Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Tartuffe (tahr-TEWF), a religious hypocrite and impostor who uses religious cant and practices to impose on the credulity of a wealthy man who befriends him. To acquire money and cover deceit, he talks of his hair shirt and scourge, prayers, and distributing alms. He also disapproves of immodest dress. Before his first appearance, he is reported by some to be a good man of highest worth and by others to be a glutton, a winebibber, and a hypocrite. Deciding that he wants his patron’s daughter as his wife, he uses his seeming piety to convince his host to break his daughter’s marriage plans. He then endeavors to seduce his host’s wife by holding her hand, patting her knee, fingering her lace collar, and making declarations of love to her. When his conduct is reported to the husband by his wife and their son, the foolish man forgives Tartuffe and gives the hypocrite all his property. Another attempted seduction fails when the husband, hidden, overhears all that happens and orders Tartuffe out of the house. Tartuffe, boasting that the entire property is now his, has an eviction order served on his former patron. When a police officer arrives to carry out the eviction order, the tables are turned. Tartuffe is arrested at the order of the king, who declares him to be a notorious rogue.
Orgon (ohr-GOH[N]), a credulous, wealthy man taken in by...
(The entire section is 831 words.)
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Orgon is the husband of Elmire, father of Damis and Mariane, and son of Madame Pernelle. The play takes place in Orgon's home, where he lives with his family and several houseguests. As the play opens, Orgon has met Tartuffe at a church and, impressed with his piety, has invited the stranger to stay in his home indefinitely. Orgon is completely taken with Tartuffe and treats him better than he treats his own family. He regards Tartuffe as his religious guide and is blind to the fact that Tartuffe is deceiving him. When his friends and family try to convince Orgon that Tartuffe is faking his piety and deceiving his host, Orgon dismisses their warnings. In Orgon's eyes, Tartuffe is a model of religious devotion whom all others should emulate. He informs his daughter, Mariane, that he wants her to marry Tartuffe, even though he has already promised that she could marry Valère. When Damis reports to Orgon that Tartuffe has tried to seduce Elmire, his wife, Orgon does not believe him. Instead, Orgon accuses Damis of insulting Tartuffe, orders Damis to leave the house immediately, and announces that he will disinherit his son in order to make Tartuffe his sole heir.
Elmire tells Orgon to hide underneath a table while she talks to Tartuffe so that he will hear for himself what kind of man Tartuffe really is. After Orgon hears Tartuffe trying to seduce Elmire, he is convinced that he has been betrayed. Orgon orders Tartuffe to leave his home immediately, but...
(The entire section is 368 words.)
Tartuffe, the title character of the play, is a seasoned criminal, referred to by the other characters as a hypocrite and an imposter. Tartuffe pretends to be a pious man whose life is devoted to religious worship and moral behavior. Tartuffe met Orgon at a church, where he made such a show of religious devotion that Orgon decided to take him into his home as a religious guide. Tartuffe exerts a strong power over Orgon, who worships him as if he were a saint and shuns his own family in favor of this stranger. Orgon decides to make his daughter marry Tartuffe and disinherits his own son in order to make Tartuffe his sole heir. When Damis reports to Orgon that Tartuffe has tried to seduce his wife, Orgon does not believe this and instead blames Damis for speaking out against Tartuffe. However, when Orgon hides under a table and overhears Tartuffe trying once again to seduce her, he finally sees that he has been betrayed. Orgon orders Tartuffe to leave his home immediately, and Tartuffe threatens him with revenge. After Tartuffe leaves, he arranges to have Orgon arrested and his property taken away from him. However, at the last moment, a Gentleman of the King's Guard arrests Tartuffe instead and informs Orgon that his property will be restored to him. The Gentleman of the Guard explains that Tartuffe had committed a long list of crimes under a different name and will be sent to prison.
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Cléante is the brother of Elmire and brother-in-law of Orgon. Cléante tries to convince Orgon that Tartuffe is not sincere in his religious devotion and is using Orgon for his money and influence. He observes that Tartuffe makes an outward display of religious devotion but does not practice what he preaches. He points out to Orgon that there are many pious people who live moral lives without making a public display of their piety. Orgon, however, is not convinced by Cléante's reasoning and does not heed his advice about Tartuffe. In the final moments of the play, Cléante advises Orgon to go before the King and thank him for arresting Tartuffe and for restoring Orgon's property to him. He states that Orgon should not harbor ill will toward Tartuffe but should hope that Tartuffe will one day mend his ways and become a truly virtuous person. Many critics have commented that Cléante represents the voice of reason in the play, providing guidelines for the sincere practice of Christian morality in contrast to the false piety of Tartuffe.
Damis is the son of Orgon, stepson of Elmire, and brother of Mariane. Of all the characters, Damis is the most outraged by Tartuffe's behavior, reacting impulsively and threatening violence on several occasions. Damis is very upset when he learns that Orgon wishes Mariane to marry Tartuffe. Damis is engaged to the sister of Valère and fears that if the engagement between Mariane...
(The entire section is 1746 words.)