Looking At The Role Of Reason In Tartuffe English Literature Essay

Reason is woven throughout Moliere’s play, Tartuffe. It is shone upon with glorious lights and made obvious by others for others, and yet still not seen. It is used in a manipulative way by some for their own gain, yet in the end comes back empty-handed to the abuser and is revengeful. Reason is a double-edged sword in this play by creating and yet solving problems. It is a paradox within itself. It causes some characters in the play to team up together and others to divide. While reading Tartuffe, the reader finds himself wanting to scream at a character or two to inject common sense through reason into their minds. Reason has a very interesting role and adds an entertaining twist in Moliere’s play, Tartuffe.

However, later on in “Act IV”, “Scene 7”, Orgon finally sees the light and uses reason to his (and others’) advantage. He is able to directly witness, in a set up situation, Tartuffe coming on to his wife. His response to Tartuffe, “I’ve long suspected you, and had a feeling that soon I’d catch you at your double-dealing. Just now, you’ve given me evidence galore; it’s quite enough; I have no wish for more”, shows the progress Orgon has made with the ability to use reason.

The element of reason is also brought to light in Tartuffe in a different aspect. The antagonistic character, Tartuffe, manipulates his way through many situations using reason, only to be ruined in the end. After he has been accused (and properly so) of going behind Orgon’s back, he converses with Orgon in “Scene 7” of “Act III” and says, “These scenes, these dreadful quarrels, have got to end. I’ve much upset your household, and I perceive that the best thing will be for me to leave.” His reasoning is that because he has caused an uproar and division in Orgon’s house, he should leave to make things better. While this is reasonable in the common sense, it is actually a manipulatory technique used against Orgon. Tartuffe knows that he has Orgon “wrapped around his finger”, so by making this statement, he knows that it will drive Orgon to protect and love him even more, even if it means going against one’s family. However, the other edge of the sword of reason is displayed in the very last scene of the play, where the King sentences Tartuffe to prison. An officer says to Orgon (speaking of Tartuffe), “‘Twas hardly likely that this man could cozen a King who’s foiled such liars by the dozen. With one keen glance, the King perceived the whole perverseness and corruption of his soul”. Tartuffe is trying to get Orgon sent to prison, but instead, the King sees straight through Tartuffe’s heart, and, using reason, sends Tartuffe to prison instead.

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In “Act V”, “Scene 3”, reason is also used in the mind of Madame Pernelle, Orgon’s mother, possibly even in a way that makes sense, but she is without revelation. All the facts are stacked up against Tartuffe, but she does not believe it. She reasons that a man of his stature and religious zeal would never commit such a crime. She conveys, “No, my son, I’ll never bring myself to think him guilty of such a thing…The righteous always were maligned”, and later, “No, no, a man of such surpassing piety could not do such a thing. You cannot shake me. I don’t believe it, and you shall not make me.” In this situation, without revelation, reason is useless. Fortunately, in “Scene 4”, Madame Pernelle seems to receive the revelation when Monsieur Loyal comes to visit the family and reveals the hypocrisy of Tartuffe because immediately in “Scene 5” she relates, “I’m thunderstruck. I’m utterly aghast.” Because she now has the revelation of Tartuffe’s downfall, and he is punished to prison, she reasons that the family is now all safe by saying in the very last scene of the play, “I breathe again, at last.”

Because of the logic of reason, the characters in the play, Tartuffe, are divided and also brought together. They are loved, and they are hated. They are jealous, and they are sympathetic. Reason seems to radiate throughout the minds of all the characters in the play. With some, it is used wisely and fairly, while with others, it is used selfishly and manipulatively. When a character uses reason in the latter sense, situations always seem to revolt back on himself. When reason is used in the former sense, the character and all others around him seem to be privileged and, in a sense, safe. The characters of Tartuffe find out that reason can be a very dangerous thing, yet very beneficial as well. It is, after all, a paradoxical double-edged sword that must be used very wisely, fairly, and with revelation. The more successful characters in the play realize that a balance must be struck in the use of reason. All of this causes reason to believe that reason, whether good or bad, is intricately woven throughout the entire play of Tartuffe.

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