Tartuffe is an excellent example of a neoclassical drama because of its close adherence to the guidelines set forth in Aristotle’s Poetics, its use of character structure, and its incorporation of the common neoclassical ideas involving: reason, rational thinking, as well as logical problem solving.
During the beginning of the 17th Century neoclassical thought began to dominate the stage in France. In the domain of theatre, this meant that neoclassical writers began to look back to the ideals and beliefs of classical times, accentuating the classic ideas of rational control and discipline. It was an age intrigued with regularity as the ideas stemming from this period insist upon certain norms of behavior in society. Throughout the period, specific emphasis was placed upon rational perspective and behavior (Neoclassicism).
Neoclassical writers emphasized the importance of the Poetics of Aristotle, as well as the unities of place, time, and action that they extracted from his works. In Poetics, Aristotle laid out the six essential elements of tragedy: plot, character, diction, thought, spectacle, and song (McManus). Each of these components held certain value to what Aristotle believed to be a successful play, however, plot and character held to be the most important.
The first principle that Aristotle outlines in Poetics is that of the plot, and according to him, the most important feature in a play. He defines the plot as “the arrangement of incidents”, meaning the structure of the play. Aristotle believes that the plot must be “a whole”, “complex”, “of certain magnitude”, and must be “complete” having “unity of action” (McManus). Molière’s Tartuffe fits this criterion perfectly. The play is considered to be whole in that it has a beginning, middle, and an end. A unity of action is created through a cause-and-effect chain that is not dependent on anything outside the range of the play. In Tartuffe this cause-and-effect chain is introduced in the first scene of the play when Madame Pernelle is preparing to depart from her son Orgon’s house. Madame Pernelle starts this chain of action when she insists that her family should be proud to have such a virtuous man as Tartuffe living with them. In doing this, she fills the audience in on the situation as well as everyone’s feelings on Tartuffe, and sets up the rest of the play. This also allows the play to adhere to Aristotle’s criterion of having “unity of action”. Now that the characters have been introduced and the situation explained, the plot can be structurally self-contained. This is shown in that all of the following incidents are bound by necessity, each action inevitably leading to the next with no outside intervention.
Complexity was also an essential element of a plot in both the eyes of Aristotle and ideas of a neoclassical theatre. Aristotle defines a complex plot as being moral in nature, as well as having both a reversal and recognition (Smithson). Tartuffe is a prime example...