drama: Moliere: Tartuffe (1664)

Although I’m looking at Moliere through a translator, I haven’t been quite impressed by what I have read, which, I suppose is ignoring language altogether in favor of meaning. Tartuffe is a story of a prominent and wealthy man duped by a con-man, Tartuffe, who pretends to be excessively pious in such a way that is thorougly modern, considering the sorts of religious figures in Chaucer or even in Grapes of Wrath, in which the religion is the clothes one wears, this is entirely different because religion becomes Tartuffe’s very skin. Since those who term themselves non-denominational have grown to such prevalence in recent years, I only began studying religion because of such people who would ask me questions like, ‘yes, you read the bible, but did you READ it?’ So, I must relate one of the best examples of casuistry I’ve ever heard, which is only the finest example I know of a million others. I asked, ‘so…you said you’d never have sex again if he broke up with you…so, how is sleeping with all these guys possibly in line with the teachings of Jesus?’
‘Easy–I thought about it and I figured it out. You see, as a Christian I’m only supposed to sleep with the man I’m married to. And really, if you plan on marrying a guy it’s pretty much the same as if I’m already married to him, because my intentions are sincere. So, all I have to do is tell myself that this is the guy I’m going to marry, and it’s as if I’m already married to him, so that when I have sex with him it’s not against un-Christian of me.’
‘You know…finding loopholes in the bible is a bit dangerous.’
‘Why?’
‘Well…because you’re not going to outsmart god.’
‘It’s all right there in the bible.’
‘Well, that was very clever of you.’

This is how Tartuffe operates, convincing Orgon to sign over all his worldly possessions, force his daughter into marrying him, and giving him enough evidence to have him jailed as a traitor. With just a few pages to go, the king saves the day and the good are rewarded and the bad are punished. The emphasis everyone places on this play is over the criticism of religion–Moliere was nearly excommunicated over it, and the play was banned–over his depiction of a man falsely religious, whose religious logic makes sense for evil ends. And I don’t particularly care–the movie Saved does a better job of putting it together for me.

But there’s this question which isn’t entirely answered, being: how is it that Orgon can be so easily duped, and then so steadfast in believing in the goodness of Tartuffe, against all reason? Well, the answer is suggested in the introduction I read, too bad I didn’t come up with it on my own. In any case, nobody seems to discuss this one: Orgon is getting on in years, with a daughter on the verge of marriage, a young second wife for himself, and various spunky servants living with the family, and in his bitterness over his declining overall virility, his only answer is to force everyone else to lead the life time has doomed him to live, and his solution is found in Christianity and its ‘no fun allowed’ principles. While Tartuffe is exploiting Orgon for money and power, Orgon is exploiting Tartuffe as shackles over his family. This is all that gives him depth, and it takes Tartuffe’s near-rape of Orgon’s wife before Orgon is shaken out of bitterness. Orgon himself is never religious, but enamored by the religiosity of Tartuffe, and uses one for the substitute for the other.

Once a day I have a small ability to write, and this is not that once a day, because I just can’t convince myself to care right now!

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