What happens in Tartuffe?

In Tartuffe, an impious trickster attempts to dupe the middle-aged Orgon. Despite the best efforts of Orgon's family, Tartuffe tricks Orgon into signing over the deed to his house. The king, however, annuls this deed, recognizing that Tartuffe is a criminal.

  • In the first two acts, Orgon's family discusses whether or not it was wise for the patriarch to invite Tartuffe into their home. Everyone but Orgon knows that Tartuffe is a hypocrite.

  • Tartuffe doesn't appear until act three of the play. When he does, it becomes clear that he has no morals and that he's manipulating Orgon into disinheriting his own children.

  • Tartuffe's plan succeeds, and Orgon signs over the deed to his house. Tartuffe attempts to have Orgon arrested for treason, but the king recognizes Tartuffe as a criminal and annuls the deed.

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical 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 anxious inquiry, “And Tartuffe?” followed by a heartfelt “poor fellow.” Since Tartuffe’s activities involve gluttonous eating and a good deal of sleeping, Orgon’s concern about the man is ridiculous. The fact that Orgon’s infatuation could have serious results is soon made clear, when he reveals his plan to make Tartuffe a member of the family by giving him his daughter in marriage. It is at this point that Elmire and Dorine begin to formulate plans to deceive the deceiver by attacking his own weaknesses.

Tartuffe’s susceptibility to lust is revealed as soon as he makes his long-awaited entrance in the third act, when he begs Dorine to cover her bosom, so as not to tempt him to sin. Elmire’s plan...

(The entire section is 2,998 words.)