Screen readers: Two navigational links to follow.Skip to site navigation.Skip to page content.
The University of Iowa News Services
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us

University of Iowa News Release


April 4, 2008

University Theatres presents Molière's 'Tartuffe' April 17-27

University Theatre will present "Tartuffe," Molière's most popular satirical comedy, at 8 p.m. Thursday, April 17, in E.C. Mabie Theatre of the University of Iowa Theatre Building. Additional performances will be at 8 p.m. April 18, 19 and 23-26, and at 2 p.m. Sundays, April 20 and 27.

"Tartuffe, or The Imposter" portrays a society that is steeped in hypocrisy and ruled by a system of government where power is abused. "If the function of comedy is to correct men's vices, I do not see why any should be exempt," Molière wrote in the preface to the play's publication in 1669. "Such a condition in our society would be much more dangerous than the thing itself; and we have seen that the theater is admirably suited to provide correction."

Tartuffe, a vagrant swindler passing himself off as man of religious zeal and genial but elevated character, has found employment in the Parisian home of Orgon, to instruct the family in piety -- a fraud that everyone in the family except the head of the household and his prudish mother can see through.

By the time Orgon catches on that all the virtue and piety is feigned, Tartuffe has manipulated his way into legal and financial control of the household, and is on the verge of not only stealing everything but also marrying Orgon's daughter. Intervention by the king is required to rescue the family.

The issue of religious hypocrisy was so volatile in those times -- when church and state were deeply intertwined and the royal court was itself infested with staunchly religious elements -- that Molière and his theatrical troupe were threatened with excommunication. Such offense was taken by the self-proclaimed "devout" elements of the court that the playwright might have been executed for heresy except for the king's continuing support.

"There seemed no doubt in my mind that today's political climate lent itself easily to a comparison with this world of 17th-century France," says director Meredith Alexander, a faculty member in the UI Department of Theatre Arts. "Riven by hypocrisy, deceit, and abuses of power, ours is 'a time out of joint' -- this is the phrase that Hamlet uses to Horatio after he is visited by the ghost and learns that his father has been murdered, which changes the way he sees everything. 'Tartuffe' might be 'the thing to catch the conscience' of a contemporary audience.

"But in looking over English translations, none seemed to offer possibilities for infusing into the script what was so threatening, so sacrilegious that people wanted Molière dead."

So she commissioned a new translation by Leah Pesola, a UI doctoral student in French. Pesola said: "Although I was intimidated by the prospect of rhyming (the official theatrical rule of the day was rhyming couplets), by the pressure to give the audience the experience of that consciousness-raising laughter I associate with Molière, the most difficult aspect of translating this 17th-century play was coming to terms with my own language and deciding just what traces of myself I was willing to leave behind in the script."

Pesola added that, in order to make the play accessible for an American audience in 2008, "it seemed both necessary and urgent to turn more toward common expressions found here at home." So the script is peppered with the sting of familiar, 21st-century idiom and insults. But also, some of the most passionate exclamations are left in French, as are many common words familiar to English speakers - "Bonjour," "Mon Dieu!" "Pardon" and "Voila!" are just a few of the French expressions that inhabit the new translation. A list of the French words and phrases is included in the playbill, in case a primer is necessary.

Contributors to "Tartuffe" include set designer David Thayer, lighting designer Adam Boyer, costume designer Jeanette Lee Porter, sound designer Patrick Ashcraft, dramaturg Kate Stopa, French language coach Adrian Paredes and movement coach Ralph Hall.

Tickets are $17; UI students and youth $8; seniors $12. Tickets may be purchased in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office.

The Hancher Auditorium business hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial 319-335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial 319-335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Tickets may be ordered at

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail at

Any remaining tickets will be on sale at the Theatre Building box office one hour before curtain time.

The Department of Theatre Arts is a unit in the Division of Performing Arts of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to, click the link "Join or leave the list (or change settings)" and follow the instructions.


STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Meredith Alexander, director,; Winston Barclay, Arts Center Relations, 319-384-0073 (office), 319-430-1013 (cell),