The Comédie-Française is celebrating the 17th-century dramatist by recreating Tartuffe, the play that outraged the Catholic church and almost ended his career

French theatre is gearing up to pay tribute to one of its founding fathers: Molière, the 17th-century playwright whose biting comedies still form many French schoolchildren’s introduction to drama. On 15 January, 400 years after his baptism (the exact date of his birth is unknown), the venerable Comédie-Française company will open this anniversary year with the play that came perilously close to sinking Molière’s career: Tartuffe.

While the first version of the play got the approval of Louis XIV himself in 1664, its satire of Catholic zealots drew the ire of the Catholic church. At the time, accusations of impiety could send a playwright to the stake, and Tartuffe was swiftly forbidden. Yet Molière persisted, switching gears and rewriting the play to suggest that his target wasn’t religion or true believers – but rather the hypocrisy of those who feign virtue. (The word “tartuffe” came to describe such characters in life, too.)

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