Madame Pernelle’s and Orgon’s Weakness in Tartuffe
The French Neoclassical Era was a time period that stood out to me throughout this semester. After researching Tartuffe further, I found that weakness and blindness were driving forces in the play and wanted to explore each character’s role in those flaws. It is human nature to have flaws, and I found it interesting that the specific flaws of weakness and blindness are what enabled Tartuffe to get as far as he did. For the duration of this paper, I would like to examine certain characters and how explore how they fell victim to Tartuffe and his ability to exploit them for his own benefit, and how these ideas are still very relevant to society today.
The idea of being “perfect” is simply not possible. It is human nature to have imperfections and flaws. Tartuffe was written explicitly to show the audience that there are flaws within society. Weakness is a flaw that shows up over and over in the play. Specifically, through Orgon and Madam Pernelle. These two fail to believe the truth time and time again and continue to fall for Tartuffe’s lies and deceit. These two characters demonstrate weakness when it comes to seeing the truth that is right in front of them, and this is a basic human flaw as well as a major theme of the play.
Moliere was ahead of his time when he wrote the neo classical comedy, Tartuffe. It is a prime example of how he was an expert when it came to writing comedic pieces. The plot is able to keep the audience interested at all times. One reason for this is because it is so easy to relate to the character’s imperfections. As humans, we all have flaws, and seeing them presented on stage in a comedic way makes us able to laugh at our imperfections, yet still make us think about them in a deeper sense. Ultimately, Tartuffe is a man of deceit and desire. “Tartuffe knows his new casuistry and has no fear of sin. He is pleased, too, to place his skills in this science at the service of his friends.” (Calder, 165.) He desires money so much that he will do anything for it since he is not afraid of sinning, and that is ultimately his downfall. Tartuffe is evidentially the antagonist of the play, yet it is not obvious to Madam Pernell and Orgon. There is no doubt that he is a professional at concealing his real identity. Due to his religious devotion, he persuades Madam Pernell and Orgon that he is a virtuous and modest person. Yet they are unaware that Tartuffe is a pro at recognizing one’s flaws. Tartuffe ‘is no more a simple swindler, a greedy and dishonest pleasure-seeker” (Hilgar, 386.) These flaws are used for his own benefit. “For the real provocation lay not in the portrayal of Tartuffe the obvious hypocrite, but in that of Orgon the genuine believer.” (Howarth, 165.) This quote solidifies how incredibly blind Orgon is to Tartuffe’s ways. Tartuffe tries his hardest to seem like a simple man, yet he is very aware of everything that is going on and uses that to his advantage.
Like I said before, a subject that is particularly potent in the play is blindness. The blindness of Orgon is a prime example of someone being deceived by another. It is interesting that Tartuffe is able to easily fool the one man who holds the power and wealth, yet his own wife is able to recognize his hypocrisy. His wife who is named Elmire, has a rather sensible outlook towards life and the situation. She tries everything she can to make her husband realize that he has fallen to Tartuffe’s control. Damis, Orgon’s son, is the one who has to take the blame for his father’s misinterpretation of Tartuffe. While helping his dad realize what is actually going on, he loses any bit of trust the once had with his father. He, like his mother, wants to keep Tartuffe away from the family, but unfortunately that results in him losing his inheritance. Mariane, the daughter, is being used to make Tartuffe apart of the family, and she falls to the flaw of weakness since she is used to saying yes to everything her father says. Orgon’s blindness is once again taken advantage of when Tartuffe sneaks his way into Orgon’s inheritance and then completely betrays him. At no point did this family mean anything to him, he was only after the money since he is such a greedy human. Orgon is utterly blind to the situation at hand and seems to have no common sense or trust in his family. This is an example of how the flaw of blindness can hinder where your loyalty lies. Instead of it lying with his family, it begins to lie with Tartuffe. He is fooled by Tartuffe and is only helped by the people he chose not listen to before.
Besides Madame Pernelle and Orgon being so blind, they are also quite naïve considering the amount of power and wealth they hold. Perhaps their flaws of blindness and naivety are traits that are shared within the family. Orgon unwisely believes that Tartuffe is a god-fearing man, and since religion was so important in this time period, Orgon blindly decides to put everything he has into Tartuffe’s possession. The audience sees how much he believes in Tartuffe after Damis makes him aware that Tartuffe was in fact flirting with Elmire. Orgon responds with ‘I disinherit you; an empty purse is all you’ll get from me except my curse!’ (The Norton Anthology of Drama, 1266.) Madame Pernelle exhibits their shared family trait when she says ‘He’s a fine man, and should be listened to.” (The Norton Anthology of Drama,1266.) This is an example of how clueless they were about Tartuffe that they would actually choose him over their own blood. He also does this with Cleante and Mariane. When Orgon asks Cleante how the household was while he was gone, he only cares about Cleante’s response on how Tartuffe was doing, and when Mariane tells Orgon she loves Valere, Orgon continues to demand that Mariane give him up Valere for Tartuffe. This once again shows that Tartuffe has taken over because of Orgon’s weakness.
Even though Tartuffe is looked at as the head of the show, it is Orgon who the audience should be watching. He is a prime example of how lies and deceit can affect a person’s judgement. Orgon is the one who symbolizes weakness in human nature. The fact that Orgon is so eager to put what he has with Tartuffe shows that even though Tartuffe is fantastic at deceiving, Orgon is even better at being naïve.
At the beginning of the play Madam Pernelle scolds her family for ever doubting Tartuffe and advises them to stay close to him. Madam Pernelle displays how fond she is of him when she says “Just be aware- I’m tired of being nice. It’s obvious to anyone with eyes that what my son has done is more than wise in welcoming this man who’s so devout; His very presence casts the devils out. Or most of them- that’s why I hope you hear him. And I advise all of you to stay near him.” (The Norton Anthology of Drama, 1237.) Madam Pernelle is not afraid to make it obvious that she favors Tartuffe over her kids, which is clearly the wrong choice. Once the play is coming to an end, Orgon ultimately confesses to being in the wrong, and Madame Pernelle is still in denial that Tartuffe is a fraud. After everyone trying to convince her that he is fraudulent, she says “I don’t believe a word, my son, this isn’t something that he could have done.” (The Norton Anthology of Drama, 1279.) All in all, the flaw of weakness is what ends up driving the play home. If this flaw was not present, Tartuffe’s methods would have never been able to work, and he would have had no one to trick. Both Madame Pernelle and Orgon are vital to making this play thrive.
Although this play was written a long, long time ago, humans have not changed much when it comes to falling victim to certain flaws. “The relationship of the characters in the play mirrors some of the control struggles and problems in society at that time, only on a smaller scale. Many of these same struggles and problems still exist today in families and society.” (UK Essays, 1.) The struggle of falling weak to someone due to your own blindness is still a prevalent issue today. People tend to think with their heart instead of their brain, and it gets them into sticky situations. This play has continued to be relevant time and time again and evokes important lessons that any audience member will be able to take home.
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