Most helpful positive review
Moliere seems closer to us than Shakespeare.
on January 25, 2001
Although Moliere is only half a century younger than Shakespeare, he is less hard work - there is no elaborate rhetoric or difficult, metaphysical poetry. dialogue is plain and functional. This, of course, brings him nearer to us, and we are far more likely to meet a Tartuffe, say, in everyday life than a Lear or Hamlet.
However, I don't think he's supposed to be this plain. Wood's translation is a nimble, enjoyable read, but in the two translations, from French to English, from metre to prose, something has been lost; maybe not poetry, but certainly language. What we are left with are breezily amusing farces - this is more than enough for me, but makes me wonder why Bloom had him in his canon.
'Tartuffe' is the most famous play in this collection. Subject to censorship and interdiction in its time, Wood introduces the play with a preface and two petitions to the King from Moliere. Although they are revealing about Moliere's absolute dependency on the monarch, and the need to flatter culminating in the play's preposterous deus ex machina, they necessarily caricature the play's complexity.
Tartuffe the religious hypocrite who tries to bring down the social order, who reveals the aristocracy's own hypocrisy (look at the amount of two-facedness needed to expose him), forces them down to his level, makes blatant the fundamental desires high society would prefer not to acknowledge - sex, food, wealth etc. The true horror of Tartuffe's marriage with Marianne is not that he is a repulsive bigot, but because he is trying to wrest power and means from the nobility (a job already started by the Figaro-like maid). I bet it wasn't really the Tartuffes who hated this play.