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Palgrave Macmillan

Controversy in French Drama

Molière's Tartuffe and the Struggle for Influence

ISBN 9781137343994
Publication Date January 2014
Formats Hardcover Ebook (EPUB) Ebook (PDF) 
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan

In 1664, Molière's Tartuffe was banned from public performance. This book provides a detailed, in-depth account of the five-year struggle (1664-69) to have the ban lifted and, so doing, sheds important new light on 1660s France and the ancien régime more broadly. By drawing on theatrical and non-theatrical writings (including contemporary sermons, treatises, and memoirs), it changes the terms of the debate by challenging received notions regarding the opposition between the sincere believer (vrai dévot) and the hypocrite (faux dévot). Tartuffe was a key locus for the struggle for influence among competing political and religious factions during the early reign of Louis XIV, and the lifting of the ban in 1669 is understood as an act of political assertion on the part of an increasingly confident king.

Julia Prest is Senior Lecturer in the Department of French at the University of St Andrews, UK. She has published critical editions of Le Mariage forcé (1999) and La Devineresse (2007), as well as numerous articles on early-modern drama and culture. Her first book was Theatre under Louis XIV: Cross-Casting and the Performance of Gender in Drama, Ballet, and Opera (2006/2013).

1. The Struggle for Influence: The Stakes and their Protagonists
2. What Is a faux dévot? The Hypocrite
3. What Is a faux dévot? The Zealot
4. What Is a vrai dévot and Is He a véritable homme de bien?
5. The Struggle for Influence: Tartuffe in an Age of Absolutism


"Elegantly written, thoroughly engaging, and highly accessible to non-specialists, Controversy in French Drama systematically uncovers the power of Molière's Tartuffe to scandalize and delight audiences, not only in its original historic context (so masterfully drawn here), but also through the centuries to today. It is essential reading for all those interested in Molière and French classical theatre and culture." - Larry F. Norman, Professor of French and Theatre and Performance, University of Chicago, USA, and author of Molière and the Social Commerce of Depiction and The Shock of the Ancient: Literature and History in Early Modern France
"Julia Prest presents a precisely detailed and subtly argued examination of the religious and political context of the 'querelle de Tartuffe'. Carefully considering the contemporary meaning of 'zealotry' and 'hypocrisy', she gives a fascinating account of the power-play between the young King and his religious advisors, together with rare insights into the secret workings of the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement, thereby casting new light on the controversy surrounding this most popular of works." - Jan Clarke, Professor of French, Durham University, UK
"In a crystal-clear and vivid style, Julia Prest sheds new light on Molière's Tartuffe controversy (1664-1669). Re-reading Tartuffe alongside Bossuet's sermons and Louis XIV's memoirs, she enlightens the ferocious struggle that opposed religious and lay conceptions of the State in France and brilliantly re-examines the famous debate on hypocrisy. A highly stimulating historical and political evaluation of Molière's masterwork." - Gilles Declercq, Professor and Director of the Drama Research Center, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, France
"The Shape of [Prest's] argument is essentially chiastic, with the 'struggle for influence' of the first and last chapters encasing three central pieces which focus, relatedly, on the nature and meaning of true and false devotion in the period . . . The valuable insight which Prest affords is to bring out how, as a result, the presence of moral goodness is seen to lie most clearly outside, rather than within, the parameters of Christianity. The book adopts a clearly articulated line of argument and, in doing so, brings history, spirituality, and theatre into an enlightening synthesis." - Times Literary Supplement
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