By Trinity Hodges
For every piece that Molière has written, it goes without saying that his plays were made only to be performed, not read. Dating all the way back to the 17th century, the performance of a play by Molière had been the sight of the century. However, today direction styles have changed, which means a Molière performance today would look completely different than the original performance. Molière had the tendency to lean towards the ridiculous, but over time live performances have been less likely to embrace the chaos that he would have liked. There have been so many adaptations of his work over time to use his words to tell stories that wider audiences can relate to.
Molière tended to poke fun at religious traditions and beliefs, which wasn’t always favorable to the king or the church. His first performance of Tartuffe wasn’t received well, but solely because it was exactly how Molière wanted it performed (Vorbeck 15). His direction was risqué because it was true to the piece. Similarly, the first performance of Le Misanthrope caused about the same amount of commotion. This play was controversial due to Molière’s criticism of the hypocrisy in French culture. His direction of this play was very precise as he wrote all the characters (and actors into said roles) to complement his performance as Alceste (Herzel 344-366). However, most performances of Molière’s work won’t feature him as the main character. New adaptations and interpretations of his work have brought his writing to a new light.
Today, Molière’s comedies have been adapted to each individual director’s vision. No one has the classic humor used throughout Molière’s performances. In a 2015 performance of The Learned Ladies, the director opted for 18th century décor and costumes as opposed to the 17th century style, a completely different look for the characters and telling a slightly more modern story (Vorbeck 73). An interesting take on Molière’s comedies came from Utman Jalal who translated many of Molière’s comedies to take place in Egypt. He intentionally changed the story to apply to an Arabic audience because he didn’t want to simply translate Molière’s comedies from French to Arabic (Trabelsi). All the stylistic choices were Arabized and Egyptianized, and even some of the situations were made for different contexts.
I imagine these different interpretations of Molière’s comedies would be very interesting to watch. The different stakes for the characters would make for intriguing interaction on stage. I love seeing what can be done with Molière’s work and I would love to watch the live performances of each version.
Herzel, Roger W. “‘Much Depends on the Acting’: The Original Cast of Le Misanthrope.” PMLA, vol. 95, no. 3, Modern Language Association, 1980, pp. 348–66, https://doi.org/10.2307/461878.
Trabelsi, Ons. “L'adaptation du Théâtre de Molière en Arabe : L'exemple de La Démar...” Carnets. Revue Électronique d'études françaises de L'APEF, APEF - Association Portugaise d'Études Françaises, 30 Nov. 2018, https://journals.openedition.org/carnets/8733.
Vorbeck, Collin Michael. Directing Molière : Presenting the French Master to American Audiences.UMKC, 2016. M.A. (Theater)