Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
With Tartuffe, Molière moved further away from the simple structure derived from French farce. In this play, there is again a middle-aged man, Orgon, who can be tricked because of his obsession. Yet, although the trickster, Tartuffe, is a person outside the power structure, in this case he is a vicious hypocrite who must be stripped of his power over Orgon if poetic justice is to prevail. Therefore, there is another pair of tricksters—Orgon’s wife Elmire and his servant Dorine—who must set things right and aid the usual young lovers.
The structure of this play is also unusual in that the title character does not appear until the third act. In the first two acts, the characters voice their opinions of Tartuffe, this mysterious, seemingly pious man whom Orgon, the head of a prosperous Parisian household, has taken into his home as an honored guest. Except for Madame Pernelle, Orgon’s mother, the family members are unanimous in voicing their dislike of the man. Orgon’s young wife, Elmire, her stepson Damis, her stepdaughter Mariane, and her brother Cléante, the raisonneur, as well as the impertinent servant Dorine, all see Tartuffe for the hypocrite that he is.
After this preparation has been made, Orgon enters, and Molière begins to substantiate the fact that he is indeed besotted by this stranger. In a hilarious dialogue, Dorine attempts to report on the family, only to be answered over and over again by Orgon’s...
(The entire section is 698 words.)
Show us the love and view this for free! Use the facebook like button, or any other share button on this page, and get this content free!free!
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Tartuffe Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Orgon’s home is a happy one. Orgon is married to Elmire, a woman much younger than he, who adores him. His two children by a former marriage are fond of their stepmother, and she of them. Mariane, the daughter, is engaged to be married to Valère, a very eligible young man, and Damis, the son, is in love with Valère’s sister.
Then Tartuffe comes to live in the household. Tartuffe is a penniless scoundrel whom the trusting Orgon found praying in church. Taken in by his words and his pretended religious fervor, Orgon has invited the hypocrite into his home. As a consequence, the family is soon thrown into chaos. Once established, Tartuffe proceeds to change their normal, happy mode of life to a very strict one. He sets up a rigid Puritan regimen for the family and persuades Orgon to force his daughter to break her engagement to Valère in order to marry Tartuffe. He says that she needs a pious man to lead her in a righteous life.
Valère is determined that Mariane will marry no one but himself, but unfortunately Mariane is too spineless to resist Tartuffe and her father. Confronted by her father’s orders, she remains silent or remonstrates only weakly. As a result, Tartuffe is cordially hated by almost every member of the family, including Dorine, the saucy, outspoken servant, who does everything in her power to break the hold the hypocrite has secured over her master. Dorine hates not only Tartuffe but also his valet, Laurent, for the...
(The entire section is 988 words.)
Show us the love and view this for free! Use the facebook like button, or any other share button on this page, and get this content free!free!
Tartuffe is set in the Paris home of Orgon, a wealthy man who lives with his wife, Elmire; his daughter, Mariane; and his son, Damis. Orgon also has several houseguests, including Madame Pernelle (his mother), Cléante (Elmire's brother), and Valère, who is engaged to Mariane. Orgon has recently befriended a man named Tartuffe, who has presented himself to Orgon as an extremely pious and devout man. Orgon invites Tartuffe to stay in his home as a moral guide and religious teacher. Orgon regards Tartuffe with extreme reverence, devotion, and adoration and treats him with greater love, affection, and favor than he does his wife and children. Orgon has taken Tartuffe as his close confidante, dotes on his guest excessively, and worships the man as if he were a saint.
In the opening scene, Orgon's mother, Madame Pernelle, announces to the other members of the household that she is leaving to stay elsewhere because she is disgusted with the manner in which they all (except Orgon) criticize Tartuffe. Madame Pernelle advises the others to take Tartuffe's advice and reform their lives, but they protest that there is nothing immoral about their behavior.
Orgon, who has just returned from two days spent in the country, asks Dorine (Mariane's lady's-maid) how everyone has been doing in his absence. Dorine tells him that Elmire, his wife, has been sick, suffering fever, headache, loss of appetite, and insomnia. Orgon, however,...
(The entire section is 1312 words.)
Summary and Analysis
Summary and Analysis: Act I
Orgon: The patriarch, who has fallen under the spell of an impostor posing as a holy man.
Madame Pernelle: Orgon’s mother, who voices dissatisfaction with the members of her son’s family.
Elmire: Orgon’s loyal wife.
Dorine: The lady’s maid, who speaks her mind and stands up for Mariane.
Damis: Orgon’s son, who is fed up with the false piousness of Tartuffe.
Mariane: Orgon’s daughter, who will be pressured into an arranged marriage.
Cléante: Elmire’s brother, who acts as the voice of reason throughout the play.
As the play opens, Madame Pernelle prepares to depart Orgon’s household with her maid, Flipote. Dissatisfied by what she has seen in her son’s residence, she berates the family members, pointing out deficiencies of one. According to Madame Pernelle, Elmire, her son’s wife, dresses too lavishly and sets a bad example for her children. The children and other members of the household do not fare much better. Dorine, the lady’s maid, has a saucy tongue and does not know her place. Mariane, the daughter, is too secretive. Cléante, Elmire’s brother, is too worldly and speaks of real life rather than religion.
At the heart of Madame Pernelle’s unhappiness is her appraisal that the family is not pious enough. In fact, they would all do well to heed the advice of the pious beggar whom Orgon has befriended and brought into the household, Tartuffe. Madame Pernelle thinks that Tartuffe is truly religious. However, Damis, her grandson, considers him a hypocrite and imposter who is faking religious sentiment. Damis’ opinion of Tartuffe is backed up by Dorine, who is never at a loss for words.
Madame Pernelle is scandalized by what the neighbors think and say about the family. Although only the maid, Dorine is the most vocal member of those accused by Madame Pernelle. She answers her arguments and points out that the gossiping neighbor, Orante, is old and bitter. Orante is too old to have a good time and, thus, is adapting a mode of piousness so that others might not have the fun that befits their age.
Madame Pernelle is horrified that the maid would not only have a strong opinion but also voice it. Much dismayed, she leaves in a huff, announcing that she will not be back anytime soon.
(The entire section is 2068 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Act II
Valère: The man Mariane loves and wishes to marry.
Orgon and Mariane are alone in the living room. First, Orgon has Mariane profess her allegiance to him, her father. Then he proclaims that she should “cheerfully obey” him. However, the conversation quickly takes an inauspicious turn as far as Mariane is concerned. Her father wants her to marry Tartuffe instead of Valère, the man she loves and to whom she is betrothed. Mariane, who is rather silent by nature, is caught off guard. She is horrified and, initially, thinks that she has misunderstood. However, her father makes it clear that he intends for her to wed Tartuffe. In the patriarchal society represented in the play, there is no question that she will obey. Orgon concludes: “Because I am resolved it shall be true. / That it’s my wish should be enough for you.”
Once again, Dorine, the maid, is left to confront Orgon, but with Mariane present. Mariane is far too shy, obedient, and hesitant to voice her opinion. However, Dorine suffers from no such restraints. As usual, she confronts Orgon in a mocking tone replete with lots of irony. First she accuses Orgon of joking in his intent to wed his daughter to Tartuffe. Orgon expresses dissatisfaction that Dorine is speaking out of turn; she annoys him. He goes on to defend Tartuffe and reiterates his intent to allow Tartuffe to marry into his family. Dorine retorts with a veiled threat or prediction that such an ill-suited marriage will result in the wife cheating on the husband almost immediately. In ordering such an ill-suited match, Orgon will be responsible for his daughter’s infidelity; he will be condemned in Heaven for causing the whole fiasco.
Orgon treats Dorine’s criticism with disdain and attempts to address his daughter directly. However, Dorine keeps interrupting with snide remarks: “And she’ll make him a cuckold, just wait and see.” Exasperated, Orgon threatens to slap Dorine unless she stops talking. Dorine responds by commenting in asides rather than directly to Orgon. Eventually he tries to slap her, but misses. Orgon is unsettled by the incident and leaves to regain his composure, leaving Dorine and Mariane alone.
Dorine berates Mariane for being so silent in front of her father and not defending herself. Mariane feels powerless because, in a...
(The entire section is 1187 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Act III
Tartuffe: The pious fraud whom Orgon has befriended and sheltered.
Laurent: Tartuffe’s lackey.
The impetuous Damis, enraged by his father’s plan—which will ruin his chance to wed Valère’s sister—vents frustration and wants to confront the “quack,” Tartuffe. Dorine dissuades him by convincing him that his mother, Elmire, should deal with Tartuffe. Dorine has observed that Tartuffe seems very devoted to Elmire; indeed, he may have a crush on her. This could work in the family’s favor.
At last, the long-anticipated Tartuffe appears with his lackey in front of Dorine. As predicted, he spouts all sorts of pious clichés that are transparent to Dorine. Tartuffe is a comedy, and the lead character is usually played as an obvious fraud and buffoon; Molière originally wrote the part for a rather portly actor in his troupe. Dorine and Tartuffe engage in a verbal joust: Tartuffe tells her to cover her bosom better, and Dorine retorts that he must truly be weak when confronted with temptation—she could never feel passion for him, even if she saw him completely naked. Dorine leaves after quickly getting Tartuffe excited by announcing that Elmire is on her way to see him.
Scenes III - IV
Elmire and Tartuffe are alone in a room together; Elmire wishes to discuss her husband’s plans to have Tartuffe wed Mariane. Tartuffe has a crush on his host’s wife. He begins flattering her beauty almost immediately. Elmire has a difficult task in discussing the marriage because Tartuffe constantly attempts to seduce her; he puts his hands all over her. This scene is usually played in an over-the-top fashion, with Tartuffe playing an inept lecher. Elmire keeps rebuking Tartuffe, but he persists. He gives a long monologue on her beauty and his inability to resist her charms. He promises to be discreet if she will accept his offer of love: “In short, I offer you, my dear Elmire, / Love without scandal, pleasure without fear.”
Elmire warns him that she could reveal everything to her husband. Tartuffe retorts that she is much too charitable to do that, especially since she has captivated him with her beauty. Elmire does not relent to his advances, but she promises to be discreet and not reveal the attempted seduction to her husband. Tartuffe, in return, promises to advocate the...
(The entire section is 1435 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Act IV
Always the voice of reason and toleration, Cléante plays the role of the peacemaker. He discusses the recent incidents with Tartuffe. Unlike Tartuffe, Cléante has a true conception of religious piety; Cléante preaches toleration and forgiveness: “Ought not a Christian to forgive, and ought / He not stifle every vengeful thought?” Tartuffe’s objections are rather feeble; Cléante goes on to show how Tartuffe’s behavior in accepting Orgon’s estate is not Christian. Tartuffe responds with religious platitudes. He plans to use his newfound wealth for “Heaven’s glory and mankind’s benefit.” Cléante is clearly winning the argument; Tartuffe no longer wants deal with him, so he exits.
Scene II is a very brief scene consisting of a short announcement by Dorine. Mariane is desperate about the impending marriage. Dorine appeals to the other family members to help Orgon change his mind.
Scenes III - IV
Mariane falls to her knees in front of Orgon (and the other family members), begging him not to force her to marry Tartuffe. At last Mariane, who has said very little up until this scene, finds her voice. She is in despair. She “abhors” Tartuffe and does not wish to wed him. She bows to her father’s authority and begs him to take all her property and worldly goods but to leave her body alone.
Orgon is quite deluded and is suffering from a religious complex. He exclaims that marriage with a man Mariane detests will actually be good for her: “Get up! The more you loathe the man, and dread him, / The more ennobling it will be to wed him! / Marry Tartuffe and mortify your flesh!” Orgon is sacrificing his daughter as if she were a saint.
Orgon ignores the pleas of Dorine, Cléante, and Elmire, whom he accuses of covering up for her son that morning. Again, Elmire relates her philosophy about not bothering her husband with needless trifles like failed seductions; she accuses her husband of being mistaken and introduces a plan to prove it: Orgon will hide under a table in the room while she calls for Tartuffe. Orgon does not believe that Tartuffe will try to seduce her, but Elmire knows otherwise.
With Orgon hiding under the table, Tartuffe enters. Elmire admits that she really does yearn for him and that, thanks to the events of the morning, they have an excuse to be...
(The entire section is 1117 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Act V
Monsieur Loyal: A bailiff who has been sent by Tartuffe to serve the eviction notice.
The Officer: An agent of the Law sent by the king to make an arrest.
Cléante and Orgon discuss Tartuffe’s threats. Orgon admits to having given Tartuffe papers that a friend, Argus, who fled the land, entrusted with him. The papers reveal a crime. Since Orgon did not turn these papers over to the Prince, he can be considered guilty of treason for his complicity. Orgon is now afraid that Tartuffe will use these papers against him.
Cléante is horrified that Orgon could behave so foolishly and admits that Tartuffe, with both the papers and the deed to the estate, clearly has the upper hand. Orgon rues the day he fell for Tartuffe, deciding that, henceforth, he will openly persecute holy men. Always the voice of reason and moderation, Cléante rebukes him for not acknowledging the power of the middle path. Orgon should not run from true religious piety just because he fell for an impostor, for this would be an even graver error than his initial one:
Come, just because one rascal made you swallow
A show of zeal which turned out to be hollow,
Shall you conclude that all men are deceivers,
And that, today, there are no true believers?
Let atheists make that foolish inference.
Having returned to his father’s good graces, Damis threatens to trim Tartuffe’s ears for Orgon. Cléante warns Damis not to be so hotheaded and to learn to moderate his rage.
The tables have been turned on Orgon. Instead of being the one who fails to listen to his family, he now tries to convince his mother, Madame Pernelle, who has returned, that Tartuffe is a fake. Madame Pernelle does not believe her son and behaves just as obstinately as her son did when he dealt with the rest of his family throughout the previous acts. Madame Pernelle persists in her belief that the family is persecuting Tartuffe, much to Orgon’s frustration.
The family conference is interrupted by Monsieur Loyal, a bailiff who has been sent by Tartuffe. Monsieur Loyal informs Orgon that Tartuffe is evicting him from the house that Tartuffe now possesses. The family is horrified; Damis threatens violence.
Out of the...
(The entire section is 1491 words.)