Religious Fanaticism

Religious Fanaticism

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An Analysis of Moliere’s Satirization of Social Issues A man, or rather a demon in flesh and inhabited as a man, the most notably impious creature and libertine who ever lived throughout the centuries, has had the impiety and abomination to bring forth from his devilish mind a play [Tartuffe]…He deserves for this sacrilegious and impious act…to be burned at the stake as a foretaste of the fires of hell. Pierre Roulle (1664) Moliere lived a life surrounded by controversy. After renouncing his position of Valet de Chambre Tapissier to pursue his acting career, Moliere formed a theater performance troupe called “The Illustrious Theater'; with his mistress’s family, the Bejarts. The troupe struggled for two years before collapsing in 1645 under the weight of massive debts. Moliere was soon arrested for bankruptcy. After bail was posted he fled from France with Madeline Bejart. Moliere returned to France some time later after his father paid his debts. He soon married Armande Bejart, either the sister or daughter of his first mistress, Madeline. His enemies charged him with incest. Not only his personal life, but his plays as well were considered subjects of controversy. Many were considered blasphemous. Tartuffe, for example, was forbidden from being performed for five years. Controversy followed Moliere right up to the day he died, when he was refused burial in the local cemetery because his remains would offend the sacred ground. Moliere thereby left the world in as agitated a manner as in which he had lived (Hobdell 102-105.) Comedies, of which Tartuffe is an example, aggressively satirize issues and relationships communities care the most about. The purpose of this essay is to identify these situations, as found in Tartuffe, and to illustrate how they were important to the society for which it was written. By examining misuse of religion, destruction of paternal authority, and the corruption of the guest-host relationship, I will demonstrate the ways in which these satirized issues were considered threats to society. A person who misuses religion has always been considered somewhat of a threat to society. During the 1600’s, when Tartuffe was written, this was especially true. Tartuffe, before his character is actually revealed, is discussed by the other characters as feigning his piety—“You imagine he’s a saint but, believe me, he’s nothing more than a hypocrite!'; While all the other family members can see Tartuffe is a fake, Orgon refuses to believe it.

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Although everyone else knows Tartuffe is putting on a religious show, Orgon insists that if they had seen how he first met Tartuffe, they would feel the same way about him as Orgon does. As Orgon tells the story of how Tartuffe fell to his knees, drawing the eyes of the entire congregation &#8220;by the fervor with which he poured forth his prayers, sighing, groaning, kissing the ground in transports of humility,'; even the reader begins to realize that Tartuffe has falsely used religion to enter Orgon&#8217;s family. Cleante further describes Tartuffe&#8217;s mishandling of religion when he argues against &#8220;those whited sepulchres of specious zeal, those charlatans, those professional zealots, who with sacrilegious and deceitful posturings abuse and mock to their hearts content everything which men hold most sacred and holy&#8230;I mean the people who tread with such ardor the godly road to fortune&#8230;[and] hide their vindictive pride under the cloak of religion.'; Although given in a general sense, this speech is obviously given as it refers to Tartuffe. It is this abuse of religion that got Tartuffe into Orgon&#8217;s family and leads to the destruction of his paternal authority. Tartuffe steals the position of head of the household out from underneath Orgon. As the play opens, Tartuffe is already being described as imposing and taking control: &#8220;It is a really scandalous thing to see a mere nobody assuming a position of authority in the house&#8230;and getting so far above himself as to interfere with everything and behave as if he were master.'; Because Orgon takes a fancy to Tartuffe and &#8220;addresses him as brother and hold&#8217;s him a hundred times dearer than wife or mother, daughter or son,'; he allows Tartuffe to become a confidant and an advisor. After disowning his son for speaking badly of Tartuffe, Orgon makes Tartuffe his sole heir to spite his family. This action, in addition to Orgon&#8217;s plans for Tartuffe to wed his daughter, further allows Tartuffe to gain control over the family. When Orgon finally realizes that Tartuffe is a hypocrite, and he tells Tartuffe to leave, Tartuffe&#8217;s reaction is an example of Oregon&#8217;s loss of authority&#8212;&#8220;You are the one who must leave the house&#8212;you who talk as if you were master. This house is mine and I&#8217;ll have you realize it.'; Tartuffe&#8217;s gradual displacement of Orgon as master of the household is also a result of the violation of one of the oldest bonds known to man, the guest-host relationship. He violates this bond by attempting to seduce Orgon&#8217;s wife, denouncing him to the King and attempting to take his estate. Because misuse of religion, the loss of power over one&#8217;s own family, and the violation of the guest-host bond is threatening to the audience for which this play was written, it was necessary for Moliere to have the villain fail and the family win. After aggressively satirizing the aforementioned issues throughout the play, Moliere chose to end his play with the typical comedy ending&#8212;and a wedding in the air and the villain going to jail.
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