In 1664, Moliere wrote a satire piece of literature, Tartuffe, that riled up a great deal of critics especially from making a mockery of the Church which during this time had a supreme expanse of power. Moliere dances around the question of where has religion gone in the age of science? For if you are a rational man, then you will question the world around you because in order to change the past you must challenge it. If you don’t question it, then you will live in a repeated cycle of injustice and tradition.
Justice is shown to be stronger since it consists of wisdom and virtue, whereas injustice portrays ignorance and absurdity. In the play a hypocritical unlawful man disguises himself as a manipulative holy man in order to meet his ends of stolen wealth and the love of another fool’s wife. Tartuffe, the play, is a perfect representation of what it means to be righteous and unrighteous through the mockery and inversions of the three forms of unnatural and illogical powers ultimately causing the play to be banned by the church.
No matter who you are in a society, you are part of a network therefore you must be able to question authority if not then you become an inversion of rational to irrational. This network is referred to as “God’s World,” which resembles a clear cut triangle of the King/God/husband at the peak and the peasants on the bottom of the triangle (Professor Macfadyen, Lect. 2). In other words, in this grand hierarchy of enlightenment, God is typically at the very top.
In the lower levels we find the levels of what makes you a proper human: practical and productive reasoning, emotions, and capability to reason and think. Similarly, there is a hierarchy within the a family itself, where the husband has all the power. Given these points, there is a parallel system within the church and social classes. Morality is guided by practical reasoning which gives any sane individual the resources to contemplate certain ideas that may seem unacceptable or humanly unfair.
But what happens to everyone in the house beneath Orgon, upper class member and husband, if he is acting irrational since he is absurd with his blind faith. He starts to design a world with three forms of unnatural, illogical powers: economic, sexual, and spiritual. This does not reflect well to the community in a economical and spiritual standpoint, especially towards the church, because it seems ludicrous for a well-respected noble man be made a fool of by someone below his status.
Therefore, Orgon looks to be weak in character when he refuses to raise the stakes in a single principle of action which is to use reason. Instead, Orgon shows clear acts of constant threats to rationality which questions his economic standing in his own house. During this time the Catholic Church was a major political power in France, thus creating strong beliefs of what is right from wrong through God’s judgement. Unfortunately, women were only viewed as objects compared to men. Since men have the power in any matrimony, she is his property.
Along with any children they may have together. He has all the say over her body, mind, and spirit. If any other man tries to seduce his wife, hence his property, is a criminal act of theft on top of forbidden adultery. Even though the obvious definition of infidelity is when there is an act of carnal intercourse; a pious man will consider any act of violation of a sacred marriage to be a sin for he is going against the will of God. In other words, how can a religious man, Tartuffe, pledge his deep passions for Orgon’s wife, Elmire.
She is the only rational voice in this scene, because she is confident enough to question Tartuffe’s intentions to unmask his true identity. But, Elmire seems to be more bold and courageous than the rest of the women in the 17th century, which isn’t the norm for women to have such an empowered voice or opinion. Despite what society thinks of her status of a woman, she believes that the ends justify the means even if that leads to put herself in an awkward position to flirt and sexualize herself in order to get what she needs to protect her family.
Opening up his heart to such hypocrisy is a flaw of an unrighteous man who claims to be full of faith. Tartuffe’s defense mechanism is claiming that even a religious man can feel such emotions, but these impure thoughts drive him to unveil his own mask. Ironic for a man who is supposedly full of strong faith to be so easily tempted by a woman’s skin. He is not the religious man he talks himself to be because his treacherous act towards Orgon’s wife attacks all of the unnatural, illogical powers. Tartuffe suggests that having an affair it not a sin if it is kept a secret.
These findings have important implications for the broader domain of Plato’s philosophy of justice, “No one believes justice to be a good when it is kept private, since, whenever either person thinks he can do injustice with impunity, he does it. Indeed, every man believes that injustice is far more profitable to himself than justice,” shows how an unjust man will act clever in order to meet his ends in secret without facing any consequences (Plato Republic, 36). The abuses of power Tartuffe exhibits is economically, sexually, and spiritually because he tried to take a superiors property away out of lust therefore questioning his blind faith.
Moliere even wrote how Tartuffe undermines Orgon’s sanity, “The secret is, I lead him by the nose. He’s urged me to spend all my time with you. So let him see—he won’t believe it’s true,” is too senseless to understand even if he caught them (Moliere, 56). Ultimately, then, Moliere’s goal is to challenge the status quo of testing what you are told. Conversely, the irony in Tartuffe’s rebellious act is he confesses to all of his guilty crimes, but Orgon is yet not convinced that this man he welcomed into his house is unjust.
Orgon only sides with the unrighteous and turns against his own family who have been trying to prove to him that Tartuffe has only been using him for his own personal gains. Orgon’s family is constantly questioning his judgement as to why he doesn’t see that Tartuffe is a fraud. But Tartuffe is doing a great job in flipping things upside down for only Orgon, which shows evidence to Plato’s reputation of injustice, “If any of his unjust activities should be discovered, he must be able to speak persuasively or to use force.
And if force is needed, he must have the help of courage and strength and of the substantial wealth and friends with which he has provided himself,” points out how Tartuffe does not act like a holy man and demonstrates his logic is faulty (Plato Republic, 37). Unfortunately, Orgon is profoundly indoctrinated that he is determined to undermine his family by shunning his own son and giving his own pliable daughter’s hand in marriage to Tartuffe. Should Orgon have the status that he has in this household?
This questioning of authority comes from the inversions within the character, pious to greedy and rational to absurdity. If you don’t question the way things are run then unfairness is obviously not wrong. This ties back to the idea of hierarchy within a household mentioned before. Madame Pernelle, Orgon’s mother, even questions how this house is run in the first scene, “I cannot bear the way this house is run-As id I don’t know how things should be done!.. It’s obvious—the values here aren’t good or everyone would treat me as they should.
The Lord of Misrule here has his dominion—,” which allows the reader to interpret the house to be a representation of how flawed a kingdom is being run. If Orgon has gone mad who is he to rule over his home, his kingdom, if he can’t even see the excessive insincerity going on right in front of him. It is obvious that Orgon is greatly influenced by Tartuffe’s ideals that he has lost his ability to be rational about anything. The church banned this play since it deeply bruises the church’s integrity because this house, “God’s Universe,” is run by a man full of madness and insanity.
In order to prove you characterize as a religious man you’re actions will speak for itself not constantly declaring how much devotion you claim to obtain. Some might claim that evidence Moliere suggests in his play is that Tartuffe undermines religion, but on the contrary, it suggests that Tartuffe makes fun of those who manipulate religion in order to get what they want such as the character Tartuffe. Tartuffe’s actions teach the audience what it means to be unjust and what we should not do.
Orgon played a role of being a loyal friend to Tartuffe by standing up for him each time he was being criticized despite being oblivious to the fact that he was an unholy man. Orgon’s desire to learn to become a religious man and wants of being respected led him to a spiral of insanity, absurdity, and irrationality. The point of this play is to break tradition. For instance, when Orgon tried marrying off his daughter to an unrighteous man she didn’t fight far enough for her voice.
She was raised a certain way to not question her father’s orders which led her to almost be married a certain way. This act attacks three forms of unnatural, illogical powers because Orgon uses his status to undermine anyone who disagrees with him since he lacks sincerity and free will. What righteous leader does that make? God gives the freedom to act however you’d like without the hinderance from other individuals. But, Orgon lacked that ability. Therefore, the church had no choice but to put a stop to the play since it displayed a mad king who couldn’t find his home.