Historically, the church held considerable power over believers and the country as a whole, a fact that automatically bestowed a status of sainthood to religious leaders. The renowned Enlightenment era questioned the foundations of the church’s reasoning and even its power over the people. With that in mind, the portrayal of the theme of religion in Moliere’s “Tartuffe” ought to explain the banning of the play immediately after its first presentation. While some thought the play mocked religious beliefs, Moliere evidently attacked the roots of tradition as she shows the absurdity of refusing common sense in favor of cultural norms. On that note, Moliere’s “Tartuffe” is rich in the theme of deception portrayed by the characters. From Tartuffe wearing a mask to entice those around him to Elmire pretending to be in love with Tartuffe to expose him, deception is the norm for the characters. In the play, the wealthy Orgon who happens to own the house in which most of the acts take place becomes obsessed with Tartuffe and his mother is no different. Through Orgon’s character, Moliere gives a perfect illustration of how arrogant and gullible traditional persons lack the wit of those that apply logic and reason to every situation.
Foremost, Tartuffe deceives Orgon by driving a rift between the man and his son. When Damis attempts to accuse Tartuffe of being a miser and only interested in his father’s wealth, the man reacts in a blatantly exaggerated manner that fuels Orgon’s anger towards his heir. In Tartuffe’s words, “The mere thought of such ingratitude” makes his “soul suffer torture, bitterly” because Damis’ supposedly false accusations hurt him and his religious status (Moliere). An average life of a human being entails the existence of a family, where parents look after their children until they become adults and start their families. Therefore, family unities are essential for social cohesion because, without them, generations will not survive. The case is not different with Orgon and his son as readers are aware that before Tartuffe’s interference, the younger man was to inherit his father’s wealth and uphold the family name. Consequently, the first form of deceit is Tartuffe’s decision to break up a family because of his greed.
Naturally, there are others in the household who like Damis are aware of the fact that Tartuffe is a hypocrite and liar. In fact, Orgon and Madame Pernelle are the only ones who assume an air of ignorance when dealing with Tartuffe. Hence, after convincing the two that he is a man of God, Tartuffe proceeds to play puppet master with religion being the strongest string in the show. As it happens, Orgon is very religious, and the title character continually claims to be holy. Expectedly, whenever Orgon is within sight or hearing range, Tartuffe takes the role of a holy man, throwing in a prayer now and then and apparently “forgiving” those against his presence. The perfect illustration is evident in the scene where Orgon throws out his son for speaking against the holy man. Naturally, when a person is insulted, he or she will become defensive and even demand retribution, holy men are no different. However, when Damis confronts him, he exclaims “Heaven, forgive him all the pain he gives me!” (Moliere). As per the rules of forgiving, one also forgets the wrong and goes ahead to mend the relationship. For that reason, it is safe to point out that if Tartuffe were forgiving then Damis would still be in his home. On that note, it is safe to point out that the deceitful man was not loyal to God but was instead keen on serving his selfish purposes.
Finally, yet importantly, Tartuffe’s deceit is evident in the fact that he betrays Orgon’s trust by making the ultimate sin of coveting his wife. Tartuffe declares his love for Elmire, Orgon’s wife, saying, and “I even schooled my heart to flee your beauty, thinking it was a bar to my salvation (Moliere). If Tartuffe was truly a religious man, then Elmire was barring his salvation by interfering with his religious beliefs and turning him into a man lusting after the wife of another. However, readers are aware of the fact that Tartuffe is not religious and is just claiming to be holy to have access to Orgon’s wealth. Consequently, it is plausible that Elmire bars Tartuffe’s salvation because she is Orgon’s wife. In other words, since Tartuffe desires Orgon’s wealth, he has to tread carefully in the manipulating schemes and not give any reasons for suspicion. He cannot stage another scenario to force Orgon to disown his wife in the same manner he did with Damis because that will mean they both lose the woman. Consequently, he resorts to hounding the poor woman whenever he gets the chance and that serves as his destruction because Orgon witnesses his advancements and has him arrested.
Conclusively, the final act of deceit was Tartuffe using the box mentioned above to convince the king that Orgon is the criminal although it backfires. Traditionally, any evidence of a crime would require the culprit to pay the price, and a religious man would take precedent over a commoner. However, the king uses common sense in his decision because he jails the real villain of the story. As a result, Moliere shows the detrimental effects of blindly following traditions as long term while common sense offers a concrete solution.
Moliere, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin. Tartuffe. Trans. Curtis Hidden Page. Project Gutenberg, 2000. Web. <http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/2027/pg2027.html>.