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“Tartuffe” is now viewed by many literary critics as one of the most prominent works by the famous French playwright, Moliere. It is worth mentioning that when this play was set on stage, it was immediately subjected to heavy criticism for its alleged immorality and even blasphemy. The author attempted to remove a ban and even wrote a petition to the King Luis XIV, asking the monarch to protect him and his play, but his efforts were to no purpose (Roland Racevskis, 88). The main reason why “Tartuffe” was banished was its satire, aimed against clergy, courtiers, and subsequently absolute monarchy. Certainly, throughout the play, the author never explicitly expresses his opinion about the Church or the King, but it can be easily deduced from the development of the plot and especially the main characters such as Tartuffe and Orgon.
First, it is of the crucial importance for us to discuss Molieres views on comedy, and particularly its goals. In the preface to “Tartuffe”, the author argues that the main task of comedy or art in general is to eradicate the vices of the society, including hypocrisy (Moliere, 5). It should be taken into consideration that in the foreword, the playwright stresses the word “innocent”, which means that, in his opinion, “Tartuffe” should not be regarded as something subversive or outrageous. It turns out that the then French society, in particular, its elite did not share his views on this issue.
In this regard, we should analyze the main character of the play, Tartuffe. It should be pointed out that Moliere makes the reader to look at him though the eyes of other characters, such as for instance, Orgon, Damis, Madame Pernelle. As the play progresses, it becomes more and more evident that Tartuffe is a hypocritical person, though able to seem very pious. All his actions are aimed at achieving benefit. Moliere does not attack religion or piety and he makes it very clear in this play, he says,
There is a vast difference, so it seems to me,
Between true piety and hypocrisy,
How do you fail to see it, may I ask (Moliere, 1, 5, 14-16)
Therefore, it is quite possible for us to say Moliere does not criticize religion or religiousness, instead of it, the author derides people, who only wear the mask of these virtues. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church perceived this comedy as the defiance to its rule. Moreover, many courtiers, who had immense influence on the King believed that this play had posed an implicit threat to their domination, thus they took an active part in persecution of Moliere and his work.
These words of Cleante are addressed to Orgon, the head of the house; who is entirely captivated by Tartuffe. This man cannot make independent decisions without a prompt of his “faithful” adviser. In addition to that, he ignores the admonitions of his relatives and friends whom he accuses of impiety and free-thinking (Moliere, 26). According to him, such personal trait can only read to moral corruption. His attitude towards freethinking clearly indicates that he is somewhat backward person, or at least unable to accept the opinion, different from his own. To a certain degree, Cleantes words are an appeal to the King Luis XIV, who was surrounded many people, only imitating piety and religiousness. Molieres play aroused a burst of indignation because it condemned the vices of the then French society, particular it touched upon the clergy and courtiers. Cleante accuses Orgon of ignorance and says,
So Ive been told by dupes like you
Being blind, youd make all others blind as well (Moliere, 1, 5, 1-2)
It should be borne in mind that that Tartuffe also has a low view of his master, whom he can easily manipulate. He is accustomed to the fact that his words are accepted on faith. He is sheltered in this house only out of mercy, but with time passing, he begins to influence Orgon. Finally, he intends to rob the protagonist of his wife, his house, and his money, but his plot is unmasked and Tartuffe is arrested.
The head of the house, Orgon, does not appear a very bright person; he constantly turns a blind eye to the warnings of people, surrounding him. To some extent, the protagonist is the indirect reference to the French monarch. The king did not forgive Moliere this character because he recognized himself in Orgon (Gerry Mccarthy, 33). In his petition, the author asks the king to defend this play from censure. He says, “I must no longer think of making comedies if the tartuffes have the upper hand;” (Moliere,).
Thus, having analyzed the play “Tartuffe” by Moliere, we can arrive at the conclusion that it is mostly directed against false religiousness and piety that were so widespread at the time the author wrote his play. Moreover, it is a subtle satire against the King Luis XIV, who did not saw many hypocritical people, reminding Tartuffe, in his court.
Gerry Mccarthy. “The Theatres of Moliaere” Routledge, 2002.
Molière, Richard Wilbur. “Tartuffe: Comedy in Five Acts, 1669” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1961.
Roland Racevskis. “Time and Ways of Knowing under Louis XIV: Moliere, Sevigne, Lafayette”. Bucknell University Press, 2003.