In Tartuffe and The Misanthrope, what are some examples of "comedy always jarring us with the evidence that we are no better than other people, and always comforting us with the knowledge that...

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There is a definite sense that in both of these plays, the audience recognise a dangerous propensity in themselves to fall victim to precisely the same kind of faults that Orgon and Alceste give into. For example, part of the comedy in Tarfuffe is rather uneasily based on the propensity of Orgon to stick by his first impressions of people, namely Tartuffe, and not to allow those first impressions to be shaken whatever evidence is presented before him. It is only after his wife takes matters into her own hands and allows him to witness Tartuffe trying to woo her that he realises his mistake, as he says in Act IV scene 7:

For a long time I couldn't bring myself to believe that this was how things were and went on thinking I'd hear you change your tune. But now the evidence has gone far enough.

The audience might well laugh at just how "far" the evidence has had to go for Orgon to be convinced of Tartuffe's treachery, but the reality is that human nature does not easily admit mistakes, and often stubborness will cause humans to carry on believing well or badly of somebody even when evidence is available that suggests the contrary.

The same is true of Alceste with his absurd extremes of eschewing hypocrisy and deceit. His final words as he leaves the play in the final scene show how ridiculous he is being in his inability to live in a world where there is hypocrisy and deceit:

...I mean to escape from this abyss where vice reigns triumphant and scour the world for some place so remote that there a man might be free to live as honour bids.

Again, as wih Orgon, Alceste's character is made a thing of comedy by his extreme response to this situation. However, the audience is only laughing at its own propensity to respond to such evils in society with a similar high-blown and ridiculous response. Alceste's problem is that he is unable to moderate how he reacts to the evil in society, and this all or nothing approach makes his character hilarious. Yet, as with all comedy, the humour is double-edged, as Moliere is encouraging his audience to laugh at precisely the same kind of faults that humans so often display.


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