Tartuffe Literary Analysis
In Act 1, Scene 1 of Tartuffe, the Tower of Babel is mentioned. In this scene Madame Pernelle criticises it for being decadent and for being without morals of any kind. The passage that follows is an allusion, which references a passage in the bible, in Genesis, chapter 11.
The chapter tells of a time when a number of people were slowly making their way to Babylonia, it was at a time when everyone was said to have spoken the same language. At some point in the story they all got together and decided that they were going to build a large city which contained a huge tower that reached all the way to heaven. As everyone spoke the same language it was easy to get them all on the same side and to get on with their project. At this point in the chapter, God looked down on what was happening and thought that he could make things interesting by making them all speak another language. As no one could understand each other anymore they couldn’t work together to construct the city and they abandoned the project.
Just as in the Babel story from the bible, in Tartuffe language is confused and Tartuffe himself is often the one that is responsible. In Act 4, Scene 5 he even bends things found in the bible, such as the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule which dictates that you should “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Throughout the play Tartuffe’s ability with language is highlighted. More examples include when he tricks Orgon by praying too loudly in church. At the point when Damis accuses Tartuffe of attempting to seduce Elmire, he tricks Orgon by using reverse psychology. Almost whenever Tartuffe speaks it is actually meaningless and dishonest and is only meant to manipulate others. Madame Pernelle may not exactly know what she is talking about in Act 1, Scene 1, but her mention of Babel is a defining metaphor in the play. Tartuffe is all about trying to decipher the truth amongst the meaningless babble.
The Catholic church is a metaphor that is prevalent throughout the story of Tartuffe, it plays a very important role for the characters. The Catholic church represents the very traditional aspects of religion, including faith, charity and piety. But it should be noted that the Catholic church was very powerful in seventeenth century France, where the play is set, and for Tartuffe’s characters it represents obedience and order. Tartuffe himself uses the significance of the church to manipulate his surrounding characters, especially Orgon, who is completely convinced of his religious charade.
In order to make himself seem like he is associated with the church and its religion, Tartuffe takes on aspects that the church represents, such as charity, humility and piousness. These connections that Tartuffe creates between himself and the Catholic church make him quite dangerous, for as long as he is linked with the symbol of the church the characters around him are powerless to defeat him. It is only at the point where the king himself declares that Tartuffe is a hypocrite is he no longer a danger to Orgon and his family, as the king has such strong ties to the church that he truly represents it and can even speak for the church, to a degree.
The king himself is the third powerful symbol in Tartuffe, he represents the maintenance of order and morality within society. Orgon is connected to the king in that he aided him in the recent wars, and this has given Orgon status, wealth and prestige. Although throughout the play Tartuffe uses religion to further his own purposes, the king represents the only thing that is incorruptible. At the end of the play Tartuffe tries to use the law to con Orgon and his family out of their property. Fortunately, Tartuffe’s plan backfires as it is the king who sees through Tartuffe’s charade, arresting him and giving Orgon back his property. It is this last scene that represents the king’s ultimate power and wisdom. Not even a skilled hypocrite such as Tartuffe can fool the king and he calls him out as being a hypocrite. This proves the metaphor of the king as the ultimate source for order within the play.
So in conclusion, this literary analysis states that there are three main symbols in the play, the biblical story of Babel, the Catholic church and the king. All three symbols are related to religion, as the king as a divine ruler and promoter of Catholicism, is intrinsically linked to the church. But language and the attempt to use language to fool or con others is also a notable metaphor on its own.