"Pourquoi sous cette table?": More Candlelight on Molière's Tartuffe


David G. Muller


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

Voici, tout juste, un Lieu propre à servir de Scène; et voilà deux Flambeaux pour éclairer la Comédie. (Le Sicilien, ou, L'Amourpeintre, 1668)1

Et vous, allumez deux bougies dans mes flambeaux d'argent: il se fait déjà tard. (La Comtessed'Escarbagnas, 1671)2

The “table scene” in Molière’s Tartuffe has generated its own visual afterlife, with a long history of illustration beginning with the frontispiece to the second 1669 edition of the play, often attributed to François Chauveau (fig. 1), which served as the basis for the later illustration of the play by Pierre Brissart in the 1682 collected works (fig. 2).3 For some time, scholars have attempted to clarify the meaning of these (and other) early illustrations and their role in understanding what seventeenth-century audiences actually saw during the scene when Tartuffe attempts to seduce Elmire while her husband, Orgon, hides unceremoniously beneath the eponymous table. Roger Herzel and Stephen Dock have put the available iconographic evidence to excellent use for the study of décor and costumes, respectively, each treating the “table scene” within a much larger context, even as Michael Hawcroft and others, driven more by a hermeneutics of suspicion, caution that care should be taken to account for the “discontinuities” of text and image when dealing with theatrical illustrations as documentary evidence.4


1 (Here's just the right place to serve as a stage; and here are two torches to light the scene.); Molière, Le Sicilien, ou L'Amour Peintre, in OEuvres Complètes, ed. Georges Forestier, 2 vols. (Paris: Gallimard, 2010), 1:805-39 (809). Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are my own.

2 (And you, light two wax candles in my silver candlesticks; it is already late.); Molière, La Comtesse d'Escarbagnas, in OEuvres Complètes, 2:1015-70 (1025).

3 Le Tartuffe, ou l'Imposteur, Comédie par J.-B. P. de Molière (Paris: J. Ribou, 1669); Les oeuvres de Monsieur de Molière, Reveuës, Corrigées et Augmentées (Paris: D. Thierry, C. Barbin et P. Trabouillet, 1682).

4 Roger W. Herzel, "The Decor of Molière's Stage: The Testimony of Brissart and Chauveau," PMLA 93 (1978): 925-54; Françoise Siguret, "L'Image ou l'Imposture: Analyse d'une Gravure Illustrant Le Tartuffe," Revue d'Histoire du Théâtre 36 (1984): 362-70; Stephen Varick Dock, Costume and Fashion in the Plays of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin Molière: A Seventeenth-Century Perspective (Geneva:Slatkine, 1992); Michael Hawcroft, "Seventeenth-Century French Theatre and its Illustrations: Five Types of Discontinuity," Seventeenth-Century French Studies 24 (2002): 87-105. See also Abby E. Zanger, "Betwixt and Between Print and Performance: A New Approach to Studying Molière's Body at/of Work," in French "Classical" Theatre Today: Teaching, Research, Performance, ed. Philip Tomlinson (Atlanta: Editions Rodopi, 2001), 117-38; and Noël Peacock, "The Playwright and the Director: a Shifting Hierarchy?" Biblio 17, 166 (2006): 53-69.

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