The Englightenment was a period beginning in the late seventeenth century, during which scholars and philosphers began to encourage good citizens to think- skeptically and critically- for themselves, and to trust their own judgment and reason. Increasing importance was placed on human forms of knowledge, such as science, statistics, history and literature, rather than the study of divine revelations. Scholars rationally accepted that their human minds were limited, however, they imagined "standing on the shoulders of giants" would allow mankind to make great discoveries. Some enlightened thinkers also claimed that standards of correct reason and taste are the same for everyone, and thus equality for all human beings is both natural and desirable. This is not to say that there should not be order and government- in fact, order was greatly emphasized during this time period- but the idea of universal human rights was conceptualized as a result of the Enlightenment.
Satire is the basically the use of humor to point out the weaknesses, irrationalities, and hypocrisies of people and society. In Moliére's case, as well as other playwrights and authors, satire allowed him to say things that would normally be censured or get him in serious trouble with the king, all because he was funny.
2. Explain how Moliére's Tartuffe embodies the period of the Enlightenment and how he uses satire in the play.
In Tartuffe, Moliére emphasizes reason and discernment, key characteristics of the Englightenment. Moliére creates some very reasonable characters and some very unreasonable ones. What would be shocking to the audiences of his time, though, is that one of the most unreasonable characters in the play is in fact the head of the household (Orgon), while the most reasonable is a servant girl (Dorine). This is one way in which he develops satire in the play, by making Orgon look especially ridiculous and gullible next to Dorine. Moliére attacks Orgon's lack of discernment and his irrationality first through his total willingness to believe everything Tartuffe says, and later by his renunciation of all holy men. Cléante, the voice of reason, recognizes Orgon's tendency to "always [ignore] the strength in reason," revealing Moliére's criticism of impassioned judgments and his emphasis on the value of rationality in all situations. Additionally, Moliére satirizes the religious rhetoric of the age through his character Tartuffe. Moliére criticizes knowledge through divine revelation since since it can lead to corruption, as nobody can deny wisdom supposedly from God. Just as Tartuffe dresses up in priestly clothing that covers up his true nature, the church can cover up any injustice with religious rhetoric. Only when Elmire "lift[s] his mask" does Orgon see Tartuffe's real character, revealing both the importance of discernment and the benefits of knowledge gained from pragmatic, observational study.
3. Is this comedy antireligious, or does it only attack corruptions of religions?
In his play, Moliére does not attack religion, only hypocritical, corrupted religion. He employs Cléante to drive this point home, as there are several instances where Cléante compares the "specious piety" of charlatans who "end up sitting at the court" with humble men whose "worship is sincere" and who posses a religious "fervor that is holy, not just dutiful." Cléante recognizes Tartuffe as a fraud, but also acknowledges that there are men who "practice what others