About the art of comedy, Molière says: "You've achieved nothing if you don't make us recognize the people of your age." However, the characters of Molière, who embody behaviors characteristic of his time, built to make people laugh, are not at all realistic! Basing on The Misanthrope, Tartuffe, George Dandin, and comparing them, think about how Molière manages to reconcile these two goals, to make people recognize and laugh. What "vices" of his time Molière attacks in these plays and through which characters and situations? What comic resources does he use to make fun of these "vices" and what these resources allow him to target?

To make people recognize and laugh, Molière creates characters who never become so ridiculous that the audience can’t see that their situations are ultimately quite realistic and relevant.

Expert Answers

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Consider how the characters in The Misanthrope, Tartuffe, and George Dandin aren’t entirely unrealistic. While Molière highlights the over-the-top positions and attitudes adopted by Orgon, Alceste, and Dandin, the characters aren’t so ridiculous as to be implausible. That is, he balances their comic properties with a fair amount of realism. This compromise lets the reader laugh and recognize the misdeeds of society at the same time.

In The Misanthrope, people can laugh at Alceste’s incorrigible idealism. Yet it’s not outrageous, then or now, to want to be in a world free falseness and pretentiousness. Whether it’s in the seventeenth century or the twentieth century, many characters have inveighed against shallowness and hypocrisy. It’s not hard to connect Alceste’s desire for sincerity to Holden Caulfield’s critique of phoniness in J. D. Salinger’s 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye.

In Tartuffe, Orgon’s admiration for the eponymous character is presented as funny, but it’s also a serious problem. People tend to over idealize other people, and such warped perceptions can lead to real problems and harm.

People also tend to treat other people badly. Dandin’s wife and her parents show little more than disdain for him because of how he carries himself. George’s lack of grace might make audience members laugh; however, it isn’t so extreme that it can’t simultaneously make audience members think about how people are often mistreated for superficial reasons.

Overall, it’s possible to argue that the goal of making people laugh isn’t so different from the goal of making people recognize some of the important issues of their time. As Molière’s plays demonstrate, comedy can be used to address critical matters.

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