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Molière's heavy fathers : an analysis of the behaviour and representation of three tyrannical patriarchs Linan, Kathryn Victoria


This study presents an analysis of the behaviour of three heavy fathers from Molière’s works: Orgon from Le Tartuffe, Harpagon from L’Avare, and Argan from Le Malade imaginaire. Molière’s heavy fathers are often instigators of conflict, perturbing order in their household and its day-to-day life (the term ‘heavy father’ was originally referred to as senex iratus, as identified by Northrop Frye). Inspired by the ideas of divine-right kingship and the family viewed as a monarchy, this study will examine the historical context in which the plays were written reflecting on the concept of authority and the parallelism between the father as the head of a household and the King as head of a nation. Ultimately, the study seeks to confirm how these fathers compare with the concept of the ideal head of a household based on standards of the seventeenth century. The inquiry begins by attempting to establish a heavy father’s logic that would justify and explain Molière’s heavy fathers’ tyrannical behaviour, thus suggesting that they are ideal fathers with validations for their actions. The next chapter, however, takes a completely opposite approach, citing downfalls that would point to their being anything but ideal. Specifically, it addresses the shortcomings displayed by Molière’s heavy fathers that lead to the rebellion and misbehaviour of the members of the family. The final chapter reveals through the combination of the ideas presented in the previous chapters, the distinctive idiosyncrasy of Molière’s heavy fathers that prevents them from being the ideal seventeenth century patriarch. Inherent to Orgon, Harpagon and Argan is a susceptibility to detachment: they detach themselves from the prescribed duty of a father, from family, and from reality. This is in opposition to the fundamental role of a leader whether they be the head of a household or a kingdom. Molière’s heavy fathers are not ideal seventeenth century heads of households because it is in their nature to disunite people and things while the essential function of a leader is to hold together, or 'relier'.

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