A play written by Moliere, Tartuffe premiered in 1664 written in French. The comedy was performed at the Orgon’s house in Paris by great classical roles such as Valere, Tartuffe and Elmire. After the premier, it was censored by King Louis the fifteenth pertaining to the influence of the Archbishop of Paris. Moliere’s tutor was the King’s confessor, Paul Phillipe. This article will articulately narrate the story presented by the play, the production, advertisement and the response it ignited.
The term Tartuffe means a hypocrite who feigns religious virtue ostensibly. The play consists of twelve syllable sentences amounting to 1,962 and has 14 significant characters. The story revolves around Orgon who is the head of the house, Tartuffe his house guest, Valere a hopeless romantic trying to win the love of Orgon’s daughter, Mariane, Elmire the wife of Orgon. Madame Pernelle the mother of Orgon, Damis his son, Dorine the housemaid, Cleante his brother in law, Argas his friend, Laurent a servant of Tartuffe, the King’s officer, Flipote a servant of Madame Pernelle and Monsier Loyal a bailiff.
Moliere narrates a story of an attempt by a hypocrite, Tartuffe, to shatter the domestic happiness of Orgon who, he has immensely charmed through his seeming piety to accept him as a house guest. Tartuffe deceives Orgon by pretending to be very pious and to speak with religious authority, hence, Orgon and Madame Pernelle cannot take any action without first running it through him. However, Tartuffe does not manage to fool the rest of the family and allies. Orgon announces that he intends to wed his daughter off to Tartuffe angering her and her fiancé, Valere. In an effort to reveal Tartuffe’s true intentions, a plan is hatched by the family. The intention is to trap Tartuffe to confess his desire for Orgon’s wife, Elmire. As a religious man, he should not harbor such feelings for the wife of his host.
The plan is destroyed when Damis cannot stand Tartuffe’s remarks to his mother and he comes out of hiding to confront him. Orgon arrives and Damis tries to tell him what transpired but the reverse psychology used by Tartuffe, results in Damis being thrown out of the house by his father. Elmire convinces her husband to witness another scene of Tartuffe’s advances to prove he is not a pious man. This turns out to be successful and Tartuffe is ordered out of the house. Tartuffe tries to retaliate Orgon’s act of throwing him out of the house but his attempt fails. He ends up getting arrested instead for treachery towards Orgon.
Critics arose from the church leadership and the play was revised with the character of Tartuffe as L’Imposteur. Moliere garnered support from the King and the play continued to be performed privately. With time his detractors lost influence and Moliere was allowed to perform the final version of the play. Unfortunately, due to the controversy that arose from Tartuffe, Moliere avoided writing such incisive plays again. The play has continued to receive productions over time until the 21st century through films, stage performances, television, audio and opera. This indicates that Moliere successfully won over both sides without suffering any twinges in his conscience.
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The Theme of Moliere"s Tartuffe: Reason vs. Passion
Jean-Baptitste Poquelin Moliere"s Tartuffe, is undoubtedly a satirical comedy. In Moliere"s description of a satire, he was very direct as to the function and objectives of one are. The function is to correct men"s vices, using satire to ridicule them and expose them to public laughter (Moliere, p.14). Although this satire is making fun of many things in the church and organized religion, which is not the only objective Moliere had in mind. Tartuffe has many themes that reoccur through out the play. The time period, in which this play was written, was known as the Age of Reason. One of the main ideas and attitudes during this time was, reason must always control passion. Due to this attitude, one theme that constantly appears through the play, is the battle between reason and passion.
In Act II, Scene 4, one of the major conflicts between reason and passion is played out. Valere confronts Mariane with the rumors he has heard about her marrying Tartuffe. Throughout this entire confrontation, they are letting their passions stop them from getting what they truly want, which is each other. Finally, Dorine brings about the reason that is needed in their situation. In lines 69-71, Dorine states," If you ask me, both of you are as mad as mad can be. Do stop this nonsense, now. I"ve only let you squabble so long to see where it would get you." Their passion is so strong; Valere and Mariane are blind to what the other is wanting. In this situation, Dorine plays the raisoneur, which is the person who tends to be reasonable throughout the play.
Cleante is another character that could be considered a raisoneur during the play. There is numerous times where he interjects reason into a situation. "Ought not a Christian to forgive, and ought he not to stifle every vengeful thought? Should you stand by and watch a father make his only son an exile for you sake? Again I tell you frankly, be advised: the whole town, high and low, is scandalized; this quarrel must be mended, and my advice is not to push matter to a further crisis (4. 1. 9-16)." In this scene, Cleante is trying to talk reason into Tartuffe"s actions. Orgon has just kicked out his son, and made Tartuffe his sole heir. Although Orgon has acted out on his passion without considering any reason, Cleante is attempting to show Tartuffe his wrong doings and his hypocrisy. Up to this point, Tartuffe has been a very reasonable man. His character was not known for acting out his passions. But Moliere adds a twist to the story when this exact thing, Tartuffe"s passion, is the sole explanation for his downfall. Slowly his passion for Elmire and greed infest his way of thinking and leads to his defeat. He let his passions control his reason.
Again in Act V, Scene 2, Cleante comes to the rescue of young Damis. "What a display of young hotheadedness! Do learn to moderate your fits of rage. In this just kingdom, this enlightened age; one does not settle things by violence (5. 2. 10-13)." Damis had just learned that Tartuffe had wronged his father, and was running out to end Tartuffe"s life. But, Cleante being the reasonable person that he was, had to try to overcome Damis" passion to calm him down. A theme this simple can easily be applied to a situation today. Just think how the shooting at Columbine High School might have turned out if the two gun men had someone like Cleante to stop and try to get them to think reasonably.
Surprising enough Cleante is also the one to point out Orgon"s flaw, which is the fact that he makes his decisions based on passion, not reason. He points out that he is in no way rational, but instead is constantly jumping between absurd extremes (5.1. 35-38). This very flaw in Orgon could have easily led to the demise of his family. It goes back to one of the main themes of the neoclassical period, moderation. Things had to be done for the good of society as a whole, not for you as an individual. To indulge on yourself, could lead to the downfall of you, your family, or even society. And this is exactly what Orgon accomplished. He took his own passions and ran with them, not concerned for the well being of others.
This conflict between reason and passion that is continuously portrayed in Moliere"s Tartuffe can easily teach a lesson to anybody who is ready to listen. If people were only willing to think before they react, just imaging the difference it could make. We are not all as lucky to have a raisoneur around when we need advice, but we have that inner voice, if we would only listen. Passion can drive people to do strange things, but we also need it to survive. What would the world be like if reason was the only thing that guided our actions? Would there be any love, happiness, or even fear? Moderation is the key. The question of which is superior, reason or passion, clearly is a hard one to answer. Maybe we should all take Cleante"s advice and attempt to take the middle course; trying to balance the fine line between reason and passion.
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