Ideals and Rationality During the Age of Enlightenment in Moliere’s Tartuffe and Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s The Love Suicides at Amijima
The Age of Enlightenment
The spirit of the Age of Enlightenment is embodied in our texts with examples of reason, equality for all, and rationality. Moliere’s Tartuffe and The Love Suicides at Amijima by Chikamatsu Mon’ Zaemon both show these characteristics through the characters and the plot each story takes. Straying away from the ideals and irrational thoughts that come with solely focusing on an organized and constructed order is shown in a negative light through the texts we read.
In the play Tartuffe, equality is shown despite social class. Former ideologies weren’t as open to fairness and equal rights, yet, we see the Age of Enlightenment touching on the value of each individual. An example of this is shown through the character of Dorine. Dorine is of the working class and clearly shows the values associated with the Age of Enlightenment. She is Mariane’s lady maid within the play and is somewhat on low standing in ranking. Despite Dorine not being as higher up in class as the other individuals, she has a mentality of reason and is extremely knowledgeable. In fact, Dorine was one of the very first people who saw right through Tartuffe and his false persona. As she is speaking to Madame Pernelle, she voices her opinion on him by saying, “You see him as a saint. I’m far less awed; In fact, I see right through him. He’s a fraud”. Although Orgon personally didn’t believe her at first, we know it wasn’t due to her social standing but his own unnecessary ideals. We can all appreciate the equal rights that Dorine has within the play. Dorine is a character treated equally amongst the family as if she were a part of it.
Touching a bit more on rationality, Orgon seems to be the least rational and the one who gets taken advantage of the most. Like the Age of Enlightenment showed, rational thinking was the key to moving further and progressing. There was to be no more spiritual mentalities and thinking without logic. If Orgon had only listened to the rational characters within the play, the whole mess of a situation wouldn’t have happened. With logic, reasoning, and rationalization, humans can ensure that what they believe is true. I believe that Moliere wrote Tartuffe so we could see what happens when reasoning isn’t applied and the downfalls of it.
The Love Suicides is a tragic love story that also shows the pitfalls that come with irrational thinking. Jihei, falls victim to being in love with a prostitute and therefore gets in a tangled web. Jihei is not someone who thinks through with his actions, much like Orgon in Tartuffe. Both Jihei and his lover, Koharu, decide that the only way for them to be together is through a lover’s suicide. Their irrational philosophy is something that the Age of Enlightenment wanted to stray away from. Just like in Tartuffe, if Jihei had listened to the rational thoughts of his family and others within the story, the disastrous events may not have happened.
As mentioned, equality was a main point within the Age of Enlightenment. This is shown within The Love Suicides through the characters’ roles. Jihei is a paper merchant while Koharu is a prostitute. In the story, we see that their love isn’t as forbidden as we may think. During that era, equality is shown amongst people. It wasn’t unacceptable for the two different classes to have a relationship. The only downside with the relationship was that it interfered with Jihei’s family that he currently had. Had Jihei been single, the fact that Koharu was a prostitute in the relationship would not have bothered people. Even though Jihei wasn’t of the highest class, he still had money and could afford to take care of himself.
Lastly, to touch on an important theme within the Age of Enlightenment, in both Tartuffe and The Love Suicides we see religion and spirituality but in a negative aspect. It’s evident that the characters from both stories go in blindly with their religion. Orgon refuses to think logically and instead focuses on the piety of Tartuffe. He only opens his mind to what he has been taught to know is right. If he clearly thought through everything and noticed the fake persona Tartuffe was showing, he would not solely focus on irrational religious views. The same goes for Jihei and Koharu in The Love Suicides. Had they had put everything into perspective and not based their relationship off of their religious fantasies, they could rationally think of a way out of their situation. We see an example towards the end of the story when Jihei ends Koharu’s life and falls to his death. He shouts, “May we be reborn on one lotus! Hail Amida Buddha!” (94). They truly both believed that they would be together in the afterlife.
As you can see, reasoning is put into play and the events that happen in both stories touch on the importance of rationalization. The Age of Enlightenment ideals were valid and we saw the negative aspects to believing in the ideas opposite of the philosophies. If characters solely chose to look at their religious ideas without rationalization, things would spiral out of control and ensue chaos. Therefore, equality, rationalization, and reasoning were philosophies during the Age of Enlightenment that opened people’s minds and allowed them to further look into things. Our texts showed the desire for maintaining an equal stance amongst people and that human rights are a basic necessity for all. Challenging former philosophies and methods of life was something to be accepted with open arms and shown to have a positive effect. Otherwise, going blindly into things without reasoning and thought would create an endless array of problems.
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