MOLIERE (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known as)

Le Tartuffe, ou l’imposteur, comédie.

Paris, Jean Ribou, 1669.

12mo (height:140 mm), 19th century unsigned Jansenist binding of full red Levant morocco, spine with 5 raised bands, gilt-lettered title, gilt date at spine’s end, gilt inner dentelle, marbled paper doublure and endpapers, all edges gilt. 12 unnumbered leaves (of which the frontispiece and the title), 96 pp. Complete.

Precious and desirable second edition, published in the same year as the first; publication was completed on the 6th of June 1669. It contains, in first edition, the three “Placets au Roi” [addressed by the playwright to the King to ask him to authorise the public performance of his comedy].

First issue of the frontispiece which was specially designed and engraved for this second edition (the first edition is not illustrated).

One of the greatest successes of Molère’s repertoire.

We may never know what Tartuffe looked like – in its original form. Copies of Molière’s 1664 script were banned, burned, and lost to history after leaders of the Catholic church condemned the comedy as an attack on religion. In Europe, there had always been a turbulent relationship between the church and the stage, but Tartuffe arguably set a new precedent. Its first performance at the inaugural festival of Versailles – with King Louis XIV in attendance – was reportedly an instant hit to all but the church and the upper crust of French society. Nobility saw themselves parodied in Orgon, the infinitely gullible patriarch, while Catholic leaders detested Tartuffe as vice parading around as virtue. This kind of religious satire (as it was later deemed) had no place in public life, lest it provoke undesirable behaviour in its audience. Hailed as a mockery of hypocrisy and derided as a send-up of piety, Molière’s controversial masterpiece enjoyed numerous private performances at parties, salons, and festivals until the public ban was lifted in 1669. The play is thus the product of heavy censorship, rewrites, and the artistic tenacity of France’s most famous farceur. Born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin in 1622, Molière, who helped plan the festivities at Versailles, was a remarkably prolific French poet, actor, and playwright. Though he expressed a personal preference for classical tragedy, the genius of his social commentary shines brightest in his comedies, The School for Wives, The Misanthrope, The Learned Women, and, of course, Tartuffe, or L’imposteur have shaped French culture much like Shakespeare has for English. Also, like Shakespeare, Molière has contributed his share of neologisms to the French vernacular (Michael Valdez, Florida State University).

Pleasant copy, finely bound. The preliminary pages are a little short at the top (four pages with a slight loss of text at the words “preface” and “placets au Roy”).

Ref. Molière et son temps, Librairie Benoît Forgeot, Paris, 2023, 36