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Tartuffe is one of those villains who must be played melodramatically, where every movement and speech of his drips with shallowness and hypocrisy. If Tartuffe is played this way, the audience will quickly learn to hate and scorn him as much as the other characters do. But to turn the textual Tartuffe into an onstage rogue requires special care on the part of whoever plays Tartuffe, the director, the sound and lighting guys, the costume designer, the technical director, and everyone backstage. If all of these groups work together, Tartuffe’s stage time will make Tartuffe a success.

Before each part of the theater can begin work on dehumanizing Tartuffe, everyone involved must understand why a company would go to such great lengths to make Tartuffe more evil. Tartuffe was first read in 1665 to King Louis XIV of France. The church and the monarchy were very connected, and both had absolute power over all of France. To criticize one was to criticize the other, and that meant shame and possibly death to whomever dare do so. So Tartuffe, a man who uses his religious piety to get money and sex, was not only knocking God, but also knocking France. This was the worst of crimes during that era, making Tartuffe the worst of characters. Thus, modern companies must show modern audiences just how bad of a person Tartuffe was.

Tartuffe does not appear until Act III, which gives the audience two acts to learn of the villain’s misdeeds and hypocrisy. So the actor playing Tartuffe has to embody the role stereotyped for him by the audience. He can’t look like a romantic lead, yet also can’t be mistaken for Richard III. Someone of medium height and build, with blond hair and blue eyes, would best suit the look of Tartuffe. This actor must walk proudly, with his head always up and a dishonest smile on his face. He needs to walk with a longer-than-normal stride, showing his excessive confidence. And he needs a noticeably fake accent, one which seems to be hiding a more common tongue. Words that sound religious must always be emphasized, regardless of whether they’re dealing with religion or something else. And his speech must always be priestly, as if he is giving divine knowledge to the great unwashed.

Tartuffe’s attire needs to be more elegant than any other character in the play. He needs to be dressed in a very showy and ornate robe, with gold trim along the edges. The robe should touch the floor and possibly a few inches should drag behind him, giving him a pretend look of royalty. The color of the robe needs to be distinctively off-white or some color that the audience will know is not true white. If the costume designer thinks Tartuffe needs shoes, they should be sandals the Apostles of Jesus would wear.

Whenever Tartuffe is on stage, his presence needs to be overemphasized. If an overhead light followed Tartuffe around onstage, the audience would recognize how big of a character he is. The light should not be the usual incandescent white…possibly a light red or orange. The light should be darker when Tartuffe is interacting with other characters and white when Tartuffe is near Orgon. When Orgon becomes aware of Tartuffe’s hypocrisy, the light should either change to dark red or vanish completely.

Tartuffe needs to be overplayed. The more visual and textual techniques the company can use to portray Tartuffe, the better. This is a character that is breaking the moral code of his time through lies and treachery, so the theater must dramatize him to get the point across to the audience.

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