Royalty, Religion, Science, Hypocrisy and Theatre of the Baroque Era


                                 Tartuffe by Moliere, presented by Theatre UAF

Theatre of the Baroque Era

The Baroque Era brought forth a new found sense of theatre for not only the European people of the Seventeenth century, but it also helped to shape and drive the theatre that is to be seen decades and decades to come across the world. The theatre produced during this era created not only many structural theatrical changes, but also brought forth new innovations within the technical aspects of the theatre, changing the way theatre was physically and technically created and watched. For instance, because of all the new scientific developments happening during this time, this was when the idea of establishing a permanent location for plays, operas, etc., to take place was created. This establishment of a permanent location for theatre to be performed allowed there to be a stronger focus on set design, and technical elements of theatre. With this focus came the creation of the Proscenium Arch,  high-tech mechanical devices (Flying apparatuses, waves, pop-up devices under the stage,etc.), moving sets, new lighting techniques (footlights, colored lights, Dimmable lights), as well as, painted sets/backdrops, and elaborate costumes.

proscenium archcontemporaryproscenium arch

Proscenium Arch

Theatre of the Baroque Era took the newly developed technical devices, and mixed them with plays revolving around the “tragedies” (mostly problems of state: marriage/war) of noble characters, or comedies dealing with the trials and tribulations of love. Another main part of Baroque theatre was the idea of Classicism, which deals with the Three Unities, the Unity of time (the play takes place in 24 hours), Unity of place (the setting should not change), and the Unity of action (only one central plot with smaller plots linked to it). When these things are combined successfully,  we have the theatre of the Baroque Era.

Moliere and his play Tartuffe

The Baroque Era brought forth a number of incredible playwrights, such as Pierre Corneille, Miguel de Cervantes, John Dryden, and one of the most influential comedic and dramatic playwrights of the time, Moliere. Moliere is referred to as, “The Father of French Comedy”, and has become on of the nations dramatic icons. Moliere was inspired by the italian craft of Commedia dell’arte, and began his theatrical career as a actor and director, later turning playwright.

Moliere used the influence of the stock characters from Commedia dell’arte, and his views on the stereotypical characters found in social life and politics (lovers, over barring fathers, and controlling husbands) to create his masterful plays, one of his most influential being, Tartuffe. 

Tartuffe by Moliere uses the structure of the Three Unities, but plays against the time periods demand of Neoclassicism. Moliere’s Tartuffe plays with the idea of hypocritical religious beliefs, with his character Tartuffe, and highly intelligent and outspoken servants like his character Dorine. Although Moliere was thought a master of comedy, and Tartuffe was incredibly popular amongst educated audiences, and even secretly among royalty, it caused a huge controversy amongst the churches.

The influence of  Royalty and Religion on Tartuffe


“I await with respect the judgement which your Majesty will deign to pronounce on this matter, but it is very certain, Sire, that I must no longer think of making comedies if the tartuffes have the upper hand; for they will feel authorized thereby to persecute me more than ever and will try to censure the most innocent things that may come from my pen.”

-Molière‎’s Second Petition to the King, 1667

Above you can see a section of Moliere’s Second petition to the King after Tartuffe had been banned from being produced. As you can see, Royalty had a huge influential hold on Tartuffe, and theatre of the Baroque Era in general, so much so that after its first, extremely successful, performance at the gardens of Versailles, it was banned for 5 years by the churches, even though the king supported it.  Just like the hypocritical acts brought up by Moliere’s characters in Tartuffe, there was a huge hypocrisy in King Louis XIV actions. This is so because he actually thoroughly enjoyed Tartuffe, and, like the rest of the court, found it entertaining. King Louis XIV was worried that if he didn’t put a stop to the production immediately before it expanded throughout the french theatres he would risk facing political, religious, and social issues that were to be created due to the religious hypocrisies talked about within the play. Theatre was an important social and political gathering place, during the Baroque Era, for court (royalty) and the socially high ranking, knowing this King Louis XIV gave his support to Moliere and Tartuffe, and in 1669,  Tartuffe was allowed to be performed again.


Religion had even a stronger influence on Tartuffe then royalty did. It was because of the religious hypocrisies presented in Tartuffe that the church felt so threatened by Moliere’s work that not only was the play banned from being performed, but the Archbishop threatened to excommunicate anyone who acted in, performed in, or even read the play.

Moliere’s Tartuffe vs. Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

twelfth night 1

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night produced by  Shakespeare in the Park 

Although it is quite common to compare the works of  Moliere to the works of William Shakespeare because they both wrote about human life,  and were extremely skilled with their use of word play and verse, there is one main difference when comparing their comedic pieces. This difference is that many of Shakespeare’s comedic works were written to be comedic, they played with story lines and situations to be found easily entertaining, and somewhat of a comedic spectacle, whereas Moliere’s comedies were not only funny and farcical but they also intertwined the use of satire and not only “pokes fun at”, but criticizes society.

For instance, in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night we see the comical plot of this sort of Love triangle, with the twins Sebastian and Viola ( Sebastian lost at sea), Viola dressed as her brother Sebastian (who she names Cesario), in love with Duke Orisino, but Duke Orisino is in love with Countess Olivia who is in love with Cesario (Viola dressed as Sebastian), which turns into one comical mess, only to be happily fixed in the end.

When we compare this plot to the plot of Moliere’s Tartuffe, we see the similarities with the farcical intertwining plots, such as, the cross of the plot of Orgon and Tartuffe with, Tartuffe and Elmire, also connecting to the sub plots of the Lovers (Mariane and Valere) and the relationship of Dorine with Orgon. The combination of these numerous linked plots creates a similar premise as the one formed in Twelfth Night, but instead of ending with just that, there is a heightened sense of satire and critical analysis of society within the humorous lines of the characters. This difference, of course, stems from the difference of time period and type of audience the show is being played to.

In the Northern Renaissance, there was a more leveled playing field for the arts, meaning, that the audiences ranged from groundlings (common people) to the socially elite. This range of audience members made there be less of a focus on intensely thought provoking materially (although there was still a large amount of witty text that only the educated portion of the audience would catch), and focus more on the slapstick and an overall story that the general population(uneducated) could follow. On the other hand, the Baroque Era in France, did not start as excited about theatre as the Northern Renaissance did, and it took a long time of failing playwrights to build up the love for theatre that was already established during the Northern Renaissance. Moliere helped to establish this enjoyment of theatre with Tartuffe. The focus audience of the Baroque Era was, in particular, the aristocrats and many of the actual theaters were built into the homes of royalty, for example, Cardinal Richelou’s Palace Royale. This difference in audience, impacted the theatrical material that was favored, thus why Tartuffe uses the favorited comedic plot structures seen in Twelfth Night but combines them with a heightened sense of critique to the social latter and all that is going on politically, and religiously.

Overall, Tartuffe by Moliere is a piece of theatre, created during the Baroque Era, that is absolutely unforgettable, and still flourishes today. Its’ witty use of language,  Commedia dell’arte style of physical comedy, and it’s intellectually inquisitive manner of challenging social and religious issues makes it a work that never fails to enlighten, provoke, and humor any audience.

Fun Tartuffe EXTRAS!!

Here is a Link to the “Mariane and Valere: The Lovers Scene”  of The University of Alaska Fairbanks, Theatre UAF”s 2014 production of Tartuffe

Works Cited 

“Anne Hathaway in ‘Twelfth Night’: What Did the Critics Think?” Anne Hathaway in ‘Twelfth Night’: What Did the Critics Think? Web. 24 Feb. 2015. <>.

“Elizabethan Playwrights and Authors.” Elizabethan Playwrights and Authors. Web. 24 Feb. 2015. <>.

“Issue 82Molière‎ and 17th Century French Theatre.” Molière‎ and 17th Century French Theatre:: Spotlight: E-News from Theatrefolk. Web. 24 Feb. 2015. <>.

“Tartuffe.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 24 Feb. 2015. <>.

“The Baroque Period – Music Appreciation Web.” The Baroque Period – Music Appreciation Web. Web. 24 Feb. 2015. <>.

“The Theatrical Baroque: European Plays, Painting and Poetry, 1575-1725.” The Theatrical Baroque: European Plays, Painting and Poetry, 1575-1725. Web. 24 Feb. 2015. <>.

“Theatre in France–1500-1700.” Theatre in France–1500-1700. Web. 24 Feb. 2015. <>.

“Theatre of France.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 24 Feb. 2015. <>.

Web. 24 Feb. 2015. <>.

Web. 24 Feb. 2015. <>


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s