Authenticity and Hypocrisy in "Tartuffe" by Moliere


“He who flatters me is my enemy, who blames me is my teacher.” – Chinese Proverb

Tartuffe is a very good example of a hypocrite; and it’s interesting that he was portrayed as a religious hypocrite because most hypocrites in the world are in the religious or spiritual field. Since we were children, we were already molded by our parents to pray to Jesus and be morally upright, or else they would punish us, or they would withdraw their love, or we would be universally condemned by being put in hell. Therefore, for most of us, being seen as a religious person is one way that people will think well of us or love us. However, as this play shows, hypocrites are the most dangerous creatures because while you are charmed by them, you’ll never know if they’re having sinister plans in their minds.

Besides the general character of hypocrisy shown by Tartuffe in the play, women were also portrayed as hypocrites since the patriarchal society has these standards on women that they should be virginal, passive, pure, and acting only behind the scenes. If women act otherwise, they would be frowned upon, ridiculed, labeled as whores, or be less likely eligible for marriage. I love what Dorine said about Orante, a seemingly virtuous woman:

“O admirable pattern! Virtuous dame! She lives the model of austerity; but age has brought this piety upon her, and she’s a prude, now she can’t help herself. As long as she could capture men’s attentions she made most of her advantages; but, now she sees her beauty vanishing, she wants to leave the world, that’s leaving her, and in the specious veil of haughty virtue she’d hide the weakness of her worn-out charms. That is the way with all your old coquettes; they find it hard to see their lovers leave ‘em; and thus abandoned, their forlorn estate can find no occupation but a prude’s. These pious dames, in their austerity, must carp at everything, and pardon nothing. They loudly blame their neighbor’s way of living, not for religion’s sake, but out of envy, because they can’t endure to see another enjoy the pleasures age has weaned them from.”

Unfortunately, this is true in women. In fact, women are more judgmental of each other than men are of them. In the harsh world of women, they constantly compare themselves to each other as if men are too scarce and they have to be in silent competition with each other. What I will say may be degrading to my own sex, but a woman’s weapon is really her beauty. The more beautiful a woman is, the more potential she has for success. We mostly rely on beauty and charm for our livelihood. Mariane also said something that shows how society expects women to be like a still pretty flower in relationships, that they should let honey bees get attracted to them and not the other way around:

“But shall I publicly refuse and scorn this match, and make it plain that I’m in love? Shall I cast  off for him,  whate’er he be, womanly modesty and filial duty? You ask me to display my love in public…?”

Going back to Tartuffe, we generally hate hypocrites like him. Personally, I hate hypocrites because most of the time, they are the ones who cannot tolerate other people’s imperfections. That is because they themselves cannot permit themselves to be imperfect, or to fall short of their expectations of themselves. Tartuffe is horrible because he uses flattery and he tries to act like Jesus Christ, all clean and spotless. But the truth is that everyone is dirty. No one is clean and white. We are just humans, and I’m sure that we are all allowed to make mistakes. And another sad truth is that we are all hypocrites. Or some of us may not be, but I’m sure that every one of us has been a hypocrite at some point in our lives.

Cleante and Dorine has said some things about how hypocrites make a vain show so people would recognize them as the identities that they wanted for themselves:

“There are false heroes – and false devotees; and as true heroes never are the ones who make much noise about their deeds of honor, just so true devotees, whom we should follow, are not the ones who make so much vain show. What! Will you find no difference between hypocrisy and genuine devoutness?” (Cleante)

“Such vanity but ill accords with pious living, sir. The man who cares for holiness alone should not so loudly boast his name and birth; the humble ways of genuine devoutness brook not so much display of earthly pride. Why should he be so vain?” (Dorine)

All inauthenticity is about wanting to look good, and pleasing other people. It is driven by the ego’s need to be admired. “Should” is the absolute enemy of authenticity; for example, I feel like I should be a boisterous and confident person because they usually charm other people and they easily get their way in life. However, my inner self feels pain or discomfort whenever I try to pretend to be something different than who I really am. Because in reality, if I’m going to be really honest with myself, I like solitude, I pick my friends, I don’t like the spotlight, and I am gentle and weak. Most hypocrites are scared that people will not like the true them, and so they try to mold a different-looking mask for themselves to hide their brittle souls and expect people to admire the mask that they have made for themselves. For me, it is natural that we are driven by our egos, but sometimes we have worn our mask for too long that it starts to become a part of our faces, and we don’t know who we are anymore. Most people hate hypocrites because we can always feel when other people say or act differently from what they feel – and that makes them so dangerous. However, when we permit our authenticity to come out, when we try to be open and vulnerable, we permit other people to be comfortable with themselves as well and other people will also be open and vulnerable in front of us.

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