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  • Topic: Tartuffe, Molière, Circle in the Square Theatre
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Theme of Deception in Tartuffe

Throughout time, man has used many forms of deception to get what they want. Moliere’s play Tartuffe is a classical story about deception and how a “mask” is used to hide someone’s true intentions. Moliere applies the idea of a mask and a theme of deception to exploit the power struggles within a traditional household. The character Tartuffe employs deception so he can achieve social and economical standings while Elmire, Mariane, and Dorine use deception to defy the authority of Orgon over the entire household and to help bring back family harmony. In the play Tartuffe, one of fundamental theme is deception. The biggest hypocrite in this play is the character named Tartuffe. He is able to create a superficial appearance of extreme godliness and religious fervor. In secret, Tartuffe really led a life of crime and was morally challenged. All through the play, the other characters make reference to Tartuffe as being a charlatan, fraud, and imposter. An imposter is someone, “who practices deception under an assumed character, identity, or name” (1). Fortunately, some of the characters can see right through him and feel that he does not practice what he preaches.

All through Tartuffe, the word mask is used frequently and helps validate the theme of deception. The play’s poignant energy derives not from “the simple discrepancy of man and mask in Tartuffe (“Is not a face quite different from a mask?” inquires the normative character Cleante, who has no trouble making such distinction) but from the struggles for erotic, psychic, and economic power in which people employ their masks” (Lawall 304). Now a mask is, “anything that disguises or conceals; disguise; pretense” (3). The use of a mask in this play seems to represent the way in which individuals tend to give an outward appearance to others that in all actually hide their true nature. For instance, Tartuffe tells his servant that if anyone was looking for him to let the person know he was busy offering charity to the prisons, “to share my last few coins with the poor wretches there:” (Lawall 335). He does not go to the prisons to offer his services and only wants to everyone to believe he is a good man.

Some characters, like Dorine and Cleante, communicate the concept of a mask in relation to Tartuffe himself. Other characters that see Tartuffe’s mask are Dorine and Cleante. Dorine is Mariane’s lady’s maid. Though she is just a servant, she possesses an extremely strong personality. She is never fears speaking out against Orgon or anyone else she disagrees with. Also, Dorine sees right through Tartuffe’s mask and deception, “You see him as a saint. I’m far less awed; In fact, I see right through him. He’s a fraud” (Lawall 315). She knows that Tartuffe is trying to gain economically from Orgon due to Orgon’s devotion and admiration to him. Cleante is Orgon’s brother-in-law. He tries to convince Organ that Tartuffe is using him for money and influence. Moreover, he tries to point out to Orgon that there are lots of pious people who live moral lives without making a public show of their piety. Cleante says, “ There’s true and false in piety, as in bravery, And 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: How do you fail to see it, may I ask? Is not a face quite different from a mask?” (Lawall 321). Additionally, he indicates to Orgon of his mistake in believing Tartuffe’s mask of piousness instead of seeing Tartuffe’s true nature. Furthermore, he informs Orgon that he ought to learn how to distinguish between such phony facades and the true intentions of those around him. Nonetheless, Orgon still does not believe Cleante or his advice in reference to Tartuffe. (Brent).

Interestingly, Tartuffe is not the only one who...
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