Tartuffe does not enter until the third act of the play. How does Molière establish Tartuffe's hypocrisy beforehand?

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In Tartuffeby Molière , the actual character Tartuffe does not enter the scene until the third act of the play. However, Molière is able to establish Tartuffe's hypocrisy beforehand through what other characters say about him. In the first scene, we see Cléante speaking with Dorine. Cléante says, “My,...

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In Tartuffe by Molière, the actual character Tartuffe does not enter the scene until the third act of the play. However, Molière is able to establish Tartuffe's hypocrisy beforehand through what other characters say about him. In the first scene, we see Cléante speaking with Dorine. Cléante says, “My, what a scene she made, and what a din! And how this man Tartuffe has taken her in!”

We therefore learn almost immediately that Tartuffe has deceived someone. Dorine responds “Yes, but her son is even worse deceived…” In fact, we learn quite a lot about Tartuffe and his relationships from Dorine’s speech. He refers to Tartuffe as having cast an “infatuating spell.” Further on in this same scene, we learn that the son:

Gives him the place of honor when they dine,

Delights to see him gorging like a swine,

Stuffs him with dainties till his guts distend...

We can infer that Tartuffe is pleased to have the honor that the son bestows on him. In addition, Molière paints Tartuffe as a pig here, gorging himself on the rich food that others pay for and stuffing himself with “dainties” that they provide.

Tartuffe is not only a hypocrite, but a charlatan and deceiver. Dorine continues to say that “Tartuffe, [is] much pleased to find so easy a victim.” Tartuffe is victimizing the son and tricking him “in a hundred ways.” We get the picture of Tartuffe as a scoundrel and probably a thief. We learn that Tartuffe is unfeeling in the scene between Dorine and Orgon, who are discussing the mistress’s distress at her painful headaches. Yet, unfeelingly, Tartuffe continues to gorge himself. Orgon later says that Tartuffe used to be humble and spiritual, the implication being that he is no longer.

Thus, Molière is able to use the device of other characters’ speeches to define Tartuffe’s character well before he makes his appearance on the stage.

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The idea Molière had when writing Tartuffe was to present a type of character who uses other people’s weakness for his own egoistical gain, a character that has always been present in the past and is present today as well, especially in a society where interpersonal interactions are based on crooked views and opinions. The title itself, "Tartuffe," is a word that literally means "a religious hypocrite or a hypocritical pretender to excellence," which is why the play is often referred to as The Hypocrite as well.

Before his title character even makes his first appearance, Molière skillfully describes Tartuffe’s personality and alludes to his hypocrisy through the witty monologues and dialogues of his other characters. From the beginning we are led to believe that Tartuffe is a person who hides his immoral and unscrupulous nature behind a mask of piety. While it’s obvious and unfortunate that Oregon has fallen under the spell of Tartuffe's words, his family and his servants seem to have seen right through Tartuffe's charade and believe him to be a "fraud." Take, for instance, the words of Oregon’s brother-in-law Cléanté, who, in a lengthy monologue that serves as an open critique of lies and hypocrisy, describes Tartuffe and the people of his kind as "frank charlatans":

And their piety, which gains them an accolade,
Is a tool to slay us with a sacred blade.
There are many men in this false disguise,
But those with pure hearts are easy to recognize.

The sentiment is shared with the rest of the characters, who all voice their opinions on Tartuffe’s vicious nature before he presents himself to the audience. Oregon is, of course, an exception to this, and his blind faith and naivety help set up the imagery in the reader's and the audience's mind that Tartuffe is a man of obvious evil intentions, painting him (Tartuffe) as a great hypocrite from the very start.

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Tartuffe makes his presence known offstage through the comments of numerous other characters. Both in direct statements, such as Cléante’s condemnation of hypocrites, and inferences the audience can draw from the qualities others praise, it soon becomes clear that Tartuffe is no spiritual paragon.

The lavish praise that Madame Pernelle, Orgon’s mother, expresses about Tartuffe’s piety is one clue that he is actually something else. Her views are also contested by Dorine, the family maid. After she leaves and Cléante, his brother-in-law, comes in, he and Dorine further discuss Tartuffe’s façade and the harm Orgon’s “infatuation” is causing the family.

After Orgon returns home, Cléante reads him the riot act, blatantly condemning Tartuffe as the worst sort of hypocrite, one who pretends to be pious. Orgon’s gullibility is emphasized through the story he tells of meeting Tartuffe in a church, insisting that he was the one who encouraged Tartuffe to come home with him.

By the time the audience meets Tartuffe, Molière has effectively built up their anticipation about what this skillful charmer will be like.

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The hypocrisy of Tartuffe is established in many ways and by many different characters before he is actually introduced in person to the audience. This is of course a key strategy of Moliere in order to cement his character as being hypocritical with the audience before he is even presented himself. Note what, for example, Damis says about the presence of Tartuffe in Orgon's household:

Good God! Do you expect me to submit
To the tyranny of that carping hypocrite?
Must we forgo all joys and satisfactions
Because that bigot censures all our actions?

Damis therefore points out what everybody is thinking and feeling very soon on in the play: Tartuffe is a hypocrite and his undue influence with Orgon is making everybody else's lives a nightmare, as Tartuffe is preventing them from enjoying themselves. This impression of Tartuffe as a hypocrite is further supported by Dorine, who, in Act I scene 1 as well, says the following:

You see him as a saint. I'm far less awed;
In fact, I see right through him. He's a fraud.

This quote mirrors the feelings of Damis, but using different words. Dorine is able to "see right through" Tartuffe, recognising that his surface piety is just an act and that he is nothing but a "fraud" underneath. Moliere therefore chooses to establish the hypocrisy of Tartuffe by the reports of others and their account of his hypocrisy. This clearly indicates that the audience is meant to view Tartuffe in this light and be negatively disposed towards him.

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