Neoclassicism in Moliere’s Tartuffe
Table of Contents
The neoclassicism era was a time where literature took a turn and swayed from that of the Renaissance period, as well as romanticism. It was an era marked by logic and reason, as it coincided with The Age of Enlightenment. At this time in England, most people were comfortable, and people were majorly concerned about public appearances. The literature of this era is characterized by its focus on the flaws of man, rather than his or her goodness. In the Romanticism and Renaissance period, the human being is characterized as good with almost no flaws. The neoclassical period depicts the flawed side of humans, using satire and sarcasm to evoke humor (Benjamin 1). Human nature is of key focus during this era with much of the literature focusing on normal life, which also becomes a source of humor. Moliere’s Tartuffe is based in the neoclassical era as it deciphers most of the depicted characteristics of the era.
Normalcy is a key component of neoclassical literature with humor being evoked from not only extraordinary events but also the norm. Most of the literature that preceded the neoclassical era had a similar plot one in which the characters were stuck on an issue, which brought forth suspense and would later end with reaching an agreement. Much of the humor arose from extraordinary activities that took place. However, in the neoclassical period, humor was evoked from normal happenings through the skillful use of literary forms such as satire and parody. Neoclassicism is a reaction to the optimistic, good-sided view of man with much of the literature depicting his infinite potential and desire for spiritual growth (Gale 1). In this era, the man was depicted as bad with many flaws and prone to selfishness and weakness.
The Flawed Human
Another major reason that makes Tartuffe a neoclassical work of art is the depiction of the human being as flawed. Tartuffe is a classic depiction of a neoclassical piece of art, in that, the major character is seen as a very good person in the eyes of characters that only know a bit of him, whereas those that know him immensely know his bad side and always accuse him of hypocrisy and pretense. It is critical to understand that prior this era, being flawed is depicted as wrong with humans striving to illustrate the goodness of humans. In the piece of art, Moliere aims to depict that all humans have their weaknesses and the bad side, which had been largely ignored in the previous literature eras.
Much of the humor from preceding eras evoke humor from extraordinary occurrences, which are devised from the plot of the story with the elucidation of a state of suspense. In the case of Tartuffe, humor is evoked from normal activities and occurrences. The story is one of the normal activities like in a real-life scenario, which evoke humor, a trait common in neoclassic literature. Neoclassicism, as depicted, has a high reliance on normalcy as its source of suspense and humor unlike the Renaissance era, where much of the suspense is evoked from abnormal events that interest and captivates the audience.
Free flowing language is also a trait common in the neoclassic era with Tartuffe being a perfect example for this scenario. The neoclassic era is characterized by people who are more free, rational and thoughtful with much of the information being factual, rather than the preceding believes of other people. In Tartuffe, the author, Moliere, depicts his clear understanding of the English language with the adoption of a free-flowing diction and the selection of words depicting a neoclassic form of literature. The flow of the literature is unique, the variant from the literature that precedes it, whose use of language is more restrained (Gale 2). The style adopted creates a new wave of literature with the author presenting his thoughts in a new way, different from the norm. The neoclassical period, as depicted earlier, was a reaction to the renaissance era, which had been popular prior this period. The authors of the time wanted to change how literature was created, and for this reason, language and more precisely, diction, is altered to create a new impression, one which the audience is less accustomed to. This is a key trait characterizing the neoclassical era.
Satire and other Literary Forms
The use of satire is also highly depicted in neoclassical literature with Tartuffe being a perfect example. In the literature, Moliere adopts satirical comments and views with the elucidation of Tartuffe as a good person, yet he is the worst, covering it through hypocrisy. This evokes a satirical view, captivating the audience into the story. The use of suspense is also commendable with the audience longing to understand what happens to Tartuffe and the other characters later, which is revealed at the end. On being discovered to be a hypocrite, Tartuffe is still on the winning side as he already has the property inherited from the father in law, and plans to evict the rest of the family members (Benjamin 2). However, his bad plans are discovered by the law enforcers, and he is declared a criminal, what he has been all through. This state of affairs makes the story much more interesting and keeps the audience attentive. It is a clear depiction of neoclassical literature that Moliere fully captivates.
A crucial trait of the neoclassic era in regards to literature is a growing use of Romanticism, which is clearly depicted in Moliere’s Tartuffe. Tartuffe has strong romantic feelings for another woman, which is the center of the story, and the cause of his demise. His father in law wishes that he marries his daughter, but the theme of Romanticism is evoked with his love for another woman, which leads him into saying things that cost his integrity, as regarded by his father in law, and other of his supporters and fans. The theme is clearly elucidated and takes the center stage of the story. The dependence on the theme makes the story neoclassical as it is a trait associated with this era’s literature.
As an audience, it is clear that Tartuffe is a neoclassical form of literature, basing on the traits depicted all through the analysis. The theme of romanticism, for example, depicts the literature as a neoclassical piece that possesses the trait. Free flowing language, normality, and nature are key components of neoclassical literature, which is extensively depicted in this piece, by the author. Moliere clearly depicts his exemplary understanding of neoclassical literature, as he encompasses most of the traits, making a masterpiece that forms a great example of neoclassical literature. Satirical adoptions further the positioning of the piece as neoclassical with the author excellently adopting these neoclassical literary forms.
As a reaffirmation of my thesis, Moliere’s Tartuffe is a neoclassic literature, owing to its possession of traits specific to the era. The author depicts a prowess in the use of literary styles that arose during the post-renaissance era, which make up the neoclassical period. The vast use of normalcy, natural events, and the depiction of the flawed human makes Moliere’s piece neoclassical. The plot of the play is also akin to the neoclassical form of literature, affirming my thesis that indeed, Tartuffe is a neoclassical literary piece.
- Benjamin, Stephen. Tartuffe: A Modern Adaptation. Diss. University of Akron, 2013.
- Gale, Cengage Learning. A Study Guide for” Neoclassicism”. Gale, Cengage Learning, 2016.