Tartuffe is one of the most famous comedies written by the French playwright Molière. The play tells the story of a wealthy Frenchman named Orgon who takes in Tartuffe, a man who presents himself to be religious and passionate but actually turns out to be a hypocrite. Despite his family’s warnings, Orgon completely turns his back on his family in order to protect Tartuffe, who betrays him. During that time the play was first written and performed, many people, along with King Louis XIV himself, enjoyed the play. However, to others it was seen as being critical of religion and the church, which then lead to it being banned. In a political sense, Tartuffe serves as both an endorsement and critique of the ideas of absolutism, divine right, and the patriarchal family.
The story takes place in France during the mid-1600s. Everyone in the family except for Orgon and his mother Madame Pernelle believe that Tartuffe, a man they took in, is a hypocritical fraud. Orgon privately reveals to his daughter Marianne that he wants her to marry Tartuffe. Marianne’s brother Damis learns of his father’s plans and becomes furious. Tartuffe and Elmire (Orgon’s wife) meet up to talk, and Damis hides to eavesdrop. Astonishingly, Tartuffe begins to admit feelings for Elmire and tries to seduce her. Elmire rejects him and then tries to make a deal with him: if he backs out of the marriage with Marianne, she will not inform Orgon of what happened. Just as Tartuffe agrees to this, Damis comes out of hiding and confronts Tartuffe of his wrongdoing. Orgon then walks into the room, and Damis tells him what happened. However, due to his fondness for Tartuffe, Orgon does not believe him! Orgon then goes as far as to disinherit Damis and make Tartuffe his sole heir.
Finally Elmire develops a plan to reveal to Orgon who Tartuffe really is. Orgon becomes enraged with Tartuffe and confronts him. Tartuffe is unbothered by Orgon and reminds him that he has the rights to the property and inheritance. In addition to this, Orgon had trusted Tartuffe with some papers that could get him in trouble, and Tartuffe plans to obtain revenge by reporting Tartuffe to the King. Instead of Orgon being arrested, Tartuffe is arrested because the King saw through his deception. The King graciously pardons Orgon, on account of his previous loyalty.
It is important to keep in mind that Molière created this production during a time in which divine right of the King and absolutism were prevalent. Prior to absolutism, political power was decentralized and spread out among various entities. However, after forty years of war (civil and religious), the country was chaotic and disunited. Something had to be changed, which led to the idea of absolutism. It was designed to unify the country and centralize power by giving it “absolutely” to the monarch. This was supported by the idea that the King had divine right, which meant that he was chosen and given power by God. Citizens did not have the capability to...