This past Thursday I got to go see Tartuffe, which takes place during the French Renaissance. It is a story about a wealthy family who has taken in Tartuffe, a holy man of God. Tartuffe turns out to be a poverty stricken con-artist and liar who almost gets away with taking all of the family’s possessions, having sex with Orgon’s wife, marrying Orgon’s daughter Mariane, and ruining the marriages of two other people (Mariane and Valere and Damis and Valere’s sister). I am going to look at Tartuffe in three different ways; from a post-colonial, a LGBTQ, and a psychoanalytic perspective.
Looking at Tartuffe from a post-colonial lens, what stands out to me is the distribution of power and how the class system was portrayed. Orgon is a well respected man in his community, respected by his family, friends, neighbors, and those in authority: the court and the king. His wealth not only makes him a respected man in the community, but also in the household. It is interesting to see how wealth made him an important respected figure in his household and society. As a father, Orgon also has authority over his grown daughter. Even though Mariane is an adult and is engaged to Valere, Orgon has the power to change his mind and set up a different marriage that he approves of. A situation like this would never happen in 21st century America.
Looking at Tartuffe from a LGBTQ lens, it could be possible that Orgon is secretly gay. In the very beginning of the show, Orgon comes home from a trip and talks to Dorine and Cleante. Orgon reveals that he does not care about the decreasing health of his wife, or the fact that his daughter is upset about her marriage circumstances, or that his whole entire household is upset at all the changes that Tartuffe has made. Orgon’s sole focus and worry is about Tartuffe, and how wonderful it is that he has been eating all his food, taking advantage of all he had to offer, and making himself more than comfortable during his extended stay. Orgon is one of Tartuffe’s “followers” and is not only taking all of Tartuffe’s advice, but also later gives him all his money and the deed to his estate along with several other important documents. Orgon’s lack of love for his wife and family (he did say that he felt no love for them earlier and that if anything bad happened to them he would not feel anything) could be interpreted to mean that he is gay, because all of his energy, efforts, and emotions revolve around Tartuffe.
Another interpretation of Tartuffe would be to look at it from a psychoanalytic viewpoint in regard to Mariane. Mariane’s id has a strong desire to marry Valere. She shows this by fighting with him and sobbing after the fight when they each think that their relationship is over. She also makes plans with Dorine to prevent her father’s plan for her to marry Tartffe from working out. Mariane’s (super) ego behaves very differently, however. During a chat with her father, she agrees to marry Tartuffe because he is in charge and it is her moral duty to obey her father. It would make her look bad in society as a daughter to not listen to her father, especially since her father is such an important public figure.