Cleante: A True Enlightenment Man
Moliere’s Tartuffe is from 17th century France, during the Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason. The type of Enlightenment in the western culture differed from the Eastern Asian philosophies. Enlightenment thinkers put faith in reason and analysis in the Western culture. Tartuffe was born to a culture that valued the age of rationalism, or practical thinking, which had gradually departed from religious beginnings. Furthermore, people in Paris were interested in Enlightenment values such as rationality, moderation, and order. In addition, good manners and gender roles were strictly enforced during this time period. Moliere demonstrates all of these Enlightenment values in his play. The difference between true religious virtue and religious hypocrisy is, of course, one of the main themes of Tartuffe. Molière’s play does not reject or deny religion, because religion played an important role in Enlightenment France. Instead, Moliere created the character of Cleante, who demonstrates both reason and religion, which is extremely prominent in Tartuffe. Cleante expresses ideas about true Christian virtue as opposed to religious hypocrisy. Cleante sees Tartuffe for who he really is and tries to warn his brother of Tartuffe’s treachery. Furthermore, Cleante also advises against hating Tartuffe and the Church once the villain is exposed because hatred is not a rational response. Enlightenment thinkers believed that reason was the highest belief. Obsession and excess versus reason and moderation was another major theme of Tartuffe (“Tartuffe” 250). Throughout Tartuffe, Cleante remains the only reasonable and wise voice of reason (“Tartuffe” 251), and thus he is a true Enlightenment man. Through Cleante, readers see the true ideals and beliefs of the Enlightenment. Firstly, Cleante represents reason in Tartuffe, and Orgon is quiet the opposite of reason. Orgon is extremely emotional throughout the play. He also fails to...
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