Moliere\'s Tartuffe

The Theme of Moliere’s Tartuffe: Reason vs. Passion

Jean-Baptitste Poquelin Moliere’s Tartuffe, is undoubtedly a satirical comedy. In Moliere’s description of a satire, he was very direct as to the function and objectives of one are. The function is to correct men’s vices, using satire to ridicule them and expose them to public laughter (Moliere, p.14). Although this satire is making fun of many things in the church and organized religion, which is not the only objective Moliere had in mind. Tartuffe has many themes that reoccur through out the play. The time period, in which this play was written, was known as the Age of Reason. One of the main ideas and attitudes during this time was, reason must always control passion. Due to this attitude, one theme that constantly appears through the play, is the battle between reason and passion.
In Act II, Scene 4, one of the major conflicts between reason and passion is played out. Valere confronts Mariane with the rumors he has heard about her marrying Tartuffe. Throughout this entire confrontation, they are letting their passions stop them from getting what they truly want, which is each other. Finally, Dorine brings about the reason that is needed in their situation. In lines 69-71, Dorine states,” If you ask me, both of you are as mad as mad can be. Do stop this nonsense, now. I’ve only let you squabble so long to see where it would get you.” Their passion is so strong; Valere and Mariane are blind to what the other is wanting. In this situation, Dorine plays the raisoneur, which is the person who tends to be reasonable throughout the play.
Cleante is another character that could be considered a raisoneur during the play. There is numerous times where he interjects reason into a situation. “Ought not a Christian to forgive, and ought he not to stifle every vengeful thought? Should you stand by and watch a father make his only son an exile for you sake? Again I tell you frankly, be advised: the whole town, high and low, is scandalized; this quarrel must be mended, and my advice is not to push matter to a further crisis (4. 1. 9-16).” In this scene, Cleante is trying to talk reason into Tartuffe’s actions. Orgon has just kicked out his son, and made Tartuffe his sole heir. Although Orgon has acted out on his passion without considering any reason, Cleante is attempting to show Tartuffe his wrong doings and his hypocrisy. Up to this point, Tartuffe has been a very reasonable man. His character was not known for acting out his passions. But Moliere adds a twist to the story when this exact thing, Tartuffe’s passion, is the sole explanation for his downfall. Slowly his passion for Elmire and greed infest his way of thinking and leads to his defeat. He let his passions control his reason.
Again in Act V, Scene 2, Cleante comes to the rescue of young Damis. “What a display of young hotheadedness! Do learn to moderate your fits of rage. In this just kingdom, this enlightened age; one does not settle things by violence (5. 2. 10-13).” Damis had just learned that Tartuffe had wronged his father, and was running out to end Tartuffe’s life. But, Cleante being the reasonable person that he was, had to try to overcome Damis’ passion to calm him down. A theme this simple can easily be applied to a situation today. Just think how the shooting at Columbine High School might have turned out if the two gun men had someone like Cleante to stop and try to get them to think reasonably.
Surprising enough Cleante is also the one to point out Orgon’s flaw, which is the fact that he makes his decisions based on passion, not reason. He points out that he is in no way rational, but instead is constantly jumping between absurd extremes (5.1. 35-38). This very flaw in Orgon could have easily led to the demise of his family. It goes back to one of the main themes of the neoclassical period, moderation. Things had to be done for the good of society as a whole, not for you as an individual. To indulge on yourself, could