I actually read Tartuffe as a homeschooled teenager. (Am I sensing a trend around here lately?) The only thing I really remembered about it, before reading it this time around, was the positively insufferable (yes, the uppity word "insufferable" is called for here) rhyming couplets that made up the entire play.
Well, thankfully, I read a different translation this time, and that made all the difference. The translation in the Norton Anthology of Western Literature, which I was assigned this time, was by Richard Wilbur, and although it kept the rhyming couplets, it managed to make them sound a little more elegant and a bit less contrived. Whatever translation I read as a teenager sounded like a seven-year-old had written it.
But anyway, once the rhyming couplets came out right, they did their job of keeping the entire play light on its feet. After spending several weeks immersed in King Lear, this play was exactly the right thing to read. It was fun and hilarious, short and sweet. I can imagine it would be even more fun to see it played onstage.
Of course, Tartuffe lacks the introspective, thoughtful qualities of Shakespeare. It's a fairly one-sided, even didactic play. Not that it has a bad moral; just that the characters seem so black and white. There are wise people, there are bad people, and there are fools, and that's just about the entire spectrum of characters in the play. The point of Tartuffe can be explained in just a few words: Don't let religiosity make you a fool. Beyond that, there's really nothing more to be said.
Well, okay, that's not entirely true. There is, of course, more that can be said about Tartuffe, historically and critically, but personally, I'm not really sure it's worth it. I think going beyond the basic message is just robbing the play of its simplicity and reading in meanings that aren't really there. (Am I still a good English major if I say that?)
Overall, I enjoyed Tartuffe, but if it doesn't have the quality of depth that I usually look for in a classic.