In Tartuffe, by Molière, in relation to Madame Pernelle, what is funny about the first scene?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In judging Tartuffe's humor, it is essential to be aware of the fact that Moliere wrote for King Louis XIV and the socially elite of the seventeenth century. In an essay entitled, "Tartuffe as political parable:  reason, laughter, and responsible authority in an age of absolutism," the author writes,

The audience for which Moliere wrote Tartuffe was a worldly sector of the social elite in Paris in the latter third of the seventeenth century.

Thus, Moliere's position was to entertain the King who was his patron, along with the jaded elite. He did so by writing comedies and farces. Clearly, Tartuffe fits the definition of farce, a type of comedy based upon a far fetched humorous situations, often with riduculous or stereotyped characters. There is no question that Tartuffe is a ridiculous character, and Madame Pernelle is foolish and stereotypical herself, believing that Tartuffe is a saint and touting platitudes, and deserving of laughter. Certainly, the aristocratic viewers of Moliere's age would find her ridiculous and laught at her. For one thing, her judgments are so far from the truth that she is laughable. For instance, she contends that Tartuff "tells you the naked truth." a statement that could not be further from the truth.

In addition, Madame Pernelle's physical comedy is laughable as she speaks quickly and spins around, boxing her servant on the ear;  further, her ramblings from one topic to another are also ridiculous. As one critic has written,

Molière defended comic drama as an important means of correcting immoral behavior. He pointed out that, "It is a great blow to vice to expose it to everybody's laughter,’’ because, ‘‘We do not mind being wicked, but no one wants to be ridiculed.’’

So, it is evident that Moliere intended his audiences to find things funny and ridiculous and laugh.

Karyth Cara eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In our society "funny" implies great mirth, something to laugh aloud at. Scene one of Tartuffe is not meant to be funny. Rather, it is meant to be amusing and wittily ironic with a biting satirical edge. One doesn't necessarily laugh at this as though it were funny. One knowingly nods one's head in amused understanding of the element of society being exposed for what it is. Thus what makes this scene amusing is that Madame Pernelle is telling each of the household what she thinks of them and return hearing what they think of the clergyman she admires and puts forth as their correct moral guide. It's satirical exposure and ironic turn-about in counter accusation.

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