In Act IV of Tartuffe, why is Elmire confident that she can expose Tartuffe?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Tartuffe, Elmire, unlike her husband, perceives people realistically.  In Act III, during her conversation with Tartuffe, Elmire confims her opinion of him:  he is arrogant and lustful, although his protests are that he has a "fervour" and a "zeal."  He pretends to be touching her clothes to enjoy the fabric when he is actually trying to feel her contours.  Rationalizing his love for Elmire as appreciation for her "celestial charms," Tartuffe promises her that there will be no repercussions if she will "enjoy love without scandal and pleasure without fear."  He explains that because he is a holy man, no one will believe that he has committed adulterous acts: 

But men of our sort burn with a discreet flame, our own reputation is an undeniable security to the persons beloved.

After this demonstration of licentious behavior and sanctimonious arrogance by Tartuffe, Elmire feels confident that she can lure him into a trap in order to expose his hypocrisy.  So, she has Orgon hide under a table she has covered while she pretends to have changed her mind about his advances.  Knowing his lust and arrogance, Elmire soon lures Tartuffe into making advances that her husband can overhear.  In this parody, Orgon does not come out as he should after hearing Tartuffe advances, and Elmire grows increasingly compromised.  However, when the arrogant Tartuffe ridicules Orgon, saying "he is a man to be led by the nose,"  Orgon finally emerges declaring Tartuffe, "An abominable fellow, I vow!"

In an absolutely hilarious remark, Elmire asks, "How! do you come out so soon?"

mshurn's profile pic

Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Elmire is confident she can expose Tartuffe for the hypocrite and fraud that he is because she knows from personal experience just how reprehensible Tartuffe truly is. Prior to Act IV, Tartuffe had attempted to seduce Elmire, promising that he would keep their affair a secret. He tells Elmire:

In short, I offer you, my dear Elmire,

Love without scndal, pleasure without fear.

Elmire knows that Tartuffe will betray Orgon instantly if she pretends to give in to his advances. In short, she plans to set him up in a way that will reveal his true character. Her scheme works. With Orgon hiding under a table, Elmire leads Tartuffe on, and Tartuffe is thrilled with the idea that Elmire will become his lover. Thus Orgon sees for himself how thoroughly Tartuffe has deceived him with his pious show of humility and Christian virtue.


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