Molière was baptized Jean-Baptiste Poquelin on January 15, 1622. His father was an upholsterer for the King and it was expected that he would take over the family business. It isn't clear why he chose to pursue a life in the theatre, but in 1643, he and nine other individuals founded Illustre Théâtre, specializing in tragedies. His theatre company was a failure, and Molière wound up in debtors prison. When he turned to comedy instead of tragedy, he became quite successful, considered the patron of French actors and the best-known playwright associated with the Comédie-Française.
Tartuffe was written during the reign of King Louis XIV in France. It was the Grand Siècle in France – a time of cultural and artistic growth, when Louis XIV completed the Louvre and transformed Versailles from a hunting lodge into the extravagant Château at Versailles that can still be visited today.
The popular version of Molière's Tartuffe is the third version of the play. It was originally written as a three-act play for a festival at court in 1664, but it was denounced as an open attack on religion, and Molière was forbidden to present it in public. The Archbishop of Paris banned the second version, written in 1667, from both public and private performances. In 1669, King Louis XIV authorized performances of the third and final version of the play, and it was a great success.
Tartuffe is the most performed play in French classical theatre.
Some of Molière's other work includes:
1659: Les Précieuses ridicules (The Affected Ladies)
1662: L'École des femmes (The School for Wives)
1666: Le Misanthrope (The Misanthrope)
1668: L'Avare (The Miser)
1670: Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (The Would-be Gentleman)
1673: Le Malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid)
Andy Jones, the playwright and actor who interprets the character Tartuffe in the NAC production, explains why he chose to set the play in 1939 Newfoundland, and comments on other themes in his adaptation:
Jillian Keiley, the director, suggested Newfoundland. Tartuffe is originally a 17th-century upper-class French play. I thought about the elements that were central to the play, and considered how I could put them into context in Newfoundland.
Wealth: Every major community had wealthy fish merchants who bought from smaller fish merchants and resold the fish internationally. Often there was just one merchant per town. Sometimes there were several wealthy merchant families in the larger towns. [Photo of Mockbeggar Plantation]
Service: Dorine is a major character in the play, and she is working for the wealthy family (Orgon and Elmire). In Newfoundland in the late 1930s, (during the Great Depression) people from smaller towns went to work for wealthy families in the big cities. This gave me a reason for Dorine being in service to Orgon's family.
A war hero: It's important to the ending of the play that the main character be a hero in a recent war. World War I was a significant event in Newfoundland. We lost a greater per capita proportion of men than any of the other dominions in the British Commonwealth. Almost every family was touched by the war. Orgon becomes a believable character as a World War I hero.
The King: King George VI visited Newfoundland on June 2, 1939, just before World War II. He wanted Newfoundland's support for the coming war (remember, this is before Confederation). [Commemorative Stamps]
An authority figure in the last scene: I chose a Newfoundland Ranger to portray this role. The Rangers predated the RCMP in Newfoundland, and were community leaders and government representatives in all the small towns. They knew everyone's history, and would have been in contact with the King.
Language: The original play is written in verse, and my version is as well. I used a lot of expressions from Newfoundland. I consulted three dictionaries, and used many familiar turns of phrase. I also made up a few expressions of my own. [Allan Hawco and George Strombolopolous discuss some Newfoundland expressions]
Newfoundland's role in WWI
Newfoundland was still a part of the British Empire when World War I broke out in 1914. So when Great Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, Newfoundland had to join in. The next four years marked Newfoundland in unforgettable ways. Many men were available to serve, because unemployment was a big problem at the time. Prime Minister Edward P. Morris decided to send a first group of 500 soldiers overseas, and the Newfoundland Regiment was formed.
12,000 Newfoundlanders (out of a total population of 242,000) enlisted during the war, and a similar amount volunteered but were not able to serve. Countless others supported the war effort in various ways. There were three Newfoundland forces: the Newfoundland Regiment (6,241 members), the Royal Naval Reserve (1,964 members) and the Newfoundland Forestry Corps (500 members). Women served as nurses as part of the Voluntary Aid Detachment. Approximately 25% of all those who served overseas died, and many more were injured and/or disabled.
The men who served in the Royal Naval Reserve were incorporated into the British Army. They made many individual contributions to the war effort.
The Newfoundland Regiment trained and fought together. They first went to Egypt and the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey, before being sent back to France to help with the Battle of the Somme. This is the most significant day in Newfoundland's World War I history. A fierce and quick battle took place on July 1, 1916, near the town of Beaumont-Hamel in France, during which the Newfoundland Regiment was almost entirely wiped out. 710 men were killed, wounded or missing. A detailed account of the battle can be read here. The regiment remained in France for the rest of the war and participated in numerous other battles.
So many Newfoundlanders enlisted in the war and helped in various ways at home and abroad that the war touched nearly every family in Newfoundland. July 1, the day of the Battle of the Somme, was chosen as Newfoundland's Memorial Day, and every year, commemorative ceremonies are held across the province.
Newfoundland before Confederation
Tartuffe is set in 1939. Around this time, a different relationship between Newfoundland and Canada began to emerge. Canadians and the British government thought it made sense to incorporate Newfoundland into Confederation, but it was not until March 31, 1949, that Newfoundland officially became a province of Canada.
A British Government Commission created the Newfoundland Rangers in 1935 during the Great Depression. Their original task was to help hunt game animals native to Newfoundland, in order to make money. This didn't last long, and the Rangers soon became government representatives, and the main link between Newfoundlanders and their government. They were very important to the outport areas of Newfoundland and Labrador and used various means of travel, including dog sleds. Rangers were well known and well respected throughout Newfoundland, and many were heroes. The Rangers were discontinued after Confederation in 1950, and some of the men joined the RCMP. In order to become a Ranger, you had to be male, single, aged 19-28, at least 5'9" tall, weigh less than 185 lbs., and have completed Grade 11. In 1939, the Newfoundland Rangers were declared an essential service, so that Rangers would stay in Newfoundland to help with the war effort, instead of going overseas to fight in World War II.