Here's a question for you: should one always tell the truth under all circumstances? Molière seems to think not. Sure, Tartuffe is the one that does most of the lying, but what are we to make of, say, Elmire? She's willing to lie and cover up the truth – twice – in order to manipulate and expose Tartuffe. It is important to remember that she gets results by lying, while Damis only creates more trouble by telling the truth. This isn't to say that one strategy is better than the other of course. If anything, it speaks to how slippery a thing the truth can become once the lying begins.
Questions About Lies and Deceit
- Dorine and Elmire either advocate or employ deceit at some point during Tartuffe. Are their actions justified? Are their lies any different from Tartuffe's?
- When Damis insists on telling Orgon the truth about Tartuffe's attempted seduction, his plan backfires. What does this say about the power of truth in general?
- Throughout Tartuffe, Orgon never lies and never suspects Tartuffe of lying – that is, until he sees him pawing at Elmire. Are these two things – the inability or reluctance to lie, and the inability to think that a person is a liar – related?
Chew on This
Molière makes it clear that deceit, though often harmful, can also be a useful and perfectly ethical solution to a problem.
"[A]ny wrongful act you care to mention/ May be redeemed by purity of intention" (4.5.13). So says Tartuffe when he's trying to seduce Elmire. Strangely enough, Molière doesn't completely disagree with that statement. Sometimes, he suggests, the ends justify the means, and even lies can be used to do good.