Essay on Feminism During the Enlightenment in Molière's Tartuffe

Essay on Feminism During the Enlightenment in Molière's Tartuffe

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Feminism During the Enlightenment in Molière's Tartuffe


Women have been the most discriminated-against group of people in the entire history of humankind. They have been abused, held back in society, and oftentimes restricted to the home life, leading dull, meaningless lives while men make sure the world goes round. It seems strange that half of the world's population could be held down so long; ever since the dawn of humanity, women have been treated like second-class citizens. Only in the past 100 years or so have women started to win an equal place in society in the Western world. However, the fight for equality has not been a short one. The seeds of the liberation movement were planted hundreds of years ago, by free-thinking people such as Jean-Baptiste Poquelin Molière. Writing during the Enlightenment, his plays satirized a great many aspects of society, from hypochondriacs to hypocrites (Lawall 11). Although the Enlightenment was primarily a male-driven era, women began to strive for a greater place in the world, as evidenced by Molière's Tartuffe.

This dramatic masterpiece has several strong female characters, each displaying different aspects of this early form of feminism. For example, Madame Pernelle, the grandmotherly figure in this play, embodies the spirit of the older women in society. The reader immediately sees what a nasty, self-righteous figure she is. In the opening scene of the play, she grills her son's wife, his children, and their maid. Speaking to Elmire, she hisses, "I wouldn't make you welcome in my house. / You're full of worldly counsels which, I fear, / Aren't suitable for decent folk to hear" (Molière 21). Tartuffe dupes her as easily as he dupes her son Orgon. She states boldly, "[Tartuffe...


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...n the early 1900s. All the women in Tartuffe, regardless of their station in life, are striving for something more, something closer to being equal to men. The majority of the women are voices of reason. This fact is a particularly interesting one, because reason was the key concept of the Enlightenment. The emphasis on reason led women in the Enlightenment to think for themselves, allowing them to push against the boundaries the male-controlled society put up for them and planting the seeds of a feminist movement that would come about nearly three hundred years later.

Works Cited

Lawall, Sarah, et al., "Jean-Baptiste Poquelin Molière." The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. Lawall et al.11-13.

---. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. 7th ed. 2 vols. New York: Norton,
1999.

Molière, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin. Tartuffe. Lawall, et al. 13-68.

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