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Tartuffe Vs Candide Essay


There are several essential literary styles employed by both playwrights and filmmakers while presenting their literary works to their targeted audience. They use such styles like symbolism, motifs and irony, to mention but a few, in a manner that leaves the audience entertained.

At the same time, they address certain social and moral concerns. Jean-Baptiste Moliere and François Mariane Aurouet De Voltaire provide an exemplification of authors who have successfully used such techniques in their plays, most of which are characterized by dark comedies that unmask the society in an attempt to shed light on the significance of differentiating the real from the constructed appearance.

As the paper unfolds, social masking is a technique that is dominant in both Candide and Tartuffe. As used by the Moliere and Voltaire, social masking serves as a mechanism for depicting how people conceal their true selves for the sake of their individualized gains, both materially and socially.

Overview of Tartuffe

Authored by Moliere, Tartuffe presents the cultural, political and the social atmosphere that existed during the reign of King Louis XIV of France in the seventieth century. Despite immense popularity before the eyes of his audiences, Moliere’s scholarly works including Tartuffe faced heavy criticisms from religious groups and civic leaders, perhaps due to the themes contained in his works that presented religious leaders as diverting from their anticipated roles in the society.

However, in spite of the enormous condemnations amid censorship of his works, particularly Tartuffe, it gained intensive international reputation with performances being staged in Germany, Holland, and England.

Religious hypocrisy was evident during and prior to the time of writing of the drama. More often, it went without criticism. This was largely because religious leaders were considered as holy and true representatives of right in the society[1]. In his endeavor to address the situation, as it stood on the ground, Moliere employed the motif of social masking as a strategic style that brought out the concerns of religious hypocrisy before the eyes of the society.

Motif of social mask in Tartuffe

Religious hypocrisy, characterized by deception, is a principal theme that repeats itself throughout the drama Tartuffe. Tartuffe, despite being a religious leader comes out clearly as an architect of deceit whose practices are not consistent with what he professes or preaches. He accomplishes his intentions to deceive Orgon by feigning being a virtuous man. Consequently, Orgon, in addition to over trusting him, more than his wife or those other people who are close to him, goes to the level of keeping Tartuffe in his home as a moral guide.

Tartuffe tells his servant to tell anyone who inquires of his whereabouts that he is busy offering charity work to the downtrodden and poor people. Rather than being involved in the activities that he claims, he attempts to seduce the wife of his friend Orgon (Moliere 1.5.21)[2]. In fact, the play also refers Tartuffe to as a “imposter” meaning one who fools others into thinking that he is someone other than his/her real self (Wightman Para.12)[3].

Later in the play, Tartuffe reveals himself as a real imposter who has committed a myriad of crimes under disguised identities. Most of his crimes heighten based on his greed for material gain and social status. For instance, by deploying the ‘mask of piety’, Tartuffe makes Orgon adore him (Wightman Para 16)[4].

Social mask forms a central symbol in the play Tartuffe. The mask covers up true people’s appearances before the eyes of others. Through the motif of social mask, Moliere stands a chance to explore thoroughly the theme of deception. Numerous characters attribute the motif of social mask to Tartuffe.

As a way of example, Dorine laments, Tartuffe “passes for a sait…in fact, he is nothing but a hypocrite” (Moliere 1.1.33)[5]. On learning the deceptive nature of Tartuffe, Orgon complains about his mistakes prompting Cleante to inform him that he had made a terrible “mistake in taking of piety for the face of the true nature” (Moliere 2.4.23)[6].

He further adds that Orgon should make impeccable attempts in the future to equip himself well with mechanisms of “stripping off the mask, learning what true virtues mean” (Moliere 2.4 31)[7]. Put differently, he tells him to attempt to know how to differentiate between true and disguised appearance.

The author, too, examines various dynamics of power within families with the help of the social masks coupled with the theme of deception or hypocrisy.

Despite applying of the motif of the social mask as a symbol to reveal the true nature of the main villain, Tartuffe, Moliere uses it to aid the virtuous characters in portraying the real nature of Tartuffe’s characters. Other characters engage themselves in other forms of social masks.

They possess different magnitudes of deceits. As a way of example, in act II, Dorine hides in some place with the intention of listening to a conversation ensuing between two other characters in the play (Moliere 2.2.1-2)[8].

This way, the author presents deception as a menace widely evident in different members of the society: from religious leaders like Tartuffe to non-religious leaders such as Dorine. Within the hierarchies of the familial structures, the author employs social masks differently in Tartuffe. As a result, those individuals belonging to lower hierarchies in the family social structure tend to employ social masks as a means of acquiring more power.

Dorine, a servant deploys social mask combined with deception in an attempt to curtail oppressive authority exercised against Mariane by her farther. Orgon reveals his intentions of wanting Mariane to marry Tartuffe to her and emphasizes that no for an answer was unacceptable.

Even though such a prospect terrified her, her father had already made a decision for such a move and his decision was final. Mariane was thus reluctant to object her father’s wishes. As the conversation continued between Orgon and Mariane, Dorine appears all of a sudden compelling Orgon to complain of Dorine’s actions of “eavesdropping” on their conversation (Moliere 2.2.18)[9].

Dorine ardently complains about Orgon’s decision to marry off Marianne to Tartuffe while disregarding Marianne’s opinions about the same. It is, thus, deducible that, for the purposes of protection of Mariane’s interests and rights, Dorine exemplifies some traits of deception and consequently possesses a motif of social mask: hiding in order to listen secretly to a conversation.

Overview of Candide

Authored by François Moliere Aurouet De Voltaire, Candide carries hefty critical introspection of the social masks characterizing institutions of seventieth century France. The author was a distinguished philosopher of the time of the release of the novel. Perhaps Candide was a catalyst of change. Despite making several attacks on the church and the contemporary subscriptions to his philosophical construction, the author offers a provocative comedy, which provides a few solutions to social stalemates.

However, some unenlightened ideas that are not subtle catalysts for an enlightened revolution against the regime are evident in the novel, as we may now know it today. For instance, many of the women characters are prostitutes while both Rousseau and Voltaire believe that it is unwise to educate the poor! (Shocke Para. 5)[10].The concept of social masking, therefore, assumes a fair share of Voltaire’s masterwork Candide.

Motif of social mask in Candide

Candide features as the main character of the play Candide. He is not an outright fool like Orgon. However, the reader feels much pity towards the character, which in one way or another, measures up to more than the pity he or she feels towards Orgon. The loss of his lover affects Candide to the level that he wanders around feeling utterly lost and helpless. As the author unfolds, he “…wandered for a long time without knowing where he was going, weeping, raising his eyes to heaven” (Voltaire 312)[11].

Similar to Tartuffe, Voltaire challenges religious hypocrisy. He presents the clergy, identifiable as inquisitors, as inhumane. He involves himself in the act of execution of the fellow citizens: a move justified by the existence of philosophical differences, which were not acceptable.

Such acts are merely presentations of falsified beliefs that the clergy’s roles entail correcting intolerable social actions by the citizens. This is perhaps correct since they are involved in a myriad of sins that they preach against and yet they do not punish themselves. They are the jewel thieves who keep and condone mistresses while preaching against homosexuality.

They ingrain themselves deeply in homosexual acts. Perhaps the pope portrays one of the most ironical situations. Despite taking celibacy vows, he, in fact, has a daughter. Opposed to what religious official’s outward appearance portrays them, their actual character and acts, enshrined within masks painted ‘holy’ from outside, their inner profiles are full of darkness, otherwise referred to as ‘ungodliness’. In unmasked state, the religious leaders advocate for water thereby drinking wine.

The author portrays the officials of the church as the most sinful individuals in Candide. Desires to deceive for purposes of material gain drive other characters’ acts. For instance, Cunegonde accepts Don Fernando marriage proposal, despite his attachment with Candide. She accepts the proposal not simply because she loves Don Fernando but because of his Financial well-being. This way she deceives Don Fernando about her true intents of accepting to marry him.

The greatest fool to Candide is perhaps himself just like Orgon. Wherever he goes, Candide cannot stay for long due to his determination to pursue his true love: Cunegonde. Cunegonde plays much similar role to Tartuffe: eroding other people’s senses through deceit. On return from asylum, Candide encounters people who fool him again. They steal all his fortune away from him because Cunegonde’s love has eroded his senses. Based on his love’s constructed appearance, Candide’s life seems betrodden wherever he goes.

No matter whether it entails overcoming cannibal sturdy lugs, going through situations involving shipwrecks, floggings, or even earthquakes; nothing turns out to work well for him. Somehow analogous to the Orgon’s situation: failing to listen to his family warning about the evil nature of his ‘saint’ friend, Candide is not ready and willing to embrace reason in an attempt to differentiate the true and falsified appearance of his love: Cunegonde .

Disguised appearance presents itself for quite a limited time span. There comes a time when people strip off the social masks to expose the real nature. Despite the initial indications of flawlessness in Tartuffe’s character, Orgon comes into acquaintance of his true nature ordering him to vacate his house. A similar scenario presented itself to Candide.

The author says, “the tender lover Candide, seeing his lover Cunegonde with her skin weathered, her eyes bloodshot, breasts fallen, her cheeks seamed, her arms red and scaly, recoiled three steps in horror and then advanced only out of politeness” (Voltaire 399)[12].

Now, the author provides a turnaround point in which an originally deceived person comes into revelations of what has been ailing him or her all through his or her life. This is perhaps so since Candide comes to realize the true physique appearance of her love which had always been concealed by the love he had for her.


Based on the expositions made in the paper, it suffices to declare social masking a style that comes in handy in the two works, despite the evident difference of authorship. Both authors criticize the deceitful nature of human beings.

By setting two evidently deceived men, with their fortunes taken away: by people who wear social masks to conceal their identities, the authors shed light on the fact that either man deceives others or others deceive him. Through humorous and ironical situations presented symbolically using social masks, the authors are able to strike their collective goal: correcting some of the social errors that people manifest day-by-day. Otherwise, as the adage goes, never judge a book by its cover: the cover could be a mask.

Works Cited

Moliere, Jean-Baptiste. Tartuffe. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989.

Shocke, Locker. Candide: Literary Criticism, 2009. Web. <>.

Voltaire, François. Candide. Britain: Bloomington Publishers, 1961.

Wightman, Madeleine. Moliere, 2010. Web.


  1. (Moliere 1.1. 51) In fact, Madame Pernelle calls Tartuffe a holy man based on his appearance rather than reality.
  2. (Moliere 1.5.21) The author reveals one instance of the masking technique. Publicly, Tartuffe is man whose main agenda is to offer charity work. However, the reality is that behind him lies his true self: he is an adulterer.
  3. (Wightman Para.12) In this paragraph, Wightman confirms the central theme of Tartuffe as hypocrisy where Tartuffe’s appearance as a devoted preacher significantly differs with his immoral actions.
  4. (Wightman Para 16) The paragraph presents the mistaken praises that hypocrites receive from people who do not know their true characters. Orgon is such an example following his respect for Tartuffe
  5. (Moliere 1.1.33) Before the eyes of people, Tartuffe is a ‘without blemish’ person
  6. (Moliere 2.4.23) The author here shows how people can hide their true characters by publicizing actions that differ from their private ones
  7. (Moliere 2.4 31) The author presents this piece of advice to pretenders: they should consider emulating a virtuous life
  8. (Moliere 2.2.1-2) The hiding here is symbolic in that the two parties in the conversation view Dorine as absent while in the real sense, she is present in the place of the dialogue
  9. (Moliere 2.2.18) Refer to the comment above
  10. (Shocke Para. 5) The author here presents things as they are contrary to what or how they ought to be. While the view of the then society of not educating the poor was right according to it, it conceals the reality that all people need education regardless of his/her financial status
  11. (Voltaire 312) The fact that he does not know where he is heading is an implication of a misidentified direction. Where he heads is not where he ought to head: the real direction of life has been masked by the wrong one
  12. (Voltaire 399) The author takes the reader to the step of unmasking what has been masked. Therefore, as the adage goes, behind the beauty lie the true colors. In other words, there is always the true person behind what people see of any specific person
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