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Throughout history gender roles in society, as well as in the family unit, have changed. At the dawn of civilization many cultures were led my women in a matriarchal fashion (meaning that females held positions of power and influence over men). The logic behind this idea is one that is women are responsible for creating new life and bringing the next generation into the world, caring for their children and ensuring that our species lives on. It wasn’t until the importance of men in the reproductive process was realized that patriarchal (societies led by men) began to emerge.
Once men had the power in the world, they would fight to hold on to it. Religion, “science”, and social structure would be used for thousands of years to keep women subservient to their male counterparts. As men took over, the structure of society and the family unit changed drastically. The role of fathers and father figures in the assigned readings so far shows different responsibilities owed to a father based on time period and society in which they live.
In Mozart’s The Magic Flute, there is not a father characterized in the story, but Sarastro acts as a strong father figure to the protagonists.
He is first introduced by the Queen of the Night as the villain of the tale who has kidnapped her daughter and must be punished. Tamino soon discovers it is The Queen of the Night who is evil and Sarastro is the pure one. When Tamino agrees to join the brotherhood, he falls under the authority of Sarastro.
There are many references to or about the once secret society known as the “Freemasons” throughout this opera, the “brotherhood” is a direct representation of the masons and many of the trials they must go through for membership; with Sarastro representing the Master Mason.
He may not be related to Tamino by blood, but as a religious leader, Sarastro holds many of the same duties to his followers as a father holds to his family. One of the perks of his power is the authority to punish and reward his followers as he sees fit. At the end of Act I, he demonstrates this by sentencing Monostatos to seventy-seven lashes and rewarding Tamino for his virtue with admission to the brotherhood, and upon completion of the trials, Pamina as his wife. The authority Sarastro has as his people’s ultimate religious authority allows him to govern as he sees fit, with control over his subjects.
Much of the Queen’s hostility towards Sarastro is based on the fact that Sarastro inherited his position from Pamina’s father, Sarastro believes that Pamina is not safe in the care of her mother and uses his authority to save her from her mother, believing that the queen’s influence is not good for Pamina. He also intervenes to protect Pamina when Monostatos makes inappropriate advances toward her. Sarastro has inherited Pamina’s father’s title and along with it, he assumes certain fatherly characteristics, mainly the protective influence a father has over his family.
Orgon, the father in Tartuffe, shows some similarities with Sarastro but with one major difference: Orgon uses his fatherly authority to force his daughter into an undesirable marriage. He has grown small-minded in his age and believes Tartuffe to be the poster child for humanity. Obviously, he wants Tartuffe to be a member of his family, and he does so by trying marrying his daughter off to Tartuffe. He tells Mariane “Yes, Tartuffe shall be allied by marriage to this family, and he’s to be you husband, is that clear?
It’s a father’s privilege”. He is abusing the power given to him as Mariane’s father to impel her into a marriage with Tartuffe after he had already promised her to Valere. After much protest from just about everyone in his family failed, Elmire plots to reveal Tartuffe for the scoundrel he is. When the truth about Tartuffe is revealed, he reminds Orgon that everything he owned now belonged to Tartuffe and he tells Orgon to leave immediately. With this, Orgon looses any power he may have had left in his household.
After Tartuffe has ruined everyone’s day, all seems lost to Orgon and his family until another father figure steps in to intervene. The King sends one of his personal bodyguards to arrest Tartuffe for a long list of crimes. At this point, Orgon, who’s fatherly authority has been exhausted, is overshadowed by the saving graces of his ruler. The King in Tartuffe is a character who joins the story very late, but is crucial for the conclusion of the tale. He does not show himself personally, as King he has other responsibilities than to directly oversee the arrest of a criminal.
His “Officer” (a Lieutenant Colonel in the original text) arrives with Tartuffe under the ruse of arresting Orgon. The officer reveals himself as an agent of the king and acts as the arm of the king and arrests Tartuffe by royal authority, punishing him for his crimes. He then returns Orgon’s property to its rightful owner and pardon’s his crimes as reward for his “loyal deeds in the late civil war”. With Tartuffe arrested, the family is able to return to their normal lives and Valere and Mariane marry as they were meant to.
The king, as the ultimate political authority, saves the day and concludes the play with his just judgements upon his subjects. Tartuffe himself is a father figure in his own regard as a clergyman (even as a fraudulent one). Religious leaders hold a certain power over their subjects, interpreting the will of their deity and communicating it to the common people. Orgon and Madame Pernelle’s inability to see through Tartuffe’s act as everyone else has is proof of the devotion they give to their spiritual leader. Whatever Tartuffe councils, they obey without question.
This will get Orgon into trouble in the case of the strongbox which he entrusts to Tartuffe. Even when they are presented with evidence, the two refuse to accept that Tartuffe is anything but holy. It takes physical evidence seen by their own eyes to disprove their beliefs. Tartuffe’s priestly disguise holds power only because of title (even if it is counterfeit), and not because of any kind of lineage or appointment to leadership. Each of the aforementioned father figures share similar responsibilities in their respective family units.
The king and Sarastro have much larger family units, but they have to care for and protect their people just as a father does. Tartuffe as an assumed priest in the Catholic Church bore the responsibilities of leading a catholic ? flock. It is said that a man’s house is his castle, and Orgon runs his castle with an iron fist, but he leads it nonetheless.
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