The epoch of Enlightenment brought consistent changes in the life of people. In fact, this epoch marked a substantial shift from the dominance of feelings and emotions over reason in favor of the reason. To put it more precisely, the role of reason increased dramatically in the epoch of Enlightenment to the extent that it totally dominate over feelings and human passions. However, the latter still played a very significant role in human life and, in spite of the huge, almost overwhelming power of reason, feelings and passions still could have played a determinant role as they did in the play “Tartuffe”¯ written by Moliere.
In fact, the entire play represents a clash of reason and feelings. On the one hand, there is a hypocritical but very reasonable Tartuffe who is scheming against Orgon to take his wealth and improve his own social position. On the other hand, there is Orgon, who remains ignorant of all the schemes and treachery of Tartuffe practically until the end of the play and, what is more, even when he learns the truth he can hardly undertake any effective action against Tartuffe because his feelings and emotions dominate over reason. In such a situation, the author obviously reveals the power of reason and the extent to which it can be useful for an individual who wants to succeed in this life. It proves beyond a doubt that it is only due to the power of his reason Tartuffe has managed to gain the confidence of Orgon who trust him absolutely to the extent that he rather believes Tartuffe, who is lying, than to his own son or wife.
At this point, it is possible to speak about the main characters Tartuffe and Orgon as two antagonistic symbols of reason and feelings respectively. It is due to his feelings, Orgon rejects any logical explanation of actions of Tartuffe, he is absolutely unreasonable in his judgments concerning Tartuffe because he is guided by his emotions and feelings. In stark contrast, Tartuffe perfectly understands the power of emotions over Orgon and he uses this weakness for his own benefits. Even when Damis, the son of Orgon, denounces Tartuffe’s plans to seduce Elmire, the wife of Orgon, Tartuffe effectively uses his reason and plays with religious feelings of Orgon admitting the weakness of his spirit:
Yes, brother, I am evil, through and through,
Guilty, full of inequity and sin
(Moliere, III, vi).
However, the power of reason is not absolutely overwhelming and the author shows that feelings and emotions are still very significant in human and people cannot extinguish their emotions and feelings and live by their reason only. In this respect, the eventual downfall of Tartuffe and his imprisonment are very logical, though Orgon who lives by his emotions and feelings is unable to restore the justice and return his wealth, but the interference of enlightened King saves Orgon and his family while Tartuffe is sent to prison. Such an ending of the play is very symbolic, because it shows that even such a reasonable person as Tartuffe cannot defeat Orgon. Therefore, reason cannot totally control feeling and emotions and the salvation of Orgon symbolizes the power of his passions since it is basically due to his devotedness to his ideals and to the King, the latter saves him from the total ruin.
Thus, the play by Moliere shows the increased role of reason but, at the same time, the author shows that feelings and emotions are still very significant and can play the determinant role in human life.