Guilty. I am taking a summer class in classic French literature.
As the dedicated student that I am, I spent the day in a Versailles state of mind. I ate bon-bons for the approval of Marie Antoinette and lounged with such dedication that I am sure Louis the XIII would beam with pride.
While reading (and sometimes performing in the mirror) Tartuffe, a few lines of translated meter sparked a spiral of thought that ended in an arm wrestle between two great playwrights.
Forget the rational limitations of time.
Molière, in his avant-garde five act play titled for the impostor and religious hypocrite Tartuffe, uses his saucy forward thinking feminist lady’s-maid to throw a clean right hook to a Shakespeare classic.
During the second act, Dorine
comforts torments her lady, Mariane, who is being forced to marry the manipulative Tartuffe. Her father is pulling the obedience card and denying a marriage to her chosen love interest. She turns to the help for guidance.
This string of the plot is familiar, no?
Ah yes, the play beaten down the throats of high school freshman advocating rash decisions, Romeo and Juliet. Nothing says love like deception and daggers. Personally, I’ve never understood why they didn’t get the hell out of Verona.
Romeo: I’ve been banish’d.
Juliet: Great! I’ll pack. My mother is deranged anyway.
Leave it to the English to not see the simple solution….
So, Molière finally gets it right!
As Mariane weeps over her command to be wed to Tartuffe, she concludes to commit suicide to avoid the nuptials. Her maid Dorine delivers:
“I hadn’t thought of that recourse. How splendid!/ Just die, and all your troubles will be ended!/ A fine solution. Oh, it maddens me/ To hear you talk in that self-pitying key.”
In the end, with the help of fiesty Dorine and wise reserved Cléante, the young lovers live and marry.
I assume Molière had bigger things on his mind than a great love story in writing Tartuffe what with all the religious commentary and not so subtle praise of the all knowing king. Molière’s effortless young lovers survive to have their love grow stronger with time. That’s more than those two Italian teenagers can say.
Just imagine Molière and Shakespeare in dirty pub fighting over love and lovers. I bet Shakespeare’s guns would settle the score.
*Translated lines of Molière thanks to the great Richard Wilbur.