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The Misanthrope and Other Plays: A New Selection
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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.
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on July 5, 2000
As a literary scholar who has read this play in both French and English, I can verify that this is a great translation. "The Misanthrope" is Moliere's most lyrical play; the language is absolutely breathtaking. The translator has managed to preserve this quality without disturbing the story and its impact. All readers should enjoy this great play.
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on January 30, 2004
"The Misanthrope" - this is the only play I read. This play is superficial and degrades, as always, women. The woman in this play is stereotyped as a flirtatious girl with many suitors. I did not find this play at all a farce and found the rhyming childish and annoying. The play ends without a true ending and will leave you wanting the time you spent reading it back. I do not recommend.
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on May 30, 2002
You might not think a play in verse written in the 17th century would be accessible and entertaining today, but this one's hilarious. Somehow the formal rhyming couplets make everything funnier. Get the Donald Frame translation - I've seen some others that weren't nearly as good.
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