The comedy Tartuffe, written by Jean-Babtiste Moliere, is undoubtedly a satire; the question is what is the poem a satire of: the Catholic religion itself, or the hypocrites within the Church and their corruption? I believe the latter to be the focus of Moliere's commentary.
It is apparent throughout Tartuffe that Moliere has an admiration for religion, as practiced by genuinely pious and humble individuals. Cleante is a character who personifies rationality throughout the play. His character becomes the active voice and is used by Molier as an instrument to express his own ideas and to present several of the comedy's themes. In Act I, Cleante shares his views with Orgon, who is being fooled by the hypocrisy of Tartuffe, saying, "There is nothing I more revere than a soul whose faith is steadfast and sincere, nothing that I more cherish and admire than honest zeal and true religious fire" (p. 322). In this speech, Moliere's respect for religion is evident. Moliere believed in the value of sincere devoutness. While he felt that hypocrisy and corruption did exist in the Church, he did not advocate the abandonment of faith and religion. This contention is a primary theme in Tartuffe.
Moliere's comedy disapproves of those who worship merely for show. In referring to hypocrites, and more specifically Tartuffe, Cleante proclaims, "So there is nothing that I find more base than specious piety's dishonest face- than these bold mountebanks, these histrios whose impious mummeries and hollow shows exploit our love of Heaven" (p.322). From statements such as this, it is evident that Moliere's intent for this play was to satirize hypocrites within the church. However, church officials damned Tartuffe as "a play which offends piety" filled with "abominations from beginning to end" (p. 306)? When King Louis XIV asked why so much commotion was being made by the Catholic Church over Tartuffe, his prince replied "It is because the comedy of
Moliere makes fun of them,...
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