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Play “Tartuffe” by Moliere

  • Updated July 23, 2021
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I personally have taken a keen interest to the play, Tartuffe, written by Moliere in the 17th century. Just hearing the Archbishop of France’s initial reaction to the play, demands a personal investigation. Like myself, the people of France also offered a major interest in the play after 5 years of anticipation anxious to see what all of the fuss was about. Tartuffe turned out to be Moliere’s greatest achievement not because of the story alone, but because Moliere conquered overwhelming suppression from the French government and Catholic church.

Throughout Tartuffe, Moliere vicariously speaks out against piety, hypocrisy, and gullibility through his characters. He uses satire to encourage reason and chisel away at what he perceives to be destructive practices and beliefs that were popular in France during his day. After 5 years of petitioning and revising he is able to express his foresight of human reason at the expense of the Catholic church and other powerful political figures.

Moliere is clever and pays particular attention to hypocrisy in the established church. He sees (very similar to Martin Luther) greed and corruption in the way the church exercises massive political power over its members and in the accumulation of great wealth by many church officials. In 1664, after King Louis the XIV commissioned a comedy to be written, Moliere took this opportunity to educate others of the corruption he was seeing.

The religious zealots at the time were aware of this and objected to the play, eventually persuading King Louis XIV (who had actually enjoyed the play) to have it banned. Sadly, this was not the last time religious people would take exception to comedy (and this comedy isn’t even poking fun at religion, but rather foolish devotion to a charlatan and impostor). Moliere also finds the blind trust that the aristocracy seems to place in the old social institutions to be particularly worthy of his cutting humor.

Because of this early disapproval of Molière’s play, it is worth evaluating Tartuffe, to determine precisely what the play is saying about the difference of religion, and hypocrisy.

Unfortunately, we do not have a copy of Moliere’s original script of the play, but we do know that the Archbishop of Paris accused it of making fun of religion (specifically the Catholic faith). However, from examining and the play (that we do have), it is quite clear that the play is just making fun of the hypocrisy of religious leaders. Sure, these things may be closely related, but there is a significant difference between condemning a hypocrite rather than religion. If this essential detail isn’t self-evident enough from the play, Moliere (the author of the play) stated, in the preface, that: ‘if one takes the time to examine my play in good faith, he will surely see that my intentions are innocent throughout, and tend in no way to make fun of what men revere’ (Moliere’s petition). Moliere knows the intentions of his own play, which intentions are clearly aimed at confronting hypocrisy, not religion.

With that said, it is understandable that the French were concerned others would not see the difference between making fun of a hypocrite and making fun of a religion. Tartuffe was also introduced to the world at a particularly sensitive time for the Catholic church as it was basically questioned indirectly as a result of the play Hamlet. It is not far-fetched to assume that the Catholic church was worried that the play Tartuffe might have a similar reaction from the public. With this being a potential outcome, Moliere’s opportunity to speak out against the wrongs of the world would have to be revised if they were to ever reach the public.

Thankfully, Moliere is not only clever, but persistent in making his works known. Even though he was able to convince King Louis XIV that his play was now refined enough for the stages of France, the Archbishop of Paris still continued to threaten anyone who saw it or read it with excommunication! This furthers the question of whether or not the play is sacrilegious and discriminatory. This will always be responsibility of the audience to decide, but it still remains an important question that Moliere intended the audience to ask.

Regardless of the consensus, Moliere does interject his own opinion about religion between the lines of Tartuffe. He does this with Cleante’s view within the play. In act 1, scene 5, Cleante is conversing with Orgon regarding these principles of good religion when he exclaims “They leave the others to show off. Instead, they try to teach us by example, not to preachify.” (Cleante 390-94). The character who is meant to be the counterbalance to a conspiring Tartuffe is Cleante, who disagrees with the social standing of devout Christians. Cleante’s opinion is similar to Moliere’s which promoted the philosophy of conciliation of reason and faith. Thus, it is clear that Moliere inserts his opinion here of what he deems to be good religion. The problem is that no one would ever find truly good religious people, because anyone who shares (preaches) their religion with others is in turn not a truly religious person. This creates a disconnect for those eager to expand their faith as hypocrisy ruins Moliere’s idea of sharing religion.

It is clear that not just the church is being exposed through the medium of a comedic playwright, but also the blind trust of old (flawed) social institutions. This becomes evident when realized that the center of the play is not the supposed Tartuffe, but rather the unsuspecting Orgon. The real theme of the play, then, is not so much hypocrisy as fervent religious belief that is unchecked by facts or reason. In this sense, Moliere stands by his petitions that “theatre is admirably suited to provide correction” (Moliere’s petition). Moliere is depicting an issue in his society which he felt needed correction. This is ironic because decades later, neoclassicism would come of age celebrating human reason, of which Moliere was an advocate.

Cite this paper

Play “Tartuffe” by Moliere. (2021, Jul 23). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/play-tartuffe-by-moliere/

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