In Tartuffe, one of the primary topics that the author raises is the hypocrisy of some members of the society of that time and the detrimental effect of blind trust given to faithful people. To prove his point, the author uses Orgon’s family to show the result of this belief and Tartuffe as a quintessence of all the negative qualities that plagued the image of the Church at that time. It is vital to understand that the playwright does not condemn the entire Church, which is shown in the ending of this play. The author attacks hypocrisy instead of Christianity, as it could have been perceived by some people from the audience. This essay will analyze Tartuffe, ou L’Imposteur by Molière to prove these points.
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The blind faith is a catalyst for all woes that Orgon and his family suffer throughout this play. Molière begins the act without presenting the perpetrator to the audience, instead, he delivers the perception of him by various members of the family. As Molière shows from the beginning, Madame Pernelle believes that he “practices precisely what he preaches” (4). Her beliefs remain unchanged to the very end, adding irony to the story. Molière does not relent from his point, as Madame Pernelle tries to convince herself that “good can seem evil” under certain circumstances and refuses to believe that Tartuffe is a fraud (71). While some of the family members and their housemaid attempt to bring those who believe in the honesty of Tartuffe’s words and intentions, it has little to no success. This blind trust in the sanctity of religious followers almost leads to tragedy for an entire family.
Tartuffe seeks to fulfill his earthly desires by deceiving others. He understands well what constitutes a good image of a man and ensures that he is perceived as one. Molière reveals how Tartuffe created his false image when Orgon praises “the deep fervor of his heartfelt prayer” (12). Out of his greed and pride, this impostor proceeds to abuse Orgon’s belief to his best ability. While the accident that allows Tartuffe to obtain crucial evidence against Orgon is being played out as a satyrical incident, it also shows how foolish people can act when they make assumptions regarding the intentions of others, especially strangers. His deceitfulness is clear to the audience, as the author uses dramatic irony to its fullest.
Tartuffe’s lust is one of the cardinal sins that lead to an abuse of power. Orgon is wholly blinded by the piety of this fraudster and refuses to see the true nature of Tartuffe, to the point when he banishes his own son, Damis, who brings up these accusations (Molière 62). Even when presented with evidence of Tartuffe’s vile behavior, Orgon chooses not to believe it. Molière reveals the true face of Tartuffe numerous times through the character himself, as he states that “there’s no evil till the act is known” (63). His hypocrisy is hidden poorly under the occasional good deed that holds his image together in the eyes of the most gullible members of the family. Based solely on the assumption of Tartuffe’s devotion to his religious beliefs, the Orgon family suffers significantly from the actions of this miscreant.
However, the author also points out that it is not the type of behavior that is affirmed by the Church, which the author shows throughout the play and explicitly states in the concluding scene. Ultimately, the impostor’s actions lead to his arrest by the command from the king (Molière 80). While Tartuffe often refers to Christian beliefs and morals, he does not follow these teachings. Religion is only an instrument for this character, who was able to figure out how to use it to his advantage. The author regularly shows that the impostor refers to faith in his speech by giving blessings and invoking the Lord’s name. Despite these acts, he holds no respect for the religion he preaches. Molière shows how careless Tartuffe is when he states, “the sin, if any, shall be on my head” (62). The impostor does not seem to hold any title in clergy and has no support from the Church.
In conclusion, while the author relies heavily on religion in his play, the primary purpose of this satirical play is not to belittle faith, religious followers, or the Christian Church. Molière’s criticism revolves around the abuse of religion and its believers by pretenders and how the proof of high morals must not rely solely on the fact that a person seems to be pious. The usage of dramatic irony by the author adds to the morals of the story. The abuse of power can happen anywhere, and the sanctity of a person can not be proven by words alone. The author shows in a comical way how these presumptions can lead to a tragedy. While the play concludes with an abrupt yet happy ending, it raises a severe topic of hypocrisy in the Church that led to many controversies regarding the author’s intentions after its release.
Molière, Jean-Baptiste P. Tartuffe. Translated by Richard Wilbur, University of Southern Maine, 2018.
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