"Moliere's comedies live on stage, but his texts have
lived in history. "Tartuffe," for example, was banned by Louis XIV, edited
by the playwrights of the French Revolution, and lauded by Napoleon (reading
it aloud in St. Helena). "Vile Tartuffe," was the epithet thrown at the
hiding Robespierre as the cart carrying the Dantonists to the guillotine
passed by his home. And yet we watch the play on stage and it makes us
Theater departments may articulate a superior claim to Moliere, just as
film departments may voice their own priorities in teaching Mamet. But
to take Moliere out of the literature classroom is to deny half his essence --
just as denying Mamet entry there would be to deny half of his."
Perhaps Moliere seems "dull" to some because his works require an imagination
that will stage and present them in such a way to allow the comic elements
to emerge--and at least of some of those elements were probably more funny
(or disconcerting) to Louis' court in a way that we can never quite recover.
That is not to say that Moliere cannot be staged well for comedy. I've
seen the Comedie Francaise (sp? I'm ashamed to ask) put on a production
which was traditional and hilarious, even though I understood few of the
words (especially in the rapid exchange of dialogue). On the other hand,
I've seen Liviu Ciuli (sp? again!) turn Moliere inside out in the most
postmodern of productions and manage to make him alive, relevant and funny
If one turns to Shakespeare, one finds even flexibility of approaches that
may violate the Bard's "intent," but keep the play alive through discussion
of its implications. In film, think of how Welles, Polanski and Kurosawa
have all managed to deal with MACBETH in such different ways. I haven't
seen Derek Jarman's version of THE TEMPEST but I'd be curious to put it
next to PROSPERO'S BOOKS and FORBIDDEN PLANET, as commentaries on/spinoffs
of the original.
One thing to note is how 20th century playwrights have sought to preserve
their "intent" in one way or another. The flexibility of Shakespeare is
enhanced by the paucity of stage directions, but Shaw and O'Neill ramble
on for pages about the exact look of their sets and characters as well
as offering interpretations of those characters. Arthur Miller has brought
lawsuits to prevent "deconstructive" stagings of his plays. And so forth.
I'm not sure where this leaves screenplays. In some cases, the writing of
the script is an integral part of the director's production--Bergman and
Fellini, for example. In other cases, the director's work with the script
is behind the scenes and then realized on screen--Hitchcock, for example.
In still other cases, directo and writer work hand-in-hand in close
collaboration--Jabvhala (sp?--this is not my day!) and Ivory (not to mention
Merchant) are another case in point. I guess I
would just reiterate my point that screenplays can be well worth studying on
their own for "literary" merit, but they are still a different entity from
the films as objects of study.
--Don Larsson, Mankato State U., MN