How is Jean-Baptiste Moliere's Tartuffe representative of the Enlightenment?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Moliere's farce Tartuffe ridicules demonstrative religious zeal that excludes reason and leads to folly. Rather than listening to the reasonable objections of others in his household, the wealthy Orgon invites Tartuffe into his home where he is duped by this impostor, believing him a humble and holy man when, in truth, Tartuffe is licentious and greedy. So fooled is Orgon that he succumbs to the oppressive force of Tartuffe by arranging for his daughter to marry this hypocrite, and by even giving Tartuffe his fortune.

This blind faith of Orgon is reflected in his mother, Madame Pernelle, who insists that Tartuffe is a good man, to whom others should listen. In Act I, she scolds her grandson Damis,

He[Tartuffe] is a good man and should be listened to; I can 't best, with patience , to hear him cavilled at such a fool as you.

Later, her son echoes her words in his slavish devotion to this "holy man" as he tells his brother-in-law, Cleante, his brother-in-law,

Bother, you would be charmed did you know him, and there would be no end of your raptures. He is a man that...Who always practices as he directs, enjoys a profound peace,....you can hardly imagine how good he is....

Dorine, a servant, comments that Tartuffe puts on a ‘‘pious mask’’ in order to gain financially from Orgon's devotion to him. Cléante later urges Orgon to admit that he has made the mistake of believing Tartuffe's "mask" of piety is the face of his true nature. Finally, it takes the empirical experiment--a method of solving scientific problems used by the leading minds of the field of science--to convince Orgon of the man's sordid nature. For, Elmire, his wife, has Orgon hide under a table so that he can overhear the attempts of Tartuffe to seduce her. 

Much like the great thinker of the Enlightenment, Voltaire, Moliere presents the folly of intolerance in one's thinking and religious fervor as the hypocrite Tartuffe attempts to steal Orgon's daughter and his property. It is not until reason and empirical proof--those traits of the thinkers of the Enlightenment--are used that Orgon comes to realize the true nature of the impostor.

 

 

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