The King's Play: Censorship and the Politics of Performance in Moliere's Tartuffe


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Molière began to solve the problem of incorporating critical views of society and politics into the structure of his plays during the five years between 1664 and 1669 when he struggled against Tartuffe's persecutors. His difficulties in getting the play back on the boards and his refusal to concede completely to royal and religious authority made political and religious censorship and the possibilities of avoiding them a central concern of the work. Molière had to find a strategy for preserving the independence of his vision and the integrity of his dramatic thought while ostensibly submitting to the censorship of the religious party (La cabale des dévots) and the King. The strategy he developed involves transforming theater into a selfconscious instrument of ironic political and social commentary. Tartuffe may be considered Molière's exemplary political work, framing and illuminating the strategies of both Dom Juan and Le Misanthrope. An examination of how the play embodies his concerns may help us to recognize the nature of his political and social criticism in the other plays of his mature period and also to understand his exploration of the politics of performance.

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