Moliere wrote many satires and farces , but Tartuffe was riskier than his other plays because it dealt with religion. This play was controversial in Moliere’s time and the Catholic Church, the national church of France, forced the king to ban it. Moliere did manage to have it produced after the ban.
Tartuffe is subtitled The Imposter or The Hypocrite because of the mask our title character wears. In modern terms a hypocrite is someone who criticizes others for flaws that he or she has, too. An older definition of the term is someone who puts on a false appearance pretending to be something that he or she is not. You can perhaps see then how the word evolved. I encourage you to read Matthew 6 in the Bible to get a sense of the real problem with our title character. You will see what a truly faithful person looks like and what a hypocrite is like as depicted by Jesus who was the spiritual guide that Moliere followed.
Tartuffe is defined as a hypocrite by Moliere, but is he? You would be hard put to argue that Tartuffe is a truly faithful and religious man. We, the reader, can see through Tartuffe’s phony facade, but we have had almost half the play before we even meet him. That time is spent hearing all the other characters’ interpretation of him, so we interestingly form our opinion based on which characters we trust or like and their beliefs about our title character. Orgon and his mother are Tartuffe’s only champions, and they are both almost instantly unlikable. Orgon’s mother has nothing but nasty things to say about her own family while she is championing Tartuffe. Orgon, too, when he returns from a trip, is only concerned about Tartuffe and ignores very comically, the fact that his wife Elmire has been ill. .
Then we meet Tartuffe, and we can see his pretense of faith. He is way over the top. Does religion lend itself to this kind of abuse? Can it make a prey of someone who is looking in the wrong place for answers? Do we tend to put faith in people instead of looking to heaven, and could anyone stand up to that kind of scrutiny? How often in your lifetime have you seen religious leaders fall when followers found their imperfections? How often do others blame religion and not the person? We have to be careful not to do the same thing with Tartuffe. Critics of the play have believed that it is an indictment on religion. Do you think so? What is Moliere satirizing? Remember for Tartuffe’s false religion, we have Cleante’s true definition of faith as he presents the voice of wisdom. What about Orgon’s stupidity in regard to Tartuffe? What do you make of that?
We also can see a few sub themes. One is about social classes and the other gender inequality. Certainly it was unusual for a servant to be as outspoken as Dorine. You can see how Orgon tells her to remember her place. What about Mariane? Are you surprised at how little say she has in who she marries? A satire brings human flaws to light in a humorous way, but the purpose is to make change, so the flaws should be clear to the reader and the change possible. We are going to focus on the themes of Tartuffe and its controversy in our forums and in the short assignment you have on it under Assignments.
Tartuffe is a play, so it is meant to be watched. You can find most of the pivotal scenes on YouTube. Take the time and enjoy the performances. This version by the BBC is my favorite. Warning: there is a little nudity! Below the link you will find a link to our forum discussion for after you read. The link to the forum is below or you can find it in forums.
In the lesson I talked about the controversy surrounding Tartuffe because many, including the Catholic Church, believed that it was an attack on religion. I also gave you some main characteristics of a satire.
What is Moliere satirizing in this play? What human flaws capable of change is he bringing to light?