Questions and Answers: Act V
1. Why is Orgon worried about the papers in the strongbox?
2. Is Monsieur Loyal ironically named? Explain.
3. Which member of the family is the most level-headed during the final confrontation?
4. Why is Tartuffe arrested instead of Orgon? Could the political and religious climate of 17th-century France have influenced this “Happy Ending”?
5. In earlier (banned) versions of the play, which no longer exist, the character Tartuffe was an actual priest who quoted holy writ. In the final version he is an “imposter” who pretends to be holy. What may have caused this change in the final version?
1. Orgon’s friend, Argus, committed a crime and had to flee the kingdom. He gave self-incriminating papers to Orgon. Orgon accepted them like a true friend, but by accepting the papers, he became complicit in the affair. Tartuffe tricks Orgon into giving him the box by arguing that Orgon is not guilty of anything if he doesn’t have the box and papers. By giving Tartuffe the box, Orgon gives Tartuffe the power to ruin him.
2. Monsieur Loyal is ironically named because, although he once served under Orgon for many years (presumably in battle), he is serving Orgon eviction papers on Tartuffe’s behalf. Monsieur Loyal is not loyal at all.
3. Cléante is the most level-headed member of the household throughout the play and, particularly, in the final act. He consistently analyzes situations rationally, dissuades Damis from violence, and pleads for true Christian charity. In the final scene of the play, he even hopes that Tartuffe will one day discover the virtue of true piety. Cléante’s wisdom counters the gullibility of Orgon and Madame Pernelle as well as the impetuousness of Damis.
4. Tartuffe is arrested because the King sees through his act of false loyalty. In 17th-century France, the King was considered the final authority. Tartuffe was banned for years by censors; it would have been impossible for the play to have been performed if phony authority figures triumphed in the end. Much better to appease the King by portraying him as a wise and sagacious ruler who could never fall for Tartuffe’s cheap ruse. In the end, the King exercises his rightful authority in jailing an impostor who lays a phony claim on Heaven’s authority. The final act had to be constructed very carefully for a right of performance to be granted.
5. 17th-century France was a society in which the church exercised an enormous influence. To produce a play, even a comedy, that suggested that a priest could be a devious trickster was impossible; the original version was banned after objections from the church. In the final version, there is no overt criticism of the church. Rather, Tartuffe is an impostor who has no heavenly or ecclesiastical authority; he is a common con artist, thus absolving the church of any responsibility for his actions. Additionally, Cléante, throughout the play, speaks of true piety and its importance, especially when confronted with an impostor like Tartuffe.