Religious Satire in Voltaire’s “Candide” & Moliere’s “Tartuffe”

Paper Info
Page count 5
Word count 1397
Read time 5 min
Topic Literature
Type Essay
Language 🇺🇸 US

Religion is one of the basic elements of any society yet it is surrounded by controversies probably due to the faith-based beliefs that define it. As such, critics use various ways to highlight the many religious discrepancies and ironies that emerge as people practice what they believe to be true. In 1759, Voltaire wrote Candide, a French satirical novel that talks about a young man named Candide living in an Edenic paradise whereby he is being indoctrinated with Leibnitzian philosophy, mainly hinged on optimism.

On the other hand, in the 1664 theatrical comedy, Tartuffe, Moliere, the author, talks about a family that is caught in a web of lies being peddled by a pious fraud called Tartuffe. Both Candide and Tartuffe are literature chefs-d’oeuvre and they are important because they enhance the use of satire to communicate important messages on issues affecting society. This paper will show how Voltaire, in Candide, satirizes religion by creating characters that fall into immeasurable pain and misery when trying to fit into the church’s worldview that all is for the best. The paper will also show how Moliere, in Tartuffe, uses a pious fraud to expose religious hypocrisy.

I will prove how Voltaire satirizes religion by examining how he expresses his disdain towards organized religion by criticizing the Leibnitzian view that “all is for the best” and the Christian religious organization as a whole. Specifically, I will argue that Voltaire uses the character, Candide, to ridicule the disjointed belief that misfortunes in life are meant for the sufferer’s best interests in the end and how the Christian religious establishment abuses people in the name of promoting certain teachings.

On the other hand, I will examine how Moliere deliberately uses Tartuffe’s hypocrisy by highlighting how his sinful actions contradict the Catholic values that he pretends to preach. In other words, I will argue that Tartuffe preaches water but drinks wine, which is the ultimate religious hypocrisy that has been perpetuated in the world for the longest time. To support my claims, I will use quotes from the primary sources and incorporate secondary sources for an insightful and objective analysis of how both Voltaire and Moliere satirize religion in the two selected works.

Voltaire dislikes the Leibnitzian philosophy that everything happens for the good of people by creating characters that undergo a string of suffering and misfortunes throughout their lives with no apparent good coming their way in the end. The moment Candide is banished from the castle owned by Baron Thunder-ten-Tronckh, his life becomes a tale of misery by being subjected to an incessant stream of physical evil. He starts with the tumultuous military career with the Bulgarians before encountering the horribly infected Pangloss in a shipwreck on the shores of Lisbon and ends with the destruction of this city in an earthquake.

According to Bottiglia, Voltaire is profoundly disturbed by physical evil because “It calls into question the nature and purposes of a Creator whose general laws cause so much specific wretchedness for his predetermined creatures” (93). In other words, most religions, especially Christianity, claim that the Creator is all-loving and caring and He knows the end from the beginning, viz. the Alfa and Omega. The underlying question in this statement is why such a loving God would seem to take pleasure in the suffering of His creation. Candide does not know the joy of living – his life can best be described in one word, misery. Therefore, Voltaire uses Candide’s suffering to satirize the Leibnitzian religious claim that everything happens for the ultimate good of people.

Voltaire also uses the pain that religious authorities inflict on people to lampoon the Christian religious organization and its principles. Throughout the novel, the author details behaviors, practices, and customs that the Catholic Church propagated in the quest of spreading Christianity. For instance, he openly criticizes the hypocrisy of religious adherents, especially through the way they lead their lives by associating with politics, fanaticism, greed, carnality, and dishonesty all fuelled by narcissism. Candide wonders, “What! have you no monks who teach, who dispute, who govern, who cabal, and who burn people that are not of their opinion?” (Voltaire 83).

The author provides the audience with an articulate collection of religious infamies as a way of satirizing organized religion in its entirety. Voltaire exposes various clerical personages throughout the novel as fanatical in their beliefs and hypocritical based on the way they lead their lives. For instance, the Catholic clerics, who have taken sacred vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity, do not conform to any of these principles.

After escaping the battlefield in Holland, Candide mistakenly thinks that he would be received kindly, especially after approaching a Protestant minister, who has just spent an hour preaching about charity. However, instead of the minister giving bread to the hungry Candide, he says, “Thou dost not deserve to eat…Begone, rogue; begone, wretch; do not come near me again” (Voltaire 11). This behavior is inconsistent with the principles advanced by the religious establishment, specifically the Catholic Church.

Similarly, in Tartuffe, Moliere uses a pious conman, Tartuffe, to satirize religion by highlighting how religious adherents preach water, on the on hand, and drink wine on the other hand. Tartuffe is the ultimate hypocrite and his sinful actions are a stark contradiction of the Catholic values that he preaches. He claims to be a holy man whose sole mission is to share the love of Christ and spread the gospel of grace and salvation. However, he is greedy, treacherous, and lustful without any good intention towards the Orgons. Tartuffe somehow prevaricates his way into the Orgon’s family, breaks it apart, almost steals its wealth, and lusts after Elmire.

In the third scene, Tartuffe tells Elmire, “May heaven, whose infinite goodness we adore; Preserve your body and soul forevermore…Your health is priceless, Madam, and to preserve it; I’d gladly give my own, in all sincerity” (Moliere, 3.3.1-2,14-15). This assertion is a veiled attempt to mislead Elmire that he is concerned about her wellbeing. However, Tartuffe is simply lustful and he wishes to have sex with this married woman. Later in the conversation, he starts caressing Elmire and confesses that his heart is not made of stone meaning that he lusts after her. Similarly, in scene six, Tartuffe admits that he is wicked, wretched sinner, corrupt, and foul – a criminal of sorts. Moliere uses Tartuffe’s character to satirize religion because its adherents claim one thing and do the opposite, which underscores the depth of hypocrisy I religion.

Religious hypocrisy is highly pervasive and insidious to the extent that the affected do not know that their actions contradict the very beliefs they profess. Religion makes people lose objectivity and belief in irrational arguments, even outright lies. For instance, Madame Pernelle believes that Tartuffe precisely practices what he preaches – that he is a pious man of God. Even when Cleante, Damis, Dorine, and Elmire try their best to expose Tartuffe’s hypocrisy, she cannot see the logic behind their claims. She retorts, “He’s a fine man, and should be listened to; I will not hear him mocked by fools like you” (Moliere 1.1.56-57).

She has become irrational under the influence of religious lies being peddled by Tartuffe. Similarly, Orgon, a hitherto reasonable man having provided great service in a previous war, has now lost his objectivity and fallen for Tartuffe’s religious charms. He believes that the only person he can trust is Tartuffe and the rest of his family members have betrayed him – he becomes irrational. Moliere uses this aspect to criticize religion by showing how it corrupts its fanatics to the point that they cannot reason logically and make sound decisions.

This paper has shown how Voltaire in Candide and Moliere in Tartuffe use different ways to satirize religion. Voltaire focuses on criticizing the religious claim that everything works for the good of God’s people coupled with satirizing the role of religious organizations in advancing what they do not preach. Candide leads a life of suffering, which puts to question the claim of an all-loving and all-knowing Creator. Similarly, Moliere uses Tartuffe’s hypocrisy and veiled wickedness to satirize the idea of religious piety. In essence, Tartuffe practices everything but what he preaches, which is the height of religious hypocrisy. Additionally, Moliere lampoons religion by suggesting that it robs people of the ability to think critically and rationally, once they become fanatics.

Works Cited

Bottiglia, William. Voltaire’s “Candide”: Analysis of a Classic. Institut et Musée Voltaire, 1959.

Moliere. Tartuffe. University of Southern Maine, 2018.

Voltaire. Candide. Boni & Liveright, 1918.

Cite this paper

Reference

NerdyHound. (2022, May 21). Religious Satire in Voltaire's "Candide" & Moliere's "Tartuffe". Retrieved from https://nerdyhound.com/religious-satire-in-voltaires-candide-and-amp-molieres-tartuffe/

Reference

NerdyHound. (2022, May 21). Religious Satire in Voltaire's "Candide" & Moliere's "Tartuffe". https://nerdyhound.com/religious-satire-in-voltaires-candide-and-amp-molieres-tartuffe/

Work Cited

"Religious Satire in Voltaire's "Candide" & Moliere's "Tartuffe"." NerdyHound, 21 May 2022, nerdyhound.com/religious-satire-in-voltaires-candide-and-amp-molieres-tartuffe/.

References

NerdyHound. (2022) 'Religious Satire in Voltaire's "Candide" & Moliere's "Tartuffe"'. 21 May.

References

NerdyHound. 2022. "Religious Satire in Voltaire's "Candide" & Moliere's "Tartuffe"." May 21, 2022. https://nerdyhound.com/religious-satire-in-voltaires-candide-and-amp-molieres-tartuffe/.

1. NerdyHound. "Religious Satire in Voltaire's "Candide" & Moliere's "Tartuffe"." May 21, 2022. https://nerdyhound.com/religious-satire-in-voltaires-candide-and-amp-molieres-tartuffe/.


Bibliography


NerdyHound. "Religious Satire in Voltaire's "Candide" & Moliere's "Tartuffe"." May 21, 2022. https://nerdyhound.com/religious-satire-in-voltaires-candide-and-amp-molieres-tartuffe/.

References

NerdyHound. 2022. "Religious Satire in Voltaire's "Candide" & Moliere's "Tartuffe"." May 21, 2022. https://nerdyhound.com/religious-satire-in-voltaires-candide-and-amp-molieres-tartuffe/.

1. NerdyHound. "Religious Satire in Voltaire's "Candide" & Moliere's "Tartuffe"." May 21, 2022. https://nerdyhound.com/religious-satire-in-voltaires-candide-and-amp-molieres-tartuffe/.


Bibliography


NerdyHound. "Religious Satire in Voltaire's "Candide" & Moliere's "Tartuffe"." May 21, 2022. https://nerdyhound.com/religious-satire-in-voltaires-candide-and-amp-molieres-tartuffe/.