It's true - those whose private conduct is the worst, / Will mow each other down to be the first / To weave some tale of lust, and hearts broken / Out of a simple kiss that's just a token / Between friends
Here, Dorine responds to Madame Pernelle's charge that the family has become the subject of neighborhood gossip. Dorine, and Cleante afterwards, exhibit a grounded, realistic understanding of gossip, suggesting it is an intrinsic part of life. Further, Dorine suggests the distinction between a person's character and the things s/he criticizes. In fact, the people most apt to gossip are those who hope to conceal their own devious or scurrilous behavior; they want to deflect attention onto others, thereby guarding their own secrets. All of these ideas are central to the play, and particularly to its titular character, whose attacks on the morality of others is meant to disguise his own vice.
But what's evil / Is seeing the deception and upheaval / Of the master and everything he owns. / He hands him money. They're not even loans - / He's giving it away. It's gone too far.
Here, as Dorine and Cleante lament Orgon's blind devotion to Tartuffe, Dorine suggests that it has gotten to the point of "evil." Orgon is completely entranced with the charlatan whom he invited into his home, to the point that he cannot heed the advice or warnings of those who were closest to him. The reason for calling the power "evil" is that Tartuffe has taught Orgon to love and care for nothing but himself. Tartuffe is so powerful that it seems like "We write while he dictates," as she later says. The heaviness of her pronouncement foreshadows how fully Orgon has entrusted himself to the hypocrite, having given him the deed and the strongbox. Though the play is certainly comedic, this scene, and this quote, reveals that the stakes are also quite high.
His interest in my wife is reassuring, / She's innocent, but so alluring, / He tells me whom she sees and what she does. / He's more jealous than I ever was. / It's for my honor that he's so concerned.
Tartuffe is the master of deception - even his most evil actions are cloaked in a guise of piety and morality. Here, Orgon explains to his brother-in-law how he encountered Tartuffe, and why he is so enamored of him. He is so enamored, in fact, that he interprets Tartuffe's lechery as virtue, believing the hypocrite pays special attention to Elmire from a duty towards Orgon. Orgon has chosen to trust Tartuffe over his family, implicitly assuming that his wife is worthy of suspicion. The attitude is amusing because of the dramatic irony: we as audience know quite well why Tartuffe is so attentive to Elmire. This moment is a nice microcosm of the entire play, in that it exhibits both the dramatic irony and distance between truth and appearance that permeate the entire story.
See, I revere / Everyone whose worship is sincere. / Nothing is more noble or beautiful / Than fervor that is holy, not just dutiful.
In his first argument with Orgon, Cleante articulates a more balanced appreciation of Christianity than Orgon does. In fact, some critics believe that Cleante's philosophy, reflected in this quote, represents Moliere's own view. As he describes here, Cleante values honesty and sincerity over flamboyant displays of piety. He explains that true religious fervor comes from deep within, and cannot be attained as a matter of duty. In fact, this "dutiful" type of Christianity is used to manipulate others for money and power, as Tartuffe does. It is not "noble" or "beautiful." Cleante's explanation here is a crucial guide to Moliere's real point about religion in the play: it is not all bad, and only those who pervert it are to be censured.
You know that fathers have such sway / Over our lives that I've nothing to say. / I've never had the strength.
Here, Mariane explains to Dorine why she so complicity accepted Orgon's plan for her to marry Tartuffe. Her philosophy - that fathers are not to be questioned by daughters - represents the traditional gender norms of the 17th century. She is the embodiment of meekness, modesty, and subservience. Further, this attitude explains the way Moliere uses her as well - she does not affect the action of play, but is only a pawn whose impending marriage helps create conflict. In the context of the scene, she stands in stark contrast to Dorine, who as a lower-class woman has the freedom of agency.
But if you play along, say, without choking, / And give your consent, for the time being, / He'll take the pressure off, thereby freeing / All of us to find a workable plan / To keep you from a marriage with this man.
When Dorine proposes that Mariane and Valere work with her here, she establishes her importance and agency. Unlike most of the others in the family - who are either too rash or too ineffectual to address the problem - she is a mouthy opponent of injustice and ignorance. The extent of her control here is not only to influence events, but attitudes. She wants the lovers to both trust her as she works behind the scene, and to be happy with each other. Further, by suggesting Mariane feign complicity, she shows an understanding of the same methods Tartuffe uses, although she uses them for goodness rather than personal gain. Because of moments like this, Dorine emerges as one of the play's most intriguing, complicated characters, a true voice of reason amid a household that sorely needs it.
Dear Son, do treat me as perfidious / Infamous, lost, a murderer, a thief, / Speak on, because my sins, beyond belief, / Can bring this shameful sinner to his knees, / In humble, paltry effort to appease.
In this speech, Tartuffe feigns guilt to divert Orgon's attention from Damis's claims that Tartuffe tried to seduce Elmire. He reveals here his masterful self-control, by neither denying nor confirming anything. Instead, he engineers this humble, contrite apology for unspecified sins, which both distracts and impresses Orgon. The audience sees here how strongly the pretense of piety can be. While the scene is amusing because of the dramatic irony, it also reveals how formidable Tartuffe is. The power of his false religion is so strong that it will take more than the truth to dislodge him.
There'll be no sins for which we must atone, / 'Cause evil only exists when it's known.
By the end of the play, the audience understands that Tartuffe's major flaw is his lust. Here, in his second private meeting with Elmire, he confesses both his lechery and his capacity for deceit, and thereby initiates his downfall. This line is quite remarkable, for it exemplifies the lie that many lovers tell themselves or each other when they are involved in an inappropriate relationship: it is not actually a sin if no one knows about it. While the sentiment is certainly logical, it suggests a slippery relationship with the truth, and a willingness to control appearances at the cost of justice. The whole scene is amusing because of the dramatic irony (Orgon is hiding under the table), especially because the audience is to enjoy the fact that Tartuffe's attempts to construct a deceit are failing in the moment. However, this quote speaks to Tartuffe's personality, and touches on the play's message that we ought be careful of what we believe of people.
Ah! Ah! You are a traitor and a liar! / Some holy man you are, to wreck my life, / Marry my daughter? Lust after my wife?
When Orgon finally discovers that Tartuffe is a liar and a fraud, he confronts him in this aggressive line. Orgon's eyes have been opened, not by the protestations and warnings of his family members, but by seeing Tartuffe's true nature. This moment comes as a relief to the audience, especially because it allows Orgon to present himself as a hero. Of course, by confronting Tartuffe so truthfully - and truth being antithetical to Tartuffe's method - he pushes the hypocrite to strike back. A more mischievous approach might have helped him keep control. However, though there are complications yet to overcome, Orgon's strength establishes his ability to keep the family together and earn their loyalty again.
Damn all holy men! They're filled with deceit! / I now renounce them all, down to the man.
Though Orgon learns Tartuffe is a villain, he does not become a more nuanced person. Instead, he shows in this quote the same penchant for extremity that led him to so fully embrace Tartuffe. Here, he decides that all religious men are frauds and should be denounced. By posing this philosophy and then allowing Cleante to beg a more nuanced understanding of religion, Moliere makes his play not simply a diatribe against religion, but rather a consideration of what constitutes true, noble holiness. Moliere does not counsel extremities like Orgon espouses, wherein one either hates or loves religion unequivocally, but suggests that the true course comes through patience and temperance.
Tartuffe Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Tartuffe is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
If the function of comedy is to correct men's vices, I do not see why any should be exempt. Such a condition in our society would be much more dangerous than the thing itself; and we have seen that the theater is admirably suited...