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Summary Of Tartuffe And Enlightenment English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1185 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In his play, Tartuffe, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin Moliere uses reasoning by different characters to attempt to solve the dilemma posed by the play. The cast includes a family, a servant, and a conniving hypocrite. Orgon, the father of the family, is convinced that Tartuffe (who is a devious hypocrite) is a pious individual whose benevolence to others has made him a penniless saint. Orgon has provided a place for Tartuffe in his home and feels that his family should unconditionally accept Tartuffe. Orgon’s mother, Madame Pernelle appears to be the only other family member who is convinced that Tartuffe is a saint. Orgon has irrationally and unconditionally accepted Tartuffe to such a point that he is willing to give his daughter Mariane in marriage to Tartuffe. However, Mariane is in love with another person and has no desire to marry Tartuffe. As the play unfolds, there are attempts by different characters to use reason to convince Orgon and his mother that Tartuffe is not the devout religious individual he is attempting to portray.

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In the opening act of the play, Madame Pernelle is rebuking her grandson, Damis (Mariane’s brother), concerning his attitude toward Tartuffe. Dorine, Mariane’s maid, speaks up and attempts through reason to convince Madame Pernelle that Tartuffe is a “fraud.” When Madame Pernelle states that Tartuffe is disliked because he points out sin in their life, Dorine responds “If sin is all that bothers him, why is it He’s so upset when folk drop in to visit? Is Heaven so outraged by a social call…” She attempts to show Madame Pernelle that Tartuffe gets upset and is making an innocent visit more than what “Heaven” would classify as sin. She tries to point out that it is actually jealousy toward the visitors that upsets Tartuffe and makes him accuse others of sin to justify the jealousy in his own heart.

In another scene Orgon’s brother-in-law, Cléante, also attempts through reason to convince Orgon that he has been brainwashed into thinking that Tartuffe is a saint. After Orgon extols the virtues of Tartuffe, Cléante responds by making a contrast of Tartuffe to someone who is of genuine character. He tells Orgon that “just as those whose courage shines the most in battle, are the least inclined to boast, So those whose hearts are truly pure and lowly Don’t make a flashy show of being holy. There’s a vast difference, so it seems to me Between true piety and hypocrisy.” Cléante continues to attempt through reason to convince Orgon that there is a difference between a saint and a person such as Tartuffe who “recklessly pursues his inclination Beyond the narrow bounds of moderation.” Cléante is quite eloquent in trying to show that a truly pious person does not flaunt their good deeds as Tartuffe is doing, and neither is a truly saintly person intemperate. However, Cléante’s use of reasoning to contrast Tartuffe against the characteristics of a true saint does not seem to persuade Orgon that Tartuffe is a hypocrite.

Dorine, Mariane’s maid, also attempts to use reason to convince Orgon of his foolishness concerning his intention of marrying Mariane to Tartuffe. In Act II Scene 2, Orgon accuses Dorine of eavesdropping when he is telling Mariane that she will marry Tartuffe. She appeals to Orgon’s reasoning that the propriety of their culture would prohibit such a marriage. She states that Tartuffe is not equal to Orgon’s family in terms of “wealth and rank.” She continues by questioning why Orgon would “pick out a beggar son-in-law.” Orgon responds to Dorine’s accusation that Tartuffe is unfit to be his son-in-law by excusing Tartuffe on the premise of his religious character and points out that Tartuffe was a wealthy individual at one time who fell to misfortune due to his benevolence. Dorine again tries to reason with Orgon that Tartuffe’s bragging about his supposedly previous wealth does not parallel with a pious person. She states “Such pride goes very ill with piety. A man whose spirit spurns this dungy earth Ought not to brag of lands and noble birth.” As she is speaking, Dorine then realizes that Orgon is not listening to reasoning concerning Tartuffe’s lack of spiritual piety, so she attempts to use a different tactic in reasoning with Orgon concerning the mismatch between Tartuffe and Mariane. She points out that when a person is forced to marry someone they do not love, it is easy for that person to fall to temptation and not be a faithful spouse. She tells Orgon that he would be held responsible for his daughter’s sin if he were to force her hand in marriage to Tartuffe and she ended up falling prey to temptation.

Even Damis (Orgon’s son) thinks that he can use reason to persuade his father of Tartuffe’s hypocrisy. Damis overhears Tartuffe making sexual advances toward his stepmother, Elmire. Damis feels that now he has “proof” that will justify their feelings toward Tartuffe and that such proof will reasonably convince his father that Tartuffe is an incorrigible character. He tells his father that Tartuffe has “repaid with interest” the kindness shown to him by a “whole adulterous offer” to Elmire, Orgon’s wife. Damis’ efforts are foiled by Tartuffe’s own response to the accusation. Tartuffe portrays a hypocritical humility to Orgon and makes Orgon go to the extent to disown his own son and will his entire fortune to Tartuffe.

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Although multiple attempts were made by different characters to solve the problem of Orgon and his mother being deceived by Tartuffe and prevent a calamitous marriage, it was only when Elmire goes to the extent to play along with Tartuffe’s sexual advances while Orgon is hidden under the table that Orgon finally is convinced of Tartuffe’s true character. When Orgon actually hears Tartuffe’s advances toward his wife, he can no longer believe that Tartuffe is a saintly character. At this point, Orgon can no longer ignore the reasoning from other family members and a servant concerning their opinion of the man he has so generously endowed.

Throughout the play, it is very apparent that Moliere was portraying how a person can allow feelings such as pity or compassion towards another human being to override one’s ability to rationalize and realize that what the person says and how he acts must parallel if that person is truly a saintly individual with no ulterior motives. He makes it very apparent that when a person allows emotion to override reasoning, it is very difficult to rationalize with that person. Moliere did an outstanding job of proving this point with his story concerning Orgon allowing emotion-alism to overcome his ability to use reason and see the true character of Tartuffe even to the point that Organ nearly lost his own family, fortune and reputation.


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