Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1117
Always the voice of reason and toleration, Cléante plays the role of the peacemaker. He discusses the recent incidents with Tartuffe. Unlike Tartuffe, Cléante has a true conception of religious piety; Cléante preaches toleration and forgiveness: “Ought not a Christian to forgive, and ought / He not stifle every vengeful thought?” Tartuffe’s objections are rather feeble; Cléante goes on to show how Tartuffe’s behavior in accepting Orgon’s estate is not Christian. Tartuffe responds with religious platitudes. He plans to use his newfound wealth for “Heaven’s glory and mankind’s benefit.” Cléante is clearly winning the argument; Tartuffe no longer wants deal with him, so he exits.
Scene II is a very brief scene consisting of a short announcement by Dorine. Mariane is desperate about the impending marriage. Dorine appeals to the other family members to help Orgon change his mind.
Scenes III - IV
Mariane falls to her knees in front of Orgon (and the other family members), begging him not to force her to marry Tartuffe. At last Mariane, who has said very little up until this scene, finds her voice. She is in despair. She “abhors” Tartuffe and does not wish to wed him. She bows to her father’s authority and begs him to take all her property and worldly goods but to leave her body alone.
Orgon is quite deluded and is suffering from a religious complex. He exclaims that marriage with a man Mariane detests will actually be good for her: “Get up! The more you loathe the man, and dread him, / The more ennobling it will be to wed him! / Marry Tartuffe and mortify your flesh!” Orgon is sacrificing his daughter as if she were a saint.
Orgon ignores the pleas of Dorine, Cléante, and Elmire, whom he accuses of covering up for her son that morning. Again, Elmire relates her philosophy about not bothering her husband with needless trifles like failed seductions; she accuses her husband of being mistaken and introduces a plan to prove it: Orgon will hide under a table in the room while she calls for Tartuffe. Orgon does not believe that Tartuffe will try to seduce her, but Elmire knows otherwise.
With Orgon hiding under the table, Tartuffe enters. Elmire admits that she really does yearn for him and that, thanks to the events of the morning, they have an excuse to be together constantly. Tartuffe falls for Elmire’s ploy. He expresses his joy but wants her to submit to him right then and there to prove her affection (his physical advances and her rebuffs can be played to great comedic effect). Elmire coughs to warn her husband to come out, but he does not, allowing the farce to continue a while longer. She continues to resist, but then she says she will submit after Tartuffe checks the hall to make sure Orgon is not nearby. Before he checks, Tartuffe mocks Orgon’s utter gullibility.
Finally seeing the truth, Orgon emerges from under the table. Elmire adapts an ironic tone, imploring Orgon to keep hiding until he can be absolutely sure Tartuffe is a fake.
Scenes VII - VIII
Tartuffe reenters and is immediately confronted by Orgon. He orders Tartuffe out of his house. However, Tartuffe informs Orgon that the house is no longer his. Orgon signed it over to him, and he, Orgon, is the one who has to leave.
Orgon and Elmire, who has just discovered the absurd extent of her husband’s folly, are horrified. Orgon admits that he has indeed signed over the entire estate to Tartuffe. What’s more, he also gave him an incriminating letter.
Religious Sentiment and Cléante
As the play progresses, it becomes more and more apparent that Cléante is the character whose lines reveal Christian sentiment. While the falsely pious Tartuffe and completely duped Orgon make allusions to religion, there are too many contradictions between their deeds and actions. On the contrary, Cléante remains the voice of moderation and a role model for Christian behavior throughout the play. Moreover, his Christian sentiments are sincere.
Scholars have postulated that Molière gave Cléante’s character a larger part in the final version of the play in order to appease the clergy. His character is a counterbalance to all the chaos in the play; he embodies reason, diplomacy, and—most importantly—Christian charity: “Ought not a Christian to forgive, and ought / He not stifle every vengeful thought?” Cléante’s incorruptible faith, evident in his lines, serves as a final disclaimer for religious authorities, disassociating Tartuffe’s behavior from true religious sentiment:
You’ve recognized your recent grave mistake
In falling victim to a pious fake;
Now, to correct that error, must you embrace
An even greater error in its place,
And judge our worthy neighbors as a whole
By what you’ve learned of one corrupted soul?
Come, just because one rascal made you swallow
A show of zeal which turned out to be hollow,
Shall you conclude that all men are deceivers,
And that, today, there are no true believers?
Let atheists make that foolish inference.
Without Cléante’s uttering lines that clearly differentiate true piety from false religious sentiment for material gain, Tartuffe might have remained censored.
As Orgon becomes increasingly unreasonable, his hostility towards his family increases. He wants to “vex” them all as if they were mere pawns in his universe; Orgon behaves like a spiteful deity. In fact, his very lines betray this. As the probability of the forced marriage increases, Mariane’s despair contrasts with Orgon’s glee at his daughter’s fate. Not only is he content to ruin her, but he also uses a word with unmistakable religious connotations to better describe her sacrifice, “mortify”: “Marry Tartuffe, and mortify your flesh!”
In its religious sense, “mortify” means to subdue by abstinence or to self-inflict pain and discomfort. Neither choice is compatible with the effects of a marriage that a loving father would arrange for a daughter. Rather, Orgon is sacrificing Mariane to pain and discomfort for her soul’s benefit as if she were some sort of saint. Seen in this sense, Orgon’s madness (and, here, the word is not too strong) is complete. He has fallen victim to his own religious delusions. He is vengeful, much like the God of the Old Testament, hell-bent on his own authority. He is sacrificing his daughter to prove his own authority, much the way God tested Abraham. According to his deeply-flawed logic, Orgon believes that his daughter will actually benefit her marriage/mortification.
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