Saturday, April 06, 2013

Reader's Diary #979- Molière: Tartuffe

As I was reading Molière's play, Tartuffe, I was casting the characters in my head. Maybe it's because he's been in the headlines in recent years for repugnant behaviour, but I decided that Gerard Depardieu should play Tartuffe, repugnant in his own right for his hypocrisy, his insincerity, and his abuse of power. Lo and behold, when I started researching for this post, I discovered that Depardieu had in fact acted as Tartuffe in a 1984 movie version. Fortunately I wasn't able to find any history of the Bluth family actors (from TV's Arrested Development) having portrayed Orgon's family, so there's still hope of a killer ensemble cast. Bateman, Cross, Arnett, Walter, and the rest. Then get Depardieu to take a break from urinating on planes and evading taxes to reprise his role. I'd pay big bucks to see that! (His acting that is, not the peeing.)

I quite enjoyed Tartuffe, finding it quite amusing, and more than a little applicable to certain people and organizations today. Without summarizing the entire plot, Tartuffe is a pious fraud who has somehow managed to convince (Master) Orgon and his mother otherwise. Orgon is so taken in he decides, much to the objections of the rest of his family, to marry off his daughter Marianne to Tartuffe. The remainder of the play involves the family trying to prevent that from happening.

In my Kobo version from MobileReference, there were two translations of the play. The first, by Jeffrey D. Hoeper, rhymes. This both surprised me and made me skeptical. On the one hand, the original was also written entirely in rhyming couplets, so Hoeper's translation kept that jaunty spirit in tact. However, how closely can a translator match the original meaning when he is concentrating on English rhymes? Hoeper's translation made sense and I enjoyed the story, but how close was it to Molière's intent?

I had just recently chastised myself for my poor reading of Tony Kushner's play Angels in America. I didn't pay close attention, I didn't read the 2nd part, and was generally a pretty lazy reader. I wasn't going to let that happen with Tartuffe. I decided to read the 2nd translation as well. It could be fun to compare two translations of the same book.

The second translation was by Curtis Hidden Page (his real name, I swear to god). His doesn't rhyme, but it does make a bit more sense. (Then again, it was my second time with the plot, maybe a second reading of Hoeper's also would have brought the story into more focus. However, without the rhythm and the rhyme, Page's has more of an edge and is less humourous. Still, despite clearing up some details, Page's translation made me appreciate Hoeper's even more. It's quite amazing how well the details stood up, how little was lost under all the English rhyming.

I imagine someone wishing to produce this play could safely go either way, depending on the mood he/she is hoping to achieve. Personally, I like the rhymes as I think it's closer to what Molière would have wanted, but I'd settle for just seeing any version or interpretation at this point.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

Well of course now I want to see the cast of Arrested Development stage this play.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: They'd have to tweak the story just a bit, as some of the characters don't quite match up, but I believe those writers were talented enough!

Avid Cyclist and Hiker said...

John, thanks for your kind comments about my translation of the play. . . . I was, of course, imagining Depardieu in the lead the whole time I worked on the translation. (Actually, I think I was imagining some unsavory Southern preachers and politicians, but that's as much as I want to confess publicly!)