Last Updated on August 24, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 831
Tartuffe (tahr-TEWF), a religious hypocrite and impostor who uses religious cant and practices to impose on the credulity of a wealthy man who befriends him. To acquire money and cover deceit, he talks of his hair shirt and scourge, prayers, and distributing alms. He also disapproves of immodest dress. Before his first appearance, he is reported by some to be a good man of highest worth and by others to be a glutton, a winebibber, and a hypocrite. Deciding that he wants his patron’s daughter as his wife, he uses his seeming piety to convince his host to break his daughter’s marriage plans. He then endeavors to seduce his host’s wife by holding her hand, patting her knee, fingering her lace collar, and making declarations of love to her. When his conduct is reported to the husband by his wife and their son, the foolish man forgives Tartuffe and gives the hypocrite all his property. Another attempted seduction fails when the husband, hidden, overhears all that happens and orders Tartuffe out of the house. Tartuffe, boasting that the entire property is now his, has an eviction order served on his former patron. When a police officer arrives to carry out the eviction order, the tables are turned. Tartuffe is arrested at the order of the king, who declares him to be a notorious rogue.
Orgon (ohr-GOH[N]), a credulous, wealthy man taken in by Tartuffe, whom he befriends, invites into his home, and proposes as a husband for his daughter, who already is promised to another. Defending Tartuffe against the accusations of his family and servants, he refuses to believe charges that the scoundrel has attempted to seduce his wife. He then disowns his children and signs over all his property to Tartuffe. Only later, when he hides under the table, at the urging of his wife, and overhears Tartuffe’s second attempt at seduction, is he convinced that he is harboring a hypocrite and scheming rascal. Orgon is saved from arrest and eviction when Tartuffe is taken away by police officers.
Elmire (ehl-MEER), Orgon’s wife. Aware of the wickedness of Tartuffe, she is unable to reveal the hypocrite’s true nature to her husband. When she finds herself the object of Tartuffe’s wooing, she urges the son not to make the story public, for she believes a discreet and cold denial to be more effective than violent cries of deceit. Finally, by a planned deception of Tartuffe, she convinces her husband of that scoundrel’s wickedness.
Dorine (doh-REEN), a maid, a shrewd, outspoken, and witty girl who takes an active part in exposing Tartuffe and assisting the lovers in their plot against him. Much of the humor of the play results from her impertinence. She objects straightforwardly to the forced marriage of Tartuffe to Mariane, and she prevents a misunderstanding between the true lovers.
Mariane (mah-ree-AHN), Orgon’s daughter, regarded as a prude by her grandmother. Because she is in love with Valère, she is unhappy over the marriage to Tartuffe proposed by her father. Because of her timidity, her only action at the time is to fall at Orgon’s feet and implore him to change his mind.
Damis (dah-MEE), Orgon’s son, regarded as a fool by his grandmother. His temper and indiscretion lead him to upset carefully laid plans, as when he suddenly comes out of the closet in which he has listened to Tartuffe’s wooing of Elmire and reports the story naïvely to his father. He is outwitted by Tartuffe’s calm admission of the charge and his father’s belief in Tartuffe’s innocence, despite the confession.
Valère (vah-LEHR), Mariane’s betrothed. He quarrels with her, after hearing that Orgon intends to marry the young woman to Tartuffe, because she seems not to object to the proposal with sufficient force. In a comedy scene, the maid, running alternately between the lovers, reconciles the pair, and Valère determines that they will be married. He loyally offers to help Orgon flee after the eviction order is served on him by the court.
Madame Pernelle (pehr-NEHL), Orgon’s mother, an outspoken old woman. Like her son, she believes in the honesty and piety of Tartuffe, and she hopes that his attitude and teachings may reclaim her grandchildren and brother-in-law from their social frivolity. She defends Tartuffe even after Orgon turns against him. She admits her mistake only after the eviction order is delivered.
Cléante (klay-AH[N]T), Orgon’s brother-in-law. He talks in pompous maxims and makes long, tiresome speeches of advice to Orgon and Tartuffe. Both disregard him.
M. Loyal (lwah-YAHL), a tipstaff of the court. He serves the eviction order on Orgon.
A police officer
A police officer, brought in by Tartuffe to arrest Orgon. Instead, he arrests Tartuffe by order of the king.
Filipote (fee-lee-POHT), Madame Pernelle’s servant.