Failed seductions and the female spectator: pleasure and polemic in the Lettre sur la comédie de l’Imposteur

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The anonymous author of the Lettre Lettre sur la comédie de l’Imposteur (1667) makes the extraordinary claim that Molière’s Tartuffe, ou l’hypocrite, now renamed Panulphe, ou l’Imposteur, offers a powerful attack on, and a reliable inoculation against galanterie solide. The argument turns on an intriguing theory of ridicule whereby the effect of seeing in performance Panulphe-Tartuffe’s attempted seduction of La Dame-Elmire is so powerful that the extreme sense of ridicule it engenders among the theatre audience is indelible and will inevitably be called to mind in any similar off-stage encounters. The play, it is argued, is thus endowed with a significant moral function that can only benefit the French nation currently in the sway of a tide of sexual immorality. The argument put forward is intriguing, yet slippery in its moral ambiguity and sometimes obfuscatory logic. Here I unpick these claims, paying particular attention to the emphasis placed on the response of the female spectator. I also speculate on the author’s purpose in writing this portion of a letter in which different types of pleasure--rhetorical, aesthetic and moral, as well as the very pleasure of polemic--are put into the service of a polemic that extends far beyond the immediate concerns of the Tartuffe controversy
Original languageEnglish
JournalYale French Studies
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jan 2017


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