Orgon address Mariane, and asks how she feels about Tartuffe. When she acquiesces to only say words that will please her father, he is excited, and speaks with flowery language about Tartuffe. He then confesses his intention to marry her to Tartuffe instead of to Valere.
During their exchange, Dorine enters silently and overhears Orgon's intention. She interrupts them, and mentions the potential engagement as a ridiculous rumor. When Orgon frustratingly insists he is serious, she counters that he would never marry his innocent daughter to a beggarly "zealot." Orgon scoffs that Tartuffe is poor by choice, and that it does not matter since he plans to raise Tartuffe to the status of gentleman. Dorine suggests this would be folly for such a virtuous man, since "a holy man's domain is not on Earth." Further, she suggests that because of the vast age difference, Mariane will most likely end up unfaithful to him.
Annoyed, Orgon insists Dorine leave, and then comforts Mariane about the virtue of the age difference between her and Tartuffe. Dorine refuses to leave, and comically continues to squabble with him about his ridiculous plan. Finally, Orgon demands she speak no more, and she smugly acquiesces. However, she continues to silently motion to Mariane, who has remained deferentially silent throughout their argument. Orgon then informs Mariane that his decision is final, and exits.
After Orgon departs, Dorine pleads with Mariane to stand up to her father and ask to marry for love. Though she finds the idea of opposing her father unsettling, Mariane wavers when Dorine reminds her of her love for Valere. Dorine continues to mock and encourage her, until Mariane sadly prepares to leave. To stop her, Dorine promises to work to help the lovers.
Dorine sees Valere approaching, and he soon enters to ask about the rumor he has heard about Mariane's engagement. When Mariane asks his advice on the matter, he is offended at the suggestion, and rashly tells her to marry Tartuffe. She is offended in turn, and says she will take his advice. They continue to comically spar, each claiming he or she is not bothered by their broken engagement.
Dorine, exasperated, interferes to end their juvenile bickering. Though she admits that "lovers are not completely sane," she forces them to hold hands and eventually admit their love to each other. Now that they are united in opposing Orgon's plan, Dorine instructs Mariane to tacitly consent to the match, but to continue postponing it as long as possible so they can construct a plan.
The character of Orgon has garnered much critical attention, particularly in the last century. While Tartuffe is undoubtedly Moliere's most complicated creation in this play, Orgon is equally important since it is through his manipulated power that most of the havoc is wreaked. Without control of a powerful man, a hypocrite like Tartuffe is but a blowhard or a poser. In other words, Orgon is actually the dangerous character, since it only through him that the hypocrite has any weapon at his disposal.
The extent of Orgon's power is abundantly apparent in Act II, through the way he controls Mariane without any pretense of challenge. His power is such that he does not only want her to agree, but he also wants her to be happy about it. He expects control not only of his family's agency, but also of their feelings.
What is interesting about Orgon is that his desire for control is not effected by insisting upon his own superiority, but upon Tartuffe's superiority. As one critic wrote, "Orgon does not demand that he should be the center of attention, he demands that Tartuffe should be; he does not put his own health and well-being before that of his wife and children, but Tartuffe's; he does not require that his own innate superiority be recognized by his family, but that Tartuffe's should be..." Orgon has essentially doubled himself in the guise of Tartuffe. He cannot see through Tartuffe's guise because Orgon himself has, in a way, created him. It is not until he later realizes that Tartuffe has a will outside of his own that he is able to recognize the hypocrite's hypocrisy.
It is especially curious, considering Dorine's earlier comment about Orgon: "Before Tartuffe and he became entwined, / Orgon once ruled this house in his right mind" (8). Considering that the patriarch did not display a lack of reason before, it is possible to consider his attraction to Tartuffe as an expression of his moral disappointment in his own family, for whom he clearly has little respect.
His son is hotheaded, brash, and unable to defend his sister's decision to marry Valere on his own. Mariane is deferential, but also lacks any real willpower. Similarly, he finds Cleante's tendency towards "freethinking" unpleasant, and reason for suspicion (13). Orgon certainly loves his family, as later events show, but he has perhaps internalized his disappointments over them into an overcompensated dependency on the thin moral veneer that Tartuffe represents. He would rather live in a paper-thin fantasy of morality than confront his complicated feelings about himself and his world.
The strongest character in this Act, therefore, is Dorine. This is most apparent in the way she is able to confront Orgon. Despite her lower class, he is unable to exert his control over her. She continues to mock him, intentionally treating his feelings as jokes, and even when he finally forces her to be quiet, she continues to pantomime her feelings. Perhaps because she is out of social expectation and hence has less use for the civility of deference that Mariane does, she is able to most effectively poke holes in Orgon's sense of self-importance.
She further shows her wisdom in the comic scene between the lovers. Their juvenile insistence on the end of their love for each other is rife with dramatic irony, since we and Dorine see exactly how they feel even if they refuse to acknowledge it. When she finally forces them together, the theatrical effect is both sweet and funny. Her wisdom is such that she appreciates both their childish innocence and the forces of manipulation. She uses her superior wisdom to reinforce their sweet innocence, suggesting that even such silliness has value.