In his most notorious play Tartuffe, Molière relates the story of an attempt, by a manipulative hypocrite, to destroy the domestic happiness of a citizen who, charmed by his seeming piety, has taken him into his home as a respectable guest. The play was disallowed after its first performance because it was deemed anti-religion. However this ruling was made unfairly since true religion is never confounded with hypocrisy, but is upheld with warmth, which shows his characteristic hatred of imposture in any shape.
Through out Tartuffe, Molière's play repeatedly states that there is a difference between piety for God and piety for personal gain and that he commends the former and only condemns the latter. From the very onset of the play, in the first act, Cleante, characterized as the voice of reason in the play tells Orgon, the duped main character:
A man who rules the rest by putting up such airs
Can be a hypocrite for all his fervent prayers.
When battle's joined, and men of honour come and fight,
The quiet men are brave, the boasters may take fright;
So truly pious men, whom people must admire,
Will not make such a song and dance about hell-fire.
Oh, Heavens! Can't you see there's a distinction
Between hypocrisy and true devotion?
Cleante warns Orgon of the show that hypocrites, such as Tartuffe, put on in order to be thought of as pious in order to gain admiration and favor. However Cleante goes on to say that the true religious men are worthy of praise, they display balance and inward devotion:
We all know men who burn with religious fire;
They set us an example we must all admire.
Just look at Ariston, just look at Periandre,
Oronte, Alcidamas, Polydore or Clitandre.
They never will attack a sinner viciously
For it's the sin they criticize, exclusively.
Their zeal isn't excessive, and it never seems
The interests of God have pushed them to extremes.
These are my heroes. They're the men I think are great.
And they're the men whom I would want to imitate.
On first seeing Tartuffe performed in Versailles, the King immediately recognized and appreciated its genius. He understood that it was strictly addressing hypocrisy, however concern about the play began to grow as its performance moved to Paris. Molière's adversaries claimed that under the fake motive of trying to expose hypocrisy, he actually sought to undermine the foundations of religion itself. Pressure from the opposition, which included the Catholic Church, the archbishop of Paris, the Queen Mother Anne of...