Discuss the women in Moliere's Tartuffe.
Discuss Madame Pernelle, Mariane, Elmire, and Dorine, and their actions, receptions, and societal position.
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In Moliere's Tartuffe, socially, almost all hold the same position. Dorine is Mariane's lady's maid—and the exception.
Dorine is "only" a lady's maid, but she is strong and sensible, and does not hesitate to defy Orgon and his crazy plans. Dorine and Elmire (Orgon's wife) are equals in their intelligence and sense of duty and moral obligation.
Mariane is a dutiful daughter who is afraid to contradict her father when he tells her she must marry Tartuffe.
Madame Pernelle is very different from the other women. While the rest of the household sees that Tartuffe is a fake, Madame Pernelle— a gullible woman—believes everyone should...
...listen to Tartuffe's moral pronouncements against them and try to take his advice...
The others insist (and seem to be correct in this regard) that they are not living immoral lives at all.
Madame Pernelle—like Orgon—is blind to the real Tartuffe (who is a charlatan and hypocrite):
He is a holy man, and must be heeded;
I can't endure, with any show of patience,
To hear a scatterbrains like you attack him…
And all he censures is well censured, too.
He wants to guide you on the way to heaven...
When Orgon approaches Mariane, he first draws from her an "oath" of obedience; then he announces his plans for her.
...What say you of—Tartuffe?...
Why! I'll say of him—anything you please...
...A good girl.
Say then, my daughter,
That all his person shines with noble merit,
That he has won your heart, and you would like
To have him, by my choice, become your husband. ..
Marianne is confused and asks her father who she should say has "won" her love. When he explains that it is Tartuffe, Mariane is upset for she does not love him and she fights against telling the lie. Orgon tells her that it is so...
Because I mean to have it be the truth.
Let this suffice for you: I've settled it.
Dorine has no qualms about sharing her opinion of Orgon's plans for the marriage of Mariane to Tartuffe—at first she is incredulous. Then she is disappointed in him. Although Orgon scolds Dorine for her free tongue, she condemns his plan:
...we do believe you; and the worse
For you it is. What! Can a grown-up man
With that expanse of beard across his face
Be mad enough to want …?...
Your daughter's not cut out for bigot's meat;
...what can you gain by such a match?
How can a man of wealth, like you, go choose
A wretched vagabond for son-in-law?
(Dorine cannot change Orgon's mind, However, Dorine later assures Mariane and Valère that she will find a way for them to marry: she is determined.)
Elmire is a good and faithful wife. When Tartuffe tries to seduce her, she refuses—but promises to say nothing if Tartuffe will convince Orgon to let Mariane marry Valère. Damis has heard all and tells his father, but Orgon does not believe it. Finally, Elmire takes a stand:
But let's suppose that here, from proper hiding,
You should be made to see and hear all plainly
…Your error has endured too long already,
And quite too long you've branded me a liar.
I must at once, for my own satisfaction,
Make you a witness of the things we've told you.
…Send [Tartuffe] to me.
And Orgon is convinced.
Moliere's women are very different. The portrayal of Dorine and Elmire as such strong women is a surprise for that time period!
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