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First staged 1664, revised in 1667 and 1669

Language & Form

French original, Le Tartuffe ou l'imposteur. Play, Comedy, originally 3 acts (1664 version), later 5-Acts (1667 and 1669 versions). Rhymed couplets in alexandrine verse. Recommended Translations: Richard Wilbur (in rhymed iambic pentameter couplets)


A con man by the name of Tartuffe pretends piousness and deceives a well-to-do gentleman named Orgon. Tartuffe tries to seduce Orgon's wife, Elmire, and gets Orgon to sign over to him all of his property. The play revolves around the attempts by the family, friends, and household of Orgon (his wife Elmire, his brother-in-law Cléante, his son Damis, his daughter Mariane, Mariane's fiancé Valère, and the maidservant Dorine) to unmask and get rid of Tartuffe.

Main Issues

artist as social critic: denunciation of religious hypocrisy and false piety; misuse of religion in the avoidance of personal responsibility; Molière claimed not to mock faith but to attack its misuse

issues of censorship: the play was bitterly opposed by Catholic Church, the archbishop of Paris, the Queen Mother Anne of Austria, and the Company of the Holy Sacrament which influenced its banning; five act revision in 1667 still opposed, finally brought back to the stage in 1669
influence of patronage: flattery and less obvious references to Louis XIV and his family and associates

Vice and folly embodied in figure of Tartuffe; play of masks/deception; struggle for power

invitation to self-examination and confrontation of the evil in the self

Cléante as voice of wisdom, moderation, common sense, self-control, Nature, Reason

Dorine's courage, wit, and intelligence as Moliere's commentary on class and gender issues as well as personal worth independent of social position

comedy, restoration of order in family; humane, forgiving, and balanced attitude of Molière

problematic, deus ex machina ending, near success of Tartuffe

Study Questions

Is the play in any way connected to the historical and political situation of Moliere's time? Do any of the characters in the play represent historical figures? Who might those be? In that sense, what might Molière be criticizing or addressing?

What vices or problems does Tartuffe represent? Are those vices present only in him? Is there anything in the character or behavior of the others which in any way resembles or echoes the problems of Tartuffe? Is Tartuffe the only one to blame for the problems in the home? If Tartuffe were to be entirely removed from the situation, would anything change?

Are there characters in the play who stand for virtues or positive qualities? Who are they? What do they represent? How do those characters fit in with the values of the Enlightenment?

Aside from Tartuffe, are any other characters in the play criticized for their vices? If so, who are they and what are those vices? What is Orgon's problem? What does his name suggest? (think in French, if you can) Why does he admit Tartuffe into his home? What makes him vulnerable to the deceptions of Tartuffe? What does Orgon expect to gain from his association with Tartuffe?

Is there significance in the fact that Orgon invites Tartuffe to come into his home? What does the home represent? What does Tartuffe symbolize? What links the two of them to each other? Do they have anything in common?

Does Orgon change after meeting Tartuffe? Does Tartuffe make Orgon into a more pious or more Christian man? Why or why not? How does Orgon feel about others in his family? What does that indicate? Exactly what effects does Tartuffe have on Orgon? What are true piety and true Christianity according to Molière?

How do the members of Orgon's family feel about Tartuffe's presence in the home? What effect does Tartuffe have on them? Does their behavior change in any way because of Tartuffe? Do those changes resemble the changes in Orgon?

Do any of the characters change for the better in the course of the play? What is the evidence of such changes?

Is there any symbolic significance to the strongbox that Orgon entrusts to Tartuffe? Any similarity to the significance of the house? What is Orgon giving away?

Are the family members successful in countering the schemes of Tartuffe? Why or why not? How do they propose to fight him? What are they fighting for? What saves them? Is it their own efforts? Do they deserve to be saved? Why is the ending of the play said to be problematic? What does the intervention of the king at the end represent? What does it suggest? Is the king a symbol? What does he stand for?

Is Tartuffe defeated in the end? Is he really gone for good? Is there any threat of his returning? What could cause such a return? What brought him in in the first place?


French text of Tartuffe: http://moliere.multimania.com/piectartu.html


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