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The period, known as the Age of Enlightenment or The Enlightenment Period, began in the late seventeenth century. It was a time of great turmoil and intellectual movements that ultimately led to the beginning of the French Revolution. Enlightenment thinkers were the ones who encouraged and proposed that we rely on and trust our instincts for decision making along with the actions that make. Many Enlightenment thinkers, such as Moliere and Voltaire, were famous for their works. They were two writers that used a very particular approach to their works. Tartuffe, by Moliere, and Candide, by Voltaire, both addressed similar topics and themes such as satire for example. Tartuffe and Candide satirized religious hypocrisy emphasizing on free thinking and reason.
Jean-Baptiste Moliere, who was originally named Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, was one of the greatest and well-known comic dramatists. He was known as one of the greatest and famous comic writers mainly because his works challenged the imprudence of trusting reason for different life events. One of Moliere’s most famous works includes Tartuffe primarily for the amount of controversy it sparked related to satire. Tartuffe is a play that tells about a man named Orgon, who is a wealthy family man, who takes a stranger into his home named Tartuffe. He later indeed is discovered to be a religious hypocrite. He doesn’t have any morals or indeed values religion. Tartuffe simply used religion as a disguise to manipulate people and do his crimes. He pretends to be extremely religious, but from his actions and behavior, it goes entirely against the morals of religion. For example, when Tartuffe sees Dorine in Act 3, Scene 2, he tells her:
“Cover your bust. The flesh is weak
Souls are forever damaged by such sights,
When sinful thoughts begin their evil flights.”
From this scene, there is clear evidence showing how Tartuffe is a hypocrite. Here, he preaches about the importance of chastity; however, in the scene that follows, he goes against this statement when he tries to pursue Elmire. Tartuffe tries to persuade Elmire to cheat on Orgon, but she comes up with a plan to expose Tartuffe’s true personality to Orgon as well as to show him how Tartuffe was trying to seduce her. As a result of this scheme, Orgon sees first-hand that Tartuffe is a religious hypocrite. The way that Moliere displays Tartuffe’s behavior, when comparing the two scenes, allows the audience to conclude that the way Tartuffe acts doesn’t at all coincide with his words. The two different behaviors exemplified in the two scenes is meant to satirize the religious hypocrisy integrated into Tartuffe.
A central theme of Tartuffe is religious moderation displayed through Cleante. He shows real pious virtue throughout the play by expressed ideas and thoughts opposed to religious hypocrisy embodied in Tartuffe. Religious moderation is communicated by Cleante’s voice through his speeches:
“So nothing is more odious to me
Than the display of specious piety
Which I see in every charlatan
Who tries to pass for a true holy man
Â Religious passion worn as a façade
Abuses what’s sacred and mocks God.
They don’t exhibit zeal that’s more intense
Than heaven shows us in its own defense.
They’d never claim a knowledge that’s divine
And yet they live in virtue’s own design.
They concentrate their hatred on the sin,
And when the sinner grieves, invite him in.” (Molière 24-25)
This speech by Cleante in Act 1 Scene 5 is supported by a firmly structured argument to emphasize on Molière’s belief and support of religious moderation. Molière uses Cleante’s speech to compare between the people that are actual pious against those individuals who are only pretending to be pious, like Tartuffe. Those who pretend to be pious do more talking and preaching versus actually showing actions to back up their words. The extremely holy people follow God as well as use actions more opposed to teaching. I think by Moliere using these statements in his play through Cleante; he is sending a message to his audience to exhibit religious moderation by being like Cleante.
Francois-Marie Arouet, better known by his pen name “Voltaire,” was an outspoken and fearless writer. So much so, he landed himself in exile more than once. He was determined to have his work published by any means even if he had to do it secretly. One of Voltaire’s most notable works was Candide, which was written in response to news that Voltaire found to be disturbing. Unlike Tartuffe, where religious hypocrisy is embodied by one character, Voltaire attacks religious hypocrisy through religious communities. Like Moliere, Voltaire satirizes religious moderation as well. In Candide, Voltaire uses the character, Pangloss, as a way to mock his view on religious moderation. Voltaire believed humans should rely on their reason and senses to make decisions and understand the world. Throughout the novel, Pangloss has an optimistic view of how he sees the world. He believes that God made the best possible world that we can live in and that everything that happens is necessary. Candide recalls his mentor’s philosophy:
“It is clear, said he, that things cannot be otherwise than they are,
for since everything is made to serve an end, everything necessarily
serves the best end.” (Voltaire, 101)
Pangloss’s philosophy encourages and promotes that people should trust and follow their religious faith blindly. Voltaire satirizes this because he has a different belief. As demonstrated by Candide’s misfortunes throughout the novel, his mentor’s optimistic view and philosophy proved to be inaccurate, such as with the drowning of Jacques the Anabaptist. After this disaster and all the other horrible experiences, leads Candide to question Pangloss’s philosophy about whether or not his unfortunate experiences are part of “the best of all possible worlds.”
Moliere and Voltaire successfully satirize their views on religious hypocrisy and moderation in Tartuffe and Candide. With each of their works, they hoped to get a message out to society that would catch attention as both did with the amount of controversy their works caused. Even though their works were written many centuries ago, it served as a foundation for satirical writers in the modern day. The world we live in today is still filled with negative aspects of religion such as with the Charlie Hebdo shooting in 2015. The messages Moliere and Voltaire communicated are still important to this day and probably needs to be addressed more elaborately in the present age than it was at the time their works were published.
Works Cited Page
Moliere. “Tartuffe.” The Norton Anthology World Literature, vol. 2, 3rd edition, pp. 12-68.
Voltaire. “Candide.” The Norton Anthology World Literature, vol. 2, 3rd edition, pp. 97-159.
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