not think it a bad thing that it is condemned with the rest; but supposing, as it is true, that the exercises of piety contain intervals, and that men need amusement, I maintain that it is not possible to find one that is more innocent than comedy.

I overextended myself. Let us finish with the words of a great prince about the comedy of Tartuffe. Eight days after it was banned, a play entitled scaramouche hermit; and the king, on his way out, said to the great prince to whom I have referred: "I would very much like to know why people who are so scandalized by Molière's comedy do not say anything about Scaramouche's"; to which the prince replied: “The reason for this is that Scaramouche's comedy makes fun of heaven and religion, which these gentlemen don't care about, but Molière's makes fun of themselves; it is what they cannot tolerate.”

* Moliere (1622-1673) was a French playwright, actor and director. Author, among other books, of The imaginary sick.

 

Reference


Moliere. The Tartuffe. Translation: Jorge Coli. São Paulo, Unesp, 2021, 240 pages.

 

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