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Comedy Play “Tartuffe”: A Character Study

Tartuffe is one of Moliere’s most famous comedy plays. Although the first version was published back in 1669, the play is still present in the repertoire of modern theater companies. The reason for this is the bright comedy plot, as well as memorable characters. This essay aims to analyze one of the critical characters of the play, Tartuffe.

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Tartuffe, the man whose name the piece is named after, is the perfect example of a two-faced con man who uses religion and his eloquence to deceive gullible people. The play’s entire plot is built around his fraudulent scheme and the reactions of various characters to it. Being a vagabond, he used Orgon’s trust to satisfy his whims, utilizing the resources of the head of the house. Although this is not visible initially, Tartuffe is an extremely cunning person, actively using Orgon’s penchant for religion, feigning an active, almost fanatical piety. This adherence to faith is his main cover behind which hides his true identity. Apart from that, practically nothing is known about the character’s motives and intentions, which are revealed only in his interactions with the inhabitants of the house.

Another difficulty in understanding the character is that Tartuffe does not appear on stage until the second scene of the third act. Up to this point, the audience gets to know his character only through other characters’ conversations. Some of them idolize the fraudster, while the others treat him with contempt, denouncing his fraudulent schemes. For example, in the first scene of the first act, a dialogue occurs between Orgon’s mother and the other household members. The woman rejects all insults and revelations towards Tartuffe (Moliere). Due to the actual absence of the character’s actions, the viewer can only guess who Tartuffe is – a pious person who is being denigrated or a villain who deceives the gullible.

The first position is defended by the older generation, easily deceived by a fraudster. Both Orgon, the head of the house, and his mother, Madame Pernelle, actively support Tartuffe, seeing in him only sincerity and religiosity. Orgon’s mother, moreover, belittles all other household members, from servants to the wife of the owner of the house. In the first scene of the first act, she criticizes each present, highlighting their flaws (Moliere). While Madame Pernelle sees in Tartuffe just a worthy man, Orgone is filled with brotherly love for him, bribed by the man’s feigned modesty. He is amazed and delighted with his adherence to religion, and the speeches of the swindler overshadow everything for the owner of the house (Moliere). Fortunately, Tartuffe’s eloquence does not affect the rest of the characters, so the household treats him significantly negatively, seeing through and through all his lies.

Tartuffe is one of Moliere’s most famous comedy plays. Although the first version was published back in 1669, the play is still present in the repertoire of modern theater companies. The reason for this is the bright comedy plot, as well as memorable characters. This essay aims to analyze one of the critical characters of the play, Tartuffe.

Tartuffe, the man whose name the piece is named after, is the perfect example of a two-faced con man who uses religion and his eloquence to deceive gullible people. The play’s entire plot is built around his fraudulent scheme and the reactions of various characters to it. Being a vagabond, he used Orgon’s trust to satisfy his whims, utilizing the resources of the head of the house. Although this is not visible initially, Tartuffe is an extremely cunning person, actively using Orgon’s penchant for religion, feigning an active, almost fanatical piety. This adherence to faith is his main cover behind which hides his true identity. Apart from that, practically nothing is known about the character’s motives and intentions, which are revealed only in his interactions with the inhabitants of the house.

Another difficulty in understanding the character is that Tartuffe does not appear on stage until the second scene of the third act. Up to this point, the audience gets to know his character only through other characters’ conversations. Some of them idolize the fraudster, while the others treat him with contempt, denouncing his fraudulent schemes. For example, in the first scene of the first act, a dialogue occurs between Orgon’s mother and the other household members. The woman rejects all insults and revelations towards Tartuffe (Moliere). Due to the actual absence of the character’s actions, the viewer can only guess who Tartuffe is – a pious person who is being denigrated or a villain who deceives the gullible.

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The first position is defended by the older generation, easily deceived by a fraudster. Both Orgon, the head of the house, and his mother, Madame Pernelle, actively support Tartuffe, seeing in him only sincerity and religiosity. Orgon’s mother, moreover, belittles all other household members, from servants to the wife of the owner of the house. In the first scene of the first act, she criticizes each present, highlighting their flaws (Moliere). While Madame Pernelle sees in Tartuffe just a worthy man, Orgone is filled with brotherly love for him, bribed by the man’s feigned modesty. He is amazed and delighted with his adherence to religion, and the speeches of the swindler overshadow everything for the owner of the house (Moliere). Fortunately, Tartuffe’s eloquence does not affect the rest of the characters, so the household treats him significantly negatively, seeing through and through all his lies.

In all fairness, it is not so difficult to discern a feigned swindler in Tartuffe; therefore, immediately after the first meeting with him, the viewer can understand why all adequate residents of the house see through his lie. In the second scene of the third act, when the audience first meets him, he gives his handkerchief to the maid with feigned piety, asking her to cover her breasts (Moliere). Such speeches already make it possible to understand that a man is far from religious dogmas and is highly susceptible to carnal pleasures. The further development of the plot shows that in addition to using the house owner for finances, the man also laid eyes on his wife. Simultaneously, although the woman came to him for business, he self-confidently tries to seduce her (Moliere). Tartuffe is not embarrassed by the status of Elmire, nor his position, nor the possibility that he will be revealed. Thus, in the very first meeting, despite the maintained pious image, Tartuffe shows the viewer his true, poorly hidden side.

However, he manages to maintain his personality even in the face of direct insults and accusations. Tartuffe does not bother with the fact that someone from the servants or confidants can reveal it since he is sure of his influence on Orgon. At the same time, next to Orgon, he uses all his charm and eloquence, actively referring to religion, which bribes the house owner. This is clearly demonstrated in the scene where Tartuffe is denounced in an attempt to seduce Elmire. Despite the evidence from his son and wife, Orgon fiercely marks their words, lashing out at his loved ones to protect his named brother (Moliere). The skillful use of psychology, including reverse, also helps to maintain his identity. When he is denounced, he does not even try to resist, only submissively bowing his head before Orgon, calling himself the most terrible sinner (Moliere). This behavior, corresponding to Orgon’s image of a martyr, only strengthened the man’s faith in the innocence of his comrade.

Such behavior protects Tartuffe from possible consequences, allowing him to manipulate Orgon as he pleases. These manipulations are performed for the purpose of profit. Tartuffe actively accepts gifts from the house owner, feigning refusal, which prompts Orgon to give him even more (Moliere). The fraudster also learns about compromising evidence, thereby ensuring a possible escape route. Finally, with the help of his deception, Tartuffe forces Orgon to give him the entire house and funds. Thus, when his act is revealed, Tartuffe easily discards his guise, having all the means for a safe escape. Through manipulation based on religious trust, Tartuffe gets everything he wants, after which he abandons the identity of an impostor.

Thus, the character of Tartuffe is curious in how he combines feigned purity and a real personality of a cunning manipulator. This combination, coupled with the comedic nature of the play and the intriguing interactions of the characters, makes both the entire play and Tartuffe himself vivid and memorable.

However, he manages to maintain his personality even in the face of direct insults and accusations. Tartuffe does not bother with the fact that someone from the servants or confidants can reveal it since he is sure of his influence on Orgon. At the same time, next to Orgon, he uses all his charm and eloquence, actively referring to religion, which bribes the house owner. This is clearly demonstrated in the scene where Tartuffe is denounced in an attempt to seduce Elmire. Despite the evidence from his son and wife, Orgon fiercely marks their words, lashing out at his loved ones to protect his named brother (Moliere). The skillful use of psychology, including reverse, also helps to maintain his identity. When he is denounced, he does not even try to resist, only submissively bowing his head before Orgon, calling himself the most terrible sinner (Moliere). This behavior, corresponding to Orgon’s image of a martyr, only strengthened the man’s faith in the innocence of his comrade.

Such behavior protects Tartuffe from possible consequences, allowing him to manipulate Orgon as he pleases. These manipulations are performed for the purpose of profit. Tartuffe actively accepts gifts from the house owner, feigning refusal, which prompts Orgon to give him even more (Moliere). The fraudster also learns about compromising evidence, thereby ensuring a possible escape route. Finally, with the help of his deception, Tartuffe forces Orgon to give him the entire house and funds. Thus, when his act is revealed, Tartuffe easily discards his guise, having all the means for a safe escape. Through manipulation based on religious trust, Tartuffe gets everything he wants, after which he abandons the identity of an impostor.

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Thus, the character of Tartuffe is curious in how he combines feigned purity and a real personality of a cunning manipulator. This combination, coupled with the comedic nature of the play and the intriguing interactions of the characters, makes both the entire play and Tartuffe himself vivid and memorable.

Work Cited

Moliere. Tartuffe. Translated by Richard Wilbur. University of Southern Maine, 2018.

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