Consider the role of comedy in society and what a comedy can reveal about a culture's values and realities.
Consider the role of comedy in society and what a comedy can reveal about a culture’s values and realities. What does the comedy Tartuffe reveal about theh value system of 17th century Neo-classical France. What does A Midsummer Night’s Dream suggest about the values of Elizabethan society. What cultural values do the Elizabethans and Neoclassica French share? How are they different? How is this illustrated in the drama and the theatrical practices for each society? Consider the staging practices and audiences as well as the text.
Sample Essay Answer
Comedy is an aspect that helps improve the engagement of the audience to the performance. In literal work, it keeps the reader interested. Authors, in the field of literature, embrace this tool to not only interest the audience, but also reveal various realities and values within a society. Thus, comedy helps in passing a message to the spectators. William Shakespeare is famous for his ‘romantic’ comedies, where he developed misunderstandings between individuals, and employed a comedy to unravel the complications. Neoclassical comedy, such as in ‘Tartuffe’ was slightly different from this style as it focused on the community instead of the individuals, thus termed as social comedy. This paper therefore shows how ‘Tartuffe’ embraces comedy to show the value system of the society, and draws a comparison between this work and Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.
The Value System of 17th century Neo-classical France
The comedy contrasts the value system of the younger generation to that of the older generation. This is using Madame Pernelle to represent the old value system, and Orgon’s family to represent the younger generation. The older generation is too trusting since Madam Pernelle does not hesitate to trust Tartuffe. She believes that, “he practices what he teaches. He’s fine and should be listened to” (Moliere, 217). The younger generation on the other hand, such as Dorine, claims that Tartuffe is a fraud. However, the story displays a third generation that is forced to choose between the older and the younger generation. Orgon, who represents this set, at one point holds onto the value system of the younger generation. This is illustrated by when he had agreed that Marianne could marry Valere. However, he is later swayed by the belief that Tartuffe was an honest and respectable man. Thus, he decides that Tartuffe is a fit future son in law.
However, some values are common among the various generations. For instance, both hold that honesty is an important virtue that all individuals should embrace. Although the older generation may believe that persons who hold influential positions in the society are honest, the younger generation does not give the benefit of doubt. Madam Pernelle chooses to trust Tartuffe even after his son presents evidence to her. She treasures religion to the extent that the wolf wearing a sheep’s clock fools her. For the younger generation, one has to earn trust through displaying honesty. The young persons are not against religion, but they are against the fact that Tartuffe does not practice what he says. For instance, Dorine makes an observation that, “if sin is all that bothers him, why is it he is so upset when folk drop in to visit?” (Moliere, 218).
The value system of the French condemns adultery. According to Madame Pernelle, “it’s one’s husband that one aims to please” (Moliere, 217). Thus, she does not see the need of the daughter-in-law, Elmire, to be dressed in expensive fripperies. In addition, Orgon and his family, after realizing that Tartuffe pursues his wife as he asks for a romantic relationship, is distraught with him. Justice is also a valuable trait that the system values. It is for this reason that the king is not hesitant in taking action against the dishonest Tartuffe, who takes advantage of the trusting Orgon. The order from the king on the imprisonment of Tartuffe comes in time to rescue the family from an eviction.
Cultural Values the Elizabethans and Neoclassica French Share
Shakespeare’s comedy, ‘A Midsummer Night’s dream’, which he wrote to display the cultural values of the Elizabethans, exhibits various similarities to the ‘Tartuffe’ that displays the culture of the Neoclassical French. One of the similarities is the concept that women have to rely on their fathers for the choice of the spouses. In Shakespeare’s novel, the author displays this notion when Egeus goes to the Duke so that he may give a solution to the fact that his daughter chooses Lysander instead of Demetrius. Hermia chooses love over obedience to her father. This is against the laws of the land that a daughter should submit to her father. Thus, Egeus begs that he be granted his privileges where, “as she is mine, I may dispose of her: which shall be either to this gentleman or to death” according to law (Shakespeare, 5). It is evident that the society views women as property that should submit and obey men.
The ‘Tartuffe’ comedy supports this concept by showing that Marianne cannot choose her spouse. Although she is in love with Velere, she cannot settle with him unless her father consents. The changes on the initial plans on the date for the wedding worry Marianne’s respective spouse. It is the reason Velere asks that Cleante enquires the position of Orgon on his decision. Thus, it is evident that it is common for the fathers during the neoclassical period to change their minds on who the appropriate spouses are for their daughters. Orgon finally tells Marianne about his decision for her to marry “the very worthiest of men” (Moliere, 227). In addition, the father does not pay attention to the wishes of her daughter. This is similar to Shakespeare’s novel where the society does not expect a woman to marry a person the father does not approve. It is also evident that mothers do not take part in the decision, since Orgon made the decision without consulting Elmire.
One can deduce from the two comedies that the women in both cultures are not economically empowered. They rely on their fathers or husbands for financial support. Shakespeare shows this concept when he hardly mentions whether the women in the novel hold any jobs. In the play-within-a-play, for instance, all the characters performing the act are male. The men find ways of acting the role of women within the play instead of looking for a feminine character (Shakespeare). In Tartuffe, men are responsible for the economic situation of their families. This is evident when Orgon opts that Tartuffe inherits his wealth instead of his daughter Marianne. In addition, Elmire does not engage in the family’s financial management. Thus, she is not aware of her husband signing all property to Tartuffe (Moliere).
Differences between the Cultural values of the Elizabethans and Neoclassica French
Although they display various similarities, the novels depict some differences of cultural values within the two systems. One of the differences is the extent to which women display their loyalties to each other. In ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Shakespeare draws various scenarios where women do not stand up for each other. For example in the beginning of the play, Hippolytus is present when Egeus files a complaint that his daughter wants to marry the man she loves. Instead of airing women’s view that it is better to be married out of love than a duty, she does not contribute to the matter. Moreover, the author illustrates that the women in the society would break their loyalties to their friends in order to satisfy their needs. Helena tells Demetrius of Hemia’s pan to escape the land. She does this in the hope that she can win over his love (Shakespeare 6).
However, the women in the ‘Tartuffe’ embrace their loyalties to stand up for each other. For instance, Dorine, after eavesdropping the conversation between Marianne and her father, is adamant to convince Orgon to change his decision of Marianne marrying Tartuffe. Although she is a servant and risks losing her job, she opts to watch over the interests of another woman. Even after Orgon’s reminding her of her position in the house, she says “if I were she, no man could marry me against my inclination, and go scot-free”. In addition, Elmire convinces her husband to eavesdrop on her conversation with Tartuffe, so that he can be convinced of his hypocrisy (Moliere, 239).
The use of comedy in ‘Tartuffe’’ exhibits various values within the neo-classical French society. For instance, it bring the concept of justice, where the ‘religious’ Tartuffe is incriminated with fraud. In addition, the reader is able to understand that the society is not against religion but people who preach what they do not practice. The novel shows various similarities to Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ such as the inability of a woman to make her own decision on marriage within the confines of the law of the land. In addition, they have to depend on the men in their lives for financial support. However, although ‘Tartuffe’ shows that women can stand up for each other, Shakespeare demonstrates that women can easily turn against each other in order to satisfy their selfish needs and wants.
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