In what ways do the conventions of French society play out in Tartuffe?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The social conventions of French society in the mid-1600s are reflected in the play in numerous ways. Orgon, as the husband and father, functions as the absolute head of his household. He wields total authority and his will is obeyed, even when Orgon behaves in a stupid or selfish manner. He brings Tartuffe home and dotes upon him, over the strenuous objections of his wife and children. Even though the other members of the household, including the servant Dorine, recognize Tartuffe for the fraud he is, Orgon's will prevails, bring near disaster upon his family.

Also, the marriage between Mariane and Valere is an expression of the social conventions of the time. The two love each other but cannot marry without Orgon's blessing. When Orgon withdraws his approval and arranges instead the marriage between Mariane and Tartuffe, Mariane must submit to her father's decision. Even her mother, Elmire, cannot overrule Orgon in the matter.

Finally, the social conventions of the class system are evident in the play. Dorine acts as friend and confidant to her mistress, Mariane, but to Orgon she is a servant who must keep her place. When Dorine dares to speak to him about his behavior, Orgon threatens her with bodily harm if she does not keep silent. Dorine is a servant to Orgon, just as Orgon is a servant to the King. At the play's conclusion, it is the King who absolves Orgon of any wrongdoing and saves him from Tartuffe's treachery. The King, of course, is the ultimate voice of authority in this society.

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