Tartuffe: Characters & Quotes

Instructor: Joseph Altnether

Joe has taught college English courses for several years, has a Bachelor's degree in Russian Studies and a Master's degree in English literature.

Molière's 'Tartuffe' is about how the fraud Tartuffe nearly ruins Orgon. Orgon's family is aware of Tartuffe's machinations and goes to great lengths to reveal his true nature. Learn more about these characters through their quotes.

Tartuffe

Any time a story or dramatic work is named for a character, they must play a major role in the story. That is definitely the case with Molière's Tartuffe. Tartuffe is a master charlatan. Orgon ''picked (Tartuffe) up from total poverty.'' After Tartuffe ingratiates himself into Orgon's life, he then steals everything away from Orgon. Although Tartuffe plays the part of a pious man, who preaches morality to the point where ''anything we take pleasure in / Suddenly becomes a mortal sin,'' he indulges his baser desires when he believes no one is looking.

Tartuffe eats ''enough for six…(and) on his plate are piled the choicest bites.'' He also receives money from Orgon, and ''they're not even loans.'' Still, this is not enough. Tartuffe only wants the finest things in life, and he is even so bold as to attempt to seduce Elmire, Orgon's wife! While Tartuffe instructs the maid Dorine to ''cover your bust. The flesh is weak,'' he behaves contrary to his own words. Tartuffe finds himself alone with Elmire and tells her ''the fabric of your dress, a sweet surrender / Under my hand.'' Tartuffe's hypocrisy is where Molière's satire is most potent.

For a man who has turned Orgon's house into ''a moral house, a house that's free of sin,'' Tartuffe's actions do not back up his words. When Tartuffe mentions that ''there'll be no sins for which we must atone / 'Cause evil exists only when it's known,'' Molière shows that, as long as no one else knows about it, we can behave however we want. At least this is how Molière portrays the words and actions of religious leaders and figures, so Tartuffe's character becomes a satirical portrayal, which pokes fun at their shortcomings.

Orgon

Orgon is Tartuffe's gullible mark. Orgon takes pity on Tartuffe and rescues him from supposed poverty, but what starts out as a moment of kindness on Orgon's part develops into slavish devotion. Perhaps Orgon's character indicates how Molière perceives those who follow faith blindly. The maid Dorine notes that ''Before Tartuffe and he became entwined, / Orgon once ruled this house in his right mind.'' Orgon has lost control of his household and the respect of those who live under his roof.

Orgon goes so far as to get rid of his daughter's fiancé and give her hand to Tartuffe instead. He also disinherits his son for accusing Tartuffe of attempting to seduce his wife. Orgon even encourages Tartuffe to ''flaunt…this friendship with my wife.'' Orgon has become oblivious to the treacherous machinations of Tartuffe. Orgon loses everything to Tartuffe, all because he allows himself to be blinded by Tartuffe's words.

When Orgon finally realizes that Tartuffe ''leads him by the nose,'' it is too late. Tartuffe has acquired all of Orgon's possessions. He evicts Orgon, telling him that your ''house belongs to me.'' In a nice twist, the King Louis XIV remembers how Orgon ''defended our king's right / To his throne. And you were prepared to fight.'' So Orgon's good deed for the king comes back to save him from Tartuffe's treachery. In the case of the king, Orgon did not act in blind faith. He defended the king's sovereignty and knew what this stance entailed. With faith, the outcome may not be what is expected. With Orgon and Tartuffe, Molière points out the need for caution in matters of faith.

Female Characters

There are several female characters who contribute to Molière's Tartuffe. First is Orgon's mother, Madame Pernelle. She is a cantankerous, old woman who feels neglected. She complains that ''no one ever thinks about my pleasure.'' She also defends Tartuffe without a second thought.

The other women attempt to convince Orgon that Tartuffe is a fraud. Orgon's wife, Elmire, puts her reputation at risk in an effort to prove this point. Elmire knows that Tartuffe lusts after her, and sets up Tartuffe in order to expose him. She asks Orgon how he can ''hear these sins and stay unfazed?''

Even Orgon's daughter, Mariane, is bewildered by her father's actions. He dissolves her engagement to Valère and offers Tartuffe as her suitor. Mariane declares that if she ''must wed, then I will be God's wife.''

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