Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1187
Valère: The man Mariane loves and wishes to marry.
Orgon and Mariane are alone in the living room. First, Orgon has Mariane profess her allegiance to him, her father. Then he proclaims that she should “cheerfully obey” him. However, the conversation quickly takes an inauspicious turn as far as Mariane is concerned. Her father wants her to marry Tartuffe instead of Valère, the man she loves and to whom she is betrothed. Mariane, who is rather silent by nature, is caught off guard. She is horrified and, initially, thinks that she has misunderstood. However, her father makes it clear that he intends for her to wed Tartuffe. In the patriarchal society represented in the play, there is no question that she will obey. Orgon concludes: “Because I am resolved it shall be true. / That it’s my wish should be enough for you.”
Once again, Dorine, the maid, is left to confront Orgon, but with Mariane present. Mariane is far too shy, obedient, and hesitant to voice her opinion. However, Dorine suffers from no such restraints. As usual, she confronts Orgon in a mocking tone replete with lots of irony. First she accuses Orgon of joking in his intent to wed his daughter to Tartuffe. Orgon expresses dissatisfaction that Dorine is speaking out of turn; she annoys him. He goes on to defend Tartuffe and reiterates his intent to allow Tartuffe to marry into his family. Dorine retorts with a veiled threat or prediction that such an ill-suited marriage will result in the wife cheating on the husband almost immediately. In ordering such an ill-suited match, Orgon will be responsible for his daughter’s infidelity; he will be condemned in Heaven for causing the whole fiasco.
Orgon treats Dorine’s criticism with disdain and attempts to address his daughter directly. However, Dorine keeps interrupting with snide remarks: “And she’ll make him a cuckold, just wait and see.” Exasperated, Orgon threatens to slap Dorine unless she stops talking. Dorine responds by commenting in asides rather than directly to Orgon. Eventually he tries to slap her, but misses. Orgon is unsettled by the incident and leaves to regain his composure, leaving Dorine and Mariane alone.
Dorine berates Mariane for being so silent in front of her father and not defending herself. Mariane feels powerless because, in a patriarchal society, the father has the last word: “What good would it do? A father’s power is great.” Dorine appeals to Mariane’s logic and emotions; if she and Valère love one another, they should wed. In her usual mocking tone, Dorine brushes aside Mariane’s feeble thoughts of suicide. Mariane sees no way out of the situation:
“If I defied my father, as you suggest,
Would it not seem unmaidenly, at best?
Shall I defend my love at the expense
Of brazenness and disobedience?
Shall I parade my heart’s desires and flaunt . . .”
Yet again, Dorine resorts to mocking irony to illustrate how dismal Mariane’s life will be if she weds Tartuffe. Fed up, Dorine declares that nothing can be done considering Mariane’s complying nature. Mariane is hurt by the tone; Dorine decides to take pity on her. Valère arrives, and Dorine promises to save the day.
Mariane informs Valère that her father intends for her to marry Tartuffe. He is hurt that she is not adamant in refusing her father, so he tells her to go ahead and wed according to her father’s wishes. Consequently, Mariane is hurt that Valère could give up on her so easily. The misunderstanding leads to their feigning callousness, as if they are unconcerned about what is happening and don’t care for each other. Valère proclaims that she never truly loved him, and that he’ll find another lover. Mariane pretends to be unmoved, bidding her lover adieu. In a sequence that can be played to great comedic effect, Valère keeps leaving, only to return immediately to announce that he is leaving again. Eventually Dorine stops the farce from continuing and reconciles the two. She has the two clasp hands and admit their love. Then she announces a plan of action: Mariane is, outwardly, to comply with her father and agree to marry Tartuffe. However, she should constantly delay the fateful day until they can enlist others to help change Orgon’s mind. The lovers exit vowing to marry only one another.
Individual family members use lots of words and phrases that attempt to clarify Orgon’s behavior throughout the play. In Act I, Dorine claims that Orgon has “lost his senses.” While Orgon may not be classified as “mad” or “insane,” according to a modern clinical definition, his reason has been compromised. How, then, do we describe Orgon or his condition?
Is he a man who is in the midst of a mid-life crisis? One whose youthful vigor and power are ebbing, who wishes to retain his authority by acting like a tyrant within his family? Or, is he undergoing a religious crisis that Tartuffe has helped induce? People often become spiritual and introspective at certain times in their lives. And, at these times, they often seek religious counsel. For whatever reason, Orgon has become very religious, and he has fallen for a charlatan who is exploiting his charitable nature.
While we can quibble over different explanations of just why Orgon has lost his powers of discernment, the situation is indeed serious because Orgon’s behavior does not primarily affect himself; rather, it affects his family, most specifically, his daughter, Mariane. Because his irrationality affects others, it is problematic and demands action.
The dialogue between Orgon and Mariane is particularly telling. Mariane should “cheerfully obey” her father’s every whim or wish, no matter how absurd. This expectation puts Mariane, the dutiful daughter, in a difficult position: her father is asking her to marry a man she abhors rather than the man she loves. Her objections are meek, and Dorine must interfere to voice an argument. The women in Tartuffe have little authority other than beauty and sexual wiles (e.g. Madame Pernelle is powerless to do anything but leave the household and complain). Consequently, Dorine’s arguments do not hinge on how Orgon’s wish is irrational and tyrannical—this approach would have little influence since Dorine does not wield the authority to question Orgon. Rather, her arguments are about a woman’s ability to find another man and cheat on her husband. Mariane’s sole power is her ability to ruin her own honor to avenge her father’s insensitive whims.
Also, for those knowledgeable of another Molière play, Le Depit Amoureux, the quarrel between Valère and Mariane would be quite familiar. Indeed, it is a scene that Molière lifted from that play in an attempt to lighten the much more serious Tartuffe. Scene IV is, thus, a comedic interlude that is usually played like a farce. It grants the audience a brief respite from the overarching themes of religion and patriarchal authority.
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