Tartuffe Symbols Analysis

Written in 1660 France, during the reign of
King Louis XIV, Tartuffe is a quintessential French satirical play. Famed for
its initial censorship, the version we read today was first performed in 1669,
amidst assurances from Moliere that the subject under satirical scrutiny was
religious hypocrisy, rather than religion itself. The plot of Tartuffe is a
fairly straightforward single-action comedic storyline, and therefore its use
of symbols is neither complicated nor extensive.

The Church

In the action of the play, and the cultural
atmosphere in which it was first performed, the Catholic Church looms
ever-present. Representing order, stability, and divine power, the power that
Tartuffe derives from his over-the-top displays of piety are rooted in the
power and presence of the Church in all of the other characters, at least for
those who are convinced by his performance. They automatically respect him and
trust him, not purely on his own merits, but based on a perceived connection
with the Church, a body that they both respect and fear, and ultimately defer
to rather than a question. Tartuffe’s connection with the Church is dangerous
and allows him to gain increasing control, and seize Oregon’s strongbox which gives
him further leverage against Orgon once his hypocrisy is revealed by Elmire. Only
by a public severance of Tartuffe’s connection with the Church by the pious
King himself can the safety of the family be restored.

The King

Much like the symbol of the Church in the
play, the King represents stability and order, and an ultimate tangible power
to enforce order in the world. He functions through the bailiff named the
Exempt, and enacts a deus ex machina to resolve the conflict of the play, and ensure that hypocrisy does not triumph
over honestly and piety. His ability to immediately see through the deceit of
Tartuffe shows his own pious nature, as well as a clear-sighted rationality
that is not easily swayed by ostentatious performance, unlike Madame Pernelle
and Orgon at the beginning of the play. This royal ability to divine truth
shows a faith in the monarchy in general and the King specifically, implying
that power rightfully rests with the King, and that he can be trusted ubiquitously.
This plays into the historical context of the play

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