Tartuffe Themes

Themes

Religious Hypocrisy versus True Christian Virtue
The central theme of Tartuffe is the exploration of religious hypocrisy in contrast to true Christian virtue. Tartuffe is a hypocrite because he creates an outward appearance of extreme piety and religious devotion, while secretly leading a life of crime and immoral behavior. Throughout the play, various characters refer to Tartuffe as a hypocrite and can see clearly that he does not practice what he preaches. For example, Tartuffe instructs his servant to tell anyone who asks that he is busy giving out charity to the poor and downtrodden—whereas, in fact, he is busy trying to seduce the wife of his friend. Tartuffe also displays an outward show of religious devotion by assuming a stance of moral authority and telling everyone else in the household how to behave.

In contrast to Tartuffe's hypocritical behavior in regard to religious devotion, Molière offers a view of true Christian virtue in the character of Cléante. Throughout the play, Cléante expresses ideas about true Christian virtue as opposed to religious hypocrisy. Cléante points out to Orgon that there are many people leading truly virtuous lives who do not feel the need to prove to everyone else how devout they are. Furthermore, Cléante points out that "The truly pious people...are not the ones who make the biggest show.'' Cléante adds that, ‘‘True piety's not hard to recognize’’; he describes those genuinely moral people who, rather than showing off their religious devotion,"practice what they preach,’’ in the sense that they ‘‘judge with charity and wish men well'' and "mainly seek to lead a virtuous life.’’ Cléante comments that he feels no need to show off his religious devotion for others to see because, ‘‘Heaven sees my heart.’’ In the final moments of the play, Cléante again demonstrates his deeply felt devotion to Christian morality, particularly the value of forgiveness. When Orgon learns that Tartuffe has been arrested for a long list of crimes, he begins to voice his desire to see Tartuffe suffer for his betrayal. However, Cléante cuts Orgon off in mid-sentence in order to point out that he should not desire revenge against Tartuffe, but should hope that Tartuffe will repent for his sins, and even that he will be granted a lighter sentence by the King. Cléante thus voices the play's message regarding the...

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