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.

Questions and Answers: Act II

1. According to Orgon, why should Mariane obey him?

2. Does Mariane defend herself well? Does she have help?

3. What does Dorine predict will occur if Mariane is forced to wed Tartuffe?

4. What causes the misunderstanding between Valère and Mariane?

5. What tactic, in addition to predicting infidelity, does Dorine resort to when confronting Orgon? Could you consider the tactic passive-aggressive?

1. Orgon is the father, and it is natural—especially in a patriarchal society—for everyone in a family to obey the father. Because her father loves her, Mariane should be grateful and comply with his every wish: “That’s well said, Daughter; and you can repay me / If, in all things, you’ll cheerfully obey me.”

2. Mariane is rather silent by nature. Although she is horrified at the thought of marrying Tartuffe, she does not give much of an argument. Instead, she relies on Dorine to confront Orgon for her.

3. Dorine predicts that Mariane will cheat on her new husband immediately. If Orgon persists in demanding that his daughter marry a man whom she hates, he will be responsible, in the eyes of heaven, for the sin of infidelity that she will later commit.

4. Neither Valère nor Mariane is sufficiently upset at the news that Orgon intends for his daughter to wed Tartuffe. Their masked indifference hurts each other. Valère is hurt that Mariane will obey her father. Mariane, in turn, is hurt when Valère feigns callousness and announces that he will simply find another woman. Eventually Dorine reconciles the two lovers.

5. Dorine directly confronts Orgon in a mocking tone. When he tells her to keep quiet, she persists by talking in asides, directing her commentary to the audience rather than to Orgon—although he can still hear her. This tactic of no longer addressing the person with whom she is arguing can certainly be construed as passive-aggressive. Eventually, Orgon tries to slap Dorine.

Questions and Answers: Act III

1. What character flaws does Damis have that prevent him from initially attaining his goals?

2. How does Tartuffe reconcile his physical passion for Elmire with his religious nature?

3. How does Elmire react to the improper advances?

4. How does Tartuffe escape Orgon’s wrath after Damis’ accusation?

5. Does Elmire offer any resistance when Organ disinherits his son?

1. Damis is too hotheaded and impetuous. He fails to think things through logically before acting on his emotions and hatred. In acting without thinking, he fails to comprehend that his father may still take Tartuffe’s side after hearing the accusation. In his need for immediate action, Damis endangers his long-range goals. He would do better to follow the rational advice of his mother.

2. Tartuffe is, of course, a fraud, who is not really religious at all. However, for appearance’s sake, he must still present a religious philosophy that allows for his sexual gratification. In his speech from lines 933-960, he amply addresses this point. In his worldview, a love of heavenly beauty does not preclude “proper love for earthly pulchritude.” Elmire is too beautiful; how could a mere mortal, like him, resist her?

3. Elmire tells Tartuffe that she will keep the incident to herself if he agrees to consent to the marriage of Mariane and Valère. In this respect, Elmire is wise. She plans to use the incident to get what she wants. Additionally, she feels that improper advances are all too common; there is no need to tell a husband about such trifles.

4. Tartuffe confesses everything, proclaiming that he is a base sinner. He is overly penitent and acts as if the sins of the world are upon him. Heaven has chosen to “mortify” him, much like Christ. The ploy works for Tartuffe. Just as in an outcome of reverse-psychology, Orgon ends up mistakenly believing that Tartuffe is so pious that he is actually covering for Damis’ “lies.”

5. The scenes in Act III are—for the most part—very brief. Elmire is not present in Scene VI when Orgon disinherits his son. Although she was present in the two preceding scenes, she can exert no influence over her husband’s rash decision; only Orgon, Damis and Tartuffe are present for the final confrontation. In Scene V, Elmire voices the opinion that Damis should have remained silent and spared his father the whole accusation. However, she does nothing to validate or deny his claim. In this sense, she does not stand up for her son; instead, she treats her husband like a man who needs to be protected from the truth.

Questions and Answers: Act IV

1. Why doesn’t Cléante think that Tartuffe is a true Christian?

2. By Act IV, what is Orgon’s main motive in marrying his daughter to Tartuffe?

3. Why does Orgon wait so long in appearing from under the table?

4. What tone does Elmire adopt with her husband when he finally emerges from under the table?

5. Why doesn’t Tartuffe attempt to use reverse-psychology anymore?

1. A true Christian would preach forgiveness for Damis and not accept an inheritance that is not morally his. Tartuffe has no satisfactory response to these charges.

2. Orgon wants to spite his family. He considers them ungrateful. He is also suffering from a religious complex; from his language, he wants to sacrifice his daughter much the way saints sacrifice themselves: “Marry Tartuffe, and mortify your flesh!”

3. There is no simple answer to this question. Most likely, Molière drags out the scene to maximize comedic effect. Orgon has been duped for so long that it is only natural to drag out the scene to emphasize how badly he has been fooled. The extended seduction and rebuff gives the actor who plays Tartuffe an opportunity to ham up the part. He can constantly grapple and paw Elmire while giving a speech on piety. The reader should always remember that Tartuffe is a comedy.

4. In ironic language, Elmire mocks her husband for how badly he has been duped up until that scene, even resorting to quoting Tartuffe’s seduction line (prove “concretely”):

What, coming out so soon? How premature!
Get back in hiding, and wait until you’re sure.
Stay till the end, and be convinced completely;
We mustn’t stop till things are proved concretely.

5. Orgon has signed over his entire estate to Tartuffe and also given him an incriminating letter. Tartuffe feels that he has all he needs to take complete control over Orgon’s property. There is no longer any need to play a role.

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,...

(The entire section is 498 words.)