There is very little written documentation as to why Moliere’s Tartuffe was suppressed for years by the French King Louis XIV. It is very likely that some readings of the unfinished Tartuffe had been heard around court and that Louis XIV had been present at these readings. Word of the content of the play had made its way to an only thirty-year-old Catholic organization, La Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement (Company of the Blessed Sacrament), and they began to pressure Louis XIV to suppress the play. Moliere’s former patron, Prince de Conti, had become a fervent member of this group around the same time he refused to continue supporting Moliere’s troupe. There has been some suggestion that Conti inspired the play and the hypocritcal character of Tartuffe. Probably because of the influence of La Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement, just five days after the first performance of the unfinished play, Louis XIV officially forbade its performance.
One historical source suggests that strong protest against the play came from the Kings mother, Anne of Austria. Queen Anne was a very religious woman who had ties with La Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement. The Queen Mother hated that Louis had a very public, and very loving, relationship with his mistress. She found this offensive, inappropriate and incompatible with her religion. In her many attempts to reform her son, she most likely recruited the efforts of La Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement, and so joined in their condemnation of the still as-of-yet unfinished Tartuffe.
The play was allowed to perform three private performances (only one of which was the completed text), but then was unseen until the Paris opening of the re-titled L’Imposteur in 1667. It ran only once to a packed house and was immediately shut down again. A week later, the Archbishop of Paris issued an order to prevent all the people of Paris from hearing, seeing or reading L’Imposteur. Soon after this, an anonymous letter began to appear in bookshops defending the play- though it had no effect. The king was out of Paris at the time, and Moliere’s letters to him went unanswered. Finally, upon the return of the King to Paris, on February 5th, 1669 Tartuffe was allowed to open and stay open.
-- compiled by Ariel Tocino, Director of New Works and Social Media for BoHo Theatre. Tartuffe opens this weekend at Theater Wit! Get your tickets today. Follow BoHoTheatre on Twitter: @BohoTheatre for updates on the show, the season and all things BoHo!