Tartuffe: A Hypocritical Holy Man

Authored by Kelly Blabolil

Covers of programs of production for Tartuffe that were found in a folder of the William Harris papers at Marymount Manhattan College.

Tartuffe by Molière was originally written in French and first performed on May 12, 1664. It was performed at Palace of Versailles in France. Being that it was Molière’s most famous theatrical comedy, it was adapted and performed all over the world throughout the last four centuries. 

Tartuffe is a wondering holy man who tricks his way into the affections of the rich Orgon by pretending to be a vigorous character that he entirely lacks (Crisp and Cowton 1994). Orgon then decides to take Tartuffe’s advice on everything, bribing and praising Tartuffe, although Orgon’s family tries to convince him not to. The rest of Orgon’s family sees Tartuffe for what he really is: a hypocrite. Orgon’s decision to put blind-faith into a man he just met based on his word, and not his actions of morals and values of religion almost costs him everything. In the end, Tartuffe is arrested, leaving the audience relieved and satisfied.

Molière’s Tartuffe is well known for its underlining hypocritical approach to religion. In Molière’s time, clergy men were viewed as hypocrites because many of these so-called spiritual advisers were no more than parasites (Orwen 1968). They were “holy” men who preached about sacrificing one’s love for the love of others but then pocketed the money and took advantage of others for pleasure. By having Tartuffe being portrayed as a clergy man and the antagonist, and presenting Orgon’s family as the protagonists going up against Tartuffe, “Molière presents a dangerously secular worldview by proposing that moral goodness can exist outside the Church’s sphere of influence” (Smith 2016).

Tartuffe was originally written as a three-act play, and on May 12, 1664 performed in front of King Louis XIV. Though he had read it before hand, on that day he found it diverting, and it was swept off the stage for the next five years. Molière then “reworked his first three acts into a full-dress five-act comedy, then altered the name and livened up the near- clerical garb of his protagonist in a vain show of conciliation” (Gutwirth 1977, 33). Despite Molière’s efforts, the king and the group known as “La Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement” did not allow his play to be preformed because the play was deeply scandalized both in the social elite and segments of the clergy (Gale, a Cengage Company 2011, 565). The rewrite of the play is the one that is known and performed today.

Tartuffe, in a very unorthodox way, reflects the Vincentian values due to the lack of values Tartuffe displays throughout the play. In order to live by a Vincentian life, there are core values to follow, and “These core values function as tools in guiding our daily thought and actions” (Angel n.d., 2). Tartuffe used religious virtue as a pawn in order to gain Orgon ‘s trust, although Tartuffe demonstrated that he was only interested in taking Orgons’s possessions. Tartuffe’s words did not reflect his actions, and in the end he was punished for it. Orgon and his family, who demonstrated loyal and trust, were left in the play with a happy ending.

Resources

Angel, Christine M. n.d. “Information Representation through the Vincentian Lens of Transparency: Providing the Under and Misrepresented with a Voice within Our Cultural Heritage Records.” Evolution of Teaching Philosophy: 1–7. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1VkY3xbRv1Ikuny5LApVmVWmSiZ81OTtUyJ6aSl_I3xo/.

Crisp, Roger, and Christopher Cowton. 1994. “Hypocrisy and Moral Seriousness.” American Philosophical Quarterly 31, no. 4 (1994): 343-49. www.jstor.org/stable/20009796.

Gutwirth, Marcel. 1977. “Tartuffe and the Mysteries.” PMLA 92, no. 1 (1977): 33-40. Accessed March 11, 2020. doi:10.2307/461412.

“Molière.” 2011. In New Catholic Encyclopedia Supplement 2011, edited by Robert L. Fastiggi, 565-567. Vol. 2. Detroit, MI: Gale, 2011. Gale eBooks. https://link-gale-com.jerome.stjohns.edu/apps/doc/CX1393000228/GPS?u=nysl_me_stjn&sid=GPS&xid=14452fdf.

Orwen, Gifford P. 1968. “Tartuffe Reconsidered.” The French Review 41, no. 5 (1968): 611-17. www.jstor.org/stable/386046.

Smith, Daniel. 2016. “Controversy in French Drama: Molière’s Tartuffe and the Struggle for Influence.” Comparative Drama 50 (1) (Spring): 125-128,134. https://jerome.stjohns.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.jerome.stjohns.edu/docview/1814287014?accountid=14068.

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