Death His Curtain Call

Monday, 17 February 2014

Jean Baptiste Poquelin Molière

Jean Baptiste Poquelin Molière (1622–1673).  Tartuffe.

While acting in one of his own plays, Molière was suddenly stricken and died shortly after the final curtain. He took an important role in "Tartuffe" which introduces to literature a character as famous as Shakespeare's Falstaff.

Vol. 26, pp. 199-217 of The Harvard Classics


Act I

Scene I
MADAME PERNELLE and FLIPOTTE, her servant;  ELMIRE,  MARIANE,  CLÉANTE,  DAMIS,  DORINE

Madame Pernelle

Come, come, Flipotte, and let me get away.

Elmire

You hurry so, I hardly can attend you.

Madame Pernelle

Then don’t, my daughter-in-law. Stay where you are.
I can dispense with your polite attentions.

Elmire

We’re only paying what is due you, mother.
Why must you go away in such a hurry?

Madame Pernelle

Because I can’t endure your carryings-on,
And no one takes the slightest pains to please me.
I leave your house, I tell you, quite disgusted;
You do the opposite of my instructions;
You’ve no respect for anything; each one
Must have his say; it’s perfect pandemonium.

Dorine

If…

Madame Pernelle

        You’re a servant wench, my girl, and much
Too full of gab, and too impertinent
And free with your advice on all occasions.

Damis

But…

Madame Pernelle

        You’re a fool, my boy—f, o, o, l
Just spells your name. Let grandma tell you that
I’ve said a hundred times to my poor son,
Your father, that you’d never come to good
Or give him anything but plague and torment.

Mariane

I think…

Madame Pernelle

        O dearie me, his little sister!
You’re all demureness, butter wouldn’t melt
In your mouth, one would think to look at you.
Still waters, though, they say … you know the proverb;
And I don’t like your doings on the sly.

Elmire

But, mother…

Madame Pernelle

        Daughter, by your leave, your conduct
In everything is altogether wrong;
You ought to set a good example for ’em;
Their dear departed mother did much better.
You are extravagant; and it offends me,
To see you always decked out like a princess.
A woman who would please her husband’s eyes
Alone, wants no such wealth of fineries.

Cléante

But, madam, after all…

Madame Pernelle

        Sir, as for you,
The lady’s brother, I esteem you highly,
Love and respect you. But, sir, all the same,
If I were in my son’s, her husband’s, place,
I’d urgently entreat you not to come
Within our doors. You preach a way of living
That decent people cannot tolerate.
I’m rather frank with you; but that’s my way—
I don’t mince matters, when I mean a thing.

Damis

Mr. Tartuffe, your friend, is mighty lucky…

Madame Pernelle

He is a holy man, and must be heeded;
I can’t endure, with any show of patience,
To hear a scatterbrains like you attack him.

Damis

What! Shall I let a bigot criticaster
Come and usurp a tyrant’s power here?
And shall we never dare amuse ourselves
Till this fine gentleman deigns to consent?

Dorine

If we must hark to him, and heed his maxims,
There’s not a thing we do but what’s a crime;
He censures everything, this zealous carper.

Madame Pernelle

And all he censures is well censured, too.
He wants to guide you on the way to heaven;
My son should train you all to love him well.

Damis

No, madam, look you, nothing—not my father
Nor anything—can make me tolerate him.
I should belie my feelings not to say so.
His actions rouse my wrath at every turn;
And I foresee that there must come of it
An open rupture with this sneaking scoundrel.

Dorine

Besides, ’tis downright scandalous to see
This unknown upstart master of the house—
This vagabond, who hadn’t, when he came,
Shoes to his feet, or clothing worth six farthings,
And who so far forgets his place, as now
To censure everything, and rule the roost!

Madame Pernelle

Eh! Mercy sakes alive! Things would go better
If all were governed by his pious orders.

Dorine

He passes for a saint in your opinion.
In fact, he’s nothing but a hypocrite.

Madame Pernelle

Just listen to her tongue!

Dorine

        I wouldn’t trust him,
Nor yet his Lawrence, without bonds and surety.

Madame Pernelle

I don’t know what the servant’s character
May be; but I can guarantee the master
A holy man. You hate him and reject him
Because he tells home truths to all of you.
’Tis sin alone that moves his heart to anger,
And heaven’s interest is his only motive.

Dorine

Of course. But why, especially of late,
Can he let nobody come near the house?
Is heaven offended at a civil call
That he should make so great a fuss about it?
I’ll tell you, if you like, just what I think;  (Pointing to Elmire)
Upon my word, he’s jealous of our mistress.

Madame Pernelle

You hold your tongue, and think what you are saying.
He’s not alone in censuring these visits;
The turmoil that attends your sort of people,
Their carriages forever at the door,
And all their noisy footmen, flocked together,
Annoy the neighbourhood, and raise a scandal.
I’d gladly think there’s nothing really wrong;
But it makes talk; and that’s not as it should be.

Cléante

Eh! madam, can you hope to keep folk’s tongues
From wagging? It would be a grievous thing
If, for the fear of idle talk about us,
We had to sacrifice our friends. No, no;
Even if we could bring ourselves to do it,
Think you that everyone would then be silenced?
Against backbiting there is no defence
So let us try to live in innocence,
To silly tattle pay no heed at all,
And leave the gossips free to vent their gall.

Dorine

Our neighbour Daphne, and her little husband,
Must be the ones who slander us, I’m thinking.
Those whose own conduct’s most ridiculous,
Are always quickest to speak ill of others;
They never fail to seize at once upon
The slightest hint of any love affair,
And spread the news of it with glee, and give it
The character they’d have the world believe in.
By others’ actions, painted in their colours,
They hope to justify their own; they think,
In the false hope of some resemblance, either
To make their own intrigues seem innocent,
Or else to make their neighbours share the blame
Which they are loaded with by everybody.

Madame Pernelle

These arguments are nothing to the purpose.
Orante, we all know, lives a perfect life;
Her thoughts are all of heaven; and I have heard
That she condemns the company you keep.

Dorine

O admirable pattern! Virtuous dame!
She lives the model of austerity;
But age has brought this piety upon her,
And she’s a prude, now she can’t help herself.
As long as she could capture men’s attentions
She made the most of her advantages;
But, now she sees her beauty vanishing,
She wants to leave the world, that’s leaving her,
And in the specious veil of haughty virtue
She’d hide the weakness of her worn-out charms.
That is the way with all your old coquettes;
They find it hard to see their lovers leave ’em;
And thus abandoned, their forlorn estate
Can find no occupation but a prude’s.
These pious dames, in their austerity,
Must carp at everything, and pardon nothing.
They loudly blame their neighbours’ way of living,
Not for religion’s sake, but out of envy,
Because they can’t endure to see another
Enjoy the pleasures age has weaned them from.

Madame Pernelle  (to ELMIRE)

There! That’s the kind of rigmarole to please you,
Daughter-in-law. One never has a chance
To get a word in edgewise, at your house,
Because this lady holds the floor all day;
But none the less, I mean to have my say, too.
I tell you that my son did nothing wiser
In all his life, than take this godly man
Into his household; heaven sent him here,
In your great need, to make you all repent;
For your salvation, you must hearken to him;
He censures nothing but deserves his censure.
These visits, these assemblies, and these balls,
Are all inventions of the evil spirit.
You never hear a word of godliness
At them—but idle cackle, nonsense, flimflam.
Our neighbour often comes in for a share,
The talk flies fast, and scandal fills the air;
It makes a sober person’s head go round,
At these assemblies, just to hear the sound
Of so much gab, with not a word to say;
And as a learned man remarked one day
Most aptly, ’tis the Tower of Babylon,
Where all, beyond all limit, babble on.
And just to tell you how this point came in…

(To CLÉANTE)

So! Now the gentlemen must snicker, must he?
Go find fools like yourself to make you laugh
And don’t…

(To ELMIRE)

        Daughter, good-bye; not one word more.
As for this house, I leave the half unsaid;
But I shan’t soon set foot in it again,

(Cuffing FLIPOTTE)

Come, you! What makes you dream and stand agape,
Hussy! I’ll warm your ears in proper shape!
March, trollop, march!


Act II
CLÉANTE,  DORINE

Cléante

I won’t escort her down,
For fear she might fall foul of me again;
The good old lady…

Dorine

        Bless us! What a pity
She shouldn’t hear the way you speak of her!
She’d surely tell you you’re too “good” by half,
And that she’s not so “old” as all that, neither!

Cléante

How she got angry with us all for nothing!
And how she seems possessed with her Tartuffe!

Dorine

Her case is nothing, though, beside her son’s!
To see him, you would say he’s ten times worse!
His conduct in our late unpleasantness 1
Had won him much esteem, and proved his courage
In service of his king; but now he’s like
A man besotted, since he’s been so taken
With this Tartuffe. He calls him brother, loves him
A hundred times as much as mother, son,
Daughter, and wife. He tells him all his secrets
And lets him guide his acts, and rule his conscience.
He fondles and embraces him; a sweetheart
Could not, I think, be loved more tenderly;
At table he must have the seat of honour,
While with delight our master sees him eat
As much as six men could; we must give up
The choicest tidbits to him; if he belches,  (’tis a servant speaking) 2
Master exclaims: “God bless you!”—Oh, he dotes
Upon him! he’s his universe, his hero;
He’s lost in constant admiration, quotes him
On all occasions, takes his trifling acts
For wonders, and his words for oracles.
The fellow knows his dupe, and makes the most on’t,
He fools him with a hundred masks of virtue,
Gets money from him all the time by canting,
And takes upon himself to carp at us.
Even his silly coxcomb of a lackey
Makes it his business to instruct us too;
He comes with rolling eyes to preach at us,
And throws away our ribbons, rouge, and patches.
The wretch, the other day, tore up a kerchief
That he had found, pressed in the Golden Legend,
Calling it a horrid crime for us to mingle
The devil’s finery with holy things.


Note 1. Referring to the rebellion called La Fronde, during the minority of Louis XIV. 
Note 2. Molière’s note, inserted in the text of all the old editions. It is a curious illustration of the desire for uniformity and dignity of style in dramatic verse of the seventeenth century, that Molière feels called on to apologize for a touch of realism like this. Indeed, these lines were even omitted when the play was given.


Scene III

ELMIRE,  MARIANE,  DAMIS,  CLÉANTE,  DORINE

Elmire, to CLÉANTE

You’re very lucky to have missed the speech
She gave us at the door. I see my husband
Is home again. He hasn’t seen me yet,
So I’ll go up and wait till he comes in.

Cléante

And I, to save time, will await him here;
I’ll merely say good-morning, and be gone.


Scene IV
CLÉANTE,  DAMIS,  DORINE

Damis

I wish you’d say a word to him about
My sister’s marriage; I suspect Tartuffe
Opposes it, and puts my father up
To all these wretched shifts. You know, besides,
How nearly I’m concerned in it myself;
If love unites my sister and Valere,
I love his sister too; and if this marriage
Were to…

Dorine

        He’s coming.


Scene V

ORGON,  CLÉANTE,  DORINE

Orgon

        Ah! Good morning, brother.

Cléante

I was just going, but am glad to greet you.
Things are not far advanced yet, in the country?

Orgon

Dorine…

(To CLÉANTE)

        Just wait a bit, please, brother-in-law.
Let me allay my first anxiety
By asking news about the family.

(To DORINE)

Has everything gone well these last two days?
What’s happening? And how is everybody?

Dorine

Madam had fever, and a splitting headache
Day before yesterday, all day and evening.

Orgon

And how about Tartuffe?

Dorine

        Tartuffe? He’s well;
He’s mighty well; stout, fat, fair, rosy-lipped.

Orgon

Poor man!

Dorine

        At evening she had nausea
And could’t touch a single thing for supper,
Her headache still was so severe.

Orgon

        And how
About Tartuffe?

Dorine

        He supped alone, before her,
And unctuously ate up two partridges,
As well as half a leg o’ mutton, deviled.

Orgon

Poor man!

Dorine

        All night she couldn’t get a wink
Of sleep, the fever racked her so; and we
Had to sit up with her till daylight.

Orgon

        How
About Tartuffe?

Dorine

        Gently inclined to slumber,
He left the table, went into his room,
Got himself straight into a good warm bed,
And slept quite undisturbed until next morning.

Orgon

Poor man!

Dorine

        At last she let us all persuade her,
And got up courage to be bled; and then
She was relieved at once.

Orgon

        And how about
Tartuffe?

Dorine

        He plucked up courage properly,
Bravely entrenched his soul against all evils,
And to replace the blood that she had lost,
He drank at breakfast four huge draughts of wine.

Orgon

Poor man!

Dorine

So now they both are doing well;
And I’ll go straightway and inform my mistress
How pleased you are at her recovery.


Scene VI

ORGON,  CLÉANTE

Cléante

Brother, she ridicules you to your face;
And I, though I don’t want to make you angry,
Must tell you candidly that she’s quite right.
Was such infatuation ever heard of?
And can a man to-day have charms to make you
Forget all else, relieve his poverty,
Give him a home, and then…?

Orgon

        Stop there, good brother,
You do not know the man you’re speaking of.

Cléante

Since you will have it so, I do not know him;
But after all, to tell what sort of man
He is…

Orgon

        Dear brother, you’d be charmed to know him;
Your raptures over him would have no end.
He is a man … who … ah! … in fact … a man
Whoever does his will, knows perfect peace,
And counts the whole world else, as so much dung.
His converse has transformed me quite; he weans
My heart from every friendship, teaches me
To have no love for anything on earth;
And I could see my brother, children, mother,
And wife, all die, and never care—a snap.

Cléante

Your feelings are humane, I must say, brother!

Orgon

Ah! If you’d seen him, as I saw him first,
You would have loved him just as much as I
He came to church each day, with contrite mien,
Kneeled, on both knees, right opposite my place,
And drew the eyes of all the congregation,
To watch the fervour of his prayers to heaven;
With deep-drawn sighs and great ejaculations,
He humbly kissed the earth at every moment;
And when I left the church, he ran before me
To give me holy water at the door.
I learned his poverty, and who he was,
By questioning his servant, who is like him,
And gave him gifts; but in his modesty
He always wanted to return a part.
“It is too much,” he’d say, “too much by half;
I am not worthy of your pity.” Then,
When I refused to take it back, he’d go,
Before my eyes, and give it to the poor.
At length heaven bade me take him to my home,
And since that day, all seems to prosper here.
He censures everything, and for my sake
He even takes great interest in my wife;
He lets me know who ogles her, and seems
Six times as jealous as I am myself.
You’d not believe how far his zeal can go:
He calls himself a sinner just for trifles;
The merest nothing is enough to shock him;
So much so, that the other day I heard him
Accuse himself for having, while at prayer,
In too much anger caught and killed a flea.

Cléante

Zounds, brother, you are mad, I think! Or else
You’re making sport of me, with such a speech.
What are you driving at with all this nonsense…?

Orgon

Brother, your language smacks of atheism;
And I suspect your soul’s a little tainted
Therewith. I’ve preached to you a score of times
That you’ll draw down some judgment on your head.

Cléante

That is the usual strain of all your kind;
They must have every one as blind as they.
They call you atheist if you have good eyes;
And if you don’t adore their vain grimaces,
You’ve neither faith nor care for sacred things.
No, no; such talk can’t frighten me; I know
What I am saying; heaven sees my heart.
We’re not the dupes of all your canting mummers;
There are false heroes—and false devotees;
And as true heroes never are the ones
Who make much noise about their deeds of honour,
Just so true devotees, whom we should follow,
Are not the ones who make so much vain show.
What! Will you find no difference between
Hypocrisy and genuine devoutness?
And will you treat them both alike, and pay
The self-same honour both to masks and faces
Set artifice beside sincerity,
Confuse the semblance with reality,
Esteem a phantom like a living person,
And counterfeit as good as honest coin?
Men, for the most part, are strange creatures, truly!
You never find them keep the golden mean;
The limits of good sense, too narrow for them,
Must always be passed by, in each direction;
They often spoil the noblest things, because
They go too far, and push them to extremes.
I merely say this by the way, good brother.

Orgon

You are the sole expounder of the doctrine;
Wisdom shall die with you, no doubt, good brother,
You are the only wise, the sole enlightened,
The oracle, the Cato, of our age.
All men, compared to you, are downright fools.

Cléante

I’m not the sole expounder of the doctrine,
And wisdom shall not die with me, good brother.
But this I know, though it be all my knowledge,
That there’s a difference ’twixt false and true.
And as I find no kind of hero more
To be admired than men of true religion,
Nothing more noble or more beautiful
Than is the holy zeal of true devoutness;
Just so I think there’s naught more odious
Than whited sepulchres of outward unction,
Those barefaced charlatans, those hireling zealots,
Whose sacrilegious, treacherous pretence
Deceives at will, and with impunity
Makes mockery of all that men hold sacred;
Men who, enslaved to selfish interests,
Make trade and merchandise of godliness,
And try to purchase influence and office
With false eye-rollings and affected raptures;
Those men, I say, who with uncommon zeal
Seek their own fortunes on the road to heaven;
Who, skilled in prayer, have always much to ask,
And live at court to preach retirement;
Who reconcile religion with their vices,
Are quick to anger, vengeful, faithless, tricky,
And, to destroy a man, will have the boldness
To call their private grudge the cause of heaven;
All the more dangerous, since in their anger
They use against us weapons men revere,
And since they make the world applaud their passion,
And seek to stab us with a sacred sword.
There are too many of this canting kind.
Still, the sincere are easy to distinguish;
And many splendid patterns may be found,
In our own time, before our very eyes
Look at Ariston, Périandre, Oronte,
Alcidamas, Clitandre, and Polydore;
No one denies their claim to true religion;
Yet they’re no braggadocios of virtue,
They do not make insufferable display,
And their religion’s human, tractable;
They are not always judging all our actions,
They’d think such judgment savoured of presumption;
And, leaving pride of words to other men,
’Tis by their deeds alone they censure ours.
Evil appearances find little credit
With them; they even incline to think the best
Of others. No caballers, no intriguers,
They mind the business of their own right living.
They don’t attack a sinner tooth and nail,
For sin’s the only object of their hatred;
Nor are they over-zealous to attempt
Far more in heaven’s behalf than heaven would have ’em.
That is my kind of man, that is true living,
That is the pattern we should set ourselves.
Your fellow was not fashioned on this model;
You’re quite sincere in boasting of his zeal;
But you’re deceived, I think, by false pretences.

Orgon

My dear good brother-in-law, have you quite done?

Cléante

Yes.

Orgon

        I’m your humble servant.

(Starts to go.)
Cléante

        Just a word.
We’ll drop that other subject. But you know
Valere has had the promise of your daughter.

Orgon

Yes.

Cléante

        You had named the happy day.

Orgon

        ’Tis true.

Cléante

Then why put off the celebration of it?

Orgon

I can’t say.

Cléante

        Can you have some other plan
In mind?

Orgon

        Perhaps

Cléante

        You mean to break your word?

Orgon

I don’t say that.

Cléante

        I hope no obstacle
Can keep you from performing what you’ve promised.

Orgon

Well, that depends.

Cléante

        Why must you beat about?
Valere has sent me here to settle matters.

Orgon

Heaven be praised!

Cléante

        What answer shall I take him?

Orgon

Why, anything you please.

Cléante

        But we must know
Your plans. What are they?

Orgon

        I shall do the will
Of Heaven.

Cléante

        Come, be serious. You’ve given
Your promise to Valère. Now will you keep it?

Orgon

Good-bye.

Cléante  (alone)

        His love, methinks, has much to fear;
I must go let him know what’s happening here.




 

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