How are the other characters in "Tartuffe" employed to develop the theme of hypocrisy in Tartuffe himself?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Moliere's farce, every character besides Tartuffe contributes to exposing the religious and social hypocrisy of this impostor. 

Madame Pernelle

The foolish mother of Orgon criticizes Cleante, the honest voice of reason and foil to Tartuffe, for his "laying down rules of life that good people should never follow."  She insists that Tartuffe should be listened to and not cavilled by "such fools as you."  Her foolish remarks, which are countered by Dorine, who tells her

People whose own conduct is the most ridiculous are always readiest to detract from that of others. They never fail readily to catch at the slightest appearance of an affair, to set the news about with joy, and to give things the very turn they would have them take.  By colouring other people's actions like their own, they think to justify their conduct to the world, and fondly hope, by way of some resemblance, to give their own intrigues the air of innocence or to shift part of the blame elsewhere, which they find falls too hard upon themselves.

This "specious mask of great prudence" on the part of Madame Pernelle points to her hypocrisy, a hypocrisy which parallels that of Tartuffe.


Cleante tries to convince his brother-in-law Orgon that other pious people do not make such a public display of their piety as does Tartuffe.  When he talks with Tartuffe in Act IV, Clente accuses him of

"put[ting] us off here with sham excuses, and all your reasons, sir, are too far fetched." 

Furthermore, he also accuses Tartuffe of being the cause of Damis's being turned out of Orgon's house,

For, in short, has true zeal any maxim which shows how to strip a lawful heir of his right? 

Ever the true Christian in contrast to the avaricious and licentious Tartuffe who has tried to cheat Orgon and his family, Cleante urges Orgon at the end of the play to not "descend to indignities; leave the wretch to his evil destiny, and do not add to the remorse that oppresses him."


The character the most outraged by Tartuffe's behavior, Damis, hides in a closet to overhear the licentious proposals of Tartuffe to his mother.  Enraged after Tartuffe leaves, Damis tells his mother that he must report Tartuffe sexual advances to Orgon.  While Elmire pleads with him to keep quiet, he insists upon exposing Tartuffe by telling Orgon of the "perfidious wretch"; however, Orgon refuses to believe him and orders him out of the house, defending Tartuffe.


With her satirical nature,  Dorinne ridicules Tartuffe's impropriety and hypocrisy at every turn. When, for instance, she speaks with Tartuffe in Scene II of Act III, who, upon seeing her calls to his servant to lock up his hair-cloth and scourge--his tools of self-penance--and beg of heaven to enlighten him, Dorine exposes her bosom some.  The lustful Tartuffe feigns modesty,

Cover that bosom, which I can't bear to see.  Such objects hurt the soul, and usher in sinful thoughts.

Dorine accuses him,

"You mightily melt then at a temptation, and the flesh makes great impression upon your sense?  Truly, I can't tell what heat may inflame you, but, for my part, I am not so apt to hanker...."

"Pray, now , speak with a little modesty, or I shall leave you this minute." (Tartuffe)

"No, no, 'tis I who am going to leave you to yourself....


While Dorine verbally exposes Tartuffe, Elmire accomplishes a physical exposure.  After enduring his advances which enrage her son, Elmire tries to tell Orgon that Tartuffe has been improper with her, but Orgon refuses to believe her.  So, she finally convinces him to hide under a table while Tartuffe and she meet alone.  While Orgon is hiding, Tartuffe reveals his glaring hypocrisy as he demands sexual favors from her:

For my particular, who know I so little deserve your favours, I doubt the success of my rashness and I shall believe nothing, madame, till by realities you have convinced my passion....And if this gratification carries any offence in it, so much the worse for him who forces me to this violence; the fault certainly ought not to be laid at my door. 

Finally, Orgon emerges and confronts the hypocrite Tartuffe.  The impostor who has been castigated by many in the family and shown to be a hypocrite by Orgon's and Madame Pernelle's fatuous admiration, Tartuffe finally exposed for what he is.



shakespeareguru eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The play Tartuffe is a comedy written by French playwright Moliere.  Most of his plays were meant to critique common behaviours he saw in his society.  In Tartuffe, he is criticizing those people who pretend to be very pious and religious, when in fact, they are simply pretending devotion to God in order to further their own personal (and sometimes carnal) desires.

The title character of this play is just such a hypocrite.  Tartuffe moves into Orgon's house and then proceeds to eat and drink to excess, chase Elmire in an attempt to bed the wife of his host, and scheme to have himself declared Orgon's heir.  The society of Moliere's day found the actions of Tartuffe in this play play to be so scandalous that the play was banned from being performed for a period of time.

So, the character of Tartuffe himself is "employed to develop the theme of hypocrisy" in this play, but Moliere uses other characters to help develop this theme.  One of these is Tartuffe's benefactor, Orgon.  By allowing himself to be duped and also by refusing to listen to any words against Tartuffe, he allows such a hypocritical man to continue to live his completely un-pious life.  His own stubborn pride is part of the problem here in this play, and because of it, he allows Tartuffe to continue his con game, and that con game becomes even more emphasized because of Orgon's inability to listen to a word against his friend.

Cleante is another character employed to develop the theme of hypocrisy.  He is a foil to Tartuffe -- which means that he is the character who shows characteristics quite opposite to Tartuffe.  Cleante is actually very pious and religious, rather than pretending to be.  His goodness and earnest behaviour help show the audience a contrast to the devious actions of Tartuffe, again developing the theme of hypocrisy.

Moliere centers this play around a completely false and deceitful man who hypocritically claims to be pious and highlights this hypocrisy through his characterizations of Orgon and Cleante.



accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You clearly have been given some excellent advice relating to the answer. I will focus on the essay question:

How are the other characters in "Tartuffe" employed to develop the theme of hypocrisy in Tartuffe himself?

Firstly, your essay should focus not on Tartuffe at first, but the other characters and their relations with Tartuffe. Then, using that information, you should talk about how other characters are used to contribute to the overall theme of hypocrisy in Tartuffe. Clearly, other characters and their inter-relations with Tartuffe are key to this theme, so what you need to do is unravel and tease out how the author achieves this. Good luck!

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