Tartuffe Summary

Molière

Tartuffe

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Tartuffe Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Tartuffe by Molière.

Molière wrote Tartuffe, the French comedic play in 1664. The entire play takes place at the house of Orgon. Orgon is the head of the household, and is the husband of Elmire. The title of the play is named after Tartuffe, who is Orgon’s houseguest. Tartuffe is a hypocritical, religious person who attempts to seduce Elmire.

Orgon’s family is upset because Orgon and his mother have fallen under Tartuffe’s spell, whom they do not realize is a fraud. Tartuffe pretends to be religious, pious, and divine, and at some point Orgon and his mother stop making any important decisions without first consulting with Tartuffe. In this way, he has gained considerable control over Orgon and his mother, which further aggravates Orgon’s family.

Orgon further upsets and alienates the family when he announces that he will marry off his daughter Mariane, who is already engaged to Valère, to Tartuffe instead. Mariane is very upset at this news, and at this point, the rest of the family realizes how deeply Tartuffe has not only embedded himself into the family, but also has taken deep rooted control over Orgon.

In an effort to show Orgon how devious and terrible Tartuffe really is, the family concocts a scheme to trap Tartuffe into confessing to Elmire his intimate desire for her. As a “pious” man, and as Orgon’s houseguest and confidante, he should have no such feelings for Elmire, the lady of the house. The family hopes he will make the confession and that after such a confession, Orgon will throw Tartuffe out of the house.

Indeed, Tartuffe does try to seduce Elmire, but is interrupted when Orgon’s son Damis, who has been eavesdropping, is no longer able to control his disgust and anger for Tartuffe and jumps out of his hiding place to confront and condemn Tartuffe.

Tartuffe is at first shocked but recovers well. When Orgon enters the room and Damis excitedly tells him what happened, Tartuffe uses reverse psychology and accuses himself of being the worst sinner by saying to Orgon, “Yes, my brother, I am a sinner, a guilty man.” Orgon then becomes convinced that Damis was lying and banishes him from the house. Tartuffe even gets Orgon to insist that Elmire spend even more time with Tartuffe in order to teach Damis a lesson. As a gift to Tartuffe and additional punishment to Damis and the rest of his family, Orgon signs over all his wealth to Tartuffe.

In a later scene, Elmire takes up the issue again and challenges Orgon to be witness to a meeting between herself and Tartuffe. Orgon agrees and decides to hide under a table in the same room, convinced that Elmire is wrong and is simply trying to make Tartuffe look bad. He then overhears Elmire resisting Tartuffe’s aggressively forward advances. When Tartuffe finally incriminates himself beyond all reparation and is very close to violating Elmire, Orgon comes out from under the table and throws Tartuffe out of his house.

But Tartuffe insists on staying and attempts to blackmail Orgon. Orgon had admitted to Tartuffe that he had a box of incriminating documents that, if discovered by the King, could get Orgon into trouble. Since Orgon has given Tartuffe all this possessions, Tartuffe has possession of this box with the documents, as well, and now Tartuffe threatens Orgon that Orgon will be the one to leave. Tartuffe takes his temporary leave and Orgon’s family tries to figure out what to do.

Soon thereafter, Monsieur Loyal shows up with a message from Tartuffe and the court that Orgon’s family must move out of the house because it now belongs to Tartuffe. The family is being evicted. Even Madame Pernelle (Orgon’s mother) who had at first refused to believe anything negative about Tartuffe even though she had seen what he had done, now becomes convinced that Tartuffe is a devious fraud.

Just when it seems the situation could not get any worse, Valère arrives and tells Orgon that he must now flee the country because Tartuffe has incriminated Orgon to the King. Orgon is about to leave with Valère when Tartuffe shows up with a police officer and tells the officer to arrest Orgon. The office instead arrests Tartuffe, telling Orgon that the King saw right through Tartuffe and that Tartuffe is a well-known criminal. Because of his prior loyalty toward the King and kingdom, the King pardons Orgon. Orgon then begins to curse Tartuffe, but Cléante, the brother of Elmire tells him to stop because Orgon is better than that, and certainly better than Tartuffe. Once the King has been properly thanked, Orgon says Valère and Mariane can be married and announces their upcoming wedding.