One early version of the play was called Tartuffe, or The Hypocrite. What implications does that title have, and how do they differ from those of the present title? Which more accurately captures the themes of the play?
When Moliere first wrote this play, the character of Tartuffe was a priest, making his lustful advances and immoral behavior all the more horrible. Because the monarchy and the church disapproved of the title and the implications it had on church heirarchy, Moliere changed the title to Tartuffe and changed Tartuffe's profession from priest to mere con-artist. Tartuffe's behavior is certainly hypocritical. He pretends to be a religious man and advocates chaste behavior for everyone. He then rationalizes his own lustful behavior by saying that because Elmire is a beautiful creation of God, his lustful advances are somehow worshipful. By changing the title, Moliere also tacitly changes the theme of the play from a criticism ofTartuffe's hypocrisy and thus the hypocritical behavior of the church to a criticism of immoderate behavior in general. All of the characters have an overblown character trait that they must conquer. Though, as the title is Tartuffe, his immoderate character traits, lust and hypocrisy, are obviously the ones we as an audience should focus on the most. In short, by changing the title, the emphasis and articulation of the themes is changed. The title, The Hypocrite, and Tartuffe's profession, priest, were supposed to be and indictment of the hypocrisy of the church. By changing the title, that indictment is no longer there. The theme changes.
Tartuffe as a title makes the play more about the character of Tartuffe. This is good and bad. It clarifies the focus of the play as the character, rather than the role or the general society who let them be deceived by con-artists such as Tartuffe.
Calling it The Hypocrite however, makes the focus the whole family, and therefore it is a more direct critique of society. But he did have to change stuff because of the pressure of the church on what he could publish. Many other characters can be hypocritical at times, it is not just Tartuffe.