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Tartuffe By Moliere Essays

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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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Molière wrote Tartuffe not to condemn organized religion or religious people but rather to condemn hypocrisy and to instruct audiences, through the use of humor, on the importance of moderation, common sense, and clear thinking in all areas of life. Although the play was originally condemned as an outright attack on religion and devout people, a proper reading suggests just the opposite. Religion is not the problem; rather, the misuse of religion for personal gain at the expense of innocent, unsuspecting people is Molière’s concern. Works such as Tartuffe in fact help to protect and promote religion by exposing impostors for who they really are and demonstrating the real danger they pose to society when they go unchallenged.

The play’s major emphasis is on the silly yet serious results of failing to act with common sense. The reactions of the various characters of the play to the hypocrite, Tartuffe, serve to remind the audience of the importance of clear thinking in a world where some people will take advantage of simple thinking and blind trust. The play reinforces the golden virtue of “moderation in all things.” Excess, even in service of the most sacred faith, leads to ridiculous conclusions and potentially catastrophic actions.

The comic way in which the story unfolds, from seemingly harmless simple belief about religious doctrine to eventual trust in the absurd notion that Tartuffe should be in control of the family’s finances and estate, is a warning to all people to avoid letting others take advantage of them through their own lack of careful observation and scrutiny of human behavior. Orgon is unable to see the absurdity of the restrictions that Tartuffe places on his family. Ordinarily a reasonable and capable man, Orgon becomes so enamored of Tartuffe’s manner and so dazzled by his rhetoric that he jeopardizes family, wealth, societal position, and eventually his own faith in the value of religion for the sake of appeasing the manipulative hypocrite. Molière clearly understood the dangers of false piety.

The play sets forth the theme of the importance of a well-ordered soul living in a well-ordered society under the virtue of reason. The comical yet serious unraveling of Orgon’s professional and personal life at the hands of Tartuffe is the vehicle for the author’s implicit appeal for reason and order in personal interactions and societal institutions. As Molière shows, when individuals such as Orgon ignore common sense and become infatuated with charismatic figures, the results can be tragic. Orgon’s relationship with Tartuffe leads directly to the breakdown of his relationship with his son, the growth of mistrust between Orgon and his wife, personal embarrassment, and financial problems. These troubles have adverse effects on everyone in Orgon’s life and, by extension, on society as a whole. The dishonest intentions of one man wreak havoc on many lives. Through the comic manner in which he tells the story, the playwright reinforces the idea that Orgon’s difficulties could have been avoided. Tartuffe and his kind have power only when ordinary citizens willfully give up their ability to think for themselves.

In the end, the audience sees Orgon as remorseful for foolishly placing his trust in Tartuffe; he is also angry. In his anger, he inappropriately asserts that religion has been the cause of all the calamity that he and his family have undergone. Cléante, however, reminds Orgon that the real problem is not religion but the misuse of religion by impostors. Through Cléante’s final speech, Molière reinforces the validity of appropriate religious expression by the truly devout.