Does the land of Shakespeare care for 400-year-old French playwright Moliere?


American actor Denis O’Hare may sense the ghost of Moliere smiling as he rode his co-star Olivia Williams like a horse on stage at London’s National Theatre.

Usually a relatively cerebral place, the National’s viewers was in stitches as O’Hare’s character Tartuffe, from the traditional Seventeenth-century French play, tried to disguise his adulterous antics as a bit of horseplay.

“The comedy translates across the centuries if you know what you’re doing,” mentioned O’Hare.

“Some of the funny was based on language, and some of it on sheer idiocy… But there are also great moments of pathos and human emotion that make it all the richer.”

That hit manufacturing of Tartuffe in 2019 was a reminder that Moliere, France’s most celebrated playwright who turned 400 this week, can resonate in the land of Shakespeare.

It was not at all times the case.

“It used to be a box office manager’s nightmare to have a Moliere production. You often had more people on stage than in the theatre,” mentioned Noel Peacock of the University of Glasgow, an skilled on Moliere translations.

In the Nineteen Eighties, one Sunday Times critic even feared that Moliere was an impediment to a united Europe: “How can you trade freely with a nation whose best comedy does not travel?”

But since these instances, there was a “complete turnaround,” mentioned Peacock.

There have been dozens of British productions lately – three main variations of Tartuffe in London alone between 2016 and 2019.

He is attracting celebrities: Keira Knightly performed in The Misanthrope in 2009 and David Tennant (of Doctor Who fame) in Don Juan in 2017.

Falseness and liars

Peacock credit recent translations that apprehensive much less about linguistic accuracy than capturing Moliere’s spirit with serving to to convey out the common truths in his work.

“Great plays last for a reason,” agreed O’Hare.

“Tartuffe is a rogue, a rascal, a hustler. But he’s also a truth-teller in the great tradition of the French clown. He upends society’s norms and conventions.”

That has made him extremely adaptable to fashionable situations.

The Royal Shakespeare Company lately relocated Tartuffe to a British-Pakistani household in Birmingham, the place the commentary on spiritual hypocrisy discovered recent relevance.

The Exchange Theatre, a French-English firm based mostly in London, has simply launched a documentary about its model of The Misanthrope, which it set in a modern-day newsroom to spotlight Moliere’s give attention to fact and lies.

“The fact that he so vehemently criticised the falseness and liars in the world is one part of what makes his work survive so well,” mentioned David Furlong, the firm’s French-Mauritian director.

He highlighted the well-known, sarcastic monologue about hypocrisy in Don Juan (“To act the part of a good man is the best part one can act”) as the type of speech that might be everlasting.

“I’ve wondered in the past if it’s just my French education that tells me Moliere is a genius,” mentioned Furlong.

“But I don’t think so. There are so many faces to Moliere, he’s so rich and diverse, does comedy as well as he does tragedy, silly farces as well as highly philosophical plays. He speaks to everybody.”

Beyond Britain

It’s not simply the English-speaking world that has embraced Moliere of late: translations have proved in style in Germany, Russia, Japan and past.

A current French e book about Moliere in the Arabic world discovered he had been carried out in the area since a minimum of 1847 and had change into the “Godfather of theatre” in lots of international locations.

“Moliere’s plays have been extremely important internationally. He even provided the foundation for some national theatres who adapted his plays to their local languages and cultures,” mentioned Agathe Sanjuan, conservator of the Comedie-Francaise in Paris.

It was at all times a harder promote in England, of course, the place he needed to compete with the Bard, although variations of Moliere have been showing there as early as the 1660s, in line with Peacock.

However, he discovered extra success in Scotland, Peacock added, which had a “Shakespeare-sized hole to fill” and the place Moliere’s “biggest advantage was that he wasn’t English.” – AFP

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