The context surrounding the period in which Tartuffe was written in, the 17th Century is remembered as being a time of extreme power for the French Monarchy. King Louis XIV and Cardinal Richelieu transformed France’s feudal monarchy to an absolute monarchy. What must also be noted about this time is the fact that the Catholic Church and Politicians had a great deal of power over authors and playwrights. In this time of social and religious persecution, Molière created Tartuffe , a comedy dealing with hypocrisy and to a great extent, religion and how religion can be used in a negative way, to mask sin. The play is known to be offensive towards the Catholic Church and religion in general. When it was first performed in 1664, it was censored, it then took 5 years, until 1669 for the revised version of the play to be authorised. However it was and still is criticised by the religious community, as they believe Molière is attacking faith causing offense and a perception that he’s trying to destroy people’s faith in religion. A quote which adequately expresses the central meaning of the play and which shows that the play is an attack on religion, in particular the Catholic Church is in Molière a playwright and his audience, By William Driver Hawarth (p.203) and states; “Molière is not only ridiculing the beliefs of real-life bigots in the society in which he lived, more than that, he is making a forceful statement by comic means about habits of thought common to bigoted thinkers in every age, people who use authority of church or political party as the justification for anti-social attitudes or inhuman activities”. This suggests that Molière isn’t attacking religion as a whole, but particular individuals who abuse religion and defy the object of ‘faith’. Therefore, In order to assess to what degree Molière is attacking the Catholic Church in the play, it is important to analyse the characters within the play, and whether they are hypocrites or true believers. If they are seen to be hypocrites, it calls into question why they are using their faith in an inappropriate way.
The character Tartuffe is a confident man who disguises his evilness by being pious. Religion is Tartuffe’s source of power. He uses religion to initially be accepted into Orgon’s house, and Orgon feels great respect for him, purely because he is religious. With this knowledge in mind, Tartuffe cunningly plays on the fact that he is truly religious to get away with adultery and stealing, two of the things told not to do in the basic guidelines of Christianity, the Ten Commandments. Tartuffe therefore believes that just because he is religious and has done a few good deeds, he has the power to walk into a family’s home, take their money, try and marry Mariane and starts a love affair with Elmire. It is clear that Tartuffe abuses his religious status in many ways and Molière exposes this very well in many situations during the play using language technique. Tartuffe as a character who usually confuses the language of the play,making it more complicated, which may make him sound more superior but really is a way of covering up his true meaning. He also interprets religious language to his will. This is shown in many crucial points of the play, the first example being when he tells Elmire in Act 4 Scene 5; Le Ciel défend, de vrai, certains contentements ;
Mais on trouve avec lui des accommodements ;
Selon divers besoins, il est une science
D’étendre les liens de notre conscience
Et de rectifier le mal de l’action
Avec la pureté de notre intention.
This shows that Tartuffe is completely ignoring the Ten Commandments, something which a religious person would consider a sin they are the basic guidelines of Christianity. Instead he decides to draw up his own set of rules and does it through language. This shows the extreme to which Tartuffe and perhaps people in general can misuse religion which is a terrible crime and particularly significant during...