Overview of the Play:
Written by Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (better known as Molière), Tartuffe was first performed in 1664. However, its run was cut short because of the controversy surrounding the play. The comedy takes place in Paris in the 1660s and pokes fun at gullible people who are easily fooled by Tartuffe, a hypocrite who pretends to be deeply moral and religious. Because of its satirical nature, religious devotees felt threatened by the play, censoring it from public performances.
Although he does not appear until half-way through Act One, Tartuffe is discussed extensively by all of the other characters. Most of the characters realize that Tartuffe is a loathsome hypocrite who pretends to be a religious zealot. However, the wealthy Orgon and his mother fall for Tartuffe’s illusion.
Before the action of the play, Tartuffe arrives at Orgon’s house as a mere vagrant. He masquerades as a religious man and convinces the master of the house (Orgon) to stay as a guest indefinitely. Orgon begins to adhere to Tartuffe’s every whim, believing that Tartuffe is leading them on the pathway to heaven. Little does Orgon realize, Tartuffe is actually scheming to steal away Orgon’s home, Orgon’s daughter’s hand in marriage, and the fidelity of Orgon’s wife.
The protagonist of the play, Orgon is comically clueless. Despite the warnings from family members and a very vocal maid, Orgon devotedly believes in Tartuffe’s piety. Throughout most of the play, he is easily duped by Tartuffe – even when Orgon’s son, Damis, accuses Tartuffe of trying to seduce Orgon’s wife, Elmire.
Finally, he witnesses Tartuffe’s true character. But by then it is too late. In an effort to punish his son, Orgon hands over his estate to Tartuffe who intends to kick the Orgon and his family out into the streets. Fortunately for Orgon, the King of France (Louis XIV) recognizes Tartuffe’s deceitful nature and Tartuffe is arrested at the end of the play.
Although she is often frustrated by her foolish husband, Elmire remains a loyal wife throughout the play. One of the more hilarious moments in this comedy takes place when Elmire asks her husband to hide and observe Tartuffe. While Orgon watches in secret, Tartuffe reveals his lustful nature as he tries to seduce Elmire. Thanks to her plan, Orgon finally figures out just how gullible he has been.
Orgon’s self-righteous mother. This elderly character begins the play by chastising her family members. She is also convinced that Tartuffe is a wise and pious man, and that the rest of the household should follow his instructions. She is the last one to finally realize Tartuffe’s hypocrisy.
The daughter of Orgon. Originally, her father approved of her engagement to her true love, the handsome Valère. However, Orgon decides to cancel the arrangement and compels his daughter to marry Tartuffe. She has no desire to marry the hypocrite, yet she believes that a proper daughter should obey her father.
Headstrong and madly in love with Mariane, Valère’s heart is wounded when Mariane suggests they call off the engagement. Fortunately, Dorine the crafty maid helps them patch things up before the relationship falls apart.
The outspoken maid of Mariane. Despite her humble social status, Dorine is the wisest and wittiest character in the play. She sees through Tartuffe’s schemes more readily than anyone else. And she is not afraid to speak her mind, even at the risk of being scolded by Orgon. When open communication and reasoning fail, Dorine helps Elmire and the others come up with their own schemes to expose Tartuffe’s wickedness.