According to Oscar Brockett, “When Tartuffe was written in 1664, it was immediately denounced as an attack on religious piety. The controversy was so intense that Louis XIV forbade the play’s production.” Even when it was rewrittenin 1667 it was still banned.
Q: How has Moliere rewritten the play to make it acceptable to the king?
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While Moliere's satire of the religious order during the reign of Louis XIV was probably not far from reality, it is noteworthy that the clergy held a high position in France as part of the Second Estate, which was just under that of royalty and the court. In fact, while the Norman tradition left the family estate to the eldest son, few provisions were made for the other sons. Therefore, among the aristocrats, these second and third sons entered the clergy where, like their older brother, they could be near the powerful, and, at the same time, they held important positions in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. It is not surprising, then, that many who entered the clergy did not possess the religious fervor expected of them. Tartuffe is such a hypocrite.
In order to make his character acceptable to the clergy who complained to the king, the patron of the playwright, Moliere changed Tartuffe into "an Impostor" as the title states, a man who is "not of the cloth," but who makes a show of Puritanical propensities. But, although he is an impostor, Tartuffe is identifiable as of the clergy as he makes friends with an aristocrat.
In Act V, Scene I as he speaks to Orgon, Cleante, the voice of reason in the play tells his father
You've recognized your recent grave mistake In falling victim to a pious fake; Now, to correct that error, must you embrace An even greater error in its place, And judge our worthy neighbors as a whole By what you've learned of one corrupted soul? Come, just because one rascal made you swallow A show of zeal which turned out to be hollow, Shall you conclude that all men are deceivers, And that, today, there are no true believers? Let atheists make that foolish inference.
Another problem that presented itself was the ending of Moliere's play. But. the King's officer catches up with the nefarious Tartuffe, accompanying him to the house of Orgon where Tartuffe expects the officer to arrest Orgon. However, the officer apprehends Tartuffe, who has stolen property from Orgon. Further, he returns the property to its owner. This deus ex machina is a tribute to the omnipotence of the French King, who is only answerable to God.
Again, Cleante acts as the voice of reason as he urges his father to forget his grievances, and he, too, pays tribute to the king:
Leave the poor wretch to his present fate,
And don’t say anything to aggravate
His present woes; but rather hope that he
Will soon embrace an honest piety,
And mend his ways, and by a true repentance
Move our just King to moderate his sentence.
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