Study Guide

Tartuffe Women and Femininity

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Women and Femininity

Madame Pernelle:
"And you, his sister, seem so pure,
So shy, so innocent, and so demure.
But you know what they say about still waters.
I pity parents with secretive daughters." (1.1.11)

Madame Pernelle's comments suggest not only that Mariane is deceitful and, possibly, promiscuous, but that all "secretive daughters" are similarly disposed.

Madame Pernelle:
"You're much too free with money, and I'm distressed
To see you so elaborately dressed.
When it's one's husband that one aims to please,
One has no need for costly fripperies." (1.1.13)

Madame Pernelle seems to think that married women should avoid any kind of luxury.

"Oh, yes, she's strict, devout, and has no taint
Of worldliness; in short, she seems a saint.
But it was time which taught her that disguise;
She's thus because she can't be otherwise.
So long as her attractions could enthrall,
She flounced and flirted and enjoyed it all,
But now that they're no longer what they were
She quits the world which fast is quitting her,
And wears a veil of virtue to conceal
Her bankrupt beauty and her lost appeal." (1.1.33)

Dorine's is an interesting proposition. In this case, virtue and religious observance seem to be a mere replacement for beauty and charm.

"You can't mean, Father…"

"Yes, Tartuffe shall be
Allied by marriage to this family,
And he's to be your husband do you hear?
It's a father's privilege…" (2.1.24-25)

In asserting his own authority over Dorine, he asserts the authority of all fathers over their daughters.

"Doesn't it seem to you a trifle grim
To give a girl like her to a man like him?
When two are so ill-suited, can't you see
What sad consequence is bound to be?
A young girl's virtue is imperiled, Sir,
When such a marriage is imposed on her;
For if one's bridegroom isn't to one's taste,
It's hardly an inducement to be chaste." (2.2.18)

Dorine's opinions regarding marriage are rather extreme. Dorine makes it seem as if a daughter forced into an unwanted marriage can't help but cheat.

"They'll make a lovely pair.
If I were she, no man would marry me
Against my inclination, and go scot free.
He'd learn, before the wedding-day was over,
How readily a wife can find a lover." (2.2.46)

Here, again, Dorine asserts that women have a right to look for other partners if their husbands are not, shall we say, suitable.

"He's welcome to my money; take it, do,
But don't, I pray, include my person too.
Spare me, I beg you; and let me end the tale
Of my sad days behind a convent veil."

"A convent! Hah! When crossed their amours,
All lovesick girls have the same thought as yours." (4.3.4-5)

Orgon writes off Mariane's real concerns as the idiotic fantasies of "lovesick girls" everywhere. He has no interest in actually listening to her.

"My taste is for good-natured rectitude,
And I dislike the savage sort of prude
Who guards her virtue with her teeth and claws
And tears men's eyes out for the slightest cause;" (4.3.12)

Elmire advocates what you might call a relaxed – but certainly not lax – attitude toward virtue.

"Ah, Sir, if that refusal made you smart,
It's little that you know of woman's heart,
Or what that heart is trying to convey
When it resists in such a feeble way!
Always, at first our modesty prevents
The frank avowal of tender sentiments;" (4.5.4)

Elmire uses undesirable stereotypes about women in order to manipulate Tartuffe.

"Monsieur Loyal, I'd love to hear the whack
Of a stout stick across your fine broad back."

Monsieur Loyal:
"Take care: a woman too may go to jail if
She uses threatening language to a bailiff." (5.4.33)

Monsieur Loyal hints at a sort of double standard for women. "Even women can be sent to jail," he says, but one wonders if he'd give the same sort of warning to a man in the first place.

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