Questions and Answers: Act I
1. Why is Madame Pernelle leaving the household?
2. Why is Madame Pernelle dissatisfied with Dorine? What is one larger implication behind a character like Dorine’s having so many lines?
3. At what point does the reader or audience realize that Orgon is behaving strangely?
4. Dialogue is ironic when the literal meaning is the opposite of the intended meaning. When and why is the dialogue in Tartuffe ironic? Give examples.
5. What is Orgon alluding to when he says he will be guided by “Heaven’s will” concerning the wedding of his daughter?
1. Madame Pernelle is upset that no one listens to her. She thinks that the family behaves badly. Elmire, her daughter-in-law, is needlessly lavish. In addition, the children are apt to entertain guests, which causes the neighbors to gossip. Madame Pernelle thinks that the family is not pious enough and that they should all listen to Tartuffe, the holy man whom her son Orgon has befriended and taken under his roof.
2. Dorine is Mariane’s lady’s maid. Despite her servant position, Dorine openly speaks her mind. In fact, Dorine has quite a few lines throughout the play; she is impetuous and prone to telling the truth in a sarcastic manner. Considering the social order in France (pre-French Revolution), she is behaving as if outside her social class, which can be viewed as a sign of disrespect or a sign that the deluded patriarch needs to be confronted.
3. Scene IV. Prior to Scene IV, a difference of opinion pits Madame Pernelle against the rest of Orgon’s family. However, since neither Orgon nor Tartuffe have yet made an appearance, the audience does not know whose side to take. All this changes when Orgon asks Dorine for news of his family. From the exchange, it is clear that Orgon has rearranged his priorities in a very bizarre manner. From this point on, it is obvious that the family’s complaints, not Madame Pernelle’s, have a great deal of validity.
4. Tartuffe is rife with irony, and it is often used for comedic effect. In Scene IV, Orgon keeps responding, “Poor fellow” whenever Dorine relates just how well Tartuffe is doing. In Scene V, Cléante calls his brother-in-law “humane” even though Orgon states, “My mother, children, brother, and wife could die, / And I’d not feel a single moment’s pain.” Later in Scene IV, Orgon retorts that Cléante is “profoundly wise,” when he is actually accusing him of being misguided. Irony is used throughout the play, and the reader should be aware of it; while irony is obvious in an actual production, unless the reader reads aloud, much of the irony can be lost.
5. Orgon has had a change of heart concerning his daughter’s wedding; he has postponed it. Seeing that he is thoroughly under the spell of Tartuffe, he is alluding to Tartuffe’s influence when he mentions “Heaven’s will.” Heaven is not guiding him; rather, Tartuffe, the impostor, is.