Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Orgon’s house. Parisian home of Orgon, a wealthy former officer of the King’s Guard, that is the play’s principal setting. The class and wealth of Orgon’s home exist with the craziness and irrationality found inside. The extravagant house where Orgon, the master, and his new younger bride, Elmire, abide is a place where carriages frequently appear at the door, and footmen and lackeys are kept busy. Orgon’s children and loyal maid, Dorine, must share their dwelling with duped Orgon’s new houseguest, the religious hypocrite Tartuffe. The house becomes a battleground between Tartuffe’s supporters, Orgon and his mother, and the more “enlightened” or reasonable personages of Dorine and Elmire, and especially Cleante—Orgon’s wise and temperate brother-in-law.
Closet. Small and well-hidden enclosed space in one of the sitting rooms in Orgon’s mansion that represents the pivotal point in the play’s plot. In the third act, Orgon’s son Damis, while hiding in the closet, overhears the pious Tartuffe attempting to seduce his father’s wife, Elmire. The closet also serves to heighten the erratic behavior of Orgon, who refuses to believe the accusations against Tartuffe. Orgon even denounces and disinherits his son, forces Mariane to commit herself to Tartuffe, rather than her lover Valere, and then makes the religious imposter his sole heir.
Table. Heavy, long food-serving table that provides a place of thematic importance in the play: true virtue versus its outward appearance. In the fourth act, Elmire’s plan for her husband to hide under a table and to hear the false holy man’s lascivious, adulterous remarks enables Orgon to come to his senses and condemn the liar, who now is the owner of the property and money. Again, the location points to the folly of extreme, nonrational behavior as Orgon comically denounces all future interaction with godly men and holds them all in utter abhorrence.
Questions and Answers: Act I
1. Why is Madame Pernelle leaving the household?
2. Why is Madame Pernelle dissatisfied with Dorine? What is one larger implication behind a character like Dorine’s having so many lines?
3. At what point does the reader or audience realize that Orgon is behaving strangely?
4. Dialogue is ironic when the literal meaning is the opposite of the intended meaning. When and why is the dialogue in Tartuffe ironic? Give examples.
5. What is Orgon alluding to when he says he will be guided by “Heaven’s will” concerning the wedding of his daughter?
1. Madame Pernelle is upset that no one listens to her. She thinks that the...
(The entire section is 495 words.)
Questions and Answers: Act II
1. According to Orgon, why should Mariane obey him?
2. Does Mariane defend herself well? Does she have help?
3. What does Dorine predict will occur if Mariane is forced to wed Tartuffe?
4. What causes the misunderstanding between Valère and Mariane?
5. What tactic, in addition to predicting infidelity, does Dorine resort to when confronting Orgon? Could you consider the tactic passive-aggressive?
1. Orgon is the father, and it is natural—especially in a patriarchal society—for everyone in a family to obey the father. Because her father loves her, Mariane should be grateful and comply with his every wish: “That’s well...
(The entire section is 318 words.)
Questions and Answers: Act III
1. What character flaws does Damis have that prevent him from initially attaining his goals?
2. How does Tartuffe reconcile his physical passion for Elmire with his religious nature?
3. How does Elmire react to the improper advances?
4. How does Tartuffe escape Orgon’s wrath after Damis’ accusation?
5. Does Elmire offer any resistance when Organ disinherits his son?
1. Damis is too hotheaded and impetuous. He fails to think things through logically before acting on his emotions and hatred. In acting without thinking, he fails to comprehend that his father may still take Tartuffe’s side after hearing the accusation. In his...
(The entire section is 431 words.)
Questions and Answers: Act IV
1. Why doesn’t Cléante think that Tartuffe is a true Christian?
2. By Act IV, what is Orgon’s main motive in marrying his daughter to Tartuffe?
3. Why does Orgon wait so long in appearing from under the table?
4. What tone does Elmire adopt with her husband when he finally emerges from under the table?
5. Why doesn’t Tartuffe attempt to use reverse-psychology anymore?
1. A true Christian would preach forgiveness for Damis and not accept an inheritance that is not morally his. Tartuffe has no satisfactory response to these charges.
2. Orgon wants to spite his family. He considers them ungrateful. He is also...
(The entire section is 321 words.)
Questions and Answers: Act V
1. Why is Orgon worried about the papers in the strongbox?
2. Is Monsieur Loyal ironically named? Explain.
3. Which member of the family is the most level-headed during the final confrontation?
4. Why is Tartuffe arrested instead of Orgon? Could the political and religious climate of 17th-century France have influenced this “Happy Ending”?
5. In earlier (banned) versions of the play, which no longer exist, the character Tartuffe was an actual priest who quoted holy writ. In the final version he is an “imposter” who pretends to be holy. What may have caused this change in the final version?
1. Orgon’s friend, Argus,...
(The entire section is 498 words.)
Compare and Contrast
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Bermel, Albert. Molière’s Theatrical Bounty: A New View of the Plays. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990. Original interpretations of the plays, partly designed to help actors think about the characters’ motivations. Discusses the possibility of a homosexual relationship between Tartuffe and Orgon; also discusses why Dorine can speak so freely to her master.
Hall, H. Gaston. Comedy in Context: Essays on Molière. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1984. Analyzes Molière’s work thematically. Especially useful in examining the historical background of religious issues, as well as social customs, in...
(The entire section is 252 words.)