Frivolous Frippery

With the seventeenth century came a season of change, a sentiment of modernism. Along with these new "modern" ideas (which would become the forefathers of Enlightenment philosophy a century later) came a blatant rejection of traditional values and ideals. Naturally, this change of philosophy was reflected in the literature of the period, and many times this rejection of olden-day tradition was magnified and inflated into outright mockery and ridicule. Tartuffe, perhaps the most famous piece of French literature of all time, is a prime example of this. Miguel de Cervantes, a Spanish contemporary of Moliere, also composed a wildly popular novel, Don Quixote. Although the authors are very similar in their purpose, the mockery of traditional values, the two authors used their protagonists in very different ways to reach the same point.

Just as Cervantes presented the Spanish nation with his "Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha", Moliere gave France Tartuffe, a rogue posing as a pious puritan. But unlike Cervantes' delightfully naive and idealistic would-be knight-errant, Tartuffe is a hypocrite, who has wormed his way into the admiration and affections of gullible merchant Orgon. Where the French hypocrite uses the traditional values of the family and the obviousness of Orgon to take advantage of them, his Spanish counterpart experiences an exactly opposite problem; his naivete and belief in the romantic ideal allow the townspeople around him to mock him and take advantage of him as they please. Don Quixote's innocence and purity are also evident in his quest for love. Dulcinea, the fabrication of his dried-up brain, is his lady, his love, and yet he never really sees her. But the fact that she exists is the reason he has to continue his noble quests. Tartuffe again mocks the romanticist idea of true, noble love, but by taking advantage of Orgon, who is in many ways similar to Don Quixote.

Orgon and Quixote come to represent the clouded minds of those who cling to the past. Deaf to the warnings of his horrified family, Orgon promises his daughter Mariane in marriage to Tartuffe, despite her already being betrothed to her true love Valere. Just as Orgon naively embraces modern deceptions, refusing to hear reason supporting his traditional values, Quixote clings desperately to his fictional fairy-tale world of giants and monsters, pushing away reality. Both characters refuse to see the world the way it really is- harsh and cruel. It is through these two characters that Moliere and Cervantes drive home the point that it is time for Europe to realize that the days of honesty, integrity, and knights in shining armor are no more. The two authors also continue with this point by presenting some sort of a death image at the end of the story.

At the denouement of Tartuffe, the imaginary world of trust and perfection that Orgon held so dear has been essentially shattered. Although the King does enter and symbolically conquer evil, it is too late for Orgon, who represents the belief in the ideal. He will never be able to go back to the world of trust and integrity that he used to live in. That world is dead. Cervantes takes a much more direct approach, actually killing off his noble knight, presumably from old age. With Quixote's death comes the death of the last man who stood for chivalry, honor, and true love. Dulcinea and Santo Panza are immediately transformed back into the common nobodies that they are, and become lost and forgotten in the "modern" world.

Cervantes and Moliere have, as cynics, taken the old honorable values of the past and done, philosophically, the equivalent of dropping the delicate egg that is medieval values from a five hundred story building, allowing it to smash on the hard concrete of reality below. Although their main characters represent opposite ends of the spectrum, both of these protagonists, Don Quixote and Tartuffe, are utilized to shatter old values and extend a wake up call to Europe.

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