A MEANINGFUL DECISION
Written originally in French in twelve-syllabled, rhymed couplets (Alexandrines), Tartuffe poses special challenges for translation. For the original French stage, verse rather than prose was standard and seemed simply appropriate. But since French lends itself to rhyming more than does English, early versions in England often relied upon “adaptations,” taking additional liberties to privilege English humor and allusions. Then in 1955, the poet Richard Wilbur produced a translation in rhymed couplets that was supple in flow and meaning. The very artificiality of his text called attention to both the age’s value on elegant, tidy appearances, and the artificiality of its faulty characters. For a contemporary audience, however, this focus on polished language and form risks turning Tartuffe into a period piece. In 1983, Christopher Hampton produced a blank verse version for the Royal Shakespeare Company which The Times praised for its plain, perfect phrasing: “The assumption behind this ferociously brilliant production is that Tartuffe is much too serious and alarming a work to be insulated behind any English equivalent of French classical style.” Used in Taylor’s production, Hampton’s translation presents a version of Tartuffe in which language demonstrates the currency of hypocrisy through its contemporary idioms and tones, blending elevated thought with keen observation and blunt critique. Witness early on, for instance, Dorine’s lines,
It’s always the most ludicrously guilty,
who are the first in line accusing others. They never miss an opportunity
to batten on the slightest hint of friendship, twist it to their purposes and then gleefully spread the news to everyone.
The play’s verse manages to measure and pace thought while it flows smoothly between lines and speeches.
~Dr. Beulah Baker
Professor of English, Taylor University