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    Religious attacks Essay (1931 words)

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    The Religious Attacks Made By “Tartuffe”Moliere (whose real name was Jean-Baptiste Poquelin) rocked the 17th century French world withhis comedy “Tartuffe” in 1664. Although, religious factions kept the play banned from theatres from1664-1669, “Tartuffe” emerged from the controversy as one of the all-time great comedies. Tartuffe is a convincing religious hypocrite. He is a parasite who is sucking Orgon, the richtrusting father, for all he is worth. Orgon does not realize that Tartuffe is a phony, and caters to hisevery whim. For instance, he reneges on his promise to let his daughter Mariane, marry Valere.

    Insteadhe demands that she wed Tartuffe, whom she despises. He also banishes his own son, Damis, from hishouse for speaking out against Tartuffe and all of his son’s inheritance is promised to Tartuffe. Tartuffe is nothing more than a traveling confidence man who veils his true wickedness with amask of piety. Orgon and his mother Madame Pernelle are completely taken in by this charade.

    On theother hand, Cleante, Elmire, and Dorine see Tartuffe for the fake that he really is. Cleante is Orgon’selegantly about Tartuffe’s hypocrisy. Through Cleante, Moliere most plainly reveals his theme. Spare me your warnings, Brother; I have no fearOf speaking out, for you and Heaven to hear,Against affected zeal and pious knavery. There’s true and false in piety, as in bravery,And just as those whose courage shines the mostIn battle, are least inclined to boast,So those whose hearts are truly pure and lowlyDon’t make a flashy show of being holy (Meyer 1466).

    In speeches such as these, Moliere wanted to get across the fact that it was false piety he wascondemning and not religion in general. In the preface to the play, which Moliere himself wrote, hebluntly states this. ” If one takes the trouble to examine my comedy in good faith, he will surely seethat my intentions are innocent throughout, and tend in no way to make fun of what men revere; that Ihave presented the subject with all the precautions that its delicacy imposes; and that I have used allthe art and skill that I could to distinguish clearly the character of the hypocrite from that of theThe play successfully conveys this message because Tartuffe is a first-class villain. He is asmanipulative as Lady Macbeth, as greedy as Prince John, as underhanded as Modred, and as clever as DarthVader. Through his every word and deed it becomes more apparent that he is thoroughly bad.

    Morespecifically, he not only wants to marry Orgon’s daughter, but wants to defile his wife as well. He isnot satisfied with living off of Orgon’s wealth but wants to possess it. At no time in the play doesTartuffe resemble a truly pious man. The play never mocks God, but only those who use his name to preyThe part of the fool is played to the hilt by Orgon.

    Throughout the first three acts he is sucha domineering idiot that he is not even worth pitying. He, along with his mother, play the part of theblind zealot. What he chooses to call Christian love leads him to punish his family and himself becausehe takes away their freedom of choice and integrity and his own property. But, Orgon is not content tofollow Tartuffe alone. He demands that his family also follow. He becomes a threat to their happinesswhen the comedic scheming by the family begins.

    Dorine, Mariane’s maid, uses her earthy wit to convince Mariane and Valere not to docilelyaccept Orgon’s judgement. Damis, Orgon’s son, testifies against Tartuffe’s scandalous behavior withElmire. Cleante continues to offer Orgon sage advice and Elmire conspires to set a trap for Tartuffewhere Orgon can witness firsthand the ungrateful hypocrite’s actions. Dorine and Orgon almost come to blows, Damis is banished, and Cleante is ignored.

    Only Elmiresucceeds. She hides Orgon under a table while pretending to play along with Tartuffe’s advances. Evenwhen Orgon witnesses Tartuffe’s treachery firsthand it takes him a while to accept it. Elmire, by thistime, has so little faith in her husband that she begins to think he is going to stay under the table andlet Tartuffe ravish her.

    The turning point in the play is when Orgon comes out and confronts Tartuffe. Tartuffe, rather than accept that he has been caught, vows that he will have Orgon’s property yet. Sincehe now controls Orgon’s property, he arranges to have Orgon’s family evicted. Only the king’s benevolentintervention saves Orgon’s family and Tartuffe is arrested. With this tidy conclusion, Moliere not only conforms to the standard for comedies of his day, butalso shows that religious hypocrisy will lose in the end. When Tartuffe was seen for what he really was,he was despised by one and all.

    Religious leaders saw the scrutiny that this play would cause them to besubjected to and caused it to be banned for that reason. But, as in the play, justice won out in the endand the play was exhibited freely after five years of bondage. The fact that religious leaders could keep “Tartuffe” banned for so long shows that they hadpower in realms not normally delegated to religious officials. When looking at “Tartuffe” from ahistorical standpoint it becomes apparent that Moliere is condemning those who would use religion to gain”To understand the violent reaction to “Tartuffe”, we must look briefly at the place of churchand faith in the intellectual, cultural, and political life of the times because they had importantfunctions beyond religious and moral guidance. ” (Walker 60).

    When Moliere decided to satirize human behavior in “Tartuffe” he struck a nerve with a powerfulentity, the church. No matter how unlikely it seems to us three-hundred years later, these people tookreligion seriously. “Tartuffe” was released at the same time that Cardinal Richelieu was making hisinfamous rise to power. Because of this, there was, “increasing pressure on all segments of society to conform” (Walker 61).

    Moliere obviously was notconforming to the popular religious dogma of the day and this was seen as a threat, even though he hadthe support of Louis XIV. Despite the support of the king, the play was banned. This is testimony tojust how much power the religious officials had. The French had been deeply split over matters of religion in the years preceeding the play. Thishad led to a war between the Catholics and Protestants. Religious groups sided with various noblemen whowere struggling for power.

    This became known as the Battle of the “Frondes”. After this war concluded,there emerged a belief that the main danger to national unity lie in heresy. “Agnostic, free-thinkingideas were very much present, although carefully screened for fear of the real possibility of executionfor heresy” (Walker 61). This attempt to restrain free thinking was challenged by Moliere and he wasshot down for it.

    One critic wrote an especially scathing review of “Tartuffe”, in which, ” the authorof ‘Tartuffe’ was represented as practically the Antichrist” (Fernandez 39). The church and state were each fully supportive of the other. Hence, “a clever man likeRichelieu could pursue interlocking careers in the church hierarchy and government. One path to temporalpower was ecclesiastical, not only over the spirits of men but in the political and social sense”(Walker 61).

    A similar path was followed by the “imposter”, Tartuffe. Both used arranged marriages tocreate a political stronghold. Both were intent on getting rid of resistance. Most importantly, bothused their power in the spiritual realm to increase their power in the political realm. At the end ofplay Tartuffe appears to have done just this by taking over the hapless Orgon’s estate.

    Only the king’sintervention prevents this. The king apparently knew what was going on the whole time and was merelywaiting to catch Tartuffe red-handed. “With one keen glance, the king perceived the whole, perversenessand corruption of his soul, and thus high heaven’s justice was displayed; Betraying you, the rogue stoodself-betrayed” (Meyer 1507). With this ending Moliere pointed out that there will be no stop to thehypocrite’s outrages unless someone in power puts an end to it. Despite the attacks of the clergy, Moliere remained a strong believer that comedy knows noprivileged classes.

    The church’s shortcomings were every bit as eligible to be laughed at as the commonpeasants. It is the privilege of a comic writer to remain aloof from society around him in order to beable to point out issues that others either do not notice, or do not wish to tackle. In the case of”Tartuffe”, it was an issue that was taboo for others to speak of. Even King Louis himself was scared togo against the “divine judgement” of the church.

    The Holy Sacrament decided to ban the play before ithad even been publicly performed. Nevertheless, “the king pressed Moliere to stage his comedy at courtat the first possible moment” (Fernandez 119). After the ban on the play was finally lifted, it becameMoliere’s most successful play. This suggests that both the nobility and the public enjoyed seeing theChurch subjected to scrutiny, although they could never say as much!with their words. In essence, Moliere became a champion of the people by mocking the hypocrites whoused religion to rise to power. Since this breed included some of the most powerful men in France atthat time, the move was especially bold.

    In fact, it caused Moliere to be in conflict with the churchfor the rest ofhis life. For instance, at his deathbed, “his wife was absent, trying fruitlessly topersuade a priest to give him the last rites” (Bishop X). “The Church preferred to regard him as adisreputable player, and was disinclined to grant him religious burial” (Gassner XII). It is obvious that the play “Tartuffe” contains a meaning much deeper than an amusing littleanecdote. Trying to decide which of these methods is more effective is possible only by using thefollowing basic criteria. Which viewpoint captures the essence of the religious theme Moliere was tryingWhen reading the casual reader will see that Moliere is attacking religious hypocrites.

    Whilethe play will be amusing, and possibly will convey it’s point, the reader cannot possibly understand thefull weight the play carries without knowing the historical background behind it. For instance whenCleante declares, “So there is nothing that I find more base, Than specious piety’s dishonest face,Than these bold mountebanks, these histories, Whose impious mummeries and hollow shows” (Meyer 1467). Throughout the play, one will observe the parallels between the villain, Tartuffe, and religious leadersof Moliere’s day, specifically Cardinal Richelieu. It is obvious that Moliere detested the way that menlike this rose to power. Cleante speaks out, saying, “(these men) exploit our love of Heaven, and make ajest, Of all that men think holiest and best; These calculating souls who offer prayers, Not to theirMaker, but as public wares” (Meyer 1467). He is condemning false religion, religion which is used onlyto gain political power.

    During Moliere’s lifetime he had seen Richelieu rise through the politicalranks, using religion as a springboard, until he was the king’s chief minister. This is the “falsepiety” Cleante condemns in the play. By looking at “Tartuffe” historically it becomes clear the courage it took for Moliere toperform this play, knowing that he would be ostracized by the church for the rest of his life. AtMoliere’s death, Bishop Bossuet said, “God is showing his anger against Moliere” (Bishop X). However,by using the historical viewpoint, we can see that Moliere actually died a hero, knowing that he hadBibliography:Works CitedBishop, Morris. Eight Plays By Moliere.

    New York:The Modern Library, 1957. Fernandez, Ramon. Moliere: The Man Seen Through the Plays. New York:Hill and Wang, 1958. Gassner, John. Comedies of Moliere.

    New York:The Book League of America, 1946. Meyer, Michael. The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1989.

    Walker, Hallam. Moliere. Boston:Twayne Publishers, 1990.

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